You read that right! So long, the days of sad losses and frustration, the fun and exciting Flyers are back! It wasn’t an eight goal campaign, as it was in the last time the Flyers met the Capitals at home, but it was pretty close. Things are good again, and we can get excited about them on a Monday. Let’s go.
All stats and graphics via Corsica.Hockey, Natural Stat Trick, and NHL.com
1. New looks
Would you look at that! We have some new things to talk about! Well, more like new-ish things. But they’re new to home ice, so it sort of counts. What’s that? Yeah, okay, I’ll just get on with it.
So we had another look at the newly configured top line last night. After dropping Travis Konecny down to the third line and moving Michael Raffl up to the first in his stead, they were left with some mixed results—the Valtteri Filppula line looked markedly more dynamic, but the first seemed to be lagging a bit. So it goes. The experiment lasted through the first period of last night’s game to the same results, and was ended by the time we returned from the first intermission. By this time, the Filppula line already seemed to be buzzing, and continued as such once rearranged, and the top line was able to get back to old form. They were kept off the board in the goals department, but both Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux were able to pick up assists, as they worked to set up Jakub Voracek and Shayne Gostisbehere’s goals, respectively. It wasn’t the prettiest effort from them, as they were outchanced while on the ice, but they were also able to remain steady and prevent any goals against in their time out there. It was a relatively quiet reintroduction, but it was one with promise that they can soon get back to their old form if left together.
2. Net-front presence
We’re going to talk more here, as we continue on, about the good work that the Flyers did for which they got more or less appropriate results. However, it also seems worth touching on an area where this wasn’t exactly the case.
As we saw on Saturday in Carolina, yesterday too the Flyers were doing well to generate shots from below the red line, or cross-crease passes—that is, throwing the puck to the front of the net from behind or just next to it in hopes of catching the goalie off guard. And it largely worked, they were able to get them moving laterally and leaving a fair bit of space to work with, if only there was a Flyer parked in front of the net to make use of it. They were able to create a generous handful of close chances in this way, but couldn’t seem to get anyone in position quick enough to close on them.
But this isn’t all bad news—as the game went on, they seemed to be getting more of the idea, parking a forward in the crease while they got to this same work (we see you Oskar Lindblom and Sean Couturier), but the results weren’t quite there, at least for the plays that started from below the red line. But, at the very least, they seemed to move a step closer to actually finding ways to close on these high danger chances, and it will be interesting to see if they keep with this model on Tuesday in Detroit.
3. Oh my GOD who put the hex on Sean Couturier?
This is really getting ridiculous now, you guys. Couturier has been stuck at 29 goals for approximately ten thousand years, and it’s starting to feel like he’ll score 30 more assists before he notches another goal. So I must ask—who put this spell on him? And can you please take it off?
But the failure to reach the 30 goals mark certainly isn’t for lack of trying. Couturier had a handful of chances that really should have become goals but didn’t, and was putting up an all-around solid effort last night. At 5-on-5 he generated five scoring chances alone—three of which were high danger—and looked just plain dynamic.
We all sighed deeply into the void when he missed the empty netter at the end of the third period, as it pretty well summed up how his search for his next goal has been going, but the fact remains that the work he’s been doing has been solid, and that things are going to break his way eventually.
4. Welcome back, Robert Hagg!
Hey, that’s some more news! Hagg’s back, and earlier than originally anticipated! That’s pretty neat right?
It was a more or less quiet return, which saw him not returned to his regular partner in Andrew MacDonald, but rather down on the third pair with Radko Gudas. Beyond the bit of negative (he and Gudas getting burned on the rush that led to Stephenson’s goal) and positive (having his shot from the point redirected in front of the net for Wayne Simmonds’ first goal of the evening), it was a steady and quiet night for Hagg. And this may not be a bad thing. Given his style of play, he’s at or close to his best when we’re not really noticing him on the ice at all, and he came close to this mark last night. One may still be left to wonder about the potential for success, long term, of the pairing of him with Gudas, but only time will tell with this. But it still leaves us with perhaps the most optimized defense that we’ve seen for a while.
5. A note on quality shots
We touched on it a bit above, so why don’t we get back to talking about the quality of chances the Flyers were creating. That’s right folks, it’s time. Let’s go to the heatmap.
Where the Flyers have, in the past, struggled to establish themselves in the crease and generate chances in close, such was not the case against the Capitals. Even if, as we noted above, their below-the-red-line plays weren’t coming to fruition, they were working well to set screens in front of Grubauer and chip away at the puck in front of him. And while there was still a degree of leaning on perimeter shots—we see you, the right point—the work elsewhere got them the results. The Flyers closed out the night with 13 high danger chances for, and were rewarded for them. Funny how that works out, huh?
On the other side, the Flyers also did well to help Petr Mrazek out and limit the number of high danger chances the Capitals were able to generate. Over the course of the game, Washington was limited to 28 shots and just eight high danger chances (giving the Flyers a HDCF% of 61.9 percent) as their efforts to sustain offensive pressure were frustrated. They weren’t without their chances, but the Flyers were able to limit them. And this seems like a good sign, after we’ve seen them burdened and burned by their inability to clear the puck out of their own zone over the last ten games or so—they’re finally looking like they’re figuring it out. So, in conclusion: more of this, please.
6. A softer “welcome back”
That’s right, folks, we also have to welcome back Petr Mrazek. After a rough showing on Thursday, which saw him pulled early in the second period, and losing the start for Saturday’s game to Alex Lyon, Mrazek was back in last night. And you could argue whether it was because of it being the back end of a back to back, or his history against the Capitals, or just wanting to give him a chance to get back on track, the result remains. He was indeed back. And he did… well he did fine. Let’s break it down.
The good: he didn’t face a ton of shots (28 in total), but he remained steady enough throughout. Washington has some very serious offensive weapons, and he didn’t give them much to work with. He caught a bit of bad luck on the Ovechkin goal, with the difficulty of the shot and how quickly the play happened, there wasn’t much he could do. So too with the Stephenson goal, as his defense broke down on the breakaway and left him exposed. They’re tough goals, and while we don’t like the result, it’s hard to get too mad about them.
The bad: he still gave up three goals. His rebound control wasn’t stellar. There were a few sequences where he was caught drifting out of his goal and his defensemen needed to cover for him. And then another (on the Carlson goal) where he was out of position, leaving space, and was burned for it. And that one we can get a little mad about.
The implications: while the three goals allowed didn’t end up killing them, they were still three goals allowed. You can’t expect your team to score six every night to bail out your breakdowns. He didn’t get the best support all night, but the defense was more solid than it has been, of late. And Mrazek just needs to find a way to tighten up if he wants to hold on to the starter’s job.
7. Secondary scoring
Were we ever worried about this? That there would never be goals scored by someone other than one of our first line forwards? How silly of us. That’s done and over with.
Okay, that may be a bit of an overstatement, as we still have to see if this pattern holds down the stretch, but it’s certainly not nothing. On the whole, it was a solid weekend for the Flyers in the secondary scoring department. They got things rolling on Saturday in Carolina, and kept with it last night. In fact, of the six goals scored last night, not a one came from Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, or Travis Konecny. And while we don’t want to see these players not scoring, it’s not the worst, the way things shook out: the top line was matched up against some of Washington’s biggest weapons and kept them (at least relatively) quiet, and left the scoring to the other lines. It’s what we’ve been calling for more of, and it’s finally happened. And it got the job done.
And, while we’re on the topic, it brings me great pleasure to inform you all that Wayne Simmonds is back.
Decent night for Wayne Simmonds, mostly with Weal and Filppula - defensive usage, outshot the Caps 25-17, scored twice.— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) March 19, 2018
All game charts: https://t.co/EgNB8uigng pic.twitter.com/wbRRVTw8HR
For a stretch after his return against Pittsburgh, we couldn’t help but wonder if he hadn’t looked just a little off, if he somehow wasn’t all the way back to 100 percent. But this was seemingly put behind him this weekend, as he looked noticeably more dynamic in Carolina, and kept that momentum going all the way through Sunday’s game. It saw his first multigoal game since the season opener, and seemed back in a big way. Elsewhere, he ranked third among his teammates in Corsi, putting up an adjusted 67.37 CF% at 5-on-5, as he flexed offensive dominance across the night. In short, we got a taste of old Simmonds last night, and it was delightful, and it’s coming at just the right time.
And now, the subset of our last section so exciting it needed a section of its own:
You guys! Oskar Lindblom finally got his first NHL goal! And it wasn’t even a weird and lucky bounce, from a grind-it-out kind of play. It was an absolute snipe. It was very exciting, let’s just watch it again.
Oskar Lindblom's first NHL goal pic.twitter.com/j8aWrhzJWL— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) March 18, 2018
After picking up his first point on Saturday against the Hurricanes, we were ready for this. The floodgates were about to open, and the goal was bound to come soon. And would you look at that. It did.
But beyond the high of the goal, it was another very solid night for Lindblom. His line with Nolan Patrick and Voracek continues to do well to create chances—the trio had seven scoring chances in total—and again looked dangerous. Alone, Lindblom put up an adjusted 65.62 CF% at 5-on-5, had another quality chance in front of the net, with space to work with, but the pass just didn’t connect. So now, all around, he seems to be doing all the right things and getting at least close to the appropriate results. And this is where things get very exciting—now that the seal’s broken, one can’t help but feel like we’re in for a veritable flood of scoring.
9. Buzz words
Did you think this was going to be a cleverly named section about the Honey Bees? Well, that certainly would have been cute, but not quite. Rather, we’re going to be talking about a few of the phrases that came up a handful of times in interviews with both players and coach after last night’s game.
“Staying positive.” “Keeping it simple.” “Playing with edge.”
These were all ideas that rattled around the rooms of the Wells Fargo Center after last night’s game, and seem to have been for a while now. It’s how they see themselves playing this weekend, and it’s how they’re working to get past the slump they had fallen into. It’s a focus that they’re carrying with them down the stretch.
We’ve been grumbling, while they were slumping, about their need to do just what they’re touched on above—to avoid trying too hard to make the pretty play and just get back to playing their game. And if that means dishing out a few shots and picking a fight, so be it, they say. They still have a bit of hockey left to play, but they looked more like their old selves this weekend, and they’ll be looking to hold onto that momentum as they continue. They’ve found what’s working, all that’s left is just to stick with it.
10. The only damn thing I know
The last time you all and I talked was after the Columbus game, where this section was a space for a little bit of reminiscing. It was a horrible, gross memory that we brought up then, but not to worry, we’ve got a more pleasant blast from the past for you today.
Does anyone remember, during the home opener, when Voracek absolutely owned Madison Bowey in his very first NHL game? It was absolutely glorious and I actively think about it a lot, if I’m being honest about it.
Jake Voracek just welcomed Madison Bowey to the NHL pic.twitter.com/qiBZkXpUaP— Flyers Nation (@FlyersNation) October 15, 2017
I mean come on! He dekes him out of his stick! And then sets up a goal! It’s hilarious! Thanks for tuning in.