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Flyers 4, Hurricanes 3: Comeback City, PA

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Some observations for your morning...

Whew! That was stressful. The game itself looked for a while there like it could have gone another direction, could have gone poorly for the Flyers, but they picked up the win! And now their magic number’s down to one! But this also means their hopes of clinching a playoff spot comes down to what they can do tomorrow, and that’s even more stressful. But don’t worry, you guys, we’ll get through this together. In fact, let’s not talk too much about Saturday yet. Let’s talk about yesterday.

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

1. Let’s try this again

We got a big surprise this morning, when the lines from morning skate dropped on the interwebs, people reasonably reacted pretty strongly. Travis Konecny had been moved down to the third line, and Michael Raffl bumped up in his stead. And we were worried—they tried this experiment before and it only lasted approximately four periods, because the top line wasn’t working, wasn’t producing. But they needed to find a way to get the third line going, and adding Konecny seemed to be the way to go. So how’d these “new” configurations work out?

What we got, in short, was something of a mixed bag. The early part of the game saw not much from either line, then the top line getting hemmed into their own zone in ugly fashion, and the third showing a bit of jump. But it was ultimately the Sean Couturier line that brought the bulk of the production—to the tune of three goals and an adjusted 52.55 CF%—over the course of the evening, while the third line found themselves buried, with an adjusted 30.72 CF%, in the same department. The third line, it’s worth noting, still generated a handful of chances, and held onto that jump that we saw early in the game, but the two-way play just wasn’t there for them.

So, we end with a result that about half validates the change, and one wonders if this is an arrangement that will be given a longer audition, will be tested further on Saturday against the Rangers.

2. Negation, negation, negation

We’ve spent a lot of time, this season, lamenting the poor starts that the Flyers get off to, where they’re scrambling, failing to connect on passes, and looking like they just can’t really do much of anything. But last night wasn’t like that, it wasn’t a bad start so much as it was just… sad.

The Flyers, all in all, put up some solid work early. They recorded 13 shots on goal, and while many of them were coming from the point (more on that later), they were sustaining some offense and looking like they were close to having things break open for them. But then one bad shift saw a defensive breakdown in the form of Andrew MacDonald falling down, the puck deflecting off Travis Sanheim, changing direction, Brian Elliott getting beat, and the Hurricanes had taken the lead, scoring on just their fourth shot of the night, nearly 14 minutes in. And sometimes that’s just how it goes, I guess, you work very hard and look sharp, but one bad sequence effectively negates all of that good. They got a goal back under a minute later thanks to Raffl, and then gave another up on the very next shift. So it goes.

And this also brings us, roughly, to our next point…

3. Welcome back!

He’s back! At long last, Brian Elliott is back, baby! We’ve been waiting for this moment for approximately four thousand years, and now we finally get to return to some feeling of normality. Or something. So, how’d Elliott do?

In short: not excellent.

To be fair, we probably expected too much. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting from this first game back, but I think it was a more seamless transition back into game speed than what we got. Because, you guys, this was rough.

By the numbers: he stopped 19 of 22 shots faced for an .864 save percentage. Which, on the surface, seems not great but also not atrocious. So we should move to the other side.

By the eyes: he looked scrambly. And not in the normal way, where he’s moving wildly but still able to get where he needed to be. His positioning wasn’t great, nor was his tracking, at times. He had a bit of bad luck on the first goal, which saw the puck hitting Sanheim and changing direction, but all in all, he just didn’t look as sharp as we would have liked to have seen. But maybe the good news is the first game’s behind him, and it seems things can only go up from here.

4. Offense from defense

But let’s move into a lighter point now, shall we? Ivan Provorov picked up another goal last night, and in pretty spectacular fashion, I might add.

We’ve seen the offensive side really coming together for him this season, and much of it has come as a result of him flexing a nice wrist shot, particularly from around the faceoff circles. But this wasn’t the case last night. Rather, we saw him even more active on the rush, and dipping lower in the zone to set up right in front of the net, and tip in a pass from the crease. And this was exciting—beyond just because it was a goal and goals are exciting—because it points to one of the areas where growth is being made in his game. Since he’s been moved to play alongside Shayne Gostisbehere, he’s been able to take more chances, experiment to see what will and will not work, without having to be overly preoccupied with the prospect of covering for his and his partner’s mistakes. He’s been given a chance to be more flexible, and he’s absolutely run with it.

5. The Patrick line

We talked above about the first and third lines and how they fared throughout the game, but we should also give a bit of attention to the second line. In the beginning of the first period, when the Flyers looked like they were still trying to get settled, and we were wondering just how the first and third lines would fare, in their new configurations, it was the Patrick line that stepped up as the most dynamic over the first few minutes. They graded out well over the course of the evening, putting up an adjusted 56.99 CF% at 5-on-5, with five shots between the forward trio.

And, as was to be expected by now, they were also able to bring their fair share of flash. The Voracek goal was a distinct high point, both for the shot itself and its role as the game winner, but Patrick and Oskar Lindblom were proving continued treats to watch—their chemistry and give-and-go are so sharp, and they’re doing well to generate higher danger chances, and it seems it won’t be long before things start breaking even further open for them.

6. O Captain, my captain!

Maybe now it’s about time we circle back to talk about Claude Giroux. We did some talking about him up in our first point, but there’s more to say. He deserves his own section.

Giroux’s goal was a beauty, to be sure — just look at it! — but of equal note about it was how it served to change the whole tone of the game for the Flyers. By propelling them into their first lead of the night, momentum shifted, and they went from “we’re trying to score more but we’re also just trying not to get scored against, let’s just hold on to this tie and get to overtime, I guess” to “oh no, we’re actually going to win this in regulation.” Not that they looked flat to start the period, but this gave them an extra jump, further. And, oh yeah, with this goal, he’s now just two points away from tallying 100 for the first time in his career. At 30 years old. Let that sink in for a moment.

He could have had 99 points, but the league decided that he should not get an assist on Raffl’s goal—rather, it was listed as unassisted, with neither a giveaway or takeaway credited, go figure—but no luck. The universe is cruel and we cannot have nice things and if the Flyers do not find a way to get him two more points on Saturday I am going to call the police.

7. Hemming and hawing

We’re back to this. You knew this was coming. Because they Flyers can’t find a way to be consistent and do the good things, we have to harp on this a bit more.

We could talk about the slow start that the first period got off to, but it would be more noteworthy if it hadn’t been upstaged by the particularly ugly start to the second period. Down by just one goal, we expected that they might try to get some offense going right away after the end of intermission. Instead, they found themselves caught in their own zone and left virtually unable to break out. The Hurricanes were given space to work with, and it seems all but a miracle that the Flyers escaped without giving up another goal against in this sequence. And we’ve talked time and again about how they’ve been burned by failed clears, how what seems like a monumental task shouldn’t be. And they still have some cleaning up to do.

8. A note on shot quality

When I put the note in for this section initially, it was during the first intermission, and the tone was very much an exasperated “we are really going to have to talk about shot quality.” We didn’t remain that exasperated, after the final two periods, but we still have to talk about shots.

Beyond holding the quantitative edge in shots—32 to 19 at 5-on-5—the Flyers also performed well in the shot quality battle, putting up 24 SCF to Carolina’s 22, and matching them in HDCF, with eight.

But it didn’t start out this way. After the first period, the Flyers’ spot around the net was much cooler, and left them just with the right point burning up. And this is where some of the early frustration began to seep in from. Travis Konecny noted after the game that they felt pretty happy with their first period, and that there was nothing wrong with testing out the goalie early, with just throwing everything at the net; and while he’s not wrong, there’s something to be said for a 13 shots to two HDCF in one period disparity, especially in the face of the fact of two of their goals coming as a result of going to the high danger areas. They weren’t killed for keeping to the perimeter early, but they were better served when they were able to break past it.

9. Loose ends

And now we’ve hit our sporadic “I have a few more small thoughts to address, but nothing big enough to warrant its own section.” So let’s get into those.

First, the Flyers’ penalty kill, in an abbreviated showing, did well last night. It wasn’t pretty, but they got the job done. However, it took a shift which should have been an easy clear but instead saw Jori Lehtera struggling to get to the loose puck again proved as a reminder that they would be well served with a bit more speed on the PK. Someone please make this happen.

Second, the Flyers need to find a way to clean up their 4-on-4 efforts. They had two showings with it, and they looked little short of a mess. They were hemmed into their own zone for so long that the Hurricanes had time to pull Darling to get an extra attacker out. They just couldn’t skate with them. It was ugly.

And lastly, with Florida’s win over the Bruins last night, the Flyers’ playoff hopes are going to come down to what they (and the Panthers) do on Saturday. They play the Rangers, and folks keep whispering about how this is reminiscent of 2010, when it all came down to the shootout and I need for this to not happen. Mostly because the Flyers should be able to take care of business against this Rangers team in regulation, but also because my poor heart just would not be able to take it.

10. The only damn thing I know

This section is an update: as I’m sure you were all wondering, were all very concerned about, I am here to ease your worries. The birds have been liberated from the Wells Fargo Center. I don’t know how they did it, but we have no more birds where they do not belong. Thanks for tuning in.