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Flyers 4, Sabres 1: Out with a bang

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Some observations for your morning...

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

All stats and graphics via Corsica.Hockey, HockeyViz, Natural Stat Trick, and NHL.com

1. That start...

Okay, so I may have gotten a little carried away yesterday. The Flyers had two good first periods in a row, but couldn’t make it three. Whomp whomp.

Through the first 20 minutes, they were only able to register five shots on goal, but still picked up 16 shot attempts, .99 expected goals at five-on-five. But the biggest momentum killer was the fact that they didn’t spend that much time at five-on-five in the first place.

The Flyers took two minors in the beginning of the period, spending four of the first seven minutes on the penalty kill, unable to generate any sort of breakout, and as such weren’t able to generate any shots during that time. So that certainly didn’t help them any.

Their power play opportunity seemed like it would be a good chance for them to steal back some of the momentum, but no such luck--the danger just wasn’t quite there.

To be fair, the Flyers defended well in the first period, and prevented the Sabres from capitalizing on any of their chances, but they also didn’t--in the larger scheme--do themselves any favors.

2. The penalty kill evens out

As we noted above, the story of the early part of yesterday’s game was one of penalties. The two taken in the first period were rough, and given the Flyers’ struggles to come back from deficits, they really needed the PK to come up big. And, fortunately, it did.

The first two kills were, in a word, effective. They looked more aggressive than they had to date, and did well to snap up the puck and clear it. They were strong performances, but they also had a bit of help in the form of a big glove save by Neuvirth and the Sabres effectively handing them an icing to close out the second penalty. But the PK’s work was still noteworthy.

The third attempt, in trying to kill the MacDonald penalty, was a different story. They just weren’t quite as aggressive, and let the puck find its way to O’Reilly’s stick, who sailed the puck over Gudas who had dropped low to try to block the shot and past Neuvirth. And while it was an unsuccessful kill, and reflects poorly on the unit, it can’t rest completely on them. Neuvirth has to make that save.

3. Neuvirth finally gets a start

But now that we’ve mentioned him a few times, how did our buddy Michal do?

Given that he hasn’t started a game since I think the end of the last lockout, we could have reasonably expected him to be a little rusty. But this wasn’t the case.

Neuvirth looked sharp pretty much right out of the gate. His big save on the first penalty kill was the real marquis moment, but he held steady all throughout. The one goal allowed wasn’t a particularly pretty one, as he allowed too much space and wasn’t quick enough to make the stop. But I suppose, given the larger game context, we can forgive him the one goal.

After it was all said and done, Neuvirth stopped 30 of the 31 shots he faced, for a .968 save percentage, which is not too shabby. It remains to be seen when we’ll see him make a start again, if he’s worked well enough to regain some of the coach’s trust, but he put in a solid effort yesterday.

4. Complete efforts

We talked yesterday about the full line effort that culminated in Couturier’s goal against the Blues on Saturday, how great it was, and it seems like we’re getting even more of that.

Caught mid-change, the sequence leading up to Gostisbehere’s goal was real nice. Breaking into the offensive zone on a solid controlled entry, the puck was dished between Voracek, Lehtera, Laughton, and Gostisbehere, cutting straight through the Sabres, who were unable to do anything to break up the play.

And while it’s nice to see regular lines connecting well and capitalizing on their combined efforts, it’s perhaps even more impressive when it’s a mix of fixtures from two lines. It bodes well for the flexibility of the team, that even when they’re forced to mix things up for a bit of time, they’re still able to make something happen.

5. Seeing good things from the Patrick line...

After a few rough games early in their arrangement, the nominal third line of Weal-Patrick-Simmonds is really starting to get going. It’s about time, and it’s a beauty to behold.

In yesterday’s game, they matched up well--to say the least--against Buffalo’s third line. Patrick and Simmonds posted 100 percent adjusted CF% at five-on-five in the third period, and the three averaged 78.75 percent by the end of the game, leading the other lines by a comfortable margin. The next most productive line was the first, who averaged an adjusted 47.45 CF% at five-on-five.

Over the course of the game, the trio put up six shots at five-on-five, and really started to look like they’re clicking. Patrick was making some solid defensive plays, Weal’s strength along the boards helped them to keep possession of the puck in the offensive zone, and we saw some impressive puck movement between all three of them. They weren’t rewarded with a goal, but the process seems to be coming together, and one can at least hope that the goals will soon follow.

6. ...and maybe not so much from the fourth line

So, where the Patrick line had little short of a fantastic night, the fourth line, well, didn’t. I can’t even bring myself to call it the Laughton line. He deserves better than this.

The fourth line finished the game with an average adjusted CF% of 45.55 at five-on-five. The trio put up no shots at five-on-five, and found themselves doing more chasing and breaking than anything.

But let’s take a moment to check back in with Goulbourne. He played 5:13--absent for a good part of the second period with a broken skate--registered no shots, and delivered one hit. As was the case yesterday, it was a more or less quiet game for him, but he was ultimately sent back to the Phantoms as the Flyers head off on their bye week.

And the question of the fourth line remains an open and intriguing one for when the Flyers return from this break. Given its lack of production in the past few games, how will they reconfigure it? Will Taylor Leier be brought back into the lineup? Or will they go back to Weise and Lehtera on Laughton’s wings?

Let’s hope it’s that first one, yeah?

7. Third period: ???

There’s no way around it, the third period was a weird one. The Flyers held the edge in momentum and possession throughout, and picked up the two empty net goals to steal off the win, but somehow one can’t really escape the feeling that nothing really happened in those last 20 minutes.

It was, on the whole, a pretty quiet period. Only 14 shots were taken through the whole period--six for the Flyers and eight for the Sabres--and much of the time was spent breaking up plays by both sides, before they could even result in a shot. And it was a strategy, dull as it may have been, that worked well for the Flyers. They held the Sabres without another goal, and did so cleanly, avoiding taking any further penalties. We left the game knowing that we should feel happy about the results, and almost certainly did, but still perhaps wished for a bit more activity.

It wasn’t pretty but it worked, I guess.

8. A blessing

That’s it. It’s decided. There’s no other way. The universe just somehow took all of our collective good karma, bundled it up, and gave us Sean Couturier. There is no other explanation.

He picked up two more goals yesterday, pushing him even further past his season points total from last year. As we speak, he’s on pace for 80 points this season. 80 points. Just take a moment with that.

Couturier had another solid night last night. He only put up an adjusted CF% of 47.52 percent, but defended well against Eichel’s line, aiding in limiting both the quality and quantity of their chances. The line, though not dominant, did well enough, especially considering they were on the back end of a back-to-back. The Sabres had given a rested Flyers team more than a fair amount of trouble in the past, and they knew that they needed to bring their best shutdown game--and Couturier did well to help in spearheading that effort.

9. Living and learning

So, we’ve done it. We’ve officially passed the midpoint of the season. Are we doing okay? How are we feeling?

It’s been quite a ride, and while we’re still finding ourselves looking for a bit more consistency from the Flyers, at the very least we’re starting to see some growth. Giroux talked post-game about how, starting around the time of the Western Canadian swing, they looked at what they had been doing and started figuring out how to protect leads, how to bring stronger third periods and really close out games. And it’s a strategy that, when they’re on, has worked for them. And that’s what you like to see.

It hasn’t been a perfect first half of the season by any stretch of the imagination, but with the team noting that they’re putting greater emphasis on introspection, there remains the hope that they can continue to improve, as they move through the second half of the season.

10. The only damn thing I know

It’s the bye week, baby.

Do we all have big plans? Anyone going to a warm place? No?

It’s hard to say whether the timing of the bye week is good or bad. On the one hand, the Flyers are playing well enough and it’s a shame to see that momentum broken up. On the other hand, a break’s a break and bodies need time to heal. So it’s a bit of a mixed bag.

All I know is that I wish I was going to a warm place.