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Golden Knights 1, Flyers 0: Brooms away, folks

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Some observations for your morning ...

NHL: Vegas Golden Knights at Philadelphia Flyers John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

There you have it, folks. Our very first Saturday matinee of the season and the very last time we’ll see the Vegas Golden Knights this season (that second part feels weird). After the Flyers beat up on them in the season opener, the Knights came back with a much more settled game and one much more dialed in goalie, and spoiled our first Saturday matinee. Which is incredibly rude of them, if you ask me.

All stats and graphics via Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com

1.Starting with some jump

They did it, you guys! We spent so much of last season complaining about the Flyers’ slow starts, begging them to come out with more energy and to stop digging themselves into these massive holes. And, they might have listened? Do you feel all that power? Use it well.

Anyway, like the Flyers did in Tuesday’s game against San Jose, they came out with a good bit of energy to start the period, and unlike they did against San Jose, they held onto that energy, and didn’t let one bad turnover spiral into a scoring chance and that “digging oneself into a hole” thing. They started with pace and they kept with it. It got a little messy in the middle of the period, with some bouncing passes and some scrambling in the neutral zone, but all told, it was a good effort. The Flyers hit the first intermission with an adjusted 60.53 CF% and 12 scoring chances (seven of which were high danger), while having held the Golden Knights to just five shots. And, they did have a bit of help in the form of two chances on the power play, but the sentiment still remains—they put in some good work early, better than we’ve seen them do in first periods, but they couldn’t finish.

2.Doing defense (and doing it well)

If we’re sticking with the thread of things that were better yesterday than the last time we saw the Flyers, we should talk about the defense. Because, we’ll be honest, it’s been kind of rough so far, but yesterday we could pretty easily say we saw the Flyers’ best all-around defensive performance of the season. Let’s do a quick rundown.

The Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere pair is finally starting to look more secure out there, after a pretty shaky start. The pair put up an adjusted 46.9 CF% at 5-on-5, not stellar but not awful, and were able to get back to aiding in contributing in the offensive zone. Or, at least trying to. Gostisbehere in particular looked stronger on the whole, with his coverage in front of the net really shining. The only dark spot? Provorov’s play with the puck still reads as a little hesitant. So there’s one more thing that needs to come along.

Robert Hagg has continued with his early season flash. Seemingly chasing his rank back at the top of the league hits leaderboard, he put up four of those, but also four shots, as he continues to be active on the rush and push to generate a bit of offense, which is nice to see.

Travis Sanheim had a very solid night that (spoiler alert) we’re going to break down in more detail later on (stay tuned!).

Even Andrew MacDonald and Radko Gudas had more or less quiet nights, but for a team that’s been making pretty loud mistakes to start the season, this may be excellent news as well.

3.The power play

We talked in the first point about the strong start that the Flyers got off to, how they looked dominant early and how they stood a chance to take the early lead, and this was in part due to their strong play at even strength, but they did also get some help in the form of two power plays in the first period. And, all in all, what we saw wasn’t much of a surprise. But let’s get into the breakdown anyway.

The bad: they came out of this with exactly zero power play goals. They came up empty again.

The good: it wasn’t for lack of trying. The top unit in particular was knocking on the door a couple of times, found themselves just barely shut down. They were doing well to collapse the crease and create high danger chances, but they just couldn’t close in this one.

The bad: the second unit just can’t seem to get anything going. Still. They did have some shorter shifts, but even in them they struggled to get set up in the offensive zone and pass cleanly. They had a few flashes, but not much to speak of in the way of quality chances.

The excusable: that second unit’s been in some flux, with all of the injuries that the Flyers have been hit with. It’s hard to find a rhythm when the personnel keeps changing. We get that

The interesting: they’ve decided to stick with the 3F/2D structure for the second unit, opting to keep Travis Sanheim on this unit. He’s continued to look good—working well at distributing the puck from the point and trying to set up chances. Nothing’s come to bear of his promotion to the power play, but he seems to be gelling, and it’s only a matter of time before things start to break.

4. *the 1975 voice* maybe it was two times, don’t think it was three times, can’t be more than four times…

Actually, it was more like 12 times. That’s how many high danger chances the Flyers allowed over the course of yesterday’s game. They put up 16 of their own, so they weren’t outchanced in that way, but given how they all but dominated through more than half of the game, it’s a closer margin than one might expect to see.

It feels like something we’ve had to say a lot: the Flyers did a lot of good work in generating high danger chances, but they also gave up a whole bunch for the other team. Their goalie was good yesterday, and he needed to be, because they were forcing him to make saves on shots in close. It might have even been uglier, if the Knights hadn’t whiffed on a couple attempts in front, negating their own chances before they even got on net. Are we nitpicking, here? Maybe a little bit, given the result. But we would still like to see them shore this up. We’ve seen them be able to keep teams to the outside and defend the crease tightly, we just need to see them do it more consistently.

5.Travis Sanheim gets settled

We’ve sort of touched on this idea already, and it will keep coming up as we go, but on the whole the Flyers did have a really good night, and there were a lot of strong individual performances that deserve nods. But we’re just going to key in on one of those right now.

You could have guessed by now, but it bears repeating: Travis Sanheim had a very solid game yesterday. It’s been something of an up and down ride for him so far this season, but yesterday saw him looking distinctly more settled and comfortable. He put up an adjusted 52.93 CF% at 5-on-5, and two individual shots. His defense was, on the whole, sound, and on the offensive side we saw him doing exactly what we love to see out of him—activating on the rush and, when possible, dropping low in the zone to play the puck in and around the crease, to create high danger chances.

The only real hiccup of note was the hooking penalty he took in the second period, but even then, that’s one we can’t get too upset about—an attempt to clear that just about everyone thought would work failed, and had the puck back down low in the zone and Sanheim left alone in front of the defend the crease. He took the penalty to avoid allowing a goal in the right now, so we get it.

6.Killing penalties

And that just about brings us to our next point. What a nice segue. So well crafted. But anyway…

Having taken a penalty, the Flyers would then have to try to kill it off. In fact they had to do this three times. And the craziest thing happened: they did it.

Their first go on the penalty kill was a good one—they were aggressive in getting after both loose pucks and the controlled puck carrier, and it paid off for them. With some pressure and nice poke checks, some dominance in the neutral zone, they were able to keep the puck cleared and even generate a couple of nice rushes for shorthanded chances.

Indeed this would be the story of their other attempts, as well, as they came up perfect on the penalty kill, avoided allowing even a single goal. Are we beating this over the head a little bit? Probably, but that’s only because this is such a dramatic turn away from where we were last season, that perhaps we can be allowed a bit of extra space to relish in this. We loved most of what we were seeing, particularly the rushes out of the defensive zone (except, you know, that one that ended in Scott Laughton flying into the end boards, looking hurt, and worrying us). They Flyers managed two proper scoring chances for on the penalty kill while only giving up four, which isn’t too bad, as far as margins go while at a disadvantage. Let’s keep this up, friends.

7.Brian Elliott keeps doing his thing

He’s back! After a strong showing in Tuesday’s blowout against the Sharks, and then sitting on Wednesday in Ottawa to give Cal Pickard his first start, yesterday was Elliott’s chance to get back into the crease and show that he could remain steady, and play well, you know, when the rest of the team in front of him decides to show up. And he did just that.

All told, Elliott stopped 23 of the 24 shots he faced, including 11 high danger chances. He didn’t have a whole lot of activity to face during the first half of the game, but he was steady during that time, and was able to remain as such when the Knights started to sustain more pressure. The Flyers’ skaters were doing all they could to put something past Marc-Andre Fleury, just one, to pull into the lead, and Elliott was doing his best to keep them in it. When the ultimate game winner (and even more on that soon) came, we couldn’t blame Elliott too much for that one—a bang bang play after a defensive breakdown had everything exposed, and Elliott just got beat. We can still feel pretty good about his performance, but that one feels bad.

9.Losing steam

So, yeah, that last goal. We’re coming back to it. We talked about the good bit of sustained pressure that the Flyers were able to put up through the first 30 or so minutes of the game, but we should also make note of what happened after that.

It wasn’t a complete breakdown or an all-systems-failure that began after the midpoint of yesterday’s game, but the Golden Knights did begin to pick up steam, and the Flyers couldn’t seem to do enough to keep them from building on that momentum.

That also means, in a manner of speaking, you could just about see that Cody Eakin goal coming a mile away. Not that particular setup, but the end result. To be fair, there was some bad luck involved (the puck getting tangled up in Sean Couturier’s skates and getting them scrambling) and a fair bit of skill (the Knights threading that pass perfectly through traffic), but with the Flyers having spent a couple of shifts in the third period hemmed into their own zone, we couldn’t avoid the feeling that something bad was coming. And, of course, you can’t realistically expect for a team to be caught in their own zone zero times in a game, and it was an both and unlucky and unfortunate breakdown that led to that goal against, we can concede that, but the Flyers also have to find a way to get the clear in situations like that one.

9.A note on incremental change

This one stings. There’s really no way around it. The Flyers, on the whole, were the better team yesterday, but one bad shift had them in a hole, and they ran into a hot goalie and couldn’t buy a goal to dig themselves out. They were under two minutes away from pushing this thing to overtime, but instead they left the night without a point. And that’s rough.

But, in spite of all there, there may be something left to be said about the effort we saw yesterday afternoon—it wasn’t perfect, but it may have been their best all-around performance of the season thus far, even with all of the injuries they’ve been hit with. To pick on just one thing, Dave Hakstol notes that they wanted to fix their starts at home, to come out with more energy and pressure, and they did that. We’re seeing them starting to shore up the issues, and their performance is becoming more well rounded for those efforts. Yesterday they made some fixes, and come Tuesday is the rest of whether they can stick with them, and find a way to win along with them. Baby steps.

10.The only damn thing I know

Welp. It looks like they’ve done it, folks. After having the graphic be a mainstay through every weekend game last season, it looks like the Flyers have killed “it’s the weekend,” and quite frankly, I am devastated. Never again will I know the part of the week we’re situated in. Will it ever be the weekend again? How will I know? I will be lost forever. It was nice knowing you all.