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Flyers 3, Ducks 2: Finally, a win

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Some observations for your [spooky] morning…

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Anaheim Ducks Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Did you stay up to watch this one? It was a late one, but the Flyers made it worth our while as they got back on track and kicked off this West coast swing with a win. Good stuff, you guys.

All stats via Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com

1.About those starts…

They have been rough so far, but last night’s was much better! And that was really great to see. It got a little disjointed, as both teams had a chance on the power play in the first half of the period, but on the whole the Flyers held the edge. They still gave up a couple of chances early, but they looked sharp otherwise—they looked cleaner, their passing was more controlled, and they were able to bring a bit of speed, largely from the efforts of the top line. They were more aggressive in getting after the puck and it served them well. All told, they outshot the Ducks 10-7 in the first 20 minutes, and came out with a one goal edge (more on that tally later), leading after the first period for just the third time all season. So far, so good.

2.Killing penalties

Well, we know how much you all love talking about the penalty kill, so we’re just going to get right into it. Things weren’t that bad, actually? That’s pretty weird.

When killing off Dale Weise’s penalty, they gave up a couple of chances, and it got a little scary for a bit in there, but the Flyers were able to recover. They were able to get the clears they needed, and an intercepted pass at the blue line turned into a breakaway for Scott Laughton that almost turned into a really nice chance, if he hadn’t run out of real estate. But it ate up a good bit of time and helped them kill off that first penalty.

We’ll tell you right away, their second go was successful as well, but just barely, and it was not pretty work. The Ducks were set up in the zone for just about the entirety of the penalty and were able to get to cycling the puck, having the Flyers scrambling around. They got some help some blocked shots and deflections out of play, but their defending came up solid, enough to get the job done.

The third attempt, then, was not that. They did well to kill off most of the penalty, keeping the Ducks tied up in the neutral zone, but they couldn’t kill the whole thing off. The Ducks got set and it was Cam Fowler who beat the screened Brian Elliott. Alas.

3.Welcome, Nicolas Aube-Kubel

We got a bit of news on back on Sunday, that we would be welcoming a new face to the lineup for this game against the Ducks, as Nic Aube-Kubel was called up ostensibly to replace the injured Corban Knight and make his NHL debut. And it was a debut that went over well. Aube-Kubel looked sharp in this one, flexing some speed and doing well in recovering loose pucks and winning battles along the boards. Additionally, he was starting to show some chemistry with other winger Scott Laughton. In short, he looked dynamic in this first showing; solid, like he belonged.

And in a way it feels remarkable that he was so noticeable in this first showing, considering he only played 5:44 through the whole of the game. And this is kind of a head scratcher, if we’re being completely honest. After the game, Dave Hakstol did say that he liked Aube-Kubel’s game, that he was pleased with what he brought in his NHL debut. So does this mean we’ll see his ice time get a bump up in tomorrow’s game? Is this just what he was brought up to do, to play six minutes a night? We’ll have to wait to find out, but we do hope that it’s the former.

4.Top line buzzing

It feels like we could (and likely will) start a bunch of these sections with some kind of variation of “at long last!” in this one, and we’ve got another here where this is the case. So, at long last, the top line was showing some flash and sustaining some pressure, looking as dangerous as we’ve grown accustomed to seeing them look.

We talked a few points back about how the Flyers kicked things off with some jump and were generating chances pretty much right out of the gates, and this largely came as a result of the efforts of the top line—they were active on the rush and able to move through the neutral zone with ease, passing cleanly and getting deep into the zone to set up chances. And really, this good work extended through the rest of the game. The line itself was held off the board (though Couturier picked up the goal on the power play, and Giroux notched assists on his and Ivan Provorov’s goals), but the trio of forwards averaged an adjusted CF% of 62.33 percent at 5-on-5. In short, they were dominant, and if they can keep up at or close to this level, it seems the results on the score sheet can’t be too far away.

5.New looks: power play edition

Well we heard a whole bunch about these new power play units after they got their first looks in practice, and we were eager to see for ourselves how they might pan out, and we ended up getting something of a mixed bag.

Their first attempt saw the second unit get the start, and they struggled to get cleanly into the zone, struggled to get set up. The top unit came out and faced some of that same trouble to start—unable to generate a whole lot of speed on the rush, looking like they were wanting for some urgency. But can we be too upset about that? Because when they did get set up in the zone, they made quick work and got themselves on the board. It was a feed in front by Claude Giroux and a deflection for Sean Couturier with Nolan Patrick setting the screen. Very well executed, and the Flyers had their first lead of the game.

Their second attempt, however, went much less smoothly. They kicked things off with a bit of pressure—the first unit cycling the puck around the zone, but failing to generate a quality chance—but it spiraled from there. Not only could the second unit not get set up in the offensive zone, but they gave up two shorthanded rushes. And it was just a whole lot of yikes. Is the second unit cursed? I think it might be cursed.

On both their third and fourth attempts we hoped that the first unit would be able to recapture some of that early magic, and, well, they couldn’t quite get it done. They had a couple of good looks but they just couldn’t seem to get it done. They were buzzing in a look that extended almost the duration of the penalty, but Miller had them beat. They just couldn’t find the answer.

6.Brian Elliott doing the thing

So it was a pretty good night for Brian Elliot, pals! It started off a little shaky, with his rebound control leaving a bit to be desired, and with him having left a bit of space for Pontus Aberg to work with on his goal, but he was able to get settled as the game went on, and came up big for the Flyers. We had a few stretches where they were caught in their own end, but Elliott was able to make the big saves and keep them in it, even when they were fizzling out.

He wasn’t tested too terribly much in this one—he faced 25 shots in total, and only seven high danger chances, but all the same, he made the saves he was tasked with, particularly on the penalty kill (save the one goal given up, but we can spare him a bit of wrath on it, as he was working to fight around the screen the Ducks set). He wasn’t perfect, but he was solid enough to get the job done, just as he has through most of the season. The difference was that the team in front of him came to help him out.

7.Ivan Provorov, hello

You guys! It’s happening! It’s finally happening! He had kind of a rough start to the season, but it looks like Ivan Provorov is getting back on track. He had a good game, and he’s starting to look like himself again.

The defensive side of this game was solid—he was doing well in coverage and breaking up attempts, and brought a bit of flash when he was able to neutralize a 2-on-1 rush on the penalty kill perfectly.

And then, of course, there was the even bigger bit of flash that he was able to provide in the offensive end. With things tied up in the second period, the Flyers were on the rush and heading back into the offensive zone, and it was Provorov dipping way low in the zone, setting up in the crease to deflect Giroux’s shot from the outside.

It’s just one game, a small sample, we’ll concede, and we’ll need to see him keeping at it and working to push this momentum and steadiness into the rest of the week, but this was a good starting point all the same.

8.The kind of work we need to see

Things got a little dicey in the end of this one, after the Ducks tied things up with just minutes left in regulation. But instead of letting this deflate them, the Flyers came right back. With a rush into the offensive zone, Oskar Lindblom was able to collect the puck behind the net and zip it out front to Patrick who was waiting to take the quick shot and propel the Flyers back into the lead.

And, outside of this being a necessary response, we also appreciate the specific type of play that led to this goal—we know that plays originating from behind the net are more dangerous for how they get the goalie moving and the space they can create, but this isn’t a play that we see the Flyers utilizing terribly often. It worked out for them last night, and maybe they can start doing some more of that? Let’s do it.

9.Not out of the woods yet…

So, this win was pretty nice. We’ve been waiting for the Flyers to get it together and stop making us want to positively rip out hair out, and they did that last night. But we’re not out of the woods yet. They were good, but they certainly weren’t perfect, as they hit stretches where they were hemmed into their own zone and giving up entirely too many chances. They got sloppy, and while Elliott was able to bail them out and keep them from being burned badly by these breakdowns, it really shouldn’t have gotten that ugly in the first place. We can give them a bit of leeway, because they did get the win in the end, but they still have to clean some things up as they continue this road trip.

10.The only damn thing I know

I understand time zones. I do, really. And I understand that we have to have late starts when the Flyers play teams on the West coast. But like, do they really? Starts at or after 10 pm should really be illegal. I’m just saying.