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Flyers 3, Rangers 2: Santa came early and left us a shootout victory

Some observations for your morning…

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at New York Rangers Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports

The Flyers went to New York and left with two points, and instead of the usual ten observations, let’s get a little festive around here and go with twelve number-specific ones. Michal Neuvirth got the start in net, marking the first game of the Scott Gordon era to not include Carter Hart, and he proved Gordon right for making that call.

12 faceoffs won

The captain played 23:45, the second-most of any player in the game, and, despite going pointless, was once again great for the Flyers. Claude Giroux fired six shots towards the net, hitting it four times, and won 12 of his 22 faceoffs. As we said, he went pointless, but it’s not as if he was a non-factor out there. Giroux’s line with James van Riemsdyk and Travis Konecny started the game off the right way by hemming the Rangers into their zone for a solid minute and a half while they themselves conducted a line change. Later in the period both Giroux and Konecny had grade-A scoring chances that Lundqvist was able to stop. He’s a pretty good goalie, you know?

At 5-on-5 the Flyers owned 60.53% of the shot share and 54.81% of the expected goals share when Giroux was on the ice, and the line generated enough chances to get them on the scoreboard, they just failed to cash-in. This Giroux back at center experiment has gone better than expected, but will they keep them together for much longer while the Couturier line struggles? More on that in a bit.

11 consecutive penalties killed

After going two for two last night the penalty kill is now on a run of 11 straight kills, a streak that began in the second period of their game versus the Flames back on December 12th. Apologies for bringing that nightmare back up, but the penalty kill has been good, maybe even great lately! And it does date back to the *shudders* Dave Hakstol era.

Once they went over a week owning the 31st-ranked penalty kill, the Flyers finally began to make small tweaks to their penalty kill and things have been looking up since. No longer do the team’s defensemen just sit in the low-to-mid slot attempting to block shots, and instead actually attempt to make a play for the puck. It’s wild how not letting your opponent just take as many shots as they please helps you keep the puck out of your net, who would’ve thunk it?

Is some of this the work of Scott Gordon? Yeah, probably, but as we said before they did start playing more aggressive well before he was named interim head coach. Either way it’s nice to see the Flyers make an effort to fix the team’s biggest problem area ever since Craig Berube stopped running the unit.

10 defensive zone starts

The deployment of the team’s defensemen in last night’s game was of great interest to me, because it was made very clear that Scott Gordon and/or Rick Wilson have one pair that they do not trust to start in defensive situations; Robert Hagg and Shayne Gostisbehere.

Now, the impact that a player’s zone start ratio has on their shot metrics can be overrated at times — the majority of a player’s shifts will more often than not come on the fly — but what it can be very good at showing us is a glimpse into the mind of the staff behind the bench. While Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Andrew MacDonald, and Radko Gudas saw eight-plus defensive zone starts, with Provorov and Gudas leading the way with 10 each, Gostisbehere and Hagg started in the defensive zone just two, and three times respectively.

This isn’t new territory for Gostisbehere by any means, but it is somewhat new for Hagg. The team’s hit leader has been praised a lot for his play in the defensive zone over the past two seasons, so it’s interesting that he’s the one getting these sheltered minutes alongside Gostisbehere. Maybe it’s just because they feel he’s a good fit next to Shayne, and whoever he’s with is just going to receiver the “easier” minutes as well. Either way, I think this speaks a lot to the trust level that some of the defensemen have under the new regime.

9 shots against

The magical Corsi-inflater himself Radko Gudas found himself with a new task playing alongside Andrew MacDonald, and he’s continued to put up stellar shot metrics, for the most part, in their time together despite not-so-friendly deployment as noted above. At 5-on-5 they each saw 16 shots head Lundqvist’s way and just 9 go the other way towards their own net. There’s a case to be made that they were the best defensive pair in the game, with them each posting a 64% CF and an xGF% north of 57%. The only Flyers with better on-ice metrics were the trio of forwards that saw fourth line minutes. Gudas is someone the Flyers may look to move on from in the near future to open up a spot for one of the youngins in Lehigh Valley, so let’s enjoy his magic while we can.

8 shootout shots

I wouldn’t believe you if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, but the Flyers actually won a shootout! Rejoice! It took four rounds and 8 shooters, but they were able to pull it off. Neuvirth looked real sharp, stopping all three shots that came his way — the Rangers’ fourth shooter missed the net — and Nolan Patrick stepped up and won them the mini-game.

Both players could really use a confidence boost and hopefully this goes a long way to turning their seasons around. Patrick has just 11 points through 32 games this season and has been underwhelming on the whole for someone who came into the season locked into the role of second line center. It’d be an understatement to say the second-year pro has had a rough go of it of late with just two points in his last 18 games played. Maybe a game winning shootout goal over a future hall of fame goaltender will be the spark he needs to get back on the scoresheet.

7 shot attempts

When it comes to shooting the puck, one Flyers’ defensemen led the way with 7 shots at the net in the game (five coming at 5-on-5) and, surprisingly, it wasn’t Gudas! Rather, it was Gostisbehere. Among the long list of Flyers that have under-performed through the first 35 games of the season, we saw flashes of the Gostisbehere we know and love throughout the game when he would continually jump into offensive rushes and create offense. However, we also saw the bad, specifically on the power play, where team’s have seemingly adapting to him being such a threat.

The two shots he took on the power play were both blocked by the Rangers’ high-forward, something that’s become somewhat of a concerning trend of late. For his visible struggles — and frustrations — at times, it’s notable that at 5-on-5 he has a 96.16 PDO, lower than what he finished with during his sophomore season in the 2016-17 campaign, when some people began to question if his rookie year was just a fluke. He proved that thought process to be wildly inaccurate in his third season, and maybe we’re just going to have to go through these down swings with him every now and again.

6 minutes of ice time

We complained about player usage under Hakstol a lot, and when it comes to our Swede up front, there still hasn’t been an uptick in his minutes under Gordon. Oskar Lindblom played just 6:43 in yesterday’s contest, and continued to win the shot and chance battle by a significant margin. For whatever reason he’s fell out of favor and has been used almost extensively as a fourth liner over the last two months, outside of a game here and there, and there’s no signs of an increased role to be headed his way any time soon.

He’s one of the team’s best creators of offense from behind the net and deceptively good defensively — so much so that some models, like the one created by the Evolving Wild twins’, even had him as one of the front-runners for the Selke trophy just 18 days ago. Now, I certainly don’t view him as a Selke-level forward, but I am a believer in the data they used to come to that decision. To date Lindblom still possesses one of the best even strength xGA/60 RAPM at -0.163, 12th-best among forwards to be exact. Without going too deep into the details of things that are a level above what I feel confident in explaining myself, RAPM is a form of statistical regression that is used in a model to take context and beliefs based on previous data samples into account and adjust for such things appropriately.

Just play him more, okay? He can do a lot for this team both with and without the puck.

5 feet from the net

I don’t think that Wayne Simmonds’ goal could get anymore Simmonds-like, well besides it missing a celebration while laying on the ice. A power play goal, coming off a rebound of a shot off the post, 5 feet from the cage? Yeah, that screams him. For someone who gets a lot of flack for having a down year, Simmonds is quietly on pace for another 25-plus goal season and, only has three power play markers thus far. That’s not to say he should be immune to criticism, he’s not been especially good at 5-on-5 this season, but he is still scoring a fair amount.

4 shots behind

Okay, this part of the number-game was a bit of a stretch, but we’re okay, we found one. It’s time to talk about the second line, I told you we’d get here eventually! I don’t think the Sean Couturier line has been great, but have their struggles been a bit overstated? They did lose the shot battle at 5-on-5 again last night, with Simmonds and Couturier leaving the game a -6 in Corsi differential, and Voracek leaving with a -4, but to date it hasn’t been all bad. Since becoming a trio they have spent just about 72 minutes together and have a 51.77% CF, 55.7% xGF, and a miserable 16.67% GF.

Again, I don’t think they’ve been good, and I don’t think Simmonds is a top-6 forward at even strength in the year 2018, but they also have an 85.27 PDO. Would it be a bad thing to break them up? Not really, but if you want to keep Giroux at center, maybe they’re a fine second line that’s just been buried by poor puck luck. Last night was maybe the trio’s worst game of the season, so we’ll have to see if they stick together after the holiday break or not.

3 appearances in net

Neuvirth has his first win of the season! In what was his 3rd start of the season, he made 32 saves on 34 shots en route to a big win over the division rival Rangers. He wasn’t holding back in his movements, that’s for sure, and if he can manage to stay healthy for an extended period of time he’s shown in the past just how good he can play. Here’s to hoping he can build on this performance.

2 goals against

Tying a bit to number three above, the team, along with Neuvirth, was able to hold the Rangers to just 2 goals last night. Both goals were shots that you’d expect to go in by most goaltending standards, and the team did just okay at limiting quality chances throughout.

Neuvirth did end up having to make 20 saves on high and medium danger shots, 8 more than Lundqvist’s 12, but it felt like the team didn’t fall victim to some of the defensive breakdowns that haunted them earlier this season, outside a few early gaffes like the Provorov misplay that led to the first goal of the game. If Rick Wilson can continue to build on the progress he’s already made with the team’s defensemen the Flyers should be in a lot better shape in the defensive zone.

1 goal this season

Michael Raffl finally scored his 1st goal of the season, and it was well deserved and way overdue. It make have taken him 21 games to light the lamp, but Raffl has been an above average bottom-sixer all season with his strong forechecking and defensive impact. The former 20-goal scorer might not see his goal totals rise to their previous levels again, he’s the type of “glue” player that a team should want to have. You know, one that is actually an NHL quality forward unlike a lot of the usual suspects that get called such.

I hope you all enjoy what’s left of the holiday season, and we’ll be back at it again on the 27th when the Flyers have the tall task of taking on the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Data courtesy of, Evolving-Hockey, and Natural Stat Trick

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