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Flyers 5, Devils 2: Victory on a Saturday

Some observations for your morning…

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Philadelphia Flyers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Sunday, everybody! Have we all got our coffee? Some brunch? Our comfy pants on? Excellent. Not let’s get to some Flyers talk. For the first Sunday all season, we have a win to talk about! And that’s pretty cool! What do we do with our hands!

Okay, we’ll just get on with it.

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

1.Killing penalties

Well, might as well get right into it. We work through this more or less chronologically, and we got a look at the penalty kill pretty early on in yesterday’s game (just 2:45 in, to be precise), and then twice more across the course of the game. And it was... well, the looks weren’t all that great.

In a way, it feels like we keep on telling the same story: we start to talk about the bit of good work they did early (in tonight’s case, for example, the breakout rush that Sean Couturier initiated), and the just as quickly move on to talk about how it was wiped out by just some ugly, ugly lapses in coverage in the defensive zone to lead to a goal against. We had two yesterday, with the Devil parked in front setting a full screen and giving way to a grade-A chance. And we can quibble about the Boyle goal, whether or not it should have been called back, but the process that led to it remains.

And this is when we start to get mad, and it’s justified. We’re only eight games in, but the Flyers have shown all but zero effort to prevent an opposing player from getting the inside on them and parking himself in front of the net. You’d think that, after being consistently burned as a result of this guy’s presence, that they’d work to keep him away. That they’d make changes. And we don’t have any answers as to why this hasn’t happened, only results to report. It’s still not working.

2.Third line buzzing

But now that we’ve gotten some of the grumbling out of our system, talked for a bit about a negative, why don’t we shift over and talk about a positive. Because we do love balance over here, friends.

One of the more or less immediate standouts in yesterday’s game was the third line of Oskar Lindblom, Jordan Weal, and Travis Konecny. And this shouldn’t be much of a surprise—the line has been creating chances so well, looking so dynamic that Dave Hakstol opted not to break them up and return Lindblom to Nolan Patrick’s line for his first game back. He kept them together, and it seems like this was a good call.

This third line over the course of the game averaged an adjusted 84.67 CF% at 5-on-5, and no I did not make an error in my averaging, they were just that dominant. The line put up an average 76.44 xGF% to round out the solid performance, and lacked only but the finish in this one. But it seems like this is a line that Hakstol is committed to, so we may be seeing some more of them in the near future, and results on the scoresheet seem not to far away.

3.The power play!

We’re going to have a complete rundown of the Flyers’ power play performances from yesterday, but we should really get the big thing out of the way first: the second unit scored a hockey goal.

I know, I know, that’s kind of a big deal. The second unit’s struggled so far this season, haven’t been able to consistently get good entries into the zone and get set up and create pressure. Which may have been something of a key, because it looks like, once they get set up in the zone, they don’t need much time to work with at all. Or, at least that was the case yesterday—all it took was a faceoff win by Jordan Weal, a quick handoff to Travis Sanheim, who shucked it off to Travis Konecny for the goal. It was a bang-bang play, and it got the job done.

Of course, this is about where the good news ends. In their other four attempts, the Flyers were held without another power play goal, but not for lack of trying. They registered a total of 19 shot attempts over the courses of those four power plays, and saw the first unit in particular really knocking on the door. Things should start breaking their way soon, and maybe now that the second unit’s gotten one, this means the floodgates will have opened for them, as well. Here’s hoping.

4.Welcome back, Nolan Patrick!

Maybe that’s a testament to the state of the season to date, but it sure feels like it’s gone on forever, and it’s been approximately four thousand years since we’ve seen Nolan Patrick. It’s only been three games. But it’s been an eternity.

In any event, yesterday’s matinee against the Devils was his first game back (because of course it was), and it was a very good one. He came out looking sharp from the get-go, not looking like he was going to need any time to get reacclimated to game speed (which, after such a short break shouldn’t be an issue, but it’s always a concern, still). He put up an adjusted 45.1 CF% at 5-on-5, and 51.16 xGF% with his new line with Scott Laughton and Jake Voracek. And then, of course, there was the matter of that very nice goal.

His first of the season, he took the feed from across the slot from Voracek and knocked it into the wide open net to give the Flyers their first lead of the game. And him having a solid game isn’t just great because it was a strong return, but also for the hope that it can be some momentum for him to grab onto. He’s admitted that he’s historically had slow starts to seasons—maybe this can be the first step in him shaking this slow start.

5.Shuffling the defensive pairs

So, do you remember in practice just a few days ago, when Hakstol was adamant, adamant, that he wouldn’t be splitting up the Shayne Gostisbehere-Ivan Provorov pair, despite the struggles they’ve had in the early part of the season. Well, it turns out that didn’t quite hold, and this pair was broken up for yesterday’s game, and the results were… well they were fine.

The top pair was saw Robert Hagg bumped up to play alongside Provorov, and that was just fine. They put up a 45.22 CF%, which isn’t stellar, but by the eye this pair was okay. They weren’t dominant, but Hagg looked settled, not out of place on the top pair, and aside from a couple of miscues early, Provorov looked just about as solid as he’s looked all season.

Just about the same could be said for our Gostisbehere-Christian Folin pair, that they put up some better numbers (67.19 CF%) and were solid in their coverages, but they weren’t really terribly flashy or dominant either. (Though maybe a lack of flash is a good thing for this pair, as it would mean no wiping out by Folin).

But probably the best pair across the board was the Radko Gudas-Travis Sanheim pair. Except for when Gudas channeled his inner Folin and fell down on the ice (please note that this one did not immediately lead to a goal against), it was another very solid performance from the third pair with he and Sanheim (who was the real star of the show). The pair put up an average 69.44 CF%, a nice average pulled up a little bit by Sanheim’s individual 75.09 CF%, which ranked him fourth among all Flyers, behind just the forward trio of third liners. Indeed, it was probably the most dynamic and complete game we’ve seen from Sanheim thus far this season—he was active on the rush and did well on the power play, picking up an assist on the power play and then another at fives, and his defensive play was sound, with hid entry defense solid and his rush coverage executed perfectly. For whatever reason, Hakstol doesn’t seem to want to play this pair as anything more than a third pair. Which is a shame, because they’re playing very well right now.

6.Brian Elliott is doing his thing

We’re oscillating back and forth between solid and rough showings for Brian Elliott, and last night saw him looking decidedly more settled and poised. We’re back on top, baby!

All told, Elliott stopped 19 of the 21 shots he faced, for a .905 save percentage. But beyond the numbers was the fact that he just looked more solid than he has in earlier games. No more of that “drifting just a little out of position or reacting slow and leaving a whole lot of space for opponents to work with” nonsense, he was cleaner and more settled in his play yesterday. He didn’t have to face a ton of activity (more on that later), but there were still the eight high danger chances for, and he defended well against those. And, in the end, he helped to keep his team in the game when they were trailing early, and then when they were protecting that lead in the very end, there. It wasn’t his flashiest performance, but it was solid enough. And that’s all we can really ask for.

7.Lots of time in the neutral zone

We mentioned above that Brian Elliott didn’t have a huge workload in this game, and part of this came from the fact of just how much time was spent in the neutral zone. Particularly in the second period, when we ultimately saw a whopping total of nine shots put up (three for the Flyers, six for the Devils), we saw extended stretches where neither team could seem to break past the blue line, and if they did, their rush was broken up not too long after, and we would do the whole thing over again.

And then what do we want to call that? Good defense happening? Just kind of a slog? It would be both of those things, but we should really commend the Flyers here—in the past we’ve seen games where this sort of structure turns one sided, where they Flyers can’t break out of the neutral zone and then wind up giving up a ton of chances, but yesterday they kept it pretty even, in terms of effort. They even found a way to break out and pick up another goal in that period. So there’s some good news there (even if we almost slept through it).

8.Let’s talk about shot quality

Yeah, let’s. Because it got a little weird in this one. Let’s start by taking a look at this graphic.

Posted (during the second period, it was starting to look like the Flyers were allergic to the crease. Or there was some kind of magnetic repulsion situation going on. Who knows. In any event, the Flyers just could not (or would not) seem to be able to get to the front of the net to create a chance.

This pattern didn’t hold for the whole of the game, and a funny thing happened when they were able to break from that initial proclivity for shooting from a distance. They scored two goals as a direct result of going right in on the goalie. They created a few high danger chances, and they were rewarded for them. Weird how that works, huh?

And maybe this isn’t one we get too worked up about—the Devils were making it tough for them to carry the puck deep in the zone, and they haven’t shown a distinct reticence to getting to the net so far this season, but we will still need to see them find a way to break through these types of defenses. They did some of that yesterday, but they’ve got to keep building.

9.Making it work

As we touched on in the point above, this Devils team proved to be a tough opponent largely for how structured of a game they play. They stick to their details and they don’t give up a whole lot of chances, and this in turn leads to some lower event hockey. Indeed, we were joking in the press box early in the third period, wondering if either of these teams would break 20 shots on the night (both ultimately ended up with 21). It was a lot of time spent in the neutral zone with each side working at breaking up an entry before it could start, or just after, and not a whole lot of high intensity happenings. There wasn’t a lot to work with, but the Flyers made it work. And that’s no small feat.

Last season, we saw them struggling some of the more structured games, where there weren’t as many chances to go around, but yesterday we saw them sticking to their own details, simplifying, and making what chances they did get count. We want to make sure that we’re tempering expectations, not making too much out of one win, but the potential for progression is there. They’re learning.

10.The only damn thing I know

So Friday night was the Phantoms’ last home game until the beginning of November (which is weird), so they made it their Halloween game, and part of the festivities included MeLVin running around in costume (which was awesome). He was the Phantoms of the Opera, complete with mask and cape and conductor’s baton. Really spectacular.

But it also got me thinking: we’re creeping up on Halloween, so what are the Flyers and Gritty going to do? Will Gritty have a costume? The Phantom of the Opera was pretty great, can they beat it? Very excited to find out.