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Lightning 6, Flyers 5: What a ride!

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Some observations for your morning...

Len Redkoles / NHLI via Getty Images

Happy Sunday, folks. We’re easing into this one and we’re doing it by talking about the Flyers. We’ve had a good number of games so far this season that we’ve come out of and been like “wow, that was an emotional roller coaster” and we think it won’t be topped. It can’t be. And then it is. Yesterday’s matinee sure did it. Like the headline says, what a ride.

All stats via Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com

1. Top line buzzing early

It’s been happening more and more of late, that the Flyers are getting off to stronger starts and coming out with some energy, but we can’t help but get excited every time it happens. We were deprived of it for so long. Let us have this.

Anyway, the Flyers did That Thing again yesterday, and leading the charge was the top line. They came out with some jump and more or less immediately got to cycling. They couldn’t put away any of those early chances, but they were threatening right out of the gate. That momentum faltered through the middle of the game, but all in all, they came out with positive results—16 shots between the three of them, an average adjusted 52.28 CF% at 5-on-5, and three goals.

OK, we’re playing it a little loose with that last one, as two of those goals were on the power play. But we’re getting to our main sentiment—after being sort of up and down for a good bit of the season, the top line had a good showing, was looking like the top line again.

2. The power play

Get ready, folks. It’s happening. We’re about to say some nice things about the power play. I know, it’s just about uncharted territory, but we’re going to do our best.

After going 3 for their last 43 attempts as of Thursday’s game, they went 3 for 6 yesterday against the Bolts. And if that statistic feels a little jarring, well, it is. The Flyers were getting chances during that dry spell, but they weren’t finding ways to close. But once the floodgates opened, did they ever open. Let’s go to the tape.

So, what’s changed? Having James van Riemsdyk back at the net front on the first unit is certainly helping things (it did yesterday), but all in all, not too much is different, in terms of the general mode of operation. Can we just chalk it up to this power play always being streaky, and be happy with the results? Maybe. But only so long as the results do keep coming. To be continued…

3. Killing penalties

We really are frontloading all of our special teams talk, aren’t we? Well, we had a lot to look at early. So let’s just get it out of the way.

It wasn’t a great day for the Flyers’ penalty kill, but it did start out well—on their first attempt, they did well to get after the puck and keep it cleared out of the zone, and in doing so didn’t allow the Lightning’s first unit to even get set up in the offensive zone, which was kind of spectacular.

But the excitement was short-lived, as they would go one for their next four attempts, and the way it all happened was, in short, predictable. They kept the Lightning from getting set up on the first attempt, and that wasn’t going to happen twice. And the Flyers got up to their old tricks and were burned for them. How much else is there to say? They fell back on the old system, and it did what it does—fail.

4. Get [clap] pucks [clap] in [clap] deep [clap]

Normally this section is called something else, but I put all that work in, when I was outlining, writing out all those claps, so we’re keeping it.

We touched on the strong start that the Flyers got off to already, and one of the bigger observations on that, they key to it, was how they were able to get up ice quickly and make sure they were getting pucks deep in the offensive zone, allowing them to emphasize high danger chances. They registered seven in the first period alone, while holding the Lightning to just four across all situation, and came out of the game with a HDCF% of 62.96 percent. It wasn’t yielding results from them early, but it did eventually, with four of the Flyers’ five goals coming from right in the crease. And this feels intuitive, that good work should eventually lead to reflective results, but too often we’ve seen the Flyers falling back on perimeter offense when things aren’t going their way. But they resisted this yesterday, and the results speak for themselves.

5. Sitting back

Oh no. We’ve just gotten done talking about all of that good work that they did early, and now we’ve arrived here. At sitting back. When they came out for the second period, something just seemed different. Even before the stretch of penalties taken and goals allowed, it looked like there was something lacking. After the game, Shayne Gostisbehere would point to this as a lack of urgency. But the penalties (and, as we noted above, the penalty kill that wasn’t much helping them out) hurt as well.

And this is one we’ve seen before—the Flyers play a very good period, but come out tied, and then when they come back, they’re just a step behind. They were still outshooting the Lightning handily—11 to eight in the second period alone—but they only tallied three high-danger chances, as they weren’t putting themselves in the best position to score. To be fair, it wasn’t effort that dug this hole, we had other factors at work. But, all the same, it set a heavy task ahead of them, to come back.

6. Cal Pickard

Oh boy. We’re not going to pull any punches here. It was not a good day for our friend Cal. The Flyers’ goalie injury drama continues, as it was announced late this week that Brian Elliott would be out for about two weeks with a lower body injury. And this isn’t an awful timeline, considering how bad it looked when he came off the ice on Thursday, but it left them down to Calvin Pickard and Alex Lyon (just recalled from Lehigh Valley) between the pipes. We’ve gotten some good showings from Pickard so far this season, and the question remained, could he come up big for them against Tampa Bay?

The short answer was “not really.” He gave up six goals on 26 shots, making for a .769 save percentage. We’ll concede, you can’t really pin all of those goals on him—there was one on a 5-on-3 and then another which saw Ivan Provorov just get pushed right out of the crease by Brayden Point, to open up space for a regular power play goal. There wasn’t a whole lot Pickard could do on those, sure. But we still needed a little more from him, elsewhere.

7. The Travii

We’ve still got a bunch of thoughts on this one, and we’re running out of space to talk about them, so we’re lumping together two. This is a section exclusively reserved for players named Travis. Of which the Flyers have two. And who both had themselves very solid games.

Bringing the most flash, of course, was Travis Konecny, with his two goals on the afternoon (one to start their comeback, and the second to bring them within one). But aside from that flash, he had a solid night, across the board. He was part of that initial push by the top line that had the Flyers looking sharp, like they were coming out with some jump. He also put up eight shots (the most on the team by a margin of three) and an adjusted 55.62 CF% (third among all Flyers) at 5-on-5. In short, he was their single highest producer of chances, and he was rewarded for it.

Also having a solid game was our other Travis, Travis Sanheim. He didn’t have all of the flash that Konecny did with big scoring plays, but he brought it elsewhere—flexing some speed to get up ice and break up rushes and doing some fancy stickwork to make him elusive with the puck. It’s not much in the way of tangible results, but it’s nice to have those moments when you’re so clearly reminded: “oh yeah, this kid’s really good.”

8. Leaving chances on the table

Yes, you did read that one right. We’ll talk more about it soon, but while the Flyers dramatically outshot and outchanced the Lightning through this one, they had even more chances that they could have cashed in on but didn’t. Louis Domingue, despite the numbers, didn’t have a stellar game—his rebound control was a little rough and he was leaving a good number of pucks just sitting on the doorstep. The Flyers were in position to score, but they just couldn’t seem to do anything with that. They were deep in the zone, but not quite ready to chip away at those loose pucks on a consistent basis.

Are we willing to look past this, considering the fact that they were able to come back in the way that they did? Maybe a little bit, sure. We can embrace a bit of the “the end justifies the means” mindset. But we should also note that if they were able to close on some of those chances earlier, we may well have not been looking at the need for such a dramatic comeback, in the first place.

9. This was fun, I guess, but we shouldn’t have gotten here

But this brings us to our next point—it really shouldn’t have played out like this. The Flyers had the bulk of the chances on the afternoon (outshooting the Lightning 45 to 26), and also held the edge in quality chances (putting up 17 HDCF to Tampa’s 10). Domingue didn’t look great. Two of Tampa Bay’s stars in Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov were kept very quiet throughout this game. The Flyers had a lot going for them, but they just weren’t getting the bounces (and the deficit spiraled a bit more, in the lack of support from special teams and their goalie). They got into the hole, but it’s not as though they were without their chances to claw their way out earlier.

Do we respect their resiliency, how they didn’t completely turtle and accept defeat after falling behind? Absolutely. And there’s certainly something to be said for getting a point out of this one. But it still comes back to needing a 60 minute effort. A great flash of production, is, well, great. But so is consistency. It’s more sustainable (and, you know, better for our hearts).

10. The only damn thing I know

You know, it’s kind of a bummer that a Flyer isn’t an image that lends itself to be written into songs. There are so many good lightning songs out there! It really isn’t fair. We’re not trying to heap too much praise onto the Bolts, all things considered, but here are a couple of good lightning songs, that I pretty much oscillate back and forth between having stuck in my head, whenever we play this team. Enjoy.

“Lightning Strike” – A Silent Film

“Lightning” – State Champs