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Penguins 5, Flyers 1: Still less than ideal

Some observations for your morning...

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Pittsburgh Penguins at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Did we see this coming? Because the Flyers won on Friday and we can’t have nice things, was the other shoe sure to drop? Either way, after winning one in spectacular fashion, they dropped yesterday’s game just as spectacularly. And, if you’re ready to talk about it, we have some notes for you. If not… I don’t know. Check your email. Have some more coffee. Take a walk (but maybe not outside, it’s raining here in Philly). Whatever you need to do to make this Monday less bad.

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

1. Nolan Patrick. Hello.

A peek behind the curtain: I jot these section ideas down in more or less chronological order as I think about them, and then maybe shuffle them around. Maybe that’s implicit, because that’s how lists work. But where am I going with this? I didn’t even have time to fully form an idea of what the Flyers’ start looked like before I noticed how dynamic Nolan Patrick was looking early in that game.

He started off the period with a chance on the rush which showed some promise, but ended up just shot into Murray’s glove when he meant to go above it. And, with us wondering if the Flyers would be able to keep the pace that they had set in Game 2 in Pittsburgh, Patrick was doing well to steer us towards “yes.”

And, despite how things fell off pretty completely for the team as a whole, Patrick had one of the better nights of any Flyer. He picked up a secondary assist on Travis Sanheim’s goal, put up three shots, and closed out the night with an adjusted 58.43 CF% at 5-on-5, putting him second among forwards and one of only six Flyers with a CF% above 50. And while you may say it’s tough to give too much praise to a player who couldn’t pick up a goal to help pull his team out of their downward spiral, it seemed he was doing all else that he could, and remained one of the most dynamic Flyers on the ice. Which is not too shabby for a rookie in his first playoff series.

2. Flyers owning the neutral zone early

Remember way back before Game 2, when we talked about how the Flyers were having a lot of trouble getting past the blue line, and how they needed to clean up their entries? And how in Game 2 they did, and flipped the script on Pittsburgh, in this field? Well, we got some more of that early in yesterday’s game.

As the section title suggests, the Flyers did well to really establish their presence in the neutral zone, win puck battles where they could and, where they couldn’t, stand the Penguins up at the blue line and prevent them from entering the zone cleanly. And the results were good—to the tune of zero shots allowed in the first nine and a half minutes of the period, and only four total through the duration of the period. This play contributed heavily to their dominance in the first 20 minutes, but it’s not all good news. They couldn’t keep this same level up after the first intermission, and you know, that first period itself wasn’t all good news for the Flyers. And, would you look at that, we’ve arrived at our next point.

3. Time to talk goaltending

You probably guessed it, right? We were heading towards that goal allowed in the first? Maybe subtlety isn’t our strong suit. Oh well.

It would be easy to say that last night was a rough one for our buddy Brian, and you’d be about half right—five goals on 26 shots and an .806 save percentage isn’t excellent, especially in a losing effort. That’s fine, that’s true. But it’s also worth nothing that the support in front of him certainly left something to be desired as well. We talked in the last section about the first goal, so we can use that one as an example—it saw the Penguins set up in the offensive zone for the longest they had all night, to that point, and were working to create something in front of the net. They were able to get Elliott moving laterally, and Ivan Provorov out of the crease following his man, and all they had left was space to work with, as Michael Raffl couldn’t get there fast enough to close things off. And this was a big story of the night, that of scrambles in front of the net becoming chances or goals.

Are we totally letting Elliott off the hook, here? No. He made a handful of very nice saves, but he needs to be better. But he’s also not alone in that.

4. Special teams rundown

A figure not presented above: of the five goals allowed by Elliott, three came on the power play. The Flyers had to kill off seven power play attempts for the Penguins, and while their PK showed some early promise in frustrating Pittsburgh’s attempts to sustain some pressure, the end result was them still allowing three goals.

But the Flyers weren’t without their own chances to get some of those back, as they had six chances on the man-advantage, but they just couldn’t seem to get it done. We saw them struggling to control their entries into the zone early, and ultimately able to generate a bit of pressure, but nothing major to speak of. And maybe that’s a testament to Pittsburgh’s aggressive penalty killing style, or just a byproduct of the Flyers’ struggles across the board, but the result remains the same—a power play with a generous amount of talent and firepower that couldn’t convert again.

And a brief tangent, in closing, their first attempt, while killing Brandon Manning’s tripping penalty was probably one of their better showings, and it also saw Shayne Gostisbehere getting a bit of time on the PK. This is probably because Manning being in the box left them with five defensemen, and Hakstol apparently trusts Sanheim less than Ghost defensively, so he went with him and his remaining three penalty killers. But, all the same, he did just fine in this limited showing, and the bit of speed he was able to flash was a suggestion of how his presence might still be an asset going forward. (I said maybe! Let’s try it out though. Why not? It can’t get much worse).

5. And the tables turn

Maybe our excitement about the Flyers’ dominance in the first period was a little premature. We jumped the gun and were too hopeful about all the shot suppressing that the Flyers were doing in the first period that we didn’t stop to wonder what would happen if they found themselves suppressed in the same way. Which is exactly what happened through the final 40 minutes.

Where the Flyers were able to hold the Penguins to just four shots in the first period, they were only able to generate eight in each of the next two periods. They were held up at the blue line and forced back into dump and chase mode, and couldn’t seem to maintain control, couldn’t win the races to the loose pucks once they got them into to offensive zone. And while a good part of their struggle to hold on to their earlier momentum came as a result of expending a fair bit of energy while stuck on the penalty kill (even more on that later), they just didn’t seem to have the same jump in later 5-on-5 showings. Hakstol tried jumbling the lines to spark something, but it didn’t work. They couldn’t respond in the way they wanted to, and the hole the fell into with all of the power play goals for Pittsburgh proved too deep to climb out of.

6. Travis Sanheim!

But maybe we should move away from the doom and gloom. Last night wasn’t all bad, and we have a particularly big bright spot to talk about. You guys! Sanehim saved the Flyers from getting shut out again! And he got his first playoff goal! That’s pretty neat, right?

Putting aside the manic tone, we can (and should) still talk about how, despite a rough showing for the team, Sanheim had another good night. He’s been looking solid enough through the series, but last night saw him finally getting some results for good work. He ended the game with an adjusted 45.28 CF% at 5-on-5 (not stellar, but middling, relative to his teammates), as well as two individual scoring chances, one HDCF, and, of course, one goal. We’ve seen him playing well so far, but a question remains on his role, going forward--despite solid play, he and Andrew MacDonald have been used as the third pair in this series, as Hakstol seems to be liking what he’s seen from the Manning-Gudas pairing. Maybe we see him getting more minutes as the series goes on. Actually, let’s please have this happen. Someone make this happen.

7. Killing penalties

What’s going on here, pal? I thought we did this already. The penalty kill. Fine at first. Went 4/7. We talked about them.

Yes, that’s true, but we have to circle back to address the other side of that coin, to talk about just why the Flyers had to kill off that many penalties. And how that hurt their chances of coming back.

To reiterate, the Flyers took eight minor penalties over the course of the game, six of which came in just under a 30 minute span between the middles of the second and third periods. That’s right, just when the Flyers most needed to buckle down and try to get some of their momentum back, to claw their way out of the hole they dug themselves, they instead gave the Penguins six chances on the power play. And we can talk about how this effectively killed any chance for them to get any momentum going, their hopes of getting back into the game. How, as Hakstol pointed out, the stick infractions weren’t from chasing plays, but more from carelessness. How they were just giving up chances to a very good Pittsburgh power play for free. But maybe all of this doesn’t need saying. Maybe all that’s left is asking something we don’t yet have an answer for: how are they going to fix it?

8. A note on shot quality

And now we hit the point where we have to talk about some more good news that probably won’t feel much like good news. Let’s go to the heatmap.

Despite the results, the Flyers did well to generate quality chances, better than the Penguins, even. They were able to generate 16 scoring chances and eight HDCF at 5-on-5, to Pittsburgh’s 12 SCF and five HDCF. But maybe the combined numbers tell a rosier story than they would when broken up--these chances are front-loaded, and the Flyers were only able to generate four scoring chances and one HDCF in the final forty minutes at 5-on-5. So the first period remains their best bit of work done, and was their best chance to open up scoring. And maybe that makes this result harder to swallow—the chances were there, they just couldn’t, couldn’t beat Murray, couldn’t find a way to close on them.

9. Watching reruns

So, we’ve seen this game before, right? The Flyers playing well enough early, giving up the first goal, and pretty much spiraling out of control from there? That was Game 1 you’re thinking of, and the same old issues popped up again yesterday, with force.

We saw the Flyers looking as dominant as they did in Game 2, more so, even. But some bad breaks and shifts in tides, and all the air is just gone out of the room. And you hate to play this game, the “well if the Flyers had just closed on their earlier chances this would have been a very different game” story, but it’s hard to avoid it. They had a chance to build up a bit of a cushion before Pittsburgh gathered themselves up and rallied, but they didn’t.

So we return to our question from just two points above: how are they going to fix it? The Flyers have proven that they can hang with the Penguins, can shut them down and dominate them, even, if only they can keep the wheels on. Perhaps the good news is that we’ve seen them respond well to a tough loss and come on strong, we know they have the power to keep themselves from just being dead in the water. And now their task is not just to do it again, but to also make sure they won’t have to do it for a third time, later in this series.

10. The only damn thing I know

I’ve been thinking a lot about the guy in a Flyers jersey I saw shotgun a beer on the subway platform before the game yesterday, and how that’s a really big mood. It would have been a bid mood if they won, too. I guess the image is evergreen. So thanks a lot, guy.