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Lightning 6, Flyers 5: Just missed it

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They almost came all the way back.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Flyers almost made it all the way back last night vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning, but came up just short. Let’s talk about it!

All stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, Hockeyviz, and Corsica

1. The “Ivan Provorov is back” game

Someone who appeared primed for a huge season this year was defenseman Ivan Provorov, but the 21 year old has struggled mightily in the early portions of the season. Last night however, Provorov was fantastic and clearly the team’s best blueliner against the potent Lightning offense. Whether it be breaking up dangerous pass attempts or completing successful breakouts, Provy was all over the ice making an impact. He would go on to score the final Flyers goal to tie the game which eventually lead to getting a point. We may poke fun at the “loser point” often, but scratching and clawing a point away from a game like this isn’t too shabby.

Provorov posted a 57.57 score and venue adjusted Corsi vs. Tampa Bay — which was only middle of the pack among Flyers defensemen — he had the most SCF (scoring chances-for) and HDCF (high danger chances-for) on the team. He did this all while only starting three of his shifts in the offensive zone, and only taking six offensive zone faceoffs. Not to mention this was all with having matched up with Steven Stamkos the most out of the Tampa forwards, no small feat. Mark this game down if we begin to see Provorov put these kind of performances together on a more consistent basis.

2. Michal, you did all you could.

Look, we’ve had our playful and sometimes not-so-playful jabs at Michal Neuvirth over the past two years, but it’s hard to put much blame on him for last night. That might sound strange given the final score, but the Flyers defense did their netminder no favors. Neuvirth was continually left hung out to dry and it began on the first goal. Dale Weise and Claude Giroux never picked up Nikita Kucherov on the two-on-one, and Robert Hagg failed to take away the cross ice pass which was going to be Tyler Johnson’s best option, given Provorov had taken away the Brayden Point option who was driving the net.

On the second goal, Neuvirth most likely would have been able to make the save on Point, had Andrew MacDonald not positioned himself on top of the Flyers goalie doing his best starfish impersonation. On the third goal no one picked up Steven Stamkos in the slot which ah, seems like a bold strategy by Scott Laughton, leading to a patented Stamkos snipe. The fourth goal could possibly be blamed on Neuvirth for not anticipating better, but come on, why was Stamkos left wide open again in his spot on the power play? The fifth goal was a flukey play where you utter the classic “hey, that’s hockey” line, and the sixth was a snipe by Killorn. At 5-on-5, Neuvirth stopped 24 out of 26 shots, which at the end of the day leads to fingers pointed at the man who has somehow kept his job throughout all of this, Ian Laperriere.

Without Neuvirth, this game probably would have turned into a blowout for Tampa, but Neuvirth kept the Flyers in the game all night long. Let’s just be glad that Scott Gordon didn’t throw Carter Hart into that mess last night, alright?

3. Claude Giroux, you are the man.

Ok, Chase Utley is still the man, but Claude is as well. The Flyers captain was electrifying last night picking up two points in the overtime loss. Giroux scored a dazzling goal that had us flashing back to the younger Flyers star as he absolutely walked Ryan McDonagh and deked out Andrei Vasilevskiy for at that point, the tying goal. Not only was the Flyers’ best player getting it done offensively, he chipped in on the penalty kill with a spectacular diving clear. While it’s not necessarily ideal for Giroux to be getting PK minutes at age 31, he’s still producing in a big way and was a main reason why the Flyers hung in vs. Tampa.

The captain has been easily the best Flyer this year, leading the team in points with 44 in 36 games, and a 55.82 Corsi. It’s incredible how times have changed from once thinking he was on the decline after a 58 point season in the 2016-17 season, to him now putting together another possibly MVP caliber season at age 31. He may have had the turnover in overtime that lead to the winning goal, but the Flyers do not make it to overtime without Claude Giroux.

4. Shot selection was just about perfect.

Against a team like Tampa, who have done solid work all season in preventing high quality scoring chances, the Flyers were all over the high danger areas last night. Tampa Bay posts the sixth best high danger chances allowed in the league according to Natural Stat Trick after last night’s affair, and are a minus three percent threat level defensively according to HockeyViz. The fact the Flyers were able to win the scoring chances and high danger chances battles against an elite team like the Lightning, is impressive.

Sure, they may have allowed some great scoring chances themselves against Tampa, and they ended up in the back of the net, they kept pace with the Lightning and that is the important part. Since Scott Gordon took over for Dave Hakstol, it’s clear the Flyers have been getting to the high danger areas a lot more, or at the very least trying to get to them on a more consistent basis.

5. The beat goes on for Travis Sanheim

We already talked about his defense partner early on, but Travis Sanheim also had himself a strong game for the orange and black. Sanheim’s game has clearly been rejuvenated since being paired with Provorov and seeing an increase in ice time, and he registered another point in this one. Sanheim recorded a secondary assist on the Michael Raffl goal to open the contest, his ninth assist of the season. He also posted a 62.17 score and venue adjusted Corsi according to Natural Stat Trick, and a 61 percent expected goals for.

On the season, Sanheim now has 12 points already two better than last year’s total, and has a 54.69 Corsi. Whether you agreed or disagreed with the firing of Dave Hakstol, you have to agree that under Hak, Sanheim was never going to receive this kind of ice time. If Provorov can continue to rebound, and Shayne Gostisbehere returns to form, the Flyers will have three top four defensemen with Robert Hagg continuing to develop and Samuel Morin still an unknown.

6. Nolan Patrick injured again

The season from hell for Nolan Patrick continues to get worse. In the second period, Patrick was injured in a collision with Lightning forward Ondrej Palat prior to the third Tampa goal, and would not return to the game due to what was later classified as an upper body injury according to the team. Patrick has just 11 points in 33 games and if this injury is somewhat severe, it would be the second time this season he’s missed extended time due to an injury.

While I still believe Patrick is not as bad as the numbers suggest in his early career, it’s fair for Flyers fans to be disappointed in their second overall pick. This was a guy who was the projected number one pick for almost the entirety of his draft year, and he’s failed to show why at the NHL level on a regular basis. There is definitely still plenty of time for Patrick to turn it around, but it absolutely is a frustrating start to the season yet again for the 20 year old.

7. Strong game for the fourth line

While Oskar Lindblom on the fourth line is still not ideal by any means, he and the rest of the line were fantastic last night. The line lead the team in Corsi and were all top four in expected goals, with just Oskar Lindblom outside of the top three. Phil Varone and Dale Weise continued to provide solid forechecking all night long and Weise was even rewarded with his fifth goal of the season. It may have taken him two years, but it looks like Dale Weise is finally turning into the player that Ron Hextall thought he was getting when he signed him to that four year contract.

Phil Varone has been a pleasant surprise on the fourth line after his recall from Lehigh Valley. He’s not a staple of this team moving forward, but he’s a solid fourth line center who has held his own since joining the team. Having Jordan Weal at that spot would probably be the better option, but it’s clear at this point that the Flyers do not think there is a big enough gap between the two to force Weal into the lineup.

8. Second line with a surprisingly good game.

The second line combination of Wayne Simmonds, Sean Couturier, and Jakub Voracek has struggled since they were put together, but this was not one of those nights. Couturier and Voracek were fourth an fifth on the team in adjusted Corsi with Simmonds coming in behind Provorov as the last Flyer with an above 50 Corsi. Couturier is a known play driver with Voracek as well, but the fact the two of them were able to carry Simmonds against a team like Tampa is impressive.

Moving forward, I still would like to see Simmonds moved off of that line simply because I don’t think he makes up for Couturier’s weaknesses that other players do, and I don’t think in general he’s a top six forward anymore. But for this game, the trio was good more often than they were mediocre or poor in this one, and maybe that’s the kind of game they need to get some momentum as the Flyers search for two above average lines in the top six.

9. Gostisbehere and Hagg struggle.

The duo of Sanheim and Provorov have been spectacular of late, but Shayne Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg are still trying to find their footing. While Hagg did score in this one to make it a one goal game, the duo were among the worst in Corsi and expected goals. From Hagg, this isn’t entirely a surprise, but Gostisbehere we know is a better play driver than this and especially when it comes to getting high quality chances.

I think these two make up for each other’s deficiencies in ways, with Hagg able to finish players in the corner or along the half boards, and Gostisbehere obviously with his high level offensive ability, but right now they’re just not clicking.

10. It’s important to remember just how good Tampa Bay is.

It’s fair to be disappointed in how this game ended, given it was such a brief overtime and it was the Flyers best OT unit turning the puck over, but they got a point against the best team in the conference. The Tampa Bay Lightning are without a doubt the most skilled team in the East and are well on their way to being favorites for a trip to this year’s Stanley Cup Final, and the Flyers battled back against them to tie the game and get a point out of it.

That kind of fight to come back in a game is something we didn’t see towards the end of Dave Hakstol’s time in Philadelphia. More often than not, we saw them give up a goal and turtle into their shell and essentially give up on the game. That isn’t what happened last night, and whether Scott Gordon had a major impact or not, I don’t think the Flyers get a point last night if Dave Hakstol is still the head coach.