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Flyers 4, Blackhawks 0: Gone streaking

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Some observations for your morning...

Chicago Blackhawks v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

We’re back, folks! Our first Saturday home game in a hot second was a good one, as the Flyers continued their homestand, meeting the struggling Chicago Blackhawks and dispatched of them with relative ease. As we’ve been saying of the last couple games, this one too got a little bit weird. But hey, a shutout’s a shutout, and we’ll certainly take it. We’re not spending our weekend grumbling about an ugly Flyers loss. That’s good stuff, friends.

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

1. Not a stellar start

We were really excited after Thursday’s game, because after spending much of the early season to date and bemoaning the slow starts, they finally cleaned things up and got themselves a two goal lead early in that one. It looked like they were starting to turn a corner, or we were hoping they were, and we were hoping they could also keep that same effort up, carry it into our Saturday matinee.

And, well, we were disappointed. The Blackhawks came in with some jump and the Flyers just didn’t quite look ready for it. They got themselves hemmed into their own zone and had to do a good deal of defending. When they were finally able to get the puck past the blue line, Chicago was clogging up the neutral zone and making it tough for the Flyers to start a clean rush through. And then, if they were able to make it into the offensive zone to work at creating some chances, they were kept pretty well to the outside.

So they weren’t able to generate a whole lot of anything through the early part of the period, but the good news is that they weathered that storm, and once they got the one bounce they needed, they were off to the races.

2. The Flyers benefit from Murphy’s Law (no, really)

It feels like a story we told nearly ad nauseum last season with the Flyers—they did a lot of good work over a span of time but just couldn’t seem to get the bounce they needed, couldn’t get the finish, and then after all of that good work, the tiniest of breakdowns happens and then play goes the other way and the puck’s in the back of their own net. We’ve seen it time and again, working against the Flyers, but yesterday might just have seen a move towards the universe evening the scales.

As we noted above, the Blackhawks really got the better end of play in the early part of the game, but they couldn’t get the right bounce, and Brian Elliott did well to keep them off the board. And then the Flyers were able to get the puck in the offensive zone and weren’t looking particularly dangerous, but then it was a bad turnover and it was Claude Giroux in perfect position to deke around Corey Crawford and score the Flyers’ One Good Hockey goal.

And the good things didn’t stop when the goal celebration ended. It was a weird play, but it was exactly what the Flyers needed. While the Blackhawks lost some steam after falling behind, the Flyers had a bit of life injected, and held onto that to push through the rest of the game. They just needed a little bump.

3. The power play

Once the Flyers got things rolling at even strength, they had the chance to extend their lead on the man advantage, when Erik Gustafsson was sent to the box for hooking. They weren’t able to convert on that chance, but they were able to keep the puck in the zone long enough to get their cycle game going and generate a couple of good looks. And, indeed, they would get two more chances on the afternoon, but the story would be the same—a good bit of pressure, but no finish.

But, I mean, they didn’t give up any shorthanded goals, so I guess we can call that a win. Right?

Joking aside, we have some interesting tension going on here. On the one hand, the Flyers have been creating chances on the power play, and logic would tell us that the results shouldn’t be too far away. But on the other hand, the results still stand—it’s another game where the power play has failed to convert. They haven’t been wanting for scoring through the last couple of games, but this could change quickly, and we may well soon hit a stretch where they’ll need to get a boost from the power play units. So they’ll need to find a way to break though, and the sooner the better.

4. Killing penalties

But let’s turn to the other side of the special teams coin, because it’s nothing but good news on this one. No, really. It’s good news about the penalty kill. For the first time in ten games, the Flyers did not allow a single power play goal. And the streak was snapped.

The Blackhawks had four chances on the power play (well, three proper chances, and then 24 seconds at the tail end of the third period), facing a struggling Flyers penalty kill, and were held off the board on each of these attempts. And, really, the Flyers did this without a whole lot of ugliness. It didn’t come down to Brian Elliott making a handful of massive, flashy saves while the Flyers skaters in front just stood around. Rather, they were quicker in getting to loose pucks and chipping it out of the zone to eat up a bit of time. We even got another one of our (what’s almost starting to become expected) shorthanded rushes for Scott Laughton. All told, the Flyers only allowed three shots on the penalty kill, and did well to neutralize the Blackhawks and really limit their chances.

5. Sean Couturier, hello

Well, that certainly was quite the game for Couturier, let me tell you. With two goals and an assist on the night, he didn’t just show up and play well for his team, he came out and showcased his ability to veritably take over a game and lead the team to a win. Let’s get to the highlight reel.

It was something of a balance on those two goals, with him just absolutely physically dominating on the first one, and then reaping the benefit of a deflection off Brandon Manning (lol) in front on the second, but both were pretty great. Outside of this, he came out of the game with four shots and an adjusted 69.96 CF% at 5-on-5, putting him second among his teammates.

And it feels like this section has been a long time coming. Couturier’s had a bit of a slow start to the season on the scoresheet, and while we weren’t ready to get too worried about it just yet (he did miss a good chunk of training and preseason time with that knee injury) and were willing to give him a bit of time to get back into the swing of the things, we’d be remiss if we said we weren’t hoping to still see some more from him. It looks like we’re getting to that point though, we’re he’s settling into play nicely and starting to look more like his last season self—dynamic and dominant—once again.

6. Brian Elliott comes up big

This was a big win for the Flyers and there’s one big reason why they were able to run with this one, rough start included: one Brian Elliott. After pitching a shutout, coming in in relief of Calvin Pickard on Thursday against Arizona, Elliott picked up his first proper shutout of the season yesterday. All told, he stopped all 33 of the shots he faced, and did well to keep the Flyers in it, particularly early on, when they were spending those extended stretches caught in their own end.

But the Blackhawks didn’t just go away after the Flyers pulled into the lead, they kept at it and still managed to put up eight high danger chances to test Elliott. And he passed.

If nothing else, Elliott really deserved this one. He’s been good for them so far this season, even when the team in front of his has been anywhere between a little rough and an absolute disaster, leaving him out to dry. A win’s a win for the team, but getting Elliott a shutout as a reward for all of his good work to date seems appropriate.

7. Working smarter

We talked after the road trip about how the Flyers were doing well to emphasize creating high danger chances, and how that sort of broke down in Thursday’s game against Arizona. We needed to see the Flyers get back to that going forward, and they were able to do that in yesterday’s game. Well, sort of. It’s a little complicated. Let’s break it down.

The good: of the Flyers’ 19 shots for at 5-on-5, eight of them (42.11 percent) were classified as high danger chances for, which is a pretty good piece of the overall workload. Additionally, all three of their 5-on-5 goals came from inside or just on the edge of the crease. So that emphasis was working for them.

The bad: the emphasis wasn’t continuous—five of those chances came in the first period, three in the second, and zero in the third. So while there was good work happening throughout the game, the Flyers didn’t completely fall off at the end there, but there was still something to be desired in the complete effort department. But it was still a step in the right direction, I suppose.

8. Mental fortitude and all that jazz

We’ve hit on it already, but we’ll make not of it one more time: the Flyers had that rough start but they recovered well from it and staged a nice counterpush. But to get a little more abstract with this, it isn’t just good news for the result of the game that the Flyers were able to come back from the rough start and get the win, but also for what this may mean for the larger collective mindset of the team.

Earlier in the season, even if we didn’t see them fall behind by a goal or more early, after giving up a handful of good chances early, we might have seen them start to deflate or press. Or, on the flip side, after taking the two goal lead, they might have started to sit back in a big way. Either way, an earlier iteration of the Flyers might just have let off the gas in a number of contexts that we were met with yesterday, but in this one, they didn’t do that.

When it was looking like things might get a little dicey for them, they didn’t panic, just kept their heads down and weathered the storm. And when they took the lead, they didn’t let up and give the Blackhawks a good chance of coming back. They weren’t perfect, but they did the work they needed to when they needed to do it. We might call it fortitude, or maturity, or whatever you will, but it’s a change. And it’s a step in the right direction.

9. A note on luck

As we’re wrapping this thing up, we should not that, while there was a lot of good work put in in yesterday’s game, but we should also note that there was also a bit of luck that went into this win. We talked already about how one turnover in the first turned into a goal, which was certainly some skill from Giroux in putting that one away, but it was kind of a bad bounce that led to the turnover. The same could be said of Couturier’s second goal, which saw the shot deflect in off of Manning in front.

Also we really should take another moment to appreciate that we got to be on the other side of a Brandon Manning own goal. That was pretty perfect.

But, to get back on topic, the Flyers came out of this one with 2.01 xG in all situations and 1.59 xG at 5-on-5. They were putting in some good work, but they weren’t doing all that they could to put themselves in the absolute best position to win this one. Do we take the bit of luck that helped them seal this one off? Absolutely. But we can also acknowledge that this game very well could have been a lot tighter than it was, and the Flyers still have a bit of work to do.

10. The only damn thing I know

As we’ve broken down already, this win was pretty sweet for a lot of reasons. But for me it’s extra great. Because my best friend’s a Blackhawks fan, and twice a year I get to talk a big game and say they suck, and pick a big fight. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesn’t. But I hate being wrong and yesterday I was not. So, thanks for doing me that solid, the Flyers.