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Avalanche 5, Flyers 2: Undefeated no more

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Here are some observations for your football Sunday...

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Colorado Avalanche Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

The Flyers are no longer undefeated, as a 5-2 loss at Colorado on Saturday night drops the club to 1-1. Here are five observations from that loss, and a small bonus one that isn’t really all that fun at all.

Hakstol’s lineup change backfires

It’s almost as if changing a lineup that produced a 5-2 win in the season opener in Vegas would be a bad move. Well, not in Dave Hakstol’s world. The Flyers’ coach yanked Radko Gudas, who had an assist against Vegas and carried a 58.82% Corsi For, in favor of new toy Christian Folin. As you’d expect, Folin was a downright disaster on Saturday night, with a turnover resulting directly in an Avalanche goal for JT Comppher, a bad penalty that led to another Colorado goal, and got caught on a 2-on-1 that resulted in —you guessed it— an Avs goal.

Look it’s not totally Folin’s fault that he was thrown into the fire in game two after watching the Flyers’ defense figure things out against the Golden Knights’ up-tempo attack, but he had a rough night and a Flyers debut to forget no matter how you slice it. This is more on Hakstol for breaking up a perfectly fine situation on defense and complicating things when they didn’t need complicating.

Maybe it’s more on GM Ron Hextall for giving Hakstol another veteran toy to play with. But Folin did nothing on Saturday to suggest he “earned” his way into the lineup as Hakstol put it. And he sure as hell did nothing to show that he deserved to be in over Gudas, who just helped you win a hockey game two nights earlier. If anything, you’d think Hakstol would have targeted one of his younger defenseman to yank out after a great team win, but no, he sat Gudas and he paid the price.

Let’s see how the lineup look for the home opener on Tuesday, Dave.

Brian Elliott saves

In the end the numbers won’t tell the full story on how good Brian Elliott was on Saturday night. The veteran stopped 30 of 34 shots he faced for an .882 save percentage. But among those 30 saves were many of the high quality variety and in high danger areas for the Avalanche, who used their speed to create havoc in the Flyers’ own end.

Elliott saw a lot of rubber from Avs sniper Nathan MacKinnon, who was unable to pierce the goaltender with seven shots before potting an empty net goal with Elliott watching from the bench. Apart from his fine work on MacKinnon, Elliott was sharp on several odd-man opportunities for the Avs and didn’t get much help from his defense to clear out the garage in front. One would think the Flyers missed a guy like Gudas, who is known for making life hell on opponents in close, but hey I don’t make the lineups.

Despite the loss, it was a fine night for Elliott and one that builds upon his solid start in Vegas on Thursday. With the Flyers’ goaltending situation featuring a ton of bodies and a slew of roster moves, having Elliott play — and play well — is huge for the Flyers. Right now he’s the only option, and he’s off to a great start which is badly needed in so many ways.

So what’s goaltender interference anyways?

The big moment in the game turned out to be Gabriel Landeskog’s game-winning goal, which was contested by video review for goaltender interference by the Flyers. The Avs captain forced his way past Travis Sanheim and into Elliott’s crease before tipping home a point shot for the goal. On replay Landeskog grazed Elliott’s arm and certainly appeared to impede the netminder’s ability to make a save in that instance. For the record, I’ve seen this near exact play called interference at least a dozen times, but the experts in Toronto saw it otherwise and upheld the goal call on the ice.

It was a big momentum shift as Mikhail Vorobyev had tied things up at 2-2 some five minutes earlier on a strange play that left the Avs a little flat after watching their own defenseman submarine their goaltender to lead directly to a Flyers goal. The Flyers’ bench clearly thought it was interference and were definitely surprised that the goal would stand after the challenge from Hakstol.

The moral of the story is that the Flyers really always get screwed on these type of things. You can bet 100% that if that situation was reversed the Flyers goal would have been waved off.

Speed kills, Flyers still have tempo issues

Much like the Golden Knights’ pace really gave the Flyers issues in the first and third periods on Thursday, the Avs’ up-tempo pace gave the Flyers much of the same fits. It starts with MacKinnon, perhaps the NHL’s fastest skater, as he skated circles around the Flyers’ defense no matter who was out there.

Elliott did yeoman’s work on the odd-man rushes that the Avs’ speed created, but where the Colorado speed really killed the Flyers was on loose pucks, where a maroon and blue sweater was almost always first to the puck. This was true through 40 minutes, though the Flyers responded with a valiant third period effort to try and get back in the game following Landeskog’s tiebreaker.

Semyon Varlamov was solid in the Colorado net, making 35 saves on 37 shots, but wasn’t perfect and left a lot of meat on the bone on rebound chances that the Avs beat the Flyers to. More hunger for those loose pucks could have given the Flyers the extra offense they needed to keep up with the Avs in this one.

Penalty kill progress?

The Avs did break through with a Colin Wilson power play goal in the third period, but the Flyers did kill off three other Colorado power plays on the night. Wilson’s second of the night on the man-advantage ended up being somewhat of a bad bounce that victimized Robert Hagg and Sanheim. The Avs had a back door play on started by Alex Kerfoot, but Carl Soderberg’s cross-crease pass seemed to deflect and still found it’s way to Wilson to beat Elliott. That puck could have easily bounced over Wilson’s stick and would have kept the Flyers’ penalty kill perfect on the young season.

That follows up a three-kill performance in Vegas on opening night, which is small progress for a unit that badly needs to be better if the Flyers want to not only make the playoffs but push closer to being a contender.

Ivan Provorov and Andrew MacDonald led the way with over five minutes of penalty kill time on defense while JorI Lehtera, Scott Laughton, Sean Couturier, and Michael Raffl were solid up front for the forward group. Those look to be your main penalty killers early on this season and they’ve been very strong through two games

JVR era 2.0 could be on hold

A clearing attempt hit van Reimsdyk on the inside part of his right knee in the first period and he did not return. He played just 3:55 of ice time in his second game of the season and return to the Flyers. There’s a chance that it’s nothing and it was more of a precautionary move for the Flyers to hold out their prized free agent acquisition, but we’ve seen JVR miss games in Philadelphia before, so let’s hope it’s nothing major.

While it’s early in the season it’s never good to see someone go down to injury, and Hakstol said he was a little concerned afterwards that JVR didn’t come back to the bench at any point. Thankfully the Flyers do have some depth to work with should the forward miss any period of time, though the lineup is much deeper and skilled with JVR’s services in tow.