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Penguins 5, Flyers 0: Please stop hurting us

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Some observations for your morning...

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

You heard it here, folks. The Flyers got shut out again last night, for the second time in the series, and blown out for the second time at home. Things are feeling pretty bleak. The inside of the Wells Fargo Center is a tomb. Philly is on fire, but like, in the bad way. What’s there left to say? The inside of my brain is the bridge of “Flashlight” by the Front Bottoms, except it’s just them repeating “I am sad, I am sad” over and over again.

But I guess we still learned some things. Ten of them, to be precise. Keep scrolling and you’ll run right into them.

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

1.New looks

That’s right, there was a whole bunch of shuffling to be seen from Game 3 to 4! Some of it we knew about in advance, like Jordan Weal coming back into the lineup, but with Sean Couturier officially being ruled out for the game, the new new line configurations were a brand new surprise delivered just before puck drop. And perhaps the most noteworthy change? Nolan Patrick promoted to center the top line.

And he kicked it off with some flash, as, on the opening shift he wasted no time in putting a nice little hit on Crosby right in front of the Flyers bench, which really got the crowd going. By the numbers, it wasn’t a fantastic showing for Patrick—he was on the ice for three goals against and finished the night with an adjusted 44.34 CF%--but the eyes delivered some promise. The line looked better in the third period, with Travis Konecny bumped back up to their right wing, as they worked to still generate chances. We hit a few periods where it looked like Patrick was the only one out there still really trying to Do Things, while all else deflated. So it’s hard to go too far either way on the Good Night-Bad Night spectrum. He did just fine.

And the even higher upside here, if we’re ready to talk about that, is that the trio of Scott Laughton, Michael Raffl, and Jordan Weal—which formed our initial third line—fared very well over the course of the evening.

2. Yeah, this all sounds about right…

I wonder if you could draw up a scenario that was More Flyers than that which unfolded around the middle of the first period. It saw the Flyers down one goal but still playing with some energy. Then they got the puck in the offensive zone. And they kept it there. For just over two minutes. They were able to generate a handful of good looks, but they just couldn’t get them to go. But they finally looked like they were rolling.

And then…well you know the rest. The Penguins got the puck back and sprung Phil Kessel on the breakout, and he was able to get one past Brian Elliott. And it was ugly again.

But we’re not done breaking down the ugliness. Looking back, this remains probably the Flyers’ best push of the night. They weren’t completely dead offensively, from then on out, but they had a hard time sustaining much in this department. They would get spurts where it looked like they may be able to get back on track, but just as quickly, they found themselves shut down again. So we can still harp on the miscue that gave Pittsburgh the space to burn them, but consistency was the bigger issue of the evening, the ability to generate more chances to get back into it.

3. Killing penalties

It seems already that there’s going to be a thread running through this piece of “old issues rearing their ugly heads yet again,” and in this installment? Discipline.

Not quite the frightful, full-systems discipline failure that was Game 3, the Flyers still took four minor penalties, giving the Penguins’ power play far more opportunities than they needed.

The bad news: their first showing was, uh, less than stellar. They showed some early promise, but after getting hemmed into the zone, their defense in the crease broke down, leaving Malkin uncovered, open to take his shot.

The less bad news: that was it for the power play goals. With three more penalties to kill, the Flyers’ PK came up big. They got back to their more aggressive puck pursuit, and were even able to generate a shorthanded scoring chance (we see you, Ivan Provorov). They got the job done.

More bad news: they know full well how dangerous this power play is, and yet they still can’t find a way to stay out of the box. And maybe it’s trouble compounding trouble; the Flyers taking penalties because they’re caught chasing the game. But we’ve talked at length about how they need to avoid giving up chances for free, and they still haven’t been able to button this up.

4. Back to the revolving door

So, in a perfect world, this is where we’d talk about how, after three games of looking a little shaky, Elliott finally was able to look more settled and get back to his earlier season, more solid form. But that didn’t really happen. Elliott still looked shaky, and he let in three goals. It wasn’t a full trainwreck—the first was a power play goal where the support in front of him broke down, and the third was a tricky shot that he just missed, but the second on the Kessel breakout he should have had.

But there was a chance for the tides to turn! The third goal happened and Michal Neuvirth came on in relief of Elliott. We have a chance to stop the bleeding here, folks. We haven’t seen Neuvirth in a while, but we’ll need the good things from him. And would you look at that! He’s made his first save and that’s out of the way, so it’s so far so goo—what’s that? He’s already given up a goal? Oh awesome.

And it was not a pretty goal, let me tell you. There was some activity around the right post, and I guess Neuvirth still had his attention trained there, leaving the left side wide open for the wraparound attempt. He just had no idea where the puck was. He was able to tighten up after that, look steadier, and but for the Sheahan goal—made possible by another defensive breakdown—had a nice enough night. He did, more or less, exactly what he was tasked to do, the team in front of him just wasn’t able to do enough to make it worth it.

5. Hemming and hawing

We’ve got another one! An old, familiar topic for grumbling on! Our old pal “failure to clear.”

We talked a few points up about how the Flyers struggled to really sustain offense, but the same can’t really be said on the opposite side, for the Penguins. They had little trouble getting set up in the offensive zone, in part because the Flyers couldn’t seem to push them out easily. They didn’t let them break too much into the true high danger areas (they only allowed three high danger chances for at 5-on-5, all of which came in the third period) but let them linger just on the outside edge of it, which is where they converted four of their five goals from. But their trouble controlling the puck long enough to make a clean exit out of their own zone proved to be one of their bigger hindrances. This isn’t a new issue, of course, we’ve seen all this before. They were burned by it before, and they were burned by it again.

6. The power play

In the interest of being comprehensive, and since we’ve already talked about the penalty kill, it seems only fair that we circle back around to talk about the power play. It hasn’t been terribly good all series, and the short summary was that it wasn’t very good last night, either.

The Flyers just about evened out in penalty differential on the evening, with each side taking 8 total penalty minutes, and with the Flyers spending 6:08 on the man-advantage to the Penguins’ 5:18. The difference? The Penguins capitalized on one of their chances while the Flyers did not.

Indeed, it took them until their third chance—the double minor drawn after Konecny was high sticked—that they were able to even register a shot on goal. They finished the night with three shots while on the power play, and, as was the case at 5-on-5, not much to speak of in terms of sustained pressure. The Penguins were right after them, and they had trouble getting set and creating the quality chances they wanted to. So it’s not much of a surprise that they weren’t rewarded with a goal.

7. A note on shot quality

We don’t really want to do this, do we? But we have to. I’m sorry.

Across the whole of the series, the shot quality battle isn’t one that the Flyers can say they’ve consistently held a distinct edge, and last night was, in some ways, more of the same.

In terms of just pure shot volume, Pittsburgh held the edge 30 to 26, and were able to hold the Flyers to just a handful of shots over extended periods of time. The Penguins were able to keep up their activity in and just outside the crease, and were rewarded for their work in this area.

But the curious part? The Flyers held the edge in HDCF, with 11 in total to the Penguins’ six. So the Flyers did have their own chances, but working against them was the fact of angles just being off, or generating a play and not having a teammate in just the right position to capitalize. Pittsburgh made it difficult for them to set up in the crease for extended periods of time, but they didn’t prevent them from getting to work, entirely. And this may bode well for Game 5, if they can keep that up and push to the next level? In theory, but forgive us if we hedge on that for just a bit longer.

8. Responding

When the Flyers went down a goal early in the first, we felt bummed. And then when they gave up the second unanswered, there crept up a very palpable feeling of “here we go again.” So I started thinking about response, and how we had seen them struggle to put together an energetic reply to the Pittsburgh goals, and I started wondering what they would do from there.

And I don’t think I ever got a clear answer. After the first goal, things looked promising—the Flyers had those two minutes of very nice sustained offense, a bit of jump to their game, and were looking like they might just rally. But then the second goal happened, and you could feel all the air leave the building. But it was still hard to say either way that “they’re still pushing” or “this team’s dead in the water.” It speaks to our earlier point about struggles in sustaining offense—they stood a chance to climb out of the hole they dug early in the game, it wasn’t insurmountable. But they just couldn’t seem to find a way to maintain that push, that energy they needed to do so. And that’s got to change.

9. Responding (volume 2)

We’re going full-on freshman comp paper writing formula here, folks, and we’re making an upside-down funnel, building outward from our last point to close this thing out. We talked about responding to adversity in-game, finding a way to come back from behind, and just as big of a question is how they’ll be able to do this from game to game, as we head into Game 5 on Friday. It was a hot topic in the post-game interviews—that of having a short memory, putting this aside, having a good practice today, and finding a way to come back. And you want to believe all that. You want to look at this team, the same team that battled back from ten consecutive losses and drug themselves into these playoffs in the first place, and have that faith that they can do it again. And maybe they still can. But we’re creeping up on that moment when you look at all that’s happened in this series and wonder “how?”

10. The only damn thing I know

I’m not gonna do too many words for this one. I imagine we’re all just about tired of talking, at this point. We’ve got a rebrand coming, though, in light of how this is all unfolding: