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Senators 4, Flyers 3: Your late game heroics won’t save you, the trap always prevails

Some observations for your morning...

Kate Frese / SB Nation

That’s right, folks. Exactly what we thought would happen did happen. The Senators are a bad team and they still beat the Flyers. Did anyone even watch this but me? Are we all too excited about the turf sport? Go birds.

All stats and graphics via Corsica.Hockey, Natural Stat Trick, and NHL.com

1. Dump and chase

Huh. It really looked like the Flyers were having a bit of trouble establishing offensive pressure through the first few minutes of the game. The big culprit? Their inability to consistently move cleanly through the neutral zone. The Senators made good work of standing the Flyers up at the blue line and forcing them to resort to dumping the puck into the zone and hoping that they could recover it (which they weren’t always able to do). This proved to be a disservice early, but it looked like after that shaky start, they were able to get back on track, and would be able to get back to being established in the offensive zone.

Narrator: they weren’t

To be fair, they weren’t without their moments and flashes, but as we ticked down to the final two or so minutes of the period, the Flyers weren’t able to get through the neutral zone, and where stuck either chipping away around center ice, or hemmed completely into their own zone. It didn’t directly lead to Ottawa’s two goals, but it certainly didn’t give the Flyers too good of a chance to cut their lead.

The good news, though? They came back after the first intermission and were moving through the neutral zone much better. So there’s that.

2. A special teams flip-flop

When I was working on the preview for yesterday’s game, one of the things I found myself thinking was “the power play’s been doing some good work, they can keep going with that, but wow, the PK really has to shape up.” And, well, they did half of that.

The penalty kill, in a limited showing, looked pretty solid. They weren’t perfect, but they looked for aggressive and tenacious than they did in New Jersey, and it got the job done, as they killed off both penalties they incurred, without incident.

Sidebar and curious note: Jori Lehtera remained on the penalty kill, but only saw time when they were killing off Wayne Simmonds’ penalty—they didn’t put him out when they couldn’t pair him with Valterri Filppula (who was serving the second penalty). They wouldn’t just put him with someone else. Maybe it’s just a coincidence. I don’t have a breakdown for that, honestly. But hmm.

Given the good work by the PK, it seemed like we might be getting an all-around good night for special teams. The power play, however, seemed to take a step back. The first unit brought a bit of pressure, but nothing close to what they have been, what they’re capable of. The second unit remains kind of a mess, and wasn’t really able to get much of anything going. In both cases, they leaned back on firing shots in from the perimeter that overwhelmingly were blocked or just sailed wide of the net. So, all in all, there just wasn’t much there, especially when they needed there to be.

Another sidebar, in closing: with Simmonds serving the first Flyers penalty of the game, it was Nolan Patrick that got the promotion up to the first unit as the netfront guy. He wasn’t able to do anything with it, unfortunately, but it was nice to see him get back to this spot, where he started the season before being bumped off by Lehtera. More of this, please.

3. A series of peculiar happenings

Story time: I was on my way to the game yesterday afternoon, and was walking to make my connection from Suburban Station to the City Hall BSL stop by way of the concourse. And something just felt off. Maybe it was that more of the shops were open. Maybe the lights had been kicked up. Maybe they painted? But somehow it felt brighter, more open, unfamiliar. It’s like when you’re in a dream, and you recognize that you’re in a place that you know, but somehow everything looks different.

So what’s the deal? Where am I going with this? Well, all of this is to say that it should have been more apparent to me early that I had actually, at some point in my commute, slipped into the Twilight Zone, and spent the duration of my day there.

The strongest indicator of that? Even more than the strangeness along the concourse? That Jori Lehtera had a noticeably very solid game. Through the first two period of play, was a presence in three scoring chances, and led all Flyers with three shots on goal, all while receiving no power play time. He posted a 53.83 adjusted CF% at 5-on-5 and .43 xG. It was objectively perhaps his best game to date, as a Flyers, so, naturally, he found himself benched for the third period.

No, I’m not kidding.

Lehtera saw a whopping total of 43 seconds of ice time through the entirety of the third period, despite the solid effort he put up early in the game.

But, here’s the thing: it was the right move to make. With the Flyers chasing the game and looking to gain offensive ground, and if they were looking to shorten the bench, it makes sense to bench their least effective forward. I don’t disagree with this move, but it seems curious that after a number of games where he was little short of a liability on the ice, that he gets benched after putting up his best effort, to date.

4. Beardless in Philadelphia

I keep telling you guys, I will never be tired of talking about Sean Couturier and I will never stop. So let’s get into it.

With the Flyers trailing by two after the first period and the rest of us wondering if they’d be able to claw their way out of that hole, who else would it be but Couturier to pick up the first goal and spark his teammates, get them rolling closer to closing the Senators’ lead

But beyond this goal, Couturier had a solid night. He was second on the team in shots (with 4), and a 23.40 adjusted RelCF% at 5-on-5, first among forwards. Not the flashiest player on the ice, despite the result, he had a more or less quietly very sound game, and contributed well to driving play and positive results. It’s not a change from what he’s been doing all season, but it still deserves a nod, all the same.

5. The bees are back in town

[To the tune of “The Boys Are Back in Town”] The Bees are back in town! The Honey Bees! They were back together in New Jersey but now they are really back in town!

(Full disclosure: joke credit goes to Charlie for this title. Thank you. But moving on.)

With Scott Laughton promoted to the third line with Michael Raffl (another OG Honey Bee) and Jordan Weal (who was a fourth line Honey Bee for a hot second), we can more or less officially say that the band is back together. Hakstol’s opted to reassemble some of the pieces of what had been an effective fourth line and give it a little boost up in the lineup. And it’s been going pretty well so far.

Between our three forwards, they registered a respectable five shots on goal, and averaged an adjusted CF% of 57.97 percent at 5-on-5. They weren’t terribly flashy—nor should they have necessarily been expected to be—but they remained solid, generating a handful of chances that they just weren’t quite able to capitalize on (Laughton picked up a goal, but when the lines had been shuffled and he spent part of a shift out with Claude Giroux and Travis Konecny). But their process seems like it’s coming along, as with the chemistry, and one can’t help but feel like the results are soon to follow, should the line remain intact.

6. No, I will not be making any Lyon King, Lyon’s share, etc, etc jokes here

Heading into this game, with Michael Neuvirth still apparently battling the flu, Alex Lyon was given his second consecutive (and, well, second ever) NHL start. He had a bit of a rough time in New Jersey, but we were willing to write that off to nerves, an adjustment curve, whatever. New game, fresh start. But it still wasn’t exactly a banner showing for his home ice debut.

During his two periods on the ice, Lyon made a couple of nice and solid saves, but he also looked a little shaky. There were times when he didn’t seem to have a full sense of where the puck was, or he was slow getting back into position after straying to make an initial save. The defensive breakdowns happening in front of him didn’t exactly help him out, but he still could have done better to stop those goals. What did help him was Hakstol’s successful offside challenge on what would have Matt Duchene’s second goal of the game, and Lyon’s fourth allowed. So there was a bit of fortune working in his favor there.

But I want to keep this from seeming too doom and gloom. Lyon still stopped 20 of 23 shots faced for an .870 save percentage, which, while certainly not spectacular is far from atrocious. He’s still an AHL goalie adjusting to the NHL, and while what we’ve seen so far hasn’t been him playing lights out, it may be too early to pass a complete judgement, still.

7. A note on quality chances

So, the Flyers really should have won this one. I know we can say this about a lot of the games they’ve played this season, but they really should have been able to wrap that thing up in regulation. It shouldn’t have been as close as it was.

The Flyers didn’t pick up the edge in raw shots until the third period (they trailed 23-20 after two periods) but all the while, they held the edge in expected goals at 5-on-5. After the close of regulations they held 66.59 xG% at 5-on-5. They established a clear presence in front of the net—with many of their chances originating from below the red line—and were able to create more quality chances. Their own inability to close on these, bad luck, and Anderson’s opportune saves kept them trailing for as long as they did. In short, the Flyers greatly outchanced the Senators in this one, and were doing good work, which makes this loss perhaps even harder to swallow.

8. My, how the tables have turned

/extremely smug voice/ Well, well, well, the Senators. What do we have here? Getting shut down late in a game? Being extremely frustrated. *examining nails* Can’t relate.

But, in all seriousness, the Flyers put up little short of a spectacular effort in the third period of yesterday’s game. They spent a vast majority of their time working away in the offensive zone, outshooting the Senators 16 to three in the final 20 minutes. And when they weren’t dominating the offensive zone? They were doing exactly what frustrated them so much in the first period—standing the Senators up and the blue line and denying them clean entry into the zone, neutralizing any chance before it really got started. It was a solid effort, first and foremost, and a testament to the type and level of work they can do late in games, do in general, even if it came too late. They should have been able to wrap this up earlier, and the late-game heroics to get them to overtime, while stunning and fun in and of themselves, really shouldn’t have been necessary in the first place, had they showed up like this earlier.

9. Another big game for Nolan Patrick

Really since about the start of January, we’ve been seeing marked improvements in Patrick’s game from the start of the season, even pre-concussion. But he’s been putting together a string of particularly impressive games, of late, and yesterday he added to that.

Patrick started out the game well enough, looking like he’s getting adjusted well to the new configuration of his line and the uptick in quality of competition, as they got to work at generating chances in the offensive zone. He was one of the more noticeable of all the players on the ice, and most notably on his own line, as he picked up five shots of his own to Voracek and Simmonds’ combined four. We saw him creating chances, but not being able to finish on them.

But even that didn’t last forever. Trailing by a goal with under two minutes to go, the Flyers pulled Neuvirth to get the extra attacker out, trying to get things tied up and send them to overtime. And they just couldn’t seem to get it done. But then! The Senators iced the puck with just about eight seconds left, giving the Flyers one more faceoff. And just like that, after a bit of quick movement, the puck found its way to Patrick’s stick and off it again, lasered past Anderson to tie the game with three seconds remaining in regulation, earning the Flyers a point in the standings. It was that Patrick shot that we’ve been hearing so much about, that looked so dangerous, and it was the ultimate reward for the work well done, throughout the game.

10. The only damn thing I know

I don’t have a real breakdown for you, honestly, I’m just here to say that Travis Konecny whiffing on a hit and just going straight over the boards into the Senators’ bench is a big mood for me. I feel it.

Plus the aftermath:

Kate Frese / SB Nation