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Bruins 4, Flyers 3: Weirdness abound

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Some observations for your morning…

Heather Barry ©

New week, new mascot, new games. This is normally where we give a bit of a breakdown of the game action, do a bit of initial reaction, but honestly, we’re still stunned. The Flyers got beat up on for two periods and then nearly staged an unreal comeback. Injured players are back from the dead. Gritty wiped out on the ice at intermission. We’re still trying to wrap our heads around this one. It’s getting weird over here, pals.

All stats and graphics via Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com

1. Mac is back…

…and man oh man he is back with force. After sustaining an injury during the offseason, it was looking like Andrew MacDonald was set to be out through the first two weeks of the regular season, but would you look at that, he’s ahead of schedule and he was able to get in for his first preseason game last night against the Bruins. And you always sort of figure with these games that there will be the need to shake off a bit of rust, if you will, and such was certainly the case for MacDonald.

Let’s just dive right in to the very specific and very ugly—the sequence leading up to the Peter Cehlarik goal. Beat not once but twice in coverages, the Bruins were able to maintain possession in the zone and keep cycling until just the right lane opened up, and MacDonald let his man get the inside on him, primed to score.

But across the board, for the whole of the evening, MacDonald struggled—he was beaten on coverages, pushed off the puck, couldn’t keep it onside; in short, it looked like he was coming off a much longer break than he actually was. He was minus-2 on the night, and we know, we know, plus/minus isn’t great, but it’s useful here as MacDonald did indeed contribute to both of those goals against while he was one the ice. And maybe this was something of an anomaly—this is the worst we’ve seen him look in recent memory—and maybe he levels out with time, or once reunited (we hope) with Travis Sanheim to start the season. But all the same, it wasn’t a stellar return to game action for one Andrew MacDonald.

2. Hemming and hawing

But let’s keep building, friends, because that rough start did not remain limited to just that first goal against that we broke down in the last point. The Flyers really struggled to get anything going in the first period—they were outshot 13 to 8 and spent more time than they or we would have liked to see defending. It’s the same old story, in a way, seeing them spending extended periods pushed back into their own end, failing to clear the puck, and looking like it was only a matter of time before they conceded a goal. The part of the shift before the Brandon Carlo goal looked like that, and when the screen was allowed to be set and the goal came, we weren’t exactly surprised. If it wasn’t on this shift, it would be soon, they were just allowing the Bruins too much space to work with.

And at this point, we don’t know quite what else to say here. We sound like a broken record. Travis Konecny noted after the game that, before we came in, Dave Hakstol came into the locker room and talked about all these slow starts at home. So we all know it’s a problem. They just need to find a way to break out of that pattern.

3. Killing penalties

But let’s shift gears here. It’s time to move away from the grumbling, because there are some positives to be gleaned from this one. Starting with (uncharacteristically) the penalty kill.

Outside of a misstep that saw Dale Weise getting beaten as the winger along the boards in the neutral zone, the penalty kill had a very solid night. They went three for three on their full attempts, didn’t concede a power play goal, none at all. They weren’t terribly fancy, they were just able to get after the puck and make the clean clear. And it got the job done.

And then, of course, there was the fact that they did the ultimate penalty kill ideal thing, and scored a shorthanded goal, after Michael Raffl was able to start a counter rush and set up Weise for the one-timer.

While, yes, this likely won’t be exactly the units we’ll be seeing in the regular season, and it becomes difficult to guess about their success, but this particular incarnation did well—specifically Raffl and the duo of Corban Knight and Scott Laughton—well enough to garner very specific praise from their coach after the game. And that’s something.

4. Stealing back momentum

Since we’ve already talked about the hole the Flyers dug themselves, and then the shorthanded goal that broke open the scoring for the evening, we should get to talking about where things went from there.

With a point on the board and some energy finally injected into the game, the Flyers got their next chance on the power play just over a minute and a half after Weise’s shorthanded goal. And finally they looked like they were connecting, as what came next was a laser from Claude Giroux, and the Flyers were again within two.

The floodgates were open and they didn’t stop there, as they kept the offense rolling right into their next shifts, keeping pressure up and forcing space to open up, and letting Travis Konecny Do This.

They were able to keep this pressure up through the rest of the game, maintained this look of being settled, but it just wasn’t quite enough to buy them the extra goal they needed to push this thing to overtime, even with their minute and a half with the goalie pulled. Alas.

In short, by the end of the game, the Flyers were looking like they should have been looking against a group made up almost exclusively of the Bruins’ kids. They were gelling and they were looking dominant, it’s just a shame it took them so long to get to that point.

5. Travis Konecny is back (we’re saying it again)

If Friday’s game was Konecny finally looking like he was getting into a rhythm, last night was more or less reassurance that he’s well settled into that rhythm. Even when the Flyers were trailing and struggling to generate chances, Konecny was one of the more noticeable players on the ice. Even before he scored that lovely goal (and it was lovely, scroll back up and watch it one more time), he was knocking on the door. He rang one off the post or into the goalie two or three times, looked just so close to breaking things open before he finally notched his goal. On top of that, closed out the night with an adjusted 64.22 CF% at 5-on-5, and led all forwards with 5 shots. Just doing the thing.

And it’s coming at just about the right time. We’ve still got just over a week until the regular season, so things may chance, but if he can keep this up, or keep building still, and carry this momentum right on into the start of the season? That’s the good stuff.

6. Some weirdness

There was a lot in this game that gave us the chance to be the human embodiment of angry question marks, but we’re going to run through some of the questionable contextual pieces, here. Because we need to ask why and get it out of our systems.

Last night we saw Weise and Jori Lehtera sent out there together as a duo on the penalty kill, MacDonald in Oskar Lindblom’s usual spot on the slot on power play two, and Lehtera again out there on the power play, as well. And, as you might be able to guess, the results weren’t exactly excellent. And we just have to ask why.

But it’s also this thing we keep seeming to come back to, this over-reliance on players who aren’t playing well, trying to shoehorn them into all of these bonus roles, hoping for the best, hoping this gives them the chance to show us something more, and it just isn’t working. They’re getting burned, or just plain falling flat, and, we can bring back the idea that these likely aren’t going to be the positions or deployments we get in the regular season, and they shouldn’t be—the Flyers are set to have too much talent to keep trying to force production from places they just aren’t going to get it.

7. Not a banner night for Brian Elliott

You’ve probably been wondering, and we’re finally circling back to it. Last night was Elliott’s first full game of the preseason, and… it was a little rough. He let in four goals on 28 shots on the night, and looked a little rusty. He doesn’t have to shoulder all of the blame for those goals—screens and defensive breakdowns in front of him were also to blame—but he was also a little off, was beaten clean on two of those goals.

But, at the risk of sounding like we’re losing context in favor of just being nasty, we should note that we’re glad that this happened now, rather than in week one or two. If Elliott’s ready to start playing full games, he should be given the chance to do so as soon as possible, for expressly this reason. He’s got to get a chance to work back into regular form, and it might as well be now that he gets to shake the rust off, when the games don’t yet count.

8. Let’s talk shot quality

An area we hit on earlier in this talk was that of the slow start to this game, the trouble the Flyers had in generating much in the way of offense, and how this didn’t exactly help them claw their way out of the hole they dig themselves.

It’s not muck of a mystery why this was the case, either. Taking a look at our trusty pal the heat map, we’re met with a familiar sight. The brightest spot on here at the close of the first period, and indeed, still at the close of the game, was that area just off the left point. The early portion of the game saw the Flyers picking up a handful of their few shots from the perimeter. And where did those pucks go? Right into the goalie’s pads. You could hear the thunk clear up in the rafters. So why weren’t they able to make much of an early offensive push? Because while they weren’t able to put up many shots period, they also weren’t prioritizing the quality of those shots. They get added to the counter but there wasn’t much of a chance of them turning into goals, not without the proper screens in place, not when Dan Vladar wasn’t coughing up those pucks flying in from the point. There just wasn’t much to work with. So in the hole, they remained.

9.Loose ends

I know, I know, we’re doing a whole lot of this loose ends thing recently, but it’s the preseason and there’s so much to keep track of and we just have so many thoughts.

*exhaling deeply*

Okay, we’ll keep the over-caffeinated rambling to a minimum. Let’s just wrap this thing up.

First, we need to talk about that messy passing. It sure felt like, if the Flyers were coming into the offensive zone on a rush, with two players along the boards and possession of the puck, you better believe they were trying to pass that bad boy straight through traffic. And, usually, they were met with poor results, shooting themselves in the foot. And the puck went the other way. And perhaps it’s a small detail in the larger scheme of things, but it’s fixable, and it’s something that needs fixing, not repeating, sooner rather than later.

Second, do we feel a little bad for Nic Aube-Kubel? Stuck on a line and trying to make things happen with Weise and Lehtera, who weren’t really doing a whole lot of anything through most of the game. We saw some missed opportunities for Aube-Kubel, as he opted to defer to his linemates instead of just taking the shot. Maybe it was hesitancy, maybe it was just trust, but as more than likely the most talented player on that line, it’s times like those when you’re okay with seeing a guy be a little selfish. Take the shot—you’ve got the best chance of closing on it.

And finally, we should really be surprised by it, by now, but it was yet another very strong night for our pal Misha Vorobyev. He got the chance to play way way up in the lineup, in Sean Couturier’s normal spot alongside Giroux and Konecny, and he thrived. He showed some spark, and had a couple of nice little setups that very nearly helped spark something earlier in the game. Like this lovely stretch pass, perfectly banked off the boards and to Konecny, ready to break away.

And, we’ve almost been too nervous to say it out loud, for fear of jinxing it, but as he keeps performing solidly night in and night out, we creep closer to the inevitability of Vorobyev making this team. We still have a few more games and practice sessions, so we shouldn’t get too ahead of ourselves, but there was a spot that needed earning, and Vorobyev’s doing all that he can to do so cleanly.

10. The only damn thing I know

Guys. I just had a horrible thought. What if this nightmare mascot is a ploy to somehow mitigate the nightmare that this team is going to turn into at some point this season. I mean, on paper, they shouldn’t be a nightmare. We’re excited, right? And yet…

What do you know, the Flyers? WHAT DO YOU KNOW