Sometimes in hockey you can overcome bad play by getting a few bounces, but you definitely can’t overcome bad play and bad luck all the while playing one of the better teams in hockey at their place.
The Flyers did just about everything they couldn’t afford to do: take bad penalties, turn the puck over in their own zone, and lose the special teams battle. On top of that, the Penguins were all business from the opening face off and exerted their will early and often.
All that combined and added up to a dominating 7-0 win for the Penguins in game one. Here are five things we learned from a rough night for the Flyers in Pittsburgh.
The turnovers were just brutal
Three of Pittsburgh’s first four goals were the direct result of Flyers turnovers. The Penguins don’t need much help scoring, but the Flyers were right there to help them with turnovers in this one. The official box score crediting the Flyers with seven giveaways was generous at best, considering they turned it over twice alone on the Penguins’ second goal.
Brian Elliott punted a rebound right to the stick of Bryan Rust for the Penguins first goal, then Sean Couturier failed to get a puck out that was on his forehand and a mere two feet from the blue line on the second goal. Couturier had Claude Giroux in front of him and just one Penguin between the both of them and he couldn’t clear. Pittsburgh made two passes and the puck was behind Elliott.
On Evgeni Malkin’s coast-to-coast third goal the Flyers were caught on a long power play shift but miss connected on a cross-ice pass and sent Malkin flying towards the other end. The Penguins’ fourth goal was directly off a Flyers turnover, but Andrew MacDonald couldn’t corral a loose puck that probably would have ended a rush that ended with Sidney Crosby’s first goal of the night.
Coming into this series the Flyers were going to have to be very careful on the puck in order to help try to neutralize the Penguins’ speed and skill in transition, but the opposite was true in game one as they coughed up the puck at will and paid a dear price.
Quality shots were few and far between
The good folks at NaturalStatTrick had the Flyers down for just five high-danger chances for as opposed to nine for the Penguins. That gels with the heat map, which shows the Flyers were almost allergic to the area in close proximity to Penguins netminder Matt Murray.
Outside of a quality look on the doorstep from Scott Laughton in a 1-0 game, Murray went largely untested en route to a 24-save shutout in game one. Now say Laughton doesn’t miss on the porch there and the game is tied at 1-1 and might unfold very differently, but that’s another discussion.
What we’re after here is that yet again the Flyers settled mostly for outside shots without probing the Penguins defense down low. Even with a down regular season, goalies like Matt Murray aren’t going to be beat from long range with a ton of regularity and that was what the Flyers resorted to in this one.
Even accounting for an other-wordly defensive effort from the Penguins (it wasn’t), the Flyers aren’t going to score a lot (any) goals in this series if they’re testing Murray from range. Not only will they be counting on deflections and screens, they’ll risk hitting shin pads and sending the Penguins the other way on counter attacks.
In game two the Flyers need to force the puck and the action closer to the crease. They’re also going to need to send more bodies to the front of the net as Murray saw almost every shot clean. Those aren’t easy areas to get to, but the Flyers have guys like Wayne Simmonds, Oskar Lindblom, and Nolan Patrick that have been willing to go there. More traffic in front will make these point attempts a little bit more ease to digest, but without it they’re just a waste.
The power play was beyond putrid
The Flyers went 0-for-4 on the man-advantage, and did so without generating a single shot on goal those four chances. Two of those four power plays went off without a lone shot attempt by the Flyers.
If anyone knows what exactly Claude Giroux was doing on Wednesday night I’d love to know. On the power play he had a hard time controlling the puck, was forcing cross-ice passes, and passed up shots towards the net multiple times. Shayne Gostisbehere couldn’t find a shooting lane to save his life and the Flyers’ puck pursuit while up a man was lazy at best.
At no point did the Flyers operate with any sort of urgency in any phases of the game, but usually they can count on their power play to provide a spark. They did none of that on Wednesday and perhaps even killed momentum at times. Down 2-0 and with Malkin headed to the penalty box, the Flyers had a chance to cut the lead in half and instead failed to register a shot on Murray on the ensuing power play. Still reeling from a failed man-advantage, the Flyers let Malkin grab the puck and race up ice to push the lead to 3-0. Not to mention the effort back down the ice from the likes of Giroux, Jake Voracek and Gostisbehere was questionable.
It was a forgetful night in many aspects for the Flyers, but seeing the power play go up in flames against a middle-of-the-road (17th overall at 80%) penalty kill was something I didn’t see coming. Giroux and his mates better figure it out on the man-advantage quick, because that’s one of the few areas in this series they should have the advantage over Pittsburgh in.
So much for staying disciplined
The Penguins finished 1-for-4 on the power play, but while the Flyers survived on the penalty kill much of the night, the penalties they took were of the terrible variety. Giving Pittsburgh a power play by virtue of taking a penalty to prevent a goal is just fine, but holding them and tripping them in the offensive zone are just brutal calls to take.
All four penalties the Flyers took were bad ones, though you could convince me that the Laughton slashing call on Malkin was one that could have been called both ways all night and really wasn’t. Travis Konency had another offensive zone penalty that coach Dave Hakstol sure probably loved. Sean Couturier took himself, the Flyers’ best penalty killer, off the ice with a lazy slashing call and Michael Raffl took out frustration over losing a puck battle with a what could have gone as a slashing or a holding call on Malkin.
As I said above, the Penguins don’t need any help scoring goals ... they’re plenty good at it on their own. Turning the puck over and putting them on the man-advantage with unnecessary penalties is a good way to dig a nice deep hole. Though the Flyers didn’t get burned too bad on the penalty kill in this one, they also allowed one power play goal and got shutout.
Going forward, they need to cut out these bad penalties or else they’ll watch the mighty Penguins power play wake up and they’ll be staring at another embarrassing 7-0 loss.
It’s just one game, folks
I’m going to talk myself into this as I type, so here goes. Look, nothing went right for the Flyers in this one, plain and simple.
Now there’s a lot of reasons that was the case, like the Flyers were bad and the Penguins were on their game and got a few bounces but overall the score is irrelevant in the end because the series is still 1-0 Pittsburgh. While it would have been nice to score late and have some inkling of confidence headed into game two, it’s just not the Flyers’ style and it’s been that way virtually all season.
This team at one point lost 10 straight games, but also had a stretch where they won 10 of 11 games with a lone shootout loss in there. They’ve been as inconsistent game to game as any team in the league and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them sweep a 7-0 game under the rug and play a solid game two.
Despite the negatives, if Scott Laughton beats Matt Murray in the first the hockey game is tied at 1-1 and probably has a far different feel the rest of the way. Travis Konecny also had a great scoring chance on a breakaway. Valtteri Filppula had two great scoring chances, if one of those goes in combined with the Laughton goal the game would have been different so it’s not as if the Flyers didn’t have any chances or anything positive to take to game two.
Then there’s the ridiculous Crosby goal that he battled out of the air and the last Crosby goal that was served up on a silver platter by Brandon Manning. All in all, there’s not much more than could have gone wrong for the Flyers in this one things essentially have to look up on Friday.
Despite everything that happened, they’re still in a 1-0 series hole whether the score of Wednesday’s game was 7-0, 1-0 or 200-0, which at one point was in play. The Flyers will bounce back because it’s what they’ve done all season, and while the first playoff game was a bad time to play their worst game, there’s only one way to go from here.