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Senators 4, Flyers 3: Yep

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Some observations for your morning…

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Oh. Man. This was not the result we were expecting, but also, in a way, exactly the result we were expecting, given how things have been going around here. It’s been rough, friends.

All stats via Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com

1.Not a particularly inspiring start

With the Flyers’ starts having been a hot topic for discussion, we went into this one with the same hope that we had been holding onto going into most of the others—that they would be able to come out with some jump and not just concede a couple of early goals to dig themselves into a massive hole. And, well, they did at least half of that.

The good news is that they avoided falling into the latter half of that, and held the Senators off the board through the opening minutes of the game. The bad news, however, was that they also weren’t able to generate a whole lot for themselves as far as quality chances go. Or as far as any chances go. We saw possession being traded, but there wasn’t a ton of energy, and there wasn’t a whole lot of consequence going on. And maybe we want to get a little bit snarky and say that the fact that the Flyers didn’t get torched in the first few minutes was a win in and of itself. And sure, that’s not entirely untrue. We could be diplomatic about it and say that it’s a step in the right direction, but they’re far from having fixed the issue.

2….but it only takes one good shift, eh?

Okay, so maybe we can erase everything we just said up there about the start not being all that inspiring. Because the Flyers did get a goal and it was nice. But maybe that’s a step too far.

Let’s re-frame: after sort of a weird start, the Flyers gave us a look at just how dangerous they can be, how quickly they can shift the tides of momentum. All it took to get things rolling was a chance to break out of their own end, a great dish from Claude Giroux to Travis Konecny, and the Flyers were on the board.

But really, the top line’s good work wasn’t contained to this shift, or the first period. All told, they had themselves a solid night, registering seven shots and posting an average 82.12 CF% at 5-on-5. They were active on the rush and were threatening even when they weren’t putting points on the board. They were clicking, and looking like we’ve come to expect them to look. More of this, please.

3.Killing penalties

But it’s time that we hit this section. We had a nice little break, with the Flyers not taking any penalties in Saturday’s game against the Leafs, so we didn’t have to talk about the penalty kill for a little bit but we couldn’t stave it off forever. It’s back to killing penalties.

And, as strange as it feels to say this about a penalty kill that has spent the bulk of the season hanging out at or around last in the league, they were successful last night. The Senators had three chances on the power play, and were shut down in each of them. In fact, the Flyers actually out shot the Senators twofold (four shots to two) across these three looks. So how did this happen? Simply, the Flyers were more aggressive in getting after the puck, didn’t just back straight up into the defensive zone, let the Senators get set up and cycling, and hope for the best. They were chasing, and when they got a hold of the puck, they weren’t just chipping it out of the zone, they were looking to make a play with it, when the opportunity presented itself. And we should offer snaps for that.

4.Welcome back, Michael Raffl!

That’s right, folks! This was our late breaking news before last night’s game, that Michael Raffl had been activated from IR and was set to rejoin the lineup for this one. And it was a solid first game back for him.

After missing just about a month with a lower body injury, we might have expected him to show a bit of rust, or look like he was trying on the fly to get back to game speed, but this wasn’t the case—he fit seamlessly back into the lineup and got to work. And his effect was almost immediately felt—he helped out on the penalty kill, contributing to that more aggressive approach and positive results that we talked about above, but also contributed at 5-on-5, with one shot and an adjusted 100 CF% at 5-on-5 on the night and one very nice set-up pass from below the goal line (hello) for a chance in front. And that 5-on-5 effectiveness shouldn’t be overlooked: on paper, a fourth line of Raffl with Scott Laughton and Oskar Lindblom, if kept together, should be able to do some damage against your average fourth line. They were starting to buzz last night, and it will be interesting to see what they can do, in the event that they’re given some more time together.

And, while we’re at it, why don’t we get right over to our next section…

5.Welcome back, Anthony Stolarz!

Okay, okay, so we saw him already on Saturday, so this isn’t a complete first return welcome back. But it was his first start, and his first home game, so we’ll roll with it.

He looked fine enough in his relief appearance on Saturday, which feels like a high mark for a guy who’s played under five games so far this season, between the AHL and NHL. But this didn’t really hold, unfortunately. All told, it wasn’t a banner night for our pal Stolie. He didn’t have a whole lot of activity to face through the first two periods of the game, but by the time it was all said and done, he had given up four goals on 24 shots. And he’s going to want most of those back.

And, to his credit, he did come up with a couple of big saves to preserve the Flyers’ lead early, and it wouldn’t have been fair to expect a lights out showing from a goalie who just hasn’t gotten that much playing time. But you can’t blame us for hoping for just a little more.

6.[Almost] surging

And now’s just about when we would normally flip over and trying to even things up by talking about the power play, but last night we never actually got a proper look at it. We almost did, but the Flyers were able to convert on their chance on the delayed penalty, with the goalie pulled and the extra skater out there. And what’s also worth noting is that this conversion was largely due to the efforts of players not generally on the power play—it was the fourth line plus Jake Voracek that got it done. And it came as a result of some good cycling work, something the Flyers were doing pretty well over the course of the night. We can’t call it a power play conversion (which is a real shame, considering how much it’s been struggling, of late), but a goal’s a goal and we still commend the work that made it happen.

7.Transition play

If we’re looking for standouts about the Flyers’ play in last night’s game (or rather, through most of last night’s game, but more on that later) one that rises to the top is their effective play in transition. They did well to limit the Senators’ chances through the earlier part of the game, and largely did so by either blocking or cleanly breaking up plays in the defensive zone before they could make their way on net. And the Senators, then, didn’t get a lot of second chances because just as soon as the puck was loosened, the Flyers were on it and moving it up ice for at least one chance of their own, or a bit of time spent cycling in the offensive zone.

And this good work paid off—it had the Flyers looking dangerous when they could get moving with the puck. They might have been able to cash in on a few more of the chances they were creating were it not for one pass too many here, a puck sailing wide of the net there, but the underlying work was sound.

8.Reunited and it feels so good

We mentioned some shuffling going on with the forwards in tonight’s lineup, but they weren’t the only ones seeing some changes. Andrew MacDonald found himself back in the lineup tonight, and started the game next to Shayne Gostisbehere, but that didn’t hold for too long. So you know what the means? It was Provorov-Gostisbehere time, folks!

And this ended up being good news—we saw how well this pair worked last season, and they seemed to be clicking reasonably well in last night’s return, as well. The chemistry wasn’t lacking and, as Provorov acknowledged himself after the game, they were doing well to break plays up around the blue line and get the puck moving up ice (helping out that transition play that we talked about above). It wasn’t a perfect showing—they weren’t exempt from the breakdown that happened in the last ten minutes—but it was a flash of what they can do, if they Flyers opt to keep them together, going forward.

9.And now we’ve got to change our tone…

We were working out way through the third period of this one, and we were feeling pretty good about the way this game was going to turn out, and the things we were going to say about it after. And then the Senators scored. And they scored again. And they scored a third time and the game was gone.

So how did we get there? The Flyers were dominating through the first 40 or so minutes of this one, but then something flipped. They stopped making the same precise plays they were focusing on in the earlier part of the game. And then when the Senators made it a one goal game, the messiness kept on tumbling out and before we knew it, it was that scrambling and that spiraling that we’ve come to know all too well.

Jake Voracek pointed to this after the game, that this is a team that’s not playing with a whole lot of confidence right now, and one that gets a little rattled when things start to go wrong. It’s not a new story, not a new pattern. But it’s one they need to pull themselves out of, and fast. Their schedule coming up is tough, they’re not getting any help there. It’s all on them.

10.The only damn thing I know

We did it, guys. We survived the first game of the post-Hextall era. It doesn’t feel all that different, though, does it? Considering how this game went, and all.

This is supposed to be where we talk about the importance of continuity, how things happen outside of the rink and that shouldn’t matter, we still keep playing hockey games, and that’s that. But that feels a little simplistic, doesn’t it? Because it isn’t quite that simple. Changes are coming and you can feel that energy in the room. It’s tenuous, it’s weird, and it’s probably about to get even weirder. And we’re just along for the ride, aren’t we?