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Flyers 5, Rangers 0: The gang goes to the playoffs

Some observations for your morning...

NHL: New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Holy smokes, you guys. They did it. The Flyers. The Flyers that lost ten games in a row. The Flyers are going to the playoffs. It’s happening. It’s really happening.

And I know we’re really tempted to just start looking forward at this point, but let’s just a take a few moments to have a look at what we learned yesterday.

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

1. Watching reruns

So, we’ve seen the start of this game before, right? As recently as Thursday, even. The Flyers didn’t come out particularly hot, but neither did the Rangers, and it was a lot of moving up and down the ice, and having their plays broken up before they could get a shot off. They had two shots apiece after the first five and a half minutes and the Flyers were leaning heavily on shots from the right point through the first 20.

And maybe there’s something to be said for this slow start not killing them because they were at least still defending well enough, but it makes you a little nervous still. You want them to be finding ways to come out stronger and get a bit more jump. The matchups are only going to get tougher from here, and they’re going to need to be generating as many chances as possible. And these slow starts just aren’t going to cut it.

But, hey, it wasn’t all bad in the first period…

2. It is Ivan Provorov’s world…

…and we’re just living in it.

When we hit that five and a half minute mark that we mentioned up there, we were starting to sweat a little bit wondering when we’d actually see the Flyers able to sustain some offense. They got some help with this, as they got set up in the offensive zone and drew a delayed penalty, giving them time to get the extra attacker out. And then, well, you know the rest—it was a scramble around the net, Provorov dropping into the crease, and getting into position to have Couturier’s shot deflect in off him. And we had a Good Hockey Goal.

We talked about this last week, when he scored a goal in similar fashion, but it bears repeating now that this tally ties him for most goals scored by a defenseman—his offensive step up, this development, has been such a treat to see. It’s a side we didn’t necessarily expect to see coming into this season, but with him put in the right context, it’s proved to be a nice little extra weapon for the Flyers. It remains to be seen if this same level will carry into next season, but we can just enjoy being right in the thick of it, for now.

3. Status report: the new look, not actually new look, lines

It’s about time that we check back in with our sort of but not really new first and third lines, right? We’re wondering how they fared yesterday? Let’s take a look,

We probably don’t have to tell you that the top line had a very good game. They carried the offense in terms of scoring, as they were on the ice for four of the five Flyers goals. And, as could be expected, they graded out just as well by advanced metrics, picking up an adjusted 62.76 CF% and 85.55 HDCF% at 5-on-5. We’ve talked some about the speed the line lacked without Konecny, but they did well enough without it yesterday.

On the other side, the third line again put up less than stellar results. Put in more of a defensive role, they were held off the board and finished the game with a -23.61 CF% Rel at 5-on-5. The little bit of jump we saw from them on Thursday seemed even less present, and they struggled to generate much offensively. The whole line finished the game with three shots among the three of them. And this is when you start to wonder, if the goal of moving Konecny down was to get this line going, how much longer do you give the experiment before you decide that it’s just not working?

4. Nolan Patrick deserved more

Getting a little lost in the shuffle of all of the scoring and Giroux’s huge night (more on that later), was the fact that Patrick had a very good game, but just wasn’t rewarded with any results on the scoresheet. But oh was he ever generating chances.

He registered seven (seven) shots on goal, of which three were high danger chances, and put up an adjusted 51.94 CF% at 5-on-5. He found himself robbed twice by Lundqvist. He was primed to pick up a goal on the power play, if there hadn’t been enough on Giroux’s shot, and continues to thrive on the top unit. His line with Lindblom and Voracek continues to gel and generate chances. Things are going well.

And this is all really good news. We got confirmation last night that the Flyers will be playing the Pittsburgh Hockey Club in the first round, and we can expect that this means Patrick will be spending a fair bit of time matched up against Malkin. If you had said this at the beginning of the season, we all probably would have started to sweat a little bit. But now? He’s proving that he’s made some big steps so far this season, and is continuing to get better, so our worries might be quelled, if only just a little.

5. Elliott evens out

Thursday was rough for our buddy Brian, there’s no way around it. We could have expected it, given that it was his first game back after having surgery, so we give him a little leeway, but still feel sad about how it played out, even after the win.

But we didn’t have to stay sad or worried for long, as Elliott looked markedly sharper against the Rangers. He was making the right reads, his positioning was better, and he was having, it seemed, an easier time locating the puck. He was rewarded for his good work with a shutout. And while, to be sure, your team only allowing 17 shots and only three high danger chances across 60 minutes certainly makes your job a little easier, Elliott’s good work shouldn’t be discounted. With the playoffs approaching, and him being “their guy” (as we all kind of knew, and Hakstol underscored after the game), we needed to see him take the next step forward. And he did just that.

6. The power play

We have a bit more good news to report, another change—the personnel is still changing on the power play, but it was good, let me tell you. For the first time since Tuesday, the Flyers were able to draw a non-concurring penalty from their opponent and buy themselves some power play time, and they did a bit of experimenting with these chances. They saw Patrick moved back up to the first unit at the nefront, and Simmonds down to the second, with Sanheim also an addition to PP2.

And the results showed some promise. The top unit picked up a goal from Giroux, Patrick looked settled at the nefront, and actually looked for a moment like he may have gotten the deflection on it. But what seems more noteworthy is the extra jump the second unit had—they generated a close chance in front for none other than Simmonds, and looked more dynamic than they have for most of the season. It remains to be seen if the arrangement will hold, but this seems to be the closest to optimized these units have been all season, and you have to like the potential.

The lingering, very small concern? This leaves the second unit without a center, and had Simmonds take the faceoff for them. He won it, so it worked out in the moment, but one wonders how they’ll continue to navigate this.

7. Claude Giroux.

That’s really all that section title needs to say, right? You don’t need any more context. We just need to take a moment to appreciate Giroux.

The lead up surrounding him to tonight’s game was pretty exciting—the league had given him the assist on Raffl’s goal from Thursday, putting him within just one point of notching his 100th. And guess what, you guys. He did it.

The moment really couldn’t have been better. The goal was perfectly executed. Then it was the look on everyone’s faces. The crowd exploding in cheers. The ‘MVP’ chants. Danny Briere sitting at the end of press row clapping so hard. I am the Grinch and my heart grew three whole sizes at all of that.

But this was far from the end for Giroux. He picked up two more goals on the night for his first regular season hat trick, on a line that was just skating circles around the Rangers. It’s probably worth noting just how massive of an exclamation point this is to his season. I mean, a hat trick, in earning his 100th point, for the first time in his career, at age 30, in the game that clinched a playoff berth for his team. Giroux for Hart. Thanks.

8. When you’ve all but locked it down…

The Flyers went into the third period with a four goal lead, and seemed to have effectively sealed their win, barring any kind of catastrophe. So, we thought, the third period would serve as something of an interesting test of Hakstol’s thought processing. Where would they go from there? How would they approach the final 20 minutes?

What was immediately striking was how they looked like they had no intention of sitting back. They stayed on the attack, were rewarded with a goal, and kept at it. Not only was it just plain fun to watch, it was encouraging. The team has had, historically, a penchant for sitting back late in games when they’ve picked up the lead and just trying to defend, to varying degree of success. But here we saw a flash of what they’re capable of—not relenting and putting themselves in an even better position to win. If they keep with it, it will serve them well in the playoffs.

And then we got some more good, when it became pretty clear that the Rangers had given up and weren’t going to be able to do anything, they kept their top end talent (more or less) stapled to the bench. We saw a whole lot of the fourth line, for example, and a limited amount of the top pair. And we could say that this is just Hakstol doing His Thing, but here, it made sense. The lead was great enough that it didn’t make sense to keep your top weapons out there, and have them risk some kind of freak injury. It was the right call.

9. Loose ends

Another one of these sections? Two articles in a row? You bet! It’s time to take stock of the loose thoughts.

First: the fourth line was very good yesterday. They’re sort of getting lost in the shuffle, since they haven’t been terribly flashy, and aren’t producing much on the scoresheet, but they quietly put up an adjusted 72.94 CF% at five-on-five. It’s tough to say if things will start breaking for them on the offensive side, but they still did well to shut down the Rangers while on the ice.

Second: good on Scott Laughton for not engaging with Beleskey when he tried to draw him into a fight. Instead, he drew a roughing penalty and got the Flyers a chance on the power play. We’ve talked a good bit about how discipline has been a strong point for the Flyers, and it will need to be something they stick with. Don’t give up any unnecessary chances. Cool? Cool.

Third: spinning goals are always sort of funny to me, so credit to Raffl for doing a good hockey thing, and also bringing a bit of extra levity to my evening.

Finally: we touched on it way back towards the beginning of this article, but the Flyers are really wasting Konecny on the third line. He had one rush with Patrick after half of a line change was completed, and they were able to generate a scoring chance. And he’s just not getting that support from his regular linemates right now.

10. The only damn thing I know

So, I’m not going to wax poetic, here. I’ve done enough of that already. I just have one more thing to say.