How’s about that, folks? Last night was game one of the post-Hakstol era, and already the Flyers were able to rally and get themselves a win. We’re not going to talk about how it was against a Red Wings team that’s struggled some this season, and their backup goalie who wasn’t even supposed to play that night. Those are just details. The Flyers got their act together and they got a win! And we’re having fun again!
All stats and graphics via Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com
1. Getting chances early
As far as first periods go, last night’s was just about equal parts weird and productive (for the Flyers at least). It saw Travis Konecny getting hurt in just about the first moments of the game and Scott Gordon having to get a little creative with his lines. It also saw the Flyers able to come out and string together some early pressure, come out with some energy.
They were able to get to work and pull momentum in their favor. And, to be sure, they had a bit if help in establishing that edge in shots from those two power plays (and yes, it’s also of note that the power pay still didn’t find a way to convert last night), but the work remained sound across the board, at least on the shot generation front. They came out of the period with an adjusted 55,96 CF% at 5-on-5, as they tapped into something early and ran with it.
2. James van Riemsdyk, hello
We just talked about the Flyers out-chancing the Red Wings early in this one, but we should also note that they were outscoring the Red Wings early too. No, seriously. I know we haven’t gotten to say this very much this season, but it’s true. It was van Riemsdyk who got the Flyers first on the board, by doing what he does best—getting to the front of the net and looking for deflections. It was a shot from Claude Giroux coming in from the outside, and van Riemsdyk was right in position to tip it in and past Jonathan Bernier.
JVR puts the Flyers up 1-0! pic.twitter.com/WcRDyrwIMS— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) December 19, 2018
And, would you guys look at that. That was a perfect example of how shots from the perimeter can lead to some good scoring chances if you have the right traffic in front. They haven’t been getting a lot of the latter recently. So this was a nice reminder of what they should be doing, if they do indeed want to put themselves in the best position to score.
3. Starter Hart!
The time is finally upon us, folks! Earlier than many of us might have expected, but the Carter Hart era is finally upon us! And, let me tell you, it’s going well so far.
In a way, this is the type of game that you might want to see a 20 year old rookie making his debut in—the defense in front is tight enough that not a ton is getting through to him, and what is getting through by and large isn’t terribly dangerous. Indeed, the Flyers held the Red Wings to just 22 shots and four high danger chances across all situations. That said, Hart still managed to stay sharp, even as he wasn’t facing a ton of activity.
He wasn’t perfect—there were still the two goals given up (though those were more products of a screen and a blown coverage in front, respectively), and his rebound control had a couple of shaky instances, as did his attempts to come out to play the puck. But he was able to recover from those dodgy moments, and came up with some big saves late in the game when Detroit was trying to rally. And he picked up a well-earned first NHL win.
4. New looks
We had quite a bit of shifting going on through the lineup, as we got some new line combinations and pairings for this one. And, to give credit where it’s due, some of this was in part from the lines run in the interim practice (there weren’t all Gordon changes). But, regardless of who made them, they seemed to be working.
All told, it was the first and third lines that were able to get themselves on the board on the night, but it’s not as though they were the only two lines working. The Couturier line was able to produce some pressure on the rush (with a couple of sequences that saw Wayne Simmonds and Jake Voracek connecting for a chance, but just missing their window), and the Varone line nearly found some success from crashing the net. And we hesitate to heap too much praise onto them when they still couldn’t get on the board (they’ll need to find a way to do that), but what we’re getting at is that the Flyers were getting contributions from up and down the lineup, they weren’t just leaning on one line to produce everything.
We might expect for some further shuffling of these lines, going forward (Gordon just about said as much), but it was nice to see some things clicking, in this one. Hopefully the new new look lines will be able to do the same.
5. Killing penalties
We thought we might be able to escape this one without having to talk about the penalty kill, but no such luck, it seems. As has been the story of the Flyers’ penalty kill for, uh, the bulk of the season, what we got was something of a mixed bag. They did do some good work, for example in that they were able to limit the Red Wings to just one shot on each of their two attempts, and they were able to keep with some of their aggressive play in getting after the puck. The bad news, of course, is that they couldn’t execute perfectly, and allowed for a screen to be set in front, that then let Dennis Cholowski’s shot from the outside sneak through before Hart could fight off the screen. We’ve seen them, in the past few weeks, look like they might be turning a corner, or might be able to, if they could just find some consistency. So maybe that’s just our next step, here. Their next thing that needs cleaning up.
6. Active defense
Not trying to say we told you so, but Brad and I definitely broke down just yesterday how one of the key aspects of Scott Gordon’s teams is the fact that defensemen are allowed to be active on the offensive side of play, and how often they’re able to get themselves on the board. And just that happened last night.
11 of the Flyers’ 17 shots for at 5-on-5 came from defensemen, as they were working to pull their weight in chipping in offensively. And they got the results to match, with two of the Flyers’ three goals coming from defensemen (Shayne Gostisbehere and Radko Gudas). Let’s go to the tape.
This shot from Radko makes us Gladko pic.twitter.com/o3uZp4cGWJ— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) December 19, 2018
Raffl ➡️ Patrick ➡️ Gostisbehere pic.twitter.com/4jYO7JwV6r— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) December 19, 2018
And what’s perhaps the best part about these contributions is the variability—it’s not just a case of point shots happening to slip through (though the one was), but rather of defensemen having the space and freedom to jump in on the rush and create in that way. They can serve wherever they can have the most impact.
Now, we don’t want to take this too far and posit that this was purely Gordon’s influence and now everything’s fixed. The defensemen had some space to work with, but in some games that just happens more than others. Sure. But we maintain that this may not be the last we see of this.
7. We gotta talk about Phil Varone
And, more specifically, how much it will cost to buy him a dang goal. I’m willing to give my money to this cause. I don’t have much. But I’ll do it.
In any event, he’s been playing some good hockey of late. He looked solid when he was right brought up, but he’s really been looking like he’s been getting into a rhythm in these last few games. And last night was a distinct high point. He came out of the night with two scoring chances and an adjusted 56.89 CF% at 5-on-5. He looked to be buzzing, was knocking on the door, but found himself just shy of closing. But there was something brewing there. Maybe him getting up to a respectable 9:44 on the night helped that some.
But this may all be for naught, all this willingness to donate money to the cause of buying him a goal—it looked like they were cleaning out his stall after last night’s game, so it’s possible this means he’s being sent back down to Lehigh. So maybe he gets his goal as a Phantom? Maybe we should have been more specific.
8. Cleaning up the details
If you were to ask what one of the biggest takeaways from this game was, it would be that the team just looked better. But that’s also a little imprecise. What we could say, rather, is that they were playing a cleaner, more precise game, and it served them well.
They were playing a more careful game in that they weren’t doing things like making risky cross-ice passes just for the sake of trying to make something happen, and then getting burned for it. On the whole, they were executing their passes tape to tape much cleaner than they have been in this recent stretch of games, and this helped them get moving on the rush faster, and as such had them better equipped to generate more dangerous scoring chances. You see where we’re going with this? By just cleaning up on relatively small aspect of their game, they were looking like a veritably different team. That said, we’ve seen them backsliding before. But, hey, it’s a whole new era, right? Maybe all that can be over.
9. We made it!
That’s right, folks! We made it through our first game of the post-Hakstol era. And… it went okay…? Change is incremental, and Gordon didn’t even get to run practice on Monday, but there were some things to like. We’re most excited about the kids getting bigger roles. Travis Sanheim on the top pair? Oskar Lindblom getting extra shifts while Konecny was out? Extremely here for it. They’ve finally got someone here who trusts them, and that seems pretty great.
And, I’m going to be honest with you all, it was nice to feel some excitement in the building again. It’s been a rough road so far this season, and it was distinctly unfun at, well, more than a few times. It wasn’t perfect the whole way through, but we can’t say that it wasn’t fun.
10. The only damn thing I know
Things got off to a rocky start, as we noted above, with Konecny getting hurt very early on, and when this happened, I couldn’t help but worry. For his sake and for the broader implication. If he had been seriously hurt, would this mean that Scott Gordon brought the injury bug up with him from Lehigh? And I just wasn’t ready to put that evil out into the world. So we’re glad he’s okay.