Happy Saturday, everybody! Are we all having a pleasant morning, slept in a little, having a nice coffee? Good things of that nature? I hope so,
Not to put a damper on things, but the Flyers played last night, and recorded their very first overtime loss of the preseason, in sort of spectacular and dramatic and upsetting fashion. Because, you know, they know no other way. And this was bound to happen eventually, let’s be real. Let’s break it down.
All stats via NHL.com
1. A bit of early flash
Okay, let’s start things off by talking about, well, the start of this game. Because it was a pretty good one. Right out of the gate, the Flyers were looking dangerous, flexing some speed but not quite connecting on all of their passes, holding them back from putting up as many high quality chances as it looked like they should be. But, it was a start, and they were outplaying the Islanders pretty dramatically through the first act of the night.
Indeed, their defense shone just as well, if not better through those first 20 minutes. All in all, they held the Islanders to just four shots, and didn’t allow that first shot until just shy of the 11 minute mark. This game largely thanks to their overall disruptiveness at the blue line—early on, the Isles were trying to generate on the rush, but the Flyers just wouldn’t let that happen. If they were able to make it over the blue line with possession, they didn’t hold it for long, finding their lanes blocked and falling victim to poke checks. It was a good start, but unfortunately not one that held. We’ll talk more about that later
2. The power play got a few looks early
If you came into this game thinking “wow, I really wonder, with this particular group that they’ve put together for this game, how they’ll arrange the power play units, and how they’ll look.” That would be a really specific thing to come in wondering about, I’ll grant you, but you would be in luck! The Flyers had six power play chances across the span of the evening, so we would get to see those two units a whole lot.
They got off to a good start early on, generating a few chances on their first try but just lacking in the finish. Their second go, after Taylor Leier drew a penalty, came with better results, and the second unit again got things going, and this time it was Shayne Gostisbehere to do his thing, and open up scoring for the night.
Shayne Gostisbehere opens up the scoring! pic.twitter.com/IGu3qvCEDv— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) September 21, 2018
But from here, the wheels kind of fell off. The Flyers’ power play, both units, just couldn’t seem to sustain much real pressure. In fact, one showing saw them backed up into their own zone for the end of the power play, scrambling and just positively breaking down defensively, and they ultimately gave up a goal, just after the penalty expired. So, after a bit of initial pressure and positive results, they fizzled out in a big way.
Which, then, also brings us to our next point…
3. Ghost, hello
We should talk about Gostisbehere, right? He had himself a good night, as well. We talked about that power play goal above, and we can note how it was very good, how it was timely and needed, and how it was Gostisbehere in old form, doing his thing out there. All of this is true and we are glad to see it.
The other side of his good night was how well he continued to work with Ivan Provorov, as they were reunited for the first time this preseason. It was pretty apparent early on that these two hadn’t lost it, as their play in the offensive zone made the whole of the Flyers’ attempts look seamless and dangerous—no need to talk about roles, everyone can be active on the offensive push, everyone can contribute danger to the play. No rust to be shaken off, here, the Provorov-Gostisbehere pairing that we came to know and love last season was back.
Of course, it was also something of an abbreviated look at it, and him, as he was held out for the last period of the game for precautionary reasons (precautionary! We started out worried but we don’t have to be! Just throwing this disclaimer here!), but hey, a strong showing while he was on the ice, even if it wasn’t for the full game, is still a strong showing. We’ll take it.
4. Killing penalties
Okay, you probably figured this one was coming, right? We talked about the power play, so it couldn’t be too long before we have to talk about the penalty, right? Right. And we got something of a mixed bag, in terms of performances. Let’s break it down.
The good: the penalty kill went five for six on the night, and largely did keep the Islanders’ efforts frustrated. They weren’t terribly flashy, but they got the job done, including on nearly two full minutes of three-on-five.
The bad: They did still give up a power play goal, however…
The justifiable?: That power play goal they gave up was a four-on-three in overtime. Not great defense shown, but also not an easy play to defend.
Some more good: In terms of individual performances, one who stuck out was Leier. He was consistently sound and even was able to start a nice little shorthanded rush, which burned a bit of time, even if it didn’t lead to a goal. And it helped give his overall game a push in the positive direction, and that’s more or less exactly what he needed—just like last year, in this exact building, he needed a really strong showing in order to help his push for a roster spot, and last night may have done just the same for his case for this season.
5. Starter Hart
Please don’t fire me for that pun.
Anyway, our starter for the night, one Carter Hart, had himself a pretty solid night! He only played the first 30 minutes or so, but they were good ones. He had some help from the team in front of him—as they defended well and limited the number of chances the Islanders could generate, as we talked about in the first section—and Hart only had to face nine shots in total, but all of those shots, he stopped.
Carter Hart stops the redirect and smothers the puck. pic.twitter.com/1IDbjnfeBI— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) September 21, 2018
All told, his game was a controlled one—his positioning was as solid as ever, and his rebound control, while not perfect, was a step up from some of his earlier showings, and steady enough the get the job done. And I know now is probably when we’re supposed to use this as a segue into getting very excited about the opportunity presented, in the face of what may or may be an injury that causes Michal Neuvirth to miss an extended period of time. Hart was better than Anthony Stolarz (more on him in a bit) tonight! He should be called up immediately! Right?!
I mean, we’ll see. He had a good game last night. Let’s just leave it there.
6. The fourth line from my nightmares got some looks, too
Okay, I’m going to be honest here. When I saw the lines in practice and saw that the fourth line of the night was going to be Leier-Lehtera-Weise, I had some bad feelings about it. It’s three of our borderline players who did not have very good seasons last year, saw themselves parked in the press box, each of whom we could reasonably see the Flyers waiving to start this season, if presented with a real roster crunch. It might have gotten ugly. But they weren’t awful. In fact, they gave us a bit of flash, even.
Between the three forwards, they put up five shots on goal, and set up a handful of chances on the rush (for which we should extend a nod to Leier, as the initiator and the only one with real wheels on that line). And while, of course, it’s the near misses that we remember as they were held off the board, they took their roles and ran with them. We looked at these guys and couldn’t help but go “okay, just give me something, remind me why we’re keeping you around.” And they did.
7. Travis Konecny is back, baby
And, after something of a rough, or just quiet start to the preseason, Konecny finally seemed to get settled into his regular form, and was one of the more noticeably dangerous players on the ice. He tied Mikhail Vorobyev and Carsen Twarynski for the top of the ranking in shots by forwards (with three), and his offensive game really seemed to be clicking. And, of course, there was that (sort of) breakaway goal.
What a pass by Vorobyev and what a finish by Konecny! pic.twitter.com/35H30kVer1— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) September 22, 2018
This wasn’t the only chance that he got in the game, he had a second rush with Vorobyev that looked remarkably like that one, but just found that shot just blocked. But generating chances on the rush, using that speed, is what stood out most, and it was nice to see him getting back to that.
We also got an interesting anecdote from both player and coach after the game, one that kind of speaks volumes.
After the game, Konecny was self-critical about couple of turnovers he had, despite his strong night in offensive zone. Hakstol said that is a difference between TK now and in his first camp. Three years ago, he'd have forgotten the turnover & focused just on goal he scored.— Bill Meltzer (@billmeltzer) September 22, 2018
So perhaps we shouldn’t even be talking about him getting back to old form so much as looking at how he’s taking what’s worked in the past and getting smarter about what isn’t. That’s growth, baby, and we’re seeing it right before our very eyes.
8. Sitting back
Ah, yes. Here we are again. That thing the Flyers do. We’re back and talking about it. *deep sigh into the void*
Way back in the beginning of this article, we talked about how the Flyers were all but skating circles around the Islanders in the first period, how they went into intermission with the lead and they absolutely deserved it. But then, they came back and the wheels started to come off. They were getting hemmed into their own zone for long stretches and couldn’t seem to get a clear. But Hart bailed them out. And then Stolarz came in and the stretches in their zone got longer, and he couldn’t bail them out. The turnovers started to get to them and their once clean entries into the offensive zone fell apart. In short, the same intensity wasn’t there—either they were sitting back or the Isles were catching up—and they started to shoot themselves in the foot. Konecny bailed them out, reclaiming the lead after Jan Kovar tied things up for the first time, but then just the messiest of messy shifts in the third had them right back with them, and an ill-timed tripping penalty all but sealed their fate.
How not to defend: a story by the Philadelphia Flyers pic.twitter.com/2hM0YCkQkM— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) September 22, 2018
What can we make of all this? We can be frustrated, because they had a chance to win this one and it just got really ugly really fast. Or we can be forgiving, note that this wasn’t the opening night lineup, that they’ll have their best guys out there and they shouldn’t break down so quickly or so hard. Or we could just leave it somewhere in the middle—yes, some of the pieces who would ordinarily bail them out of these situations will be back on opening night, but there still remains a bit of cleaning up to do.
9. Loose ends
And it’s just about that time! You know the drill, we’re collecting our stray thoughts and dropping them here. We’re almost through. Let’s go.
First, since we already talked about Hart, we should circle back and talk about Anthony Stolarz, who had himself not quite as stellar of a night. During his time on the ice, he allowed three goals on ten shots, in that back half of the game, and also took a tripping call inside the last minute of the third period, sending the Islanders to the man-advantage to close this thing out. We’ll give him some credit—the second goal came after a full-on defensive meltdown, and there wasn’t a whole lot he could do, there, and the same might be said on the overtime winner, how this was a harder play to defend. Sure. Absolutely. But the fact also remained that he was just a little off, that his positioning wasn’t great and there seemed to be a few lapses in his tracking. We’ll concede that this was still one of his first games back, and he’s still getting reacclimated, and it’s still the preseason, anyway, but this wasn’t exactly his best showing.
And second, and to sort of flip to a more positive note, we can also talk about a standout showing from last night—Misha Vorobyev had himself another very good game. We mentioned that he was one of the leaders among forwards in shots on the game, and it was his setup that sprung Konecny for that breakaway goal, and he had another similar setup in the third period (these two sure are clicking together, huh?). he contributed to a couple of looks on the power play, and remained steady on the penalty kill. In a way, these are all things that we’ve come to expect from him, given how sharp he’s looked in virtually all of his earlier showings. He’s staring down a spot on that opening night roster, and it’s looking like it will be harder and harder to deny him it by the say.
10. The only damn thing I know
I know I talk a lot about in-arena music, because I like music and there always seems to be something to say about it. So I’ve got another music anecdote for you fine folks.
During one of the stoppages in the first period, they played a little bit of that one Demi Lovato song. Heart Attack. You know the one. And you can’t tell me it wasn’t for the jokes. I mean... heart attack… h(e)art attack... Hart attack. Come on. That’s the good stuff.