Not exactly the afternoon game we were hoping for, but what could we really expect when the Flyers threw a graphic up on the jumbotron like “hey the Flyers have won their last four games where they were wearing these black jerseys”? That’s just a jinx waiting to happen. And it seems the jinx was strong yesterday (but so was a good bit of the Flyers’ play so let’s just get to talking about that, shall we?)
All stats via Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com.
1. So nice we did it twice
OK, so that’s not entirely true. The start to the game on Thursday against Nashville was slow and low-activity and so was yesterday’s against Columbus. Through the first ten minutes or so of the period, the Flyers registered two shots on goal while allowing three for the Blue Jackets and neither side seemed to be building towards much of consequence. It was a battle of defense, in that way—both sides were focusing on keeping tight gaps and getting sticks into lanes to break up attempts, not giving up a ton of space. And we talked about this after Thursday’s game, that we can accept this because it’s objectively good work, and we can allow it as a stretch of each side feeling the other out, but from the fan perspective we hope for a little bit more buzz. Is this some kind of new norm? How about the defensive soundness with a little bit more fun sometimes? Cool? Cool.
There’s not really a whole lot more than “yikes” that we can say. We had some excitement coming late in the first period, but for the wrong team, and in a very ugly manner for the Flyers.
Provorov turns the puck over at the blue line and Werenski strikes. pic.twitter.com/oAIZQgaXJF— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) December 22, 2018
It started with a turnover in the defensive zone by Ivan Provorov just inside the blue line that got the Blue Jackets crashing in on the net. The Flyers forwards were set up to go on the attack and couldn’t get back in time, so it was Provorov and Travis Sanheim left alone on the odd-man rush. And then it was Provorov giving Pierre-Luc Dubois some space to work with, which he used to make an easy pass to Zach Werenski, who ultimately took the shot.
It was a pretty ugly breakdown, there’s no way to sugarcoat it, and stings a little worse after how well that had played up to that point. But in a way, this would become the story of the night—make one small mistake, and the Dubois line will make you pay for it. They just needed to be that little bit tighter.
We said that already, but we want to reiterate. And after giving up an ugly goal like that one, an earlier season iteration of the Flyers might have begun to combust after that, gotten rattled and lost efficacy and let things start to spiral. But that didn’t happen. Rather, they kept their heads down and kept with the good work that they had been producing before the 15 seconds that led up to the goal. And maybe mental fortitude is a tired narrative by now, so you can call that whatever you will, but their pushback was solid, and they were rewarded for that, in this case in the form of a cross checking penalty drawn on Ryan Murray. The Flyers were building some momentum, and they would have a chance to carry that with them into their chance on the man-advantage.
4. The power play
And carry that momentum… they did not. The start to that first power play was rough—the Flyers found themselves chased out of the zone and struggling to string together clean passes. Their efforts were being well frustrated, and we figured that this would just be another gone attempt. And, because the universe is a joke, what does a power play that’s otherwise been putting together good work of late get on an attempt that’s distinctly messy? That’s right, a goal in the waning seconds of the attempt off a broken play.
Couturier scores while Giroux takes Bob's eyes away. Tie game! pic.twitter.com/K7UC2byObK— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) December 22, 2018
And if we were hoping that this would signal the floodgates opening, we found ourselves disappointed. The Flyers would have three more attempts on the power play, and while they did clean up their play a bit, and were able to put up eight more shots, they weren’t able to take that and find a way to convert. So we can be happy that they were finally able to close on one of their chances, but also know that there’s still a bit of work to be done.
5. Starter Hart
You read that right, folks! It was Carter Hart time again yesterday, for the third time this week. That’s a pretty substantial workload, but Hart’s been handling it in stride (and maybe it’s been made a little easier by those two stretches where he had to play All The Games down in the AHL, as well as, you know, being 20). The numbers may not paint a stellar picture of Hart’s performance yesterday, as they have him stopping 15 of the 19 shots he faced for a .789 save percentage, which isn’t so great. But, as has been the big story with his performances, to date, we can’t pin these goals on poor play from him. The defense was breaking down in front of him and leaving him exposed, there wasn’t a whole lot he could do. Even on the fourth goal, from Artemi Panarin off the faceoff, which we could easiest say “yeah, he’s really got to have that one,” was made more difficult in that the puck was shot straight through Gudas’s legs, while he also inadvertently set a screen.
What are we getting at, here? This game was a tougher test for Hart, and he couldn’t come out with the win for his team, but he also didn’t receive the consistent support to best help him do so. If nothing else, this was a learning experience.
6. Phil Varone, hello
We did it, you guys! Maybe we didn’t pool all of our money into buying Phil Varone his first goal as a Flyer, but our collective energy almost certainly made this happen. That’s good stuff. I’m proud of us.
Phil Varone's first as a Flyer! pic.twitter.com/fn74J3SBRU— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) December 22, 2018
OK, fine, maybe he did this all himself. Or, at least with the help of the shot from James van Riemsdyk that didn’t go, but got Sergei Bobrovsky down and moving enough that when the rebound came right back to Varone, all he had was open net to work with.
But outside of the flash of the goal, Varone had himself a solid day, on the whole. All of the special teams time didn’t really help out his time on ice (he closed out the game with 6:28), but when he was on the ice, he was doing good work. He put up an adjusted 63.1 CF% at 5-on-5, and brought a distinct energy to his play. He kept with all of the little things he’s been doing, but has finally gotten the results to go with that effort.
7. Killing penalties
We’re just rolling with more and more good news in our penalty kill talks. They were a perfect 3-for-3 on the afternoon and continued their good work in frustrating the Blue Jackets’ attempts to sustain any sort of pressure, and even matched them in shots across those three attempts (with both sides registering two).
And even more good news? The Flyers have quietly pulled themselves to 28th in the league in PK%.
*single streamer falls from the ceiling*
OK, OK, so that doesn’t sound great in isolation, but considering how bad things started out this season, how long the Flyers spent in dead last in the league? 28th is a nice improvement, and they’re showing signs that they can continue to improve as we continue on. The process is sound, and they’re getting the requisite better results. And we’ll absolutely take that.
Let’s talk a bit about the last period of play. Things got a little rough for a bit, where it looked like the Flyers weren’t going to be able to put together any sort of push—they were trying, but things just weren’t clicking for them—but the tail end of the period saw them starting to put it together. It started with Gudas drawing a penalty and earning the Flyers a chance on the power play, where they were able to get some looks, but couldn’t close. But just as that expired, Gordon pulled Hart to get an extra attacker out there, and that’s when they did start clicking.
JVR scored on on a scramble in front, but it's not enough. pic.twitter.com/UH7J5fUdoL— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) December 22, 2018
It wasn’t the prettiest of efforts, but it worked, as they got some traffic in front, created a scramble and got Bobrovsky down, and van Riemsdyk was able to collect the loose puck and tuck it in. They were hoping they might be able to replicate this in the last minute of play to tie things up, but the Blue Jackets tightened up and kept the Flyers from getting set. So their late game push yielded some results, but still had them come up short.
9. A bit of perspective
So this one stings a little bit, right? The Flyers had played well these past two games, and even looked good in this game, and they couldn’t bring us another win. We were so excited, it’s a new era, all we get are wins now, right?
No, not quite. And we know that too, realistically. And there’s still quite a bit of good to take from this one, despite the result. As Scott Gordon pointed to after the game, even though it’s a small sample, the Flyers have found a level of consistency over these last three games. Despite opponents with differing playing styles, they hung with each of them just about the whole way. They had a few less effective stretches, but they weren’t nearly as volatile as we’ve seen them be this season. And that feels a step in the right direction. There’s been a good bit of talk about “process” with this “new” team, if you will, and that process is sound. They’re not going to win every game, but they do seem to be tapping into something, here.
10. The only damn thing I know
Is anyone else a little horrified at the idea of Gritty being Santa? He was dressed as him at the game, and it’s a little nightmarish, if you really think about it. The idea that that, those eyes, are the ones that are watching you, that know when you’re awake? *shudders* no thanks.