Well would you guys look at that! The losing streak’s over! What were we even worried about? Everything’s great, right! This is thrilling!
OK, now we can bring it down a level. We saw a good game from the Flyers—perhaps the best in their last six—they picked up a well deserved win, and we learned some things in the process. Let’s dip into those.
All stats via Corsica.Hockey, Natural Stat Trick, and NHL.com
1. Doing the work early
So, the Flyers have now played three games in four days, so it seems reasonable that they’d seem a little sluggish out of the gate, as they get up to speed, right? Nope!
The Flyers got to work immediately, flashing some speed and showing no signs of lethargy. They made it through the period without a goal, but outshot the Jets 11-9. But the real high point of their early play was their defense. Immediately noticeable was how well they were getting after the puck and disrupting the Jets’ attempts to control with some nice poke checking, limiting their options in the neutral and offensive zones. The flip side of this, of course, is that the Jets were doing similar defensive work, and and the Flyers found their efforts almost equally disrupted. So it was kind of a disruption-fest, all around. But the jump was there, built on from Thursday’s game in Boston, and to built on further as they hit the second period.
2. [Insert whatever the word for a weak surge is here]
Oh yeah, so that disruption-fest we touched on up there? It was out in full force on the Flyers’ first power play attempt. With it beginning to become apparent that both teams would be struggling to generate real quality chances, at even strength, the Flyers got a gift in the form of Dustin Byfuglien taking a tripping penalty just under nine minutes into the first period, giving them their best chance to make something happen. But it...did not go so smoothly.
The first unit spent the entirety of their time on the ice chasing the puck and struggling to even get set up—they failed to do so, and went off on a change after the requisite minute. The second was able to get set up, but did a lot of shuffling of the puck around the zone, waiting for lanes to open that never did. They got off one whole shot before the penalty was killed.
Their second attempt, after Wheeler took a tripping penalty, was mostly the same story. It was a better look for the first unit, but on the whole, it was a pretty uninspired showing. And, it would be easier, perhaps to get very worked up about how the Flyers couldn’t even score a goal with an extra player on the ice, were it not for...
3. The other man-advantage
That’s right, the Flyers also had another chance on the man-advantage yesterday. Just two and a half minutes after killing the Wheeler penalty, Winnipeg took another, but this time it was delayed, and the Flyers were able to control the puck long enough to pull Mrazek and get Giroux out with the Filppula line. And then… well, you know the rest…
Claude Giroux, the captain of the Philadelphia Flyers who is also regressing just scored his 24th goal of the season. 1-0 Flyers. pic.twitter.com/Ybt3TQVfoy— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) March 10, 2018
And there you have it, after much trial and tribulation for the Flyers’ actual power play units, their weird hodge podge group of mostly non-power players got it done. Huh.
So what did we learn here? Is the weird hodge-podge better than the first power play unit? Should they all be promoted? Probably not. But the power play’s just hit a bit of a slump, and it’s one that they’ll need to work their way out of. They scored a goal on the man-advantage, and with a group less stacked with talent than PP1. Shaping up may be easier said than done, but it has to be done.
4. Sanheim time!
But now, onto the real big news of yesterday’s game. With Hagg out for two weeks with a lower-body injury, and Oduya listed as day-to-day with the same umbrella ailment, Travis Sanheim finally got his well earned call-up to the big club. He’s been tearing it up down with the Phantoms, and really should have been here sooner, but hey, he’s back now! So how’d he do?
In short: very well. He put up one shot, and posted an adjusted CF% of 64.50 percent in 12:42 at five-on-five. His work in the neutral zone was solid, and we saw him playing aggressively and working well to help the Flyers keep their offensive plays alive, in the face of strong pressure by the Jets. But what was perhaps most remarkable about his game was that it was exactly that: his game. He didn’t come back and try to play in a particular way to appease anyone, he just kept his head down and did what he does best. And it served him well.
5. New mask, new me?
Why don’t we follow up our welcome back with another, softer one. We just saw Petr Mrazek on Wednesday in that game against the Penguins that we are otherwise not talking about, but he had the night off against Boston, had a bit of time to rest and regroup after a series of showings that were varying degrees of rough, and was ready to get back to older(er) form.
We’ve been waiting for him to get back to that level he was playing at his first few games in Philly, and yesterday, he did just that. Looking at the numbers, Mrazek stopped 27 of the 28 shots he faced, including eight high danger chances, for a .964 save percentage. By the eyes, he just looked sharper. His awareness of the puck’s location was better, as was his rebound control. His reaction time, too, seemed to be kicked up, and he was back to making the crazy fast glove saves that he was flashing in his first three games.
The low point of his game, of course, was allowing the Laine goal on the penalty kill. He didn’t really stand much of a chance on this one, with some traffic in front, the cross-ice passes that were positive lasers, and the fact that it was Laine’s shot made for a lethal combination. It doesn’t erase that he’d of course prefer to post a shutout, but the fact remains that it was the only goal allowed, and this was good enough to get the job done and cap off a solid game.
6. The voice of god coming down on us
I’m going to be honest with you guys, this is consistently one of my favorite hockey things, when it happens, and yesterday’s example was perfect.
Second period. The Flyers are cycling the puck around the zone with some serious speed, and MacDonald fires a lightning fast shot in on Hellebuyck who gloves it and then puts the puck back in play. We’re disappointed at the failure to convert, but impressed by the pressure. Play continues.
And then! The buzzer sounds in the middle of play. People look around. I gasp, whisper what was absolutely not an excited expletive to Charlie. The war room in Toronto has phoned in. It was a good goal. And the Flyers have a two goal lead.
So the perception of the play shifts. Rather than a nice bit of pressure and a big save, it was a stellar close to punctuate some sharp cross-ice passing. They looked dangerous on that shift, and were met with the appropriate result. Let’s see more of that, please.
And there’s just one more thing: for a moment it looked like the puck deflected off Lindblom between when it left Patrick’s stick and when it reached MacDonald, which would have, of course, given him his first NHL point, but it just wasn’t meant to be. And, at this point, it just feels mean. So, I have to ask: how many dollars do I have to pay to buy Lindblom a point? I don’t have a lot of dollars, but I will do it.
7. Killing penalties (the saga continues)
Yep. You had to know this was coming, right? But, don’t worry, it’s mostly good news. Let’s start with a tidbit of information:
The Flyers PK has killed off the last six penalties they've faced. For the month of March they're 14/17 on the kill or 82.3%.— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) March 10, 2018
If you’ve been keeping up, you’ll have noticed that we’ve been talking a lot about the Flyers’ penalty kill recently. And for good reason--they’ve been doing well, much better than they were just a few months ago. And yesterday was no exception. On Winnipeg’s first three power plays, the Flyers were little short of exceptional. They were able to keep the puck effectively cleared out of the zone—even breaking out for a couple of near-breakaway chances--and limiting the Jets to just one shot in total. They got burned on the fourth, allowing the Laine goal, but all in all the process was still solid enough.
And, to bring this back out to the larger context, we should reiterate how great of news this is, as the playoffs draw nearer. Could they still stand to be burned by very good power play units? Absolutely. But we’re also seeing the Flyers effectively shoring up one major trouble area at just the right time, and that’s certainly not nothing.
8. Another welcome back
And we have another return that we still have to talk about! It’s technically his second game back, after playing on Thursday in Boston, but Matt Read has now made is return to home ice. And after a quiet enough first game back, he was certainly more noticeable yesterday. But in a good way. In the way that leaves us asking how in the world did it take until March to have him back up here?
Placed on the fourth line with Laughton and Lehtera, Read had a solid enough game—he posted a strong 70.93 adjusted CF% at five-on-five, and put up three shots on goal. He was solid in his time on the penalty kill. He brought a bit of flash with a breakaway attempt. Indeed, Read fit back in without looking like he’d missed a step. He added a level of dynamism that was missed, and yeah, could have helped the team before this. And that’s something we could quibble about, to be sure, but in the end, the fact remains—it’s just good to have him back.
9. Matching up (and other loose ends)
We’ve been paying a lot of attention of late to the way Hakstol is deploying his forwards, how he wants his lines to match up against opponents’—and with good reason, as there have been some good calls and some questionable calls made. And yesterday we saw a little bit of both.
Throughout the game, Hakstol was going out of his way to put the Filppula line out against Stastny’s. And you kind of see where he’s coming from. You’d rather have the Couturier line out against Wheeler and the Little line. Makes sense. Maybe you want to shelter the Patrick line a little bit. You probably shouldn’t have to at this point, but fine. The line is an improvement, with Raffl and Simmonds on the wings, and worked reasonably well yesterday—with the trio posting a less than stellar adjusted 39.11 CF% at five-on-five, but prevented any goals against. So, by the larger results, it worked out just fine.
But it does leave one question—when and how exactly did Laughton lose the coach’s trust? It wasn’t too long ago that he was leaned on to be an effective shutdown center, but somewhere along the line he was jumped in the pecking order, with little indication of why. He hasn’t been scoring goals (is this the problem?), but he remains defensively steady and reliable, so the shift is somewhat jarring. And one’s left to wonder how long this new paradigm holds.
10. The only damn thing I know
As you may have seen, it was Kids night (Kids day? Kids matinee?) at yesterday’s game and frankly I am very disappointed in the powers that be for not delivering a massive game for the Flyers’ kids. Patrick picked up the primary assist on MacDonald’s goal, which was cool, and Sanheim was back which was also cool, but otherwise, not nearly enough excitement for the kids. Universe, this would have been the perfect time to make the first Lindblom goal happen. A perfect opportunity squandered. Sigh.