Normally this is where I come up with some kind of clever way of introducing this piece, or at least try to. I don’t have that today. Just a note that I think I never want to hear a whistle ever again and those officials from last night should be in prison. That’s a reasonable and measured take, right?
All stats via Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com
1. The Couturier line does the thing
We’re going to talk a bit more about this in a second, but last night’s wasn’t a terribly high-event start to the game. With how tight the defense was playing on both sides, we got the feeling early that this might be a low scoring affair, and that the Flyers were going to need all the goals they could get against this Nashville team. And they would need to find a way to get to work sooner rather than later.
And, oh, would you look at that, they did.
What a pass by Couturier to set Voracek up for the goal! pic.twitter.com/shaNk7x5HV— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) December 21, 2018
With the feed from Sean Couturier, Jake Voracek was right in position to exploit a bit of space left and tip the puck in, and the Flyers had their first lead of the game. And we talked about this line after Tuesday’s game, noting that there seemed to be some chemistry building, and that even though they were held off the board, they were putting in some good work. So it was nice to see them be rewarded for continuing that good work, and forming a solid foundation to build off of, going forward. We can reasonably expect to see them getting some more time together, so the chances seem ripe for the taking.
2. Not a whole lot going on early…
Did you have so much fun watching the first half of the first period last night? Wasn’t it just an absolute delight? Super high event? No? Okay.
This game didn’t have an excellent start, purely in terms of the excitement level of the on-ice product, outside of that Voracek goal. Nashville plays pretty tight defensively, and even without two of their key defensemen, they were playing defensively sound in the first half of the period, getting in lanes and breaking up passes before they could get on net and turn into something dangerous. Indeed, they only allowed two shots for the Flyers through the first half of the period. The good news is that the Flyers were also doing well at this same defensive work and only gave up three shots during that span. So the efforts were just about equal and we can commend them for that job well done, but also wish that we had a bit more excitement to watch. So it goes.
3. Working smart
One thing the Flyers were doing well in those early goings, even if they weren’t able to generate too many proper shots, was create traffic in front and challenge Pekka Rinne to react quickly and concede some space. Nashville was doing well to keep a good chunk of their chances on the rush negated to start, but they were able to break through to create some space for themselves in the back half of the period. From some flurries of activity in front, they were able to pull their total up to nine shots on the period, after only having those two in the first half, and part of this came from sequences where they were able to get the puck in deep, as the hockey people love to say, and sustain some pressure in front. They weren’t rewarded for this work, early, but it was what they needed to do to break through Nashville’s tight checking.
4. The power play
We’re going to have some more exciting special teams news coming later on, but we should get this one out of the way while we’re here. The Flyers had four chances on the power play (totaling 7:33), and again couldn’t convert on any of them. They weren’t without their chances—11 shots and six scoring chances, in total, with a couple where they were able to make use of some quick and accurate passing to get Rinne moving and leaving them a fair bit of space to work with, but they just couldn’t take advantage.
And maybe we’re all a little shell shocked by any comments in the vein of something being “visually improved,” but that’s sort of where we’re at with the power play. Those chances that we mentioned above were good, and they are in general getting better chances than they have recently, they just can’t close that out. And maybe that changes soon. Hopefully it does. Because they need it to.
5. A nod to Travis Sanheim
We want to take an opportunity here to do, well, just what the title suggests—extend a nod to Travis Sanheim. He’s seen his role increasing over the last handful of games, and it took a big leap forward in last night’s game. And he looked really solid.
He played 21:58 last night, leading all defensemen. And really, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that he’s playing alongside Ivan Provorov, and that automatically means more minutes, and then combine that with the fact that, with all of the penalties taken, they were down to three defensemen for a bit. And in those increased minutes, he looked sharp—his 5-on-5 play was sound, as he registered an adjusted 47.71 CF% and an 18.97 CF% Rel (yes you read that right) at 5-on-5, and was effective on the penalty kill, particularly when called up in that 5-on-3 in the second period, parked in the crease and not letting anything through. He didn’t come out of the night with a point, but with how quickly he’s settling in to this new role, and how completely he’s taking care of his details, it shouldn’t be long before he starts to be rewarded with some points, as well.
6. Starter Hart
Well, would you look at that! it’s a second consecutive start for our new pal Carter Hart! His first on Tuesday against Detroit was a good one—not perfect, but good—and last night saw him looking even more settled in and taking a step forward. All told, he stopped 31 of the 32 shots he faced for a .969 save percentage. And even that one goal allowed wasn’t all on him—he was a little far out in his crease to play the initial shot, but the goal ultimately came off a weird bounce right in front. There wasn’t a whole lot that he could do on that one.
But, as we said, his technique was even sharper last night, and it needed to be, what with all of the times the Flyers found themselves shorthanded. But he did well to maintain his composure and stood up for them when they needed it. The Flyers did well to make his job a little easier, limiting the Predators to just five high danger chances for at 5-on-5, but we can still feel pretty comfortable praising this performance. He’s getting into a rhythm, and he’s looking good so far.
7. Claude Giroux, hello
While we’re praising individual performances, we should make some time to talk about Giroux. Because he also had himself a very good game.
What a shot by Giroux! pic.twitter.com/bR1jLSot0j— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) December 21, 2018
There was, of course, the flash of the goal (which was indeed very nice), but really, he was solid across the board. He registered team high 10(!!!) shots across the night. He was distributing well on the power play, helping to create some of those chances we mentioned above. He was sharp on the penalty kill. It was really all there. It’s difficult to gauge the chemistry and trajectory of a line, but his with van Reimsdyk and Konecny is showing some promise, and the good news is that we should have the chance to see them work to develop that, as Gordon tends not to jumble his lines preemptively too often. So, if they’re showing something, they should have a chance to build on that.
And he got some nice visitors during his post-game interview. That was neat too.
Special guests for Claude Giroux’s post-game availability pic.twitter.com/BkczqiFIWk— Madeline Campbell (@madelinecampbll) December 21, 2018
8. Killing penalties
We hope you came into this game wanting to see how the penalty kill would look as we progress into this new regime, because, oh boy, did we get to see a whole lot of the penalty kill. We might usually break down their attempts one by one, but we simply do not have the time.
The Flyers were whistled for a penalty six times in last night’s game, and we can’t even get too riled up about this meaning the team lacks discipline. There were some objectively weak calls in there. But, as they were calls all the same, the penalty kill had their work cut out for them. And the good news? They didn’t let in a single goal. Yes, really.
Even with two minutes of 3-on-5 time, the Flyers wouldn’t be beaten. It took a couple of handy saves by Hart, and even more abuse taken by the skaters in front to kill those off, but they got the job done. They had a bit of help from some good coaching, when Gordon called a timeout to give his penalty killers a break before getting back out there, but the surrounding work was also sound. And it’s these pieces that the players have been pointing to as keys to their recent success—that they’re more effective in their attempts to disrupt passes and more able to block shots. And, really, you can’t argue with these results.
9. Closing out strong
We’ve had two games in a row now in which the Flyers have come into the third period with the lead. That’s not something that we’ve seen a whole lot this season—their specialty has really become come from behind wins—so in a way they’re stepping into uncharted territory. Their finishes weren’t perfect these last two games, but on the whole their 5-on-5 play was solid, and they’ve been able to get the job done. The Predators even had some help from a 6-on-4 power play in the last minutes of the period, but still the Flyers held them off the board. It’s uncharted territory, as we said, but it’s territory that they’re working well within, still. They’re being smart about their play, they’re keeping up the pressure where they can, that is, they’re not letting off the gas when pressed. And, it’s as Travis Konecny said after the game “everyone’s buying in.” They’re tapping into something, here. And we’re excited to see where it goes.
10. The only damn thing I know
There were a lot of really nice and touching tributes to Scott Hartnell last night, reliving great moments in his career and wishing him well in his retirement. It was all wonderful. And we’re not going to rehash all of it in detail. We’re just going to bump this one thing. Because it was an absolute masterpiece.