Well, that certainly was a hockey game. In a game that saw the Flyers out-shot 12-2 in the second period, we watched yet another third period comeback attempt fall short. If this was a work of fiction there’d be copyright claims coming from their last game against Boston for stealing the whole plot. Well, it’s really been the story of the Flyers for years now.
With that, let’s get to the nitty... gritty.
1. Shots from the point? Shots from the point.
One of the main gripes with head coach Dave Hakstol’s system is that the Flyers rely on point shots way too much, and that trait reared it’s ugly head last night. At 5-on-5 they took 54 shots at the net last night, with defensemen Radko Gudas (7) and Andrew MacDonald (6) leading the way. With that, and Shayne Gostisbehere’s five attempts, it’s no surprise to see that the Flyers’ offense mainly came from the point, and, more specifically, the right side.
It’s jarring to see a team filled with the talent up front that have consistently relied on not only low danger shots, but on those shots coming from a place of weaker depth. Please, I beg you, stop doing this. If it’s a coaching thing, please let your forwards be creative and focus on taking shots closer to the net. If it’s not a coaching thing... no, it has to be. It’s too constant for it not to be the team’s system.
Speaking of an area with weak depth...
2. When Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov aren’t on the ice, the Flyers are in trouble
The most telling thing to come from this game is just how poor the Flyers’ defensive depth really is. When Gostisbehere and Provorov were on the ice together at 5-on-5, the Flyers out-attempted the Rangers 21-4. Twenty-one to four. That’s an 84% CF! A bit ridiculous if you ask me. However, the biggest thing here is the discrepancy between that number and the team’s performance without them on the ice.
Without Gostisbehere and Provorov the team out-attempted the Rangers 34-29, which is good, they won the shot battle, but that’s a drop of over 30% down to CF of 53.97%. Adjust for the score of the game and “Ghostorov” drops from 84% to 80%, and the rest of the defensive pairs drop to 47.14%. Suddenly they’re no longer on the right side of 50 in a game where their teammates were able to completely dominate.
For the second game in a row a MacDonald turnover directly led to a goal, and Christian Folin’s coverage on the penalty kill, or lack thereof, was certainly a factor in the Rangers’ first goal of the game. Meanwhile, Travis Sanheim posted the worst CF% of any Flyer with a 46.15% (-22.7% rel) and Gudas, along with his partner MacDonald, were out-chanced 7-to-4 by the Rangers, the worst of any of the pairs.
Depth is a real issue here and it’s not as if healthy scratch Robert Hagg has done anything in the preseason to elicit positive thoughts about him returning to the lineup either. It’s all just really troubling at this point.
3. Carter Hart looked human
Gone is the .957 save percentage, and here is the 20-year old Hart that might not be ready for the NHL. Look, even after this game there is no doubt that he was the best goaltender at both training camp and in the preseason. That’s a fact. However, the Hart we saw last night was giving up rebounds that he had been controlling through his first few outings and just didn’t look as sharp.
The goals against weren’t really his fault, it’s hard to blame him when a forward is left completely alone right at the net, or when the defenseman in front of you falls down and turns the puck over, but still, he wasn’t stellar overall. He was just fine.
If Flyers’ General Manager Ron Hextall was looking for a way to rationalize sending him to the AHL, he’s found it.
4. Mikhail Vorobyev is a roster lock
There is no way that Vorobyev fails to make the team at this point. If he gets sent to the AHL there’s a big problem; he’s been that good.
Vorobyev picked up his fourth and fifth points of the preseason last night, with the second coming from an absolute beauty of an entry.
Better late than never... JVR's goal.— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) September 28, 2018
Prior to being moved down to the Vorobyev line in favor of Oskar Lindblom, James van Riemsdyk was having a pretty quiet night, and while the goal itself was all luck, he gets the opportunity for this bounce to go his way only because of how great Vorobyev is in the neutral zone. He does all the little things, is a fantastic penalty killer, and an incredibly skilled passer that does his best work behind the net. At this point he has the third line center spot locked down.
5. The former-favorite for third line center also had a solid game
That’s right, we’re gonna talk about Jordan Weal, who, to my surprise, is quite the controversial topic it seems. If you ask people their opinion on Weal, it’s likely you’ll get a ton of different answers, ranging from a star in the making that hasn’t been given an opportunity to thrive at center, to just a depth forward at best who should probably be in the AHL. It’s quite the range.
While I don’t see him as someone with potential to be another Jonathan Marchessault, I do land somewhere in the middle and believe that he should be in the lineup more than he is out of it. For an “undersized” skilled forward, this statement may come as a surprise but there’s a case you could make that most of the on-ice value that Weal provides comes from his defense rather than his offense.
Last season both Weal’s on-ice shots against and his isolated impact on the shots were probably a bit underrated. According to Corsica’s wins above replacement model, Weal had an offensive WAR of -0.05, but a defensive WAR of 0.23. This thought of Weal being good at defense is backed up by Micah McCurdy’s Magnus EV model, that has Weal’s isolated impact on reducing dangerous shots against being over 10% better than league average.
For a detailed explanation of what all of that means, visit his model description here, where he lays it all out in the simplest way. If you’d rather discuss it in the comment section, I’ll be around and we can do that as well.
6. The penalty kill is suspect at best
It’s like a broken record at this point but yet again we have more evidence pointing towards the Flyers having a poor penalty kill. Not that we needed more. There’s nothing to be said that hasn’t been said already, something needs to change - something more than just signing a depth defenseman.
They allowed a goal on both of their kills last night and one of which while said depth defenseman stood there and let it happen. It’s bad, again. There’s not much else to say.
7. Not expected to play, Tyrell Goulbourne makes physical presence felt
Goulbourne was not expected to play in this game, but when Taylor Leier ended up being a late scratch he was suddenly his replacement. In this first period alone he threw six hits, and over the course of the game was credited with a game-high of nine.
He of nine NHL games did his job well; get in on the forecheck and hit anything that moves while staying out of the box. Check, check, and check.
Placed on waivers two days ago, Goulbourne cleared yesterday and was seen as unlikely to be up with the team at the start of the regular season. However, due to numerous reasons, some being more unbelievable than others, he may just do that.
8. The bottom-six is in a weird place right now
Between Jori Lehtera being under investigation for possible involvement in a drug ring, Corban Knight leaving last night’s game with an apparent injury, and Leier being a late scratch, everything is pretty much up in the air. If those three are out of action for an extended amount of time, it would allow the Flyers to keep two of Dale Weise, Carsen Twarynski, and Goulbourne should they choose. Under this scenario, the two that would make it would be joining Weal, Michael Raffl, and Scott Laughton in a battle for a spot on the fourth line.
On the flip side, if any or all of Lehtera, Knight, or Leier are ready for opening night, it would force the Flyers to make up to another three roster cuts prior to the start of the regular season. Either way, there’s a slight chance that Goulbourne starts the season in Philadelphia, a scenario that seemed close to impossible just a few days ago.
Oh how things change.
9. A losing streak to end the preseason is incredibly on brand
There’s still one game left, maybe they break the streak that they’re on, but boy does this feel familiar. When is the last time the Flyers haven’t started the season slow? It feels like forever ago, and with the team’s defense being exploited by opposition that’s not entirely made up of NHL skaters, it’s worrisome.
Just to make things worse, they’ll be opening the regular season with a road trip out West, beginning with a match-up against the reigning Western Conference Champion Vegas Golden Knights.
Are we looking too far ahead? Debatable. Is that a bit too negative? Probably, but we’ve all seen this story play out before. Hopefully they can break the streak tomorrow night in Boston and not stumble their way into the regular season opener.
10. The only damn thing I know...
...is that Gritty is the perfect mascot for Philadelphia.
Gritty has clearly been the highlight of the night. pic.twitter.com/xxavcQoWLM— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) September 28, 2018
He’s perfect, okay?
Data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, Corsica, and HockeyViz.