Good morning, all. Are we all recovered from last night’s game? The Flyers, on a six game winning streak, squared off against the Carolina Hurricanes, who were hoping to break their own six game losing streak, and things went just about as expected for the Flyers. But we learned some things from it. Let’s get into it.
All stats and graphics via Corsica.Hockey, Natural Stat Trick, and NHL.com
1. The penalty kill
Okay, we’re going. We’re about a two minutes in and already things are looking rough for the Flyers. It feels like it’s going to be another one of those nights, so they just have to make sure that they’re simplifying, and not giving up any unnecessary cha—what’s that? They’ve already taken a penalty? Sounds about right.
The good news: with Taylor Leier taking a high sticking penalty just 2:39 into the game, the penalty kill had some big work to do early. And they did it (technically). They were aggressive enough in getting after the puck, and were able to keep the puck cleared, and Hurricanes tied up when it wasn’t. They weathered the two minutes.
The bad news: with the penalty just expiring and Leier barely even out of the box, Petr Mrazek failed to control the puck after Jeff Skinner’s perimeter shot, letting it leak through his pads. Brandon Manning, then, let Justin Williams get the inside on him, left open to knock the loose puck into the net, and Carolina had their first goal of the game.
More good news: this was the last time the Flyers took a penalty and gave Carolina time on the man-advantage. They didn’t give up any more power play chances for them. So there’s that.
2. The top line was *eyes emoji*
But enough on special teams, let’s move back to 5-on-5 for a moment. With the Flyers severely lacking in the flash department, delivering on this was the first line. It was Travis Konecny having a breakaway broken up, collecting the puck in the neutral zone, then getting another shot at it in the same shift. It was Sean Couturier just missing a deflection in front of the net. It was… well we can just watch this one.
TEEKS SCORES! WE'RE WITHIN 2!— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) March 2, 2018
3-1 Canes. pic.twitter.com/tj8lS63se6
So it was the top line that was also able to put up the only Flyers’ goal of the night. They didn’t look to be in absolute top form, but they were gelling well enough to get a little bit of something going.
But, also *eyes emoji* was the Nolan Patrick line. We talked about them early as the bringers of the first bit of sustained offensive pressure of the night, but they were looking dangerous (well, as dangerous as they could given the circumstances) across the whole of the game. They were setting up in front of the net and working to generate some of the Flyers’ highest quality chances of the night, but the finish just wasn’t there.
The positive spin on this, to keep from being too doom and gloom about it, is that effort from the second line has been little short of excellent, and Oskar Lindblom feels like he’s so close to notching that first NHL goal. He’s so close, you guys.
3. Our game arc
I put that header in my notes as a working title, and have decided to keep it, if nothing else, for the bit of irony it offers.
The Flyers got off to a rocky start last night, outshot 12 to seven in the first period and struggling to get much momentum going. But the final six or so minutes saw them finally looking like they were getting settled—thanks in part to a shift by the Patrick line that brought them a bit of sustained offensive pressure—and the hope going into the second period was that they would be able to continue pushing that momentum upward.
And, well, that didn’t quite happen. Instead, the Hurricanes continued to not just dominate, but continue to pick up steam, and we got a game that was not so much a neat arc, but a steady devolution at five-on-five. One of the bigger culprits? The Flyers’ inability to connect cleanly on many of their passes, and the fact that Carolina was on the puck immediately, exploiting those Flyers’ turnovers. Combine this with the fact of how well the Hurricanes were standing them up at the blue line, and it wasn’t surprising that the Flyers looked like they were left scrambling, struggling to get something, anything, going.
It’s not a new story, we’ve seen them troubled like this in the past—they hit a game where they’re just out of sync and their opponent wastes them for it. But, the good news, perhaps, is that they’ve found a way to shake it off every time it’s happened before.
4. The OG Honey Bees
Hey, would you look at that! Taylor Leier’s back in the lineup, and he’s back with Scott Laughton and Michael Raffl! Our very first incarnation of the Honey Bees has been reunited! That’s pretty neat! So how’d they do?
All in all, not so bad. The trio averaged an adjusted CF% of 37.38 percent at 5-on-5, and while this is certainly not a stellar figure on its own, it is made (almost?) better by the fact that Leier and Laughton ranked third and fourth, respectively, among forwards in this metric. They didn’t play a terribly flashy game, as they aren’t exactly apt to do, but they did a nice bit of work on both sides of the puck, despite the Flyers as a whole being outmatched by the Hurricanes through essentially the entirety of the night.
The question also remains of how long this line will be kept intact, as we move forward. Combining Hakstol’s apparent comfort with rearranging his bottom six with the fact that it seems difficult to imagine Jordan Weal spending an extended period of time in the press box, it stands to reason that this particular group may not remain together for too long, even if they have done good work together in the past. We’ll just have to see.
5. Back at it behind the net
Given the way the Flyers played last night, just how rough it was, we certainly have more than our fair share to grumble about. However, there were pieces that were likeable, and perhaps now is as good a time as ever to extend a nod to some good work that was being done.
It’s something that we seem to see in spurts, but last night saw the Flyers doing well to work to generate chances from below the red line. It’s a tactic that’s worked from them in the past—paired with their speed, it gives them a chance to confuse opposing goaltenders and catch them out of position. It’s unfortunate that they weren’t able to close on any of these chances that they generated over the night, but it remains that these were some of their best looks of the night. And it would be nice if they could keep that up, going forward.
6. The power play
So, this is it, huh? We’re back to heavy sighing about the power play? It wouldn’t be entirely without reason—they went 0 for 3 last night, and didn’t just fail to convert on their chances, but failed to convert when they really needed a boost, given how they were struggling at 5-on-5. But, not for nothing, the first unit wasn’t getting wholly thrashed in its time on the ice, was able to generate a handful of good looks, but couldn’t seem to break all the way through with them, couldn’t close. And they didn’t look lost out there.
And maybe that’s just a byproduct of how tightly Carolina was defending, or how complete the systems failure it was for the Flyers, or maybe both, maybe this won’t be what the unit is for a long stretch going forward. Well, a girl can only hope.
I guess all streaks have to come to an end, huh? Mrazek went 3-0 in his first three games as a Flyer, and looked to be in excellent form while doing it. Fans were excited, waiting to see if he could continue at the level he was at. And, well, he couldn’t.
Last night was a rough one for our new friend Petr. He faced a total of 35 shots on the night—including 14 high danger shots at 5-on-5 alone—and allowed four goals in the process, matching his total allowed in his previous three games. Which is… yikes.
But beyond the goals, he also looked a little off, positionally. We saw him drifting, leaning too far, and just generally leaving a ton of open space for the Hurricanes to work with on both the goals he allowed and some of the shots he was still able to block. And, like we said, a bad game like this was bound to happen eventually, he couldn’t be expected to play lights-out forever. He knows what he has to shore up, going forward, and Saturday will serve as an interesting test of response for Mrazek.
8. I have questions
Looking at the interwebs after this game, it’s safe to say that people were feeling a little fired up after this one. And with good reason: it was a tough loss that the Flyers did not have to lose as spectacularly as they did. But, at the same time, it feels difficult to be too critical, to light oneself on fire, after just one poor game in a stretch of impressive ones (this, of course, may or may not change, after seeing this weekend’s play). That said, there are a couple of areas that certainly need touching on and questioning.
First: Brandon Manning led all Flyers (other than Mrazek, of course) in ice time. Pause with that for a second. After getting burned on the first goal of the game. After having his ice time cut in previous games, with the Flyers seeming to tip their cards, their thoughts on him as a defensive liability. After all this, he is rewarded with 21:43 of time on the ice.
Second: Hakstol matched up Jordan Staal’s line with Valtterri Filppula’s line, and things went just about as expected—the trio of forwards averaged an adjusted CF% of 25.07 percent at 5-on-5. From the very first shift, we were given indicators that this wasn’t going to work—with the Hurricanes immediately controlling the puck and getting set up in the offensive zone, and the Filppula line just barely able to get a clear before heading off for a change.
And while, to be sure, there were other factors at work here, other areas where mistakes were made and the Flyers were bested, the fact remains that this was a game where their talent wasn’t optimized, where they weren’t put in the absolute best position to win. And ripping Hakstol for this doesn’t change the result—all we can do is hope that this proved as something of a learning experience.
9. This was bound to happen, eh?
In conclusion: last night was ugly and we want to wipe it from our collective memories. Please and thank you. It was not an ideal result, but there also felt there was a level of inevitability to it—the Flyers, who have been unequivocally streaky across the season, have been playing very good hockey and were able to put up a nice little 12 game point streak. And the feeling was that the other shoe was bound to drop eventually.
Hakstol pointed pretty directly to this in his post-game press conference, noting “you are going to lose hockey games. I don’t like, I don’t think any of us like that we lost this hockey game tonight. Quite simply they won more battles. They won more races. They were the better team throughout the sixty minutes. So we got to make sure we give ourselves a boost out of this. It is a quick turnaround time. We have a short work day tomorrow. We get on the plane and head south. That is what it is. This team has handled reality very well all year and that is what we will do again in this case.”
So, to reiterate what’s become something of the theme of these observations, a bad game is a bad game, and it’s not what any of us wanted to see (unless you just love to watch the world burn, in which case, I respect that), but it will give them another chance to regroup and adjust as the stakes continue to increase.
10. The only damn thing I know
So, as you may have seen, the Flyers started the Filppula line and the Manning-Gudas pair, and let me tell you, it was the most lukewarm response to the naming of the starting lineup that I have ever heard. I’m fairly certain there was even a sprinkling of boos. It was almost like you could feel people nervous laughing and giving each other the ????? face. In short, it was a very weird and uncomfortable vibe. Please don’t do this to us again, the Flyers.