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Flyers 4, Penguins 2: Down but not out

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Some observations for your morning...

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Wow! We were so ready for this to be the last time we’re observing ten things about the Flyers this season, but not so! You’re going to get one more! In the face of resignation (from us) the Flyers rallied and pulled off a very nice win to stave off elimination for one more game. And, after two games of grumbling and heavy sighing, we were gifted another game with a lot to like about it. That’s good news for a Saturday, right? So, grab your coffee and let’s dig in.

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

1. New looks report: ????

OK, so in complete fairness to what was good about the new lines, I made that section header when they first were announced before puck drop, and the response was just angry question marks. We thought they might be kind of a mess, but they wound up being...well they were fine, for the most part.

The new top line with Filppula and Voracek joining Giroux held up well, matched up against Crosby’s line, and even held a bit of a territorial edge, putting up an adjusted 51.38 CF% at 5-on-5. But perhaps the even bigger story is how the new third line thrived. Led by Couturier, he, Laughton, and Simmonds set up five scoring chances in the just under 10 minutes that they played at 5-on-5. They weren’t the flashiest of lines, but they were doing some good work. But, of course, while it was nice to see a line with Laughton and Simmonds on it starting to get going, you’re inclined to want to see Couturier back up on the top line for tomorrow’s game.

The other side of this was how the fourth line wasn’t really working. The trio of Lehtera, Read, and Weise closed out the game with a CF% Rel of -12.45—the lowest combined effort among their teammates. Will this matter to Hakstol in his game plan for Sunday? Probably not. You know how he loves his heavy, checking fourth lines. But, all the same, it would be nice to see one of Weal, Lindblom, or even Leier crack the lineup for Game 6.

2. The Patrick line brings some flash

What’s that, you say? We forgot somebody up there? There are four lines that need talking about, not just three? Well, if you say so.

When we saw this new configuration, this was another line that was something of a question mark. Patrick was objectively the best Flyer on the ice in Game 4, and as such was expected to carry some of that dynamism into Game 5. But now a line with Raffl and Konecny? It seems promising on paper, but who knows?

And they showed a bit of that promise very early in last night’s game, generating what looked like it could have been a very dangerous scoring chance, but saw the shot blocked just before it reached the net (alas). But it was an encouraging look. They leveled out, more or less, through the rest of the game, putting up three scoring chances at 5-on-5, and an adjusted 40.37 CF%. They had trouble generating a whole lot in terms of offense, matched up against Malkin’s line, but they also were able to keep them off the board.

3. O Captain, my Captain

And now we’ve arrived. You were around heading into this game, you read the takes. The internet was aflame with cries for the captain (and other vets) to step up and take the lead in this series. And I guess Claude Giroux was listening, because he did just that.

Just as we were watching the first period wind down, still scoreless, there began to creep up a sinking feeling that this was going to be it, the Flyers would play a close enough game and lose 1-0 or something. But not so! We were snapped from our sadness by an absolute laser of a goal by Giroux.

And, with that, the Flyers had their first lead of the game, and a bit of extra jump injected into their game. We talked above about the night his line had, but Giroux also put a pretty emphatic exclamation point on his own individual game.

And would you have expected any less? He’s been relatively quiet through the first four games, but, after essentially dragging this team into the playoffs, it would make sense that Giroux would be the one to start the push to keep their playoff hopes alive, if only for one more game. So, uh, thanks pal.

4. Neuvirth’s return

And now to talk about our other big change for last night’s game: for the first time in about two months, Michal Neuvirth would be making the start. It wasn’t a particularly surprising move--he played well in relief on Wednesday, and stood the best chance to steal them a game, so what did they have to lose?

The potential risk paid off for them, as Neuvirth did exactly that--he looked sharp and came up huge for them, making both timely and flashy saves in the face of an onslaught of shots from the Penguins in the final 40 minutes (including 12 high danger chances). He robbed them when he needed to, and kept the Flyers in the game. Of course, he wasn’t perfect, and there’s a bit of irony in the fact that both of the goals allowed were on comparatively more stoppable shots (and did we mention that he was beat by another wraparound attempt? That wasn’t pretty). But so it goes, I guess. At the end of the day, he did what he was called upon to do, stopping 30 of the 32 shots he faced, and giving the Flyers the best chance to rally in front of him.

5. Hemming and hawing

It’s like deja vu over here, huh? It feels like we just talked about this (we did). And it’s back to the Flyers getting trapped in their own zone, yet again.

In the interest of complete fairness, the Flyers weren’t burned so badly as they have been as a result of their failure to clear the puck out of the zone, but last night did see them give up one goal as a result, as well as a handful of quality chances. The Rust goal wasn’t much of a surprise--with the Penguins set up in the zone and the Flyers unable to cleanly break up their pressure, the sinking feeling set in, and you could see the goal coming a mile away. Not the way it happened, exactly, but that there would be some conversion for the Penguins. It was inevitable. Of course, some luck (more on that later) and some excellent goaltending saved them from having those sequences be more costly, but at the same time it isn’t a performance they should bank on having repeated. They’ll need to clean this up for Sunday.

6. Killing penalties

Would it be a Flyers game without talking about the penalty kill, and how many penalties they took? The Flyers spent 10 minutes on the penalty kill, and while they had some questionable officiating to thank for this, part of this was also just lack of discipline, again. We never should have gotten to that 4-on-3 opportunity for Pittsburgh. The Flyers were able to get a chance on the power play, and instead MacDonald let himself be drawn into a fight to take a roughing penalty, then bring about 4-on-4. And then Ghost’s hook on Crosby? Admittedly a bit played up, but it never should have happened.

But fear not! It’s not all bad news here! The Flyers still allowed exactly zero power play goals, and in fact actually scored a shorthanded goal. Set up by Lehtera and Filppula. No, I’m not joking. Have a look for yourself.

So, on the whole, the Flyers were put in a tough position with regards to the penalty calling, but they found a way to come up big when it mattered most. It wasn’t a perfect showing, which saw them caught in the zone and nearly dead on their skates at time, but they still got it done.

7. A note on luck

Time to turn the tables a little bit, here. We talked--and will continue to talk--about the good work that the Flyers did through this game that helped propel them to victory, but we should also make note of the other way they were helped out.

In a way, the Flyers dodged a bullet. They were outshot (46 unblocked shots to 37 in all situations) and outchanced (35 SCF to 25) through 60 minutes. They had the edge through the first half of the game, and saw it slowly slipping away as we neared the end. But still they prevailed. Their work paid off, but so too were they helped by some lucky bounces and the fact that the Penguins just couldn’t seem to hit the net while they worked to sustain some pressure.

So maybe the other way of framing this is that the Flyers were also opportunistic in this one, finally making the most of the chances that presented themselves to them and taking the good bounces and running with them. And, oh, would you look at that. That brings us to our next point...

8. Sean Couturier, holy smokes

The energy before this game was decidedly nervous, for a number of reasons, but chief among them because of the questions about Couturier’s status for the game. A collective sigh of relief was breathed when word dropped that he was set to play, even if it was on the third line.

And he had a very good game. In an admittedly more limited role--to the tune of 9:16 at 5-on-5--he led all Flyers with an adjusted 64.08 CF%. He seemed comfortable back on the ice, and held steady, matched up against a Pittsburgh offense that was firing on all cylinders. And then, of course, there was the goal.

Yep, that’s the one! Scored at the end of the third period to propel the Flyers back into the lead, it was a beauty to behold. What first looked like it would be just a nice, heads up play to keep the puck onside turned into a highlight reel play. And we talked about it way up when we talked about Giroux, how the need was felt for the Flyers’ top players to step up, if they wanted to keep this thing going, and Couturier did just that.

9. Loose ends

It’s that time again! We’re nearing the end of our observations, so it’s about time we round up all of the loose thoughts still floating around and jam them into one section.

First, it’s hard to dig into a full “wow the power play’s still bad,” after watching them fail to convert again, while knowing they only had one chance to do so. Perhaps the bigger question is how they only managed to draw one penalty (looking at you, the officials), but the performance on the lone power play still left something to be desired. They weren’t without their looks—with two shots and a scoring chance—but they weren’t able to bring the same level of danger as we’ve seen them able to possess.We’re still looking for that next step forward.

Second, speaking of something we needed to see a bit more of, let’s move on to controlled entries. Last night wasn’t exactly the dump and chase nightmare that was the first few games—when the Flyers were able to carry the puck into the zone, it served them well. But there were a handful of shifts towards the second half of the third period where they were trying to make an extra push to pull into the lead, and had their attempts to do so frustrated when loose pucks chipped into the zone were intercepted. They did make a step forward in this area, but you still want to see them take another, still.

And finally, we said it before, but it’s worth repeating: Filppula had a very good game and did well to hold his own on the top line. This is great news and made for a great game for the Flyers. But should we necessarily bank on this performance being repeatable? Not necessarily. With some faith shown in him by the coaches, he did well for them when he needed to, but you have to avoid letting him overstay his welcome--please, the Flyers, let’s see Couturier back up there on Sunday.

10. The only damn thing I know

The air horn in the PPG Paints Arena was delivered to the Penguins straight from hell. Someone. Please. Destroy the thing. Stop the madness.