A wise man once said that when the goin’ gets tough, the tough get goin’!
OK, so it was a fictional character in an all-time great movie (Animal House), but I can’t help but think of that quote when I think about Sean Couturier taking a shot to the groin and then potting the game-winner in overtime on Friday night.
Couturier’s 29th of the season in extra time erased a late equalizer from Columbus to give the Flyers the 2-1 win and another point in their push for the postseason. Besides the heroic resolve of the Flyers’ No. 1 center, here are 10 things we learned from the most recent overtime win for the club.
Three things I liked
Travis Konecny, the Wizard of OT
If you haven’t seen the second-year forwards latest overtime treat, I strongly urge you to take a second here to watch it.
A little Coots OT winner, for your enjoyment pic.twitter.com/5XL1vqiVhi— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) February 17, 2018
Konency knew exactly where both Sean Couturier and Ivan Provorov were on the ice when he lured in a Blue Jackets defender and flicked a pass through to Couturier to spring a two-on-one for the Flyers. Couturier then used Provorov as bait and fired a perfectly-placed shot past the blocker of Sergei Bobrovsky to send the Columbus fans home disappointed.
It’s the fourth point Konency has recorded (two goals, two assists) on game-winners in overtime this season. And to think there was a time that coach Dave Hakstol didn’t trust the crafty winger to make the right plays during the 3-on-3 session.
Michal Neuvirth wins an impressive goaltending duel
Neuvirth was tremendous in stopping 35 of 36 shots to earn the win. He didn’t have as many spectacular saves as his opposite number did, but the Flyers’ netminder came up with some big saves of his own and was at no fault on the Blue Jackets’ tying goal with less than four minutes remaining.
Bobrovsky made his mark early as the Flyers had a gaggle of grade A scoring chances in the first period, but Neuvirth matched the Russian netminder save for save all night. Though the Flyers were the more dangerous team, it was Neuvirth getting the last laugh thanks to excellent rebound control all night in response to the Blue Jackets’ shoot everything style.
Since losing de-facto starter Brian Elliott for five to six weeks with core muscle surgery, Neuvirth has turned in two shining efforts in Vegas and here in Columbus with a so-so game against New Jersey in-between. The Flyers need to get consistent goaltending down the stretch to maintain their playoff position, and Neuvirth has gotten off to a strong start in place of Elliott so far.
Neutralizing the Blue Jackets’ aggressive defense
One major concern heading into this one was how the Flyers would handle the Columbus defense in transition to offense. Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, and David Savard in particular make life tough for opposing defenses. They can create zone entries by themselves and often jump up on plays to put pressure on forwards in the defensive zone in terms of coverage.
The Flyers did a masterful job in controlling the Columbus blue line on Friday night. Though it was an overall tight checking game from the Flyers, in particular they were hard on the puck anytime a Blue Jackets defenseman had it.
This was evident right off the puck drop when Jordan Weal’s aggressive forecheck resulted in a great scoring chance for himself on a break in on Bobrovsky. Weal stripped Werenski near the left circle and cut in for a chance that Bobrovsky turned aside.
There were times that the three active Blue Jackets defenseman mentioned above got loose, but they were few and far between as the Flyers’ limiting of their space went a long way in holding Columbus to just one goal.
Three things I didn’t like
Dave Hakstol’s late game decisions
It was no surprise to see the trio of Jori Lehtera, Valtteri Filppula, and Dale Weise on the ice for the Blue Jackets’ tying goal. They were extra tired given the icing call that Andrew MacDonald earned just before.
Look, I get there was 3:28 left, but Dave Hakstol has to do everything he can to avoid having his worst line —by far— out in crunch time with a lead in a game he needs two points from. Hakstol can’t help that he couldn’t change those guys due to the icing call, but he could have better managed his rushes or shortened his bench to assure that those three wouldn’t have been out there in that situation.
Maybe more egregious was that Hakstol had the trio out again with less than a minute left in regulation after the tying goal. Given that you’ve gotten basically zero offense from that trio all season, why use them last when they’re a) not scoring and b) a defensive liability.
Plenty of scoring chances, not a lot of finish
The good folks over at NaturalStatTrick had the Flyers down for 25 scoring chances and 11 high-danger chances in the game. In the sake of transparency, they had Columbus down for 32 and 10, respectively.
Given that the final was 2-1, we know that the goaltending was above average to say the least and yes Sergei Bobrovsky and Michal Neuvirth were very good but that’s a ton of chances for the Flyers to come away with just a lone goal in regulation.
Early on the Flyers pressed Bobrovsky hard, with golden chances from Weal, Couturier and Giroux all within the first 10 minutes. The problem was that Bobrovsky stopped them all in fine fashion, and then the Flyers started to get a little cute in the offensive zone for a bit. Travis Konecny had a couple of odd man rushes that he didn’t get pucks to the net on, and a handful of chances up until the Simmonds goal were shot wide or high.
Thankfully for the Flyers, Shayne Gostisbehere and Wayne Simmonds got back to basics and hooked up on a pretty deflection to open the scoring midway through the second.
Power play can’t capitalize
The Flyers had the lone power play of the game, but it came at a key moment with just under six minutes into the third period. It was a chance for the Flyers to take advantage of the Blue Jackets’ 27th-ranked penalty kill and grab a two-goal lead in a game that didn’t feature a ton of offense.
It was a strong power play, with chances from Jake Voracek and Shayne Gostisbehere that Bobrovsky had the answer for, but the Flyers came up empty with a key chance.
Sure, it’s hard to criticize too much when they had just one opportunity, but the Flyers have lived on their power play this season (eight in the league at 21.5%) and could have put away two points in regulation with a goal on that chance there.
Four leftover observations:
Sean Couturier continues to amaze
The Flyers’ No. 1 center had a slight injury scare early in the game, but returned quickly and ended up potting the game-winner. Couturier took a great feed from Konecny and went shot all the way, beating Bobrovsky confidently to the blocker side for his 29th of the season.
He was his normal excellent self in every zone and spent a ton of time against the Blue Jackets’ top offensive unit of Artemi Panarin, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Cam Atkinson. Despite the usual tough assignment, Couturier posted a Corsi For of 46% which is impressive relative to the Flyers’ team Corsi For of 37.86% on the night.
Shayne Gostisbehere is fuego, at both ends of the ice
The assist on Simmonds’ goal was Ghost’s eighth point in his last five games, and 12th in his last eight overall. And not only has the dynamic talent got it done offensively for Dave Hakstol, he’s been playing shutdown minutes with Ivan Provorov in that time as well.
Last night the Flyers used Provorov/Gostisbehere and the Couturier line to keep Panarin and the Blue Jackets’ top line quiet for much of the night. The growth of Gostisbehere’s game in the defensive end has turned him into one of the most complete defenseman in the league and he continues to get better seemingly night-in and night-out.
Simmonds’ pro tip
Wayne Simmonds make front of net play into an art: a greasy, greasy art.
At the 11:25 mark of the second Simmonds was on the finishing end of a simple but effective play to give the Flyers the first goal. First Nolan Patrick won the face off then Wayne Simmonds parked in front of Bobrovsky. Next was a perfectly timed point shot from Gostisbehere with his head up that was easily deflectable for Simmonds.
Given how Bobrovsky was playing, it was going to take some near-perfect plays to get one by him, and Simmonds’ tip was just that. He’s been doing it like this for years, and there’s not a better net front presence that Simmonds in the league.
Finally, a win in Columbus
It’s the Flyers’ first win in the Buckeye state since December of 2005 when Peter Forsberg and Robert Esche were in the Orange and Black. Though the Flyers visited Columbus once every two years when the Blue Jackets were in the Western Conference, it’s nice to put an end to the six-game losing skid in Columbus now that the Jackets reside in the Flyers’ division.
The big two points keeps the Flyers in third place in the Metropolitan, two points clear of New Jersey and four points clear of the Islanders. Columbus now lurks five points behind the Flyers.
All statistics courtesy of NaturalStatTrick, Corsica.hockey and Hockeyreference.com.