The Flyers lose another game which they could have won with better goaltending and better defense, so in other words, just like their other losses. Let’s talk about it.
All stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick and Corsica.hockey
1. Ghost and Provy continue to struggle
Despite Dave Hakstol being adamant that he wasn’t going to break up Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere, at what point does that change? The two had another rough game last night despite posting solid possession numbers. It’s the problems the two have faced breaking the puck out of their own zone, and into the opponent’s zone, that have burned them. Gostisbehere came in at a 55.89 score and venue adjusted Corsi-for, while Provorov wasn’t too far behind at 52.65. They also posted strong expected goals numbers, both over 50%, but at a glance, this seemed like another off night for the top pairing.
That feeling is large in part due to the turnovers from the pairing. Provorov’s ability to complete long stretch passes makes him so dangerous offensively, but early on this season, those passes have been intercepted more often than not. We’re not there yet I don’t believe, but if this continues for let’s say another 5-10 games, splitting the two up might just have to happen. They don’t have to stay split up, but a sort of reset may be in order for the Flyers top two defensemen.
2. Calvin Pickard...not good, folks!
Sooo I think I’m starting to realize why Toronto put Mr. Pickard on waivers.
The goals weren’t all his fault last night of course, as previously mentioned the defense performed less than ideally, but this was ugly. On the Anthony Duclair goal that got Columbus on the board, yes, we can point to Robert Hagg getting absolutely walked and Christian Folin doing essentially nothing to help. However, we can also point to the fact that the goal went five hole on Pickard and he played the shot about as poorly as possible. He looked like a fish out of water, and that was the theme for the rest of the night.
Another play where Hagg got walked was the second Cam Atkinson goal, but once again Pickard didn’t do a whole lot to bail out his defenseman. Hagg got back enough to force a difficult shot, and Pickard played the rush horribly getting himself way out of position. The fourth goal came from a long way out, without all that much of a screen, and the sixth goal was ah...well I honestly don’t know how to describe that one. Obviously, I’m not expecting all-world goaltending from a guy picked off waivers, but this performance was bad, and one that might get Anthony Stolarz a longer look.
3. Forechecking was excellent
Alright let’s get a little bit positive about this game, and no surprise the first positive starts on offense. The Flyers did a fantastic job last night of getting in on the forecheck and battling for loose pucks. They were winning puck battles consistently last night and gave Blue Jackets defensemen hell in their own zone. Sean Couturier was a prime example of this, and it lead to the Flyers first goal. Stole the puck in the corner with a strong forecheck, centered it to Claude Giroux who set up Hagg for a screened shot that was deflected by Travis Konecny. It was a perfect play all set up by an aggressive tone set by the Flyers forwards.
Possibly the line that best put this on display was the second. Oskar Lindblom, Jordan Weal, and Travis Konecny were flying in this one, and always seemed to be digging out loose pucks. This is to be expected from a guy like Lindblom, but for Weal and Konecny, it’s very promising to see them battle as hard as they did along the boards.
4. Speaking of that second line...
They were easily the Flyers best line tonight. Lindblom scored a goal on a cheeky backhand wraparound goal, and although Weal didn’t register a point, he had a very strong game yet again filling in at 2C for Nolan Patrick. Weal had the second best SVA-CF among Flyers forwards at a nice 69.46, the Flyer ahead of him? Linemate Travis Konecny. Konecny FINALLY scored his first goal of the season last night, and drove play at a high rate to boot. Konecny came in at 77.68, and had the Flyers second best xGF at 85.26. Weal has been a breath of fresh air at center, and I think it’s clear he should stay down the middle even when Patrick returns.
This would make Weal the third line center, on a line with Scott Laughton and Wayne Simmonds most likely. At the very least, I think Weal has deserved a five game stint at 3C once Patrick returns. Weal not only is posting better results at center than he was on the wing, he looks so much more confident. His skillset allows him to open up the middle of the ice for his wingers, who provide a nice mix of speed and grit. He’ll have relatively the same kind of mix with Laughton and Simmonds, he just might have to do a bit more of the heavy lifting in regards to the line driving play. There weren’t all that many positives to take from this game, but the second line’s performance was definitely one of them.
5. Third line on the other hand? Left a bit to be desired.
In a game where Mikhail Vorobyev was scratched in favor of Corban Knight, Scott Laughton had a prime opportunity to have a great game as the Flyers third line center, and carry his line. That...that didn’t happen. Laughton’s line struggled all night long to generate any kinds of offense, and unsurprisingly, the three of them had three of the worst Corsi-for’s on the team. Wayne Simmonds was at the bottom with an adjusted 19.53, Laughton next at 27.39, and then Raffl coming in at 34.68. Laughton has been one of the major positives of the first seven games as a whole, but this is that one huge blemish on an otherwise gorgeous record.
It was going to be a tough task for Laughts, who has played the majority of his games at wing this year, to all of a sudden center a line from start to finish, but as a former center I think it was fair to expect more from him. He just wasn’t as effective as he had been, and to be fair, neither were his linemates. As the stats suggest, Raffl did look the best out of this line, but even that wasn’t all that impressive. Simmonds was essentially useless offensively, and the trio just never really found extended time in the offensive zone. I think this almost seals Weal as 3C once Patrick returns either tomorrow vs. New Jersey or Monday vs. Colorado, and that might not be a bad thing! Laughton has been very impressive on the wing and if that’s where he’s best, it’s not a big deal especially with how Weal has played at center.
6. Sanheim and Gudas, the lone bright spot on defense
In a game where Christian Folin and Robert Hagg looked like...well we’ll get to that later, and Provy and Ghost struggled again, Travis Sanheim and Radko Gudas had excellent hockey games. Sanheim was moving the puck with ease, and getting the Flyers out of their own zone when needed. Gudas posted a 72.34 adjusted CF and Sanheim came in not too far behind at 66.03. These two have easily been the Flyers best defense pair to open up the season, and once Provorov and Gostisbehere can figure their issues out, it might end up being one of the better second defense pairs in hockey.
Sanheim and Gudas have the top two raw CF on the team among defensemen, and it’s by a sizable margin. Gudas sits at the top with a 53.79, Sanheim at 50.88, with the next closest Flyers defenseman being Gostisbehere at a mediocre 44.17. If the top pairing is able to get back on track, this pairing has some outstanding potential, but sadly they may be split up if the issues with the top pairing consist.
7. Giroux and Couturier carried the top line
Another bright spot, Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux were absolutely outstanding last night. Giroux tallied two assists, and Couturier scored a goal in addition to being an absolute beast along the boards. This was one of those games where Couturier dominated in the offensive zone, and set the Flyers up on numerous occasions. As previously mentioned, he’s a huge reason why the Flyers scored their first goal. He doesn’t get an assist on that play, but he was every bit as important as Giroux or Hagg on Konecny’s goal. It was the strong work of Couturier on the forecheck and battling for loose pucks along the boards, that kept the Flyers in the offensive zone for extended periods of time.
The downside of the top line, Jakub Voracek. It was one of those games where Jake just never really found his footing, and struggled all night. He was a big reason why the Blue Jackets scored their second goal, as a lackadaisical back check on Cam Atkinson left the Columbus forward all alone for the tip in goal. Voracek also brought up the rear in regards to driving play on the top line, coming in at just a 48.74 adjusted Corsi-for.
8. Shot quality remains a strength
This is again something I wouldn’t have expected heading into this season. The Flyers were excellent in the shot quality battle against Columbus. The difference? Columbus buried more of their chances, and had better goaltending (which is saying a lot considering how Bobrovsky looked). They won the expected goals battle coming in at 51.78, and really dominated when looking at all situations, not just 5-on-5. The Flyers are continuing to produce a lot of their offense from the crease area and just below the slot, and it’s paid clear dividends for the offense. As seen below, there’s still a fair amount of point shots coming in, but the difference this season so far compared to previous renditions?
The Flyers seem to be screening the goalie a lot more than they have been in years past, and we’re seeing a lot more deflection goals. Offense from the point will almost never be as valuable as offense from the slot, or really anywhere closer to the net, but if point shots are going to be a staple of a team’s offense, get traffic. And that is exactly what the Flyers are doing so far this season.
9. Not the best of nights for Robert Hagg
Robert Hagg has been one of the pleasant surprises of this team so far, but this was one of those nights for the Flyers physical defenseman. Hagg played the first Columbus goal just about as poorly as one could. Sure, it’s a great play by Anthony Duclair, but Hagg has to do something else there besides letting him fumble the puck and get a weak shot off. Finish your man, go for the puck, anything. He did neither. To be fair, Christian Folin didn’t do him any favors, but Hagg was the main man responsible for letting Duclair get that shot off.
Then, as previously mentioned, Hagg was burned by Cam Atkinson later on for the Jackets’ third goal. The Jackets completed a stretch pass, and Hagg simply didn’t get turned around fast enough to play the body, and he didn’t make an attempt to break up the pass. Lateral movement is not something Hagg will ever be great at, but man that was ugly. I’ll say this though, he got back well enough to force a difficult shot, his goalie just didn’t help him out. It’s primarily on Hagg to not let Atkinson get behind him, but I don’t think it was as awful as some have made it out to be.
Atkinson's 2nd of the night. pic.twitter.com/mlIkDCtTXO— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) October 19, 2018
10. Just watch and laugh, folks