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Penguins 5, Flyers 2: Yep. Sounds about right

Some observations for your morning...

Kate Frese / SB Nation

Hey guys. How are we feeling? That was some weather we had yesterday, huh? The Flyers had another rough game last night. That’s four losses in a row (but who’s counting). We have some observations to dip into too. Why don’t we do that.

All stats and graphics via Corisica.Hockey, Natural Stat Trick, and

  1. Top line. Hello.

Welcome, everybody, it seems it’s still a decently packed building despite the weather, and we can imagine it will be a high activity ga—oh and would you look at that, we already have a shot! Just ten seconds into the period, we saw the top line brandishing some speed as Claude Giroux found Travis Konecny for the shot to be fought off by Tristan Jarry, and we had a bit of activity already.

But beyond those initial theatrics, the Flyers’ top line had a solid enough night. Tasked with containing Malkin’s line, they did so well, and kept them off the board. The trio averaged an adjusted 50.97 CF%, respectable enough, as they also worked to generate offense of their own, while doing that shutdown work. They generated four high-danger chances among the three off them—leading each of the other lines—but their efforts were culminated in setting up the play giving them some sustained pressure in the offensive zone, which would ultimately buy them Konecny’s lead-establishing goal. They weren’t able to put up any further points on the board, which may be the only mark against them. But, on the whole, it was another job well done for this first line.

2. The penalty kill (again)

Remember not too long ago, when we had to get back to talking about the penalty kill, because the Flyers were back to taking penalties, and then back to taking not just one or two, but a bunch of penalties? Well, we’ve got some more of that.

The first period was a rough one, in terms of discipline, as the Flyers took four penalties in those first twenty minutes alone, putting themselves in a potentially dangerous situation against the top power play in the league. But, for the most part, their penalty kill came up big for them. They had some help, to be sure, when on two occasions the Penguins took penalties of their own while on the man-advantage, negating some of the pressure they were bringing. But, beyond that, the Flyers’ PK was continuing with the good work they have been doing of late—they still aren’t playing the most aggressive style, but they’re able to get the puck and clear it out of the zone, and buy themselves a bit of time.

But, we would be remiss if we left this section without talking about the one power play goal that was given up. After a nice bit of puck movement, Phil Kessel’s one-timer through Radko Gudas’s legs didn’t stand much of a chance to be stopped, but came on one of the Flyers’ failed attempts to get after the puck and clear. It was an unfortunate result, but shouldn’t undo the preceding solid effort. It’s nice to see the penalty kill shaping up, but it would be nicer to be seeing it even less, in the first place.

3. A return

Oh hey, would you look at that! Welcome back, Wayne Simmonds. After spending a bit of time out with the upper body injury, Simmonds made his return to the lineup last night for the Big Rivalry Game against the Penguins. It wasn’t the flashiest showing, but he had, on the whole, a solid night.

Immediately remarkable was his work on the power play, as he returned to his usual spot in the netfront on the first unit. He wasn’t rewarded with a goal, but he went right to work, taking away Jarry’s eyes and trying to pick up rebounds. He was able to generate a couple good looks, but the bounces just weren’t there for him. But, at the very least, he seemed to fit back in without missing a step, which was encouraging.

At 5-on-5, the return seemed not so triumphant. Simmonds was back on a line with Jordan Weal and Valtteri Filppula, and spent most of the night squaring off against Sidney Crosby’s line, to less than stellar results (but more on this later). Simmonds posted an adjusted CF% of just 18.94 percent at 5-on-5, as his line took a proper thrashing during their time on the ice. It wasn’t exactly what we wanted to see out of Simmonds’ return, but they’re back at it again tomorrow, and he’ll have a chance to get back on track then.

4. Mrazek

He was back again after two rough showings over the weekend and looking to get back to his old form—er, old as in like a week ago—and guess what, he got at least part of the way there! Petr Mrazek put up a respectable effort, making stops on 24 of the 28 shots he faced, while also making a handful of fast and flashy saves, much in the vein of what we had grown accustomed to seeing in his first few games as a Flyer. He wasn’t given the best support from his defense (more on this later), as has been the case of late, but his own reflexes and rebound control proved equal hindrances to a stronger performance. But, if nothing else, it was better than what we saw last weekend, and leans more towards something of an equalizing performance. And, it’s a step in the right direction.

5. The kids!

I know we’re all feeling sufficiently grumbly after last night’s game, and for good reason, so I won’t try to take that away, but there were still some things to be excited about. You read the header, you know what it is already. It’s the kids!

The young Flyers, particularly the forwards, had a strong game last night. Oskar Lindblom was second among all Flyers with an adjusted CF% of 69.03 percent at 5-on-5, and was mere inches away (again) from his first NHL goal. Nolan Patrick had a goal for a hot second—before it was deemed that he never touched the puck and it was given back to Jakub Voracek—but even before that he did some nifty movement and stickhandling to set up the play that led to the goal. And, finally, Konecny—on fire through much of the night and creating a handful of chances—did this, to give the Flyers their first and only lead of the game.

And, while it’s easy to say these efforts were all for naught, given the result of the game, it was a process that was encouraging to see. These are the players they we’re going to need to see producing in the near and distant future, so to see things starting to click for them sooner rather than later is a real treat.

6. Defense

Man, oh man. Let’s not sugarcoat it. It was a rough night for the Andrew MacDonald-Robert Hagg pair. They both took penalties (but saw them both killed without allowing a goal). They both wound up jammed in the crease on the game-tying goal, nearly on top of Mrazek and screening him, making the goal nearly unavoidable. Then it was MacDonald caught on a two-on-one with Crosby and Connor Sheary, unable to break up the play, sliding, and leaving space for Sheary to score. It was particularly ugly for them, but on the whole, it wasn’t a banner defensive showing for the Flyers at large.

Over the course of the evening, the Flyers were unable to seal off the crease and keep Pittsburgh to the outside, and left them largely free to take high danger chances, for which they were rewarded accordingly. It was an effort that gave up three goals and could have yielded more, and one that the Flyers will be hoping not to repeat tomorrow.

7. The power play

It’s about time, it seems, that we should circle back around to talk about the second half of the Flyers’ special teams, huh? Where we could praise the penalty kill for some work well done, the mentality around the power play feels not as rosy.

Once again, the Flyers were unable to convert on any of their chances on the man advantage against the Penguins, and last night were only able to register three shots on total on these attempts. And where we saw them previously, even when unable to convert, get a nice bit of movement going and come close to scoring, this wasn’t the case last night, as they struggled to really get set and generate higher quality chances. And while this is also a testament to Pittsburgh’s aggressive penalty killing style that has caused a lot of trouble for a lot of teams, the fact remains that, in a tight game, the power play gave the Flyers their chances, and they left them on the table.

But it’s also pointing to a larger issue here. Despite the work we’ve been seeing them doing, the Flyers’ power play has been largely ineffective, of late, going one for 19 in their last six games. We’ve seen them be streaky throughout the season and get back on track, but still it seems reasonable to start to sweat, as they go longer and longer without getting back on track.

8. Matching up

The BSH prophet once wrote something along the lines of “if Hakstol matches the Filppula line against their top line I’m going to literally light myself on fire.”

It was me. I’m the BSH prophet. And I’m about to [figuratively] light myself on fire.

Last night, we had the marquis match-up between Crosby and… Filppula. And it went just about as well as you’d expect. At 5-on-5, Filppula put up a team low -65.67 adjusted CF%Rel, and was on the ice for three of the goals against. It was a line that showed some promise, on paper, with Weal and Simmonds on the wings, but it was a match-up that saw them getting little short of eviscerated. But still Hakstol stuck with it.

And, there’s a case to be made for some of what went on there. You like the Couturier/Malkin match-up so you keep them away from Crosby. Fine. But maybe give the Patrick line a try? Heck, remember earlier in the season when Scott Laughton was leaned on to shut down Connor McDavid, and did well at it? Maybe that’s worth trying too? It’s an unsettling trend, seeing the third or fourth line routinely deployed against opponents’ first, and much to the same results, without any thought of changing. They’re getting burned, and they’re losing hockey games for it, and at some point you start to wonder what it will take for them to learn.

9. Loose ends

You’re about to have a two for the price of one deal here, friends. I have two small thoughts to close out this piece.

First, we talked some about opportunism after Sunday’s game against the Panthers. How the Flyers, despite the result, still had their chances but weren’t able to close on them. And once again, we saw that same issue rearing its ugly head against Pittsburgh. There was a point, towards the middle of the third period, where the Flyers had Jarry flat on his stomach and out of the net, were looking at a whole bunch of open net, and couldn’t convert. And again this trouble haunted them, of trying that extra pass and letting the chance slip away. They were doing better when they were simplifying things.

Second, what happened at the end of the third period has me concerned. For the last five or so minutes, the Flyers looked like they were coasting. It was that hyper-conservative style they play when they’re just trying to get to overtime, but they weren’t, they were still chasing the lead. It’s the closest we’ve seen to the resignation from those last two games of the ten game losing streak, and it was just ugly. Last night wasn’t ideal for the Flyers, no one’s going to say it was. But there’s still a lot of hockey left to play, and they’re going to have to find a way to snap out of this funk that they’re in, and soon.

10. The only damn thing I know

Did you know, that if the playoffs started today, the Flyers and Penguins would be playing each other in the first round? Oh. Oh you did? Because you heard the broadcast folks mention it about a thousand times today? My bad.

Maybe time to come up with a new thing to harp on, fam.