Anthony Stolarz made 30 saves and Dale Weise —repeat DALE WEISE— scored the game-game-winning shorthanded goal as the Flyers beat the Penguins, 4-2, in Pittsburgh on Saturday night.
The win snapped a two-game losing streak and a skid that saw the Flyers lose six of seven games, accumulating just three points in that stretch to sink all the way to the bottom of the Metropolitan Division. But now it’s the Devils back in the basement, literally and metaphorically where they belong!
With the Flyers out of last place and actual fun things to talk about, let’s dig into five things we learned from last night’s much needed venture back into the win column.
An opportunistic evening
The Flyers aren’t what you call an opportunistic bunch this season. When presented with breakaway chances off defensive breakdowns, they haven’t finished. Ditto odd-man rushes, which almost always seem to see the Flyers end without a quality chance while opponents’ odd-man chances end up like clockwork in behind (insert that night’s Flyers goaltender here).
But Saturday was very different. Almost right from puck drop, the Flyers saw something in the Penguins’ defense they could expose, and they kept hammering at it. Travis Konecny was the main culprit, getting behind the Penguins’ defense on more than one occasion, taking stretch passes from the Flyers defense and creating a pair of breakaways while using the Penguins’ defensive aggression against them.
The first tied the game at 1-1 with a smooth finish to the blocker side of Casey DeSmith after a really good pass from Robert Hagg. The play started with the Flyers pinned by the Crosby line in behind their goal line, but that also lured Kris Letang in from his point slot and when Andrew MacDonald stole the puck in the corner, Konecny saw an opportunity to burn the Pens’ defense and sure did he.
Konecny scores on the breakaway! pic.twitter.com/KB9P28uroZ— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) December 2, 2018
Then in the third it was Weise taking advantage of yet another mistake from Letang, this time on the Penguins’ power play. MacDonald won yet another puck battle behind the Flyers’ cage and dished off to Scott Laughton, but before the pass even got to Laughton, Weise started to take off towards the Penguins’ net. Weise saw that Letang pinched too far to the right side of the ice and took off down middle, taking Laughton’s pass and outrunning Letang to the back of the Penguins’ net.
In a game where the Flyers were mostly outplayed at 5-on-5, they buried the couple mistakes the Penguins made and that ended up being the difference in the end.
Stoaltender, the goaltender
What a night for Anthony Stolarz in Pittsburgh. He’s the Flyers’ fifth goaltender to suit up this season and, by gosh, he might just be their best. Stolarz made 30 saves on 32 shots to get the win, standing no chance on Crosby’s opening goal thanks to a lousy pinch by Ivan Provorov. Though he’d like to have Riley Sheahan’s second period tally back, as it was in-close to the short side, Stolarz was fantastic in net for the Flyers in this one.
To say the Flyers leaned heavily on Stolarz to get two points would be an understatement. Per NaturalStatTrick, the Flyers were out-chanced 28-12 in this one, and 11-3 in high danger chances overall. The Penguins’ big guns weren’t shy about testing Stolarz, either, with 16 shots coming from Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, Patric Hornqvist, and Tanner Pearson, though and oddity was a lone shot for Phil Kessel. But Stolarz was up to the task, keeping his angles tight all game and his rebounds under control for the most part as the Flyers’ defense was able to clean up the garbage in front for once.
Stoltender! The! Goaltender! pic.twitter.com/58gJ5ZlBKy— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) December 2, 2018
The Flyers came in with their goalies providing the worst save percentage in hockey, but got the type of goaltending from Stolarz that they needed in order to stay in the game and make enough plays to win.
Couturier’s perfect night on the dot
Sean Couturier had a whale of a game, perhaps one of his best this season despite showing just a lone assist on the scoresheet. Couturier went a perfect 13-for-13 on faceoffs, while leading all Flyers in time on ice with 21:57 and matching up with Sidney Crosby’s line most of the night. Crosby, for what it’s worth, was held away from the scoresheet after Provorov’s breakdown in the first minute.
.@NHLFlyers Sean Couturier just won 13/13 face-offs in that game vs the @penguins.— Alexander Appleyard (@avappleyard) December 2, 2018
100% on the dot.
Bergeron vs Tampa, 5/4/17 (17/17)
Backstrom vs Rangers 10/3/13 (14/14)
Are the only better statistical performances on the draw this decade across the entire @NHL.#Flyers
As you can see it was quite the feat for Couturier, and those draw wins were uber important in limiting the extra chances for the Penguins given how they controlled the puck and pace of play in this one most of the night. Those extra controls from the Flyers off the draws they won in this game helped them from giving up even more chances, increasing the likelihood that the Penguins would find more offense than they did.
A night for the afterthoughts
Both Andrew MacDonald and Dale Weise have largely been afterthoughts for the Flyers over the last few season. Each has seen his fare share of the press box, but on this night the Flyers needed both of their contributions to get a much needed win.
We’ll start with everyone’s favorite whipping boy in MacDonald, who was very good in this one. Seeing plenty of the Malkin line, MacDonald was strong on his stick and won a handful of puck battles against the tough line, with a pair of those resulting directly in Flyers goals. Those were on the Konecny goal and then the Weise goal, both of which were started by MacDonald’s fine work behind the play.
It’s nice to see MacDonald’s work end up in points, as most of those takeaways behind your own net rarely result in much more than an “atta boy” in the film room. In the end MacDonald grabbed three assists on the night, figuring into the Claude Giroux goal mostly thanks to Jake Voracek’s fine work though. But it wasn’t just points, MacDonald was the Flyers’ second-best defenseman in terms of metics on the night, posting a 13.89% Corsi relative in what was a rough night for the Flyers possession wise.
And then there’s Dale Weise, who looked more like a smooth 30-goal scorer on his game-winning shorty than the guy who has just 13 goals in his 132 games with the Flyers. It’s just his second goal of the season as he’s spent time between the fourth and third lines for Dave Hakstol. The veteran has been a key cog on the Flyers’ penalty kill, seeing the fourth-most time of any forward, though the terrible unit could be more a product of coaching than player execution.
WEISE! Shorthanded!— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) December 2, 2018
MacDonald picks up his 3rd assist of the game. pic.twitter.com/sPZLF8ePZD
The Flyers got key contributions from a lot of irregular sources in this win, but right at the top of the list are MacDonald and Weise. Let that sink in, Penguins.
*Cornelius Fudge voice* He’s back!
Jake Voracek looked like more of his usual self again on Saturday, posting a goal and an assist after potting a goal against Ottawa on Tuesday that ended a five-game scoreless skid. Voracek wanted the puck on his stick against the Penguins and was a magician on Giroux’s second period tally, weaving through the Penguins’ defense and finding Giroux with a perfect cross-ice feed.
It was also his dogged puck pursuit that resulted in the empty net goal that sealed the deal for the Flyers with 22 seconds to go. The effort was there again for Jake in the offensive zone after a handful of listless games from the forward that provided more candid quotes than impactful plays on the ice.
When Voracek told reporters that the team lacked confidence, he wasn’t excusing himself either. No doubt the losing and whispers were hard to ignore for one of the Flyers’ core pieces who lacks a no-move clause in his contract that runs through 2023-24. With changes all around the Flyers’ organization, they need their best players to show up and be their best players night-in and night-out and Voracek is getting back on board here lately.