That’s all, folks! That’ll just about do it. After dropping their last two games, the Flyers closed out their preseason run on a positive note with a win over the Bruins in Boston, and, you guys, it was a pretty nice one. We had some positives and some returns, so before we get too wound up thinking and talking about this forthcoming last round of cuts, let’s break down what we learned in this preseason close-out.
All stats and graphics via Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com
1. That’s my top line!
It’s back, you guys! The old first line! Travis Konecny! Claude Giroux! Sean Couturier (he’s back too)! They’re back! This is just what we’ve been asking for since they were broken up at the end of last season (are we ready to talk about that yet?), and they looked like they hadn’t missed a beat.
They didn’t combine for any points, but averaged an adjusted 65.45 CF% at fives, and matched their expected defensive disruptiveness with speed and creativity on the rush, and totaled for four shots among the three of them. Not too shabby for their first game reunited.
And, while we’re here, we should make a quick note about how good Couturier specifically looked in his return to game play. He recorded three shots and an adjusted 72.81 CF% at 5-on-5, tied for second in the former and leading all Flyers in the latter category. He looked mobile and confident as ever, showed no signs of needing to shake of any rust. Our 1C is back, friends.
2. Welcome back, Wayne Simmonds
And while we’re talking about returns to the ice, let’s turn to our other returnee! Simmonds is back too! And he also had a very good night.
Simmonds was able to keep pace with his linemates and put up three shots on the night, one of which culminated in this nice little goal.
Wayne Simmonds is able to capitalize on his own rebound! 3-1! pic.twitter.com/i58kNrGx24— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) September 29, 2018
But beyond this, we also saw Simmonds return to his old post at the netfront on the Flyers’ top power play unit, and he had a couple of close chances there. He fit right back in and was looking immediately like a threat. Which was certainly an encouraging sight.
So, on the whole, a solid first night back for Simmonds. It was a small taste, and we’re not out of the woods, but it was a nice re-introduction.
3. Mikhail Vorobyev leads another successful line...
...and, really, we shouldn’t be all that surprised.
Vorobyev played his seventh game of the preseason last night and looked just as settled and confident as ever. We don’t have advanced stats on him, because for whatever reason Natural Stat Trick isn’t picking up his numbers (yes, this is a call-out post), but we can just talk about the basic numbers and the things that we saw with our eyes.
Like, for example, the six shots they combined for, and this setup pass to Taylor Leier for the first goal of the night.
Taylor Leier opens up the scoring!— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) September 29, 2018
Heck of a pass by Vorobyev. pic.twitter.com/huxvNxCLCO
In a way, this was just about the perfect configuration, the best case scenario, for his two wingers—with Leier on the bubble and needing a big game to win himself a job on the team, and with Simmonds coming back from injury and needing to look solid enough to keep us from lighting ourselves on fire, there’s no center better to have placed them with. Because, if Vorobyev’s done nothing else this preseason, he’s elevated the play of his linemates. No matter who he’s been on the ice with, he’s found a way to mesh seamlessly with them, and combine for the best product. And this speaks volumes about his intelligence and his ability.
4. Phil Myers, hello
Really. Hello. And welcome back. Even though we can’t exactly say “long time, no see.”
After being sent down to the Phantoms on Tuesday, Myers was recalled to help fill in the defense for this last preseason showing, with the top pair of Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere plus Andrew MacDonald all sitting this one out. And, all told, he had a pretty good game!
The good: his defensive game stood out more than anything else in this one, particularly sequences in which he was tasked with defending David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand on rushes, and was able to keep a tight gap and force them past the net without a chance to get a shot off. Which is not an easy task against those two.
The less good: he took an interference penalty that gave Boston one of their six chances on the man-advantage on the night. He also seems a little hesitant, at times, like he was stuck in his head, thinking just a little too hard.
A little more good: he picked up the secondary assist after setting up the play leading to Simmonds’s goal.
The distinctly bad: he’ll likely be sent back down to the Phantoms today. The numbers are against him, and he remains on the outside looking in. Could we make a case that he’s played well enough to earn himself a spot on the roster? Sure. But the team hasn’t shown any indication that they would be inclined to agree. It’s a bummer, for sure. But we can be excited to see him be very good in Allentown, and hope that we see him up sooner rather than later.
5. Brian Elliott recovers
And, oh man, was that a good thing. Elliott played his first full game of the preseason on Monday and it was rough. He was a guy playing his first game after surgery, and he looked it. His speed was lacking a bit and his positioning a little bit off, just everything looked a little off. And we got a little worried.
But maybe we jumped the gun, because Elliott proved pretty quickly that he could right the ship with his very solid showing last night in Boston. He faced 27 shots in total, including 10 high danger chances for, and stopped 26 of them. And we can’t even really begrudge him that one goal allowed too much, as it came through a double screen on the power play. Not an easy one to stop for just about anybody.
Elliott looking strong today. pic.twitter.com/zthISIM2gM— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) September 29, 2018
But, beyond the raw numbers of this performance, he just looked leaps and bounds better than he did earlier in the week. He was quicker and more responsive, and didn’t do any needless flopping. Which is great, because we all but know that he’s going to be the starter on opening night in Vegas on Thursday, and while we may not expect him to be absolutely lights out, we can brush off some of the nerves that we came into last night with.
6. Killing penalties
Yep, we’re back to talking about the penalty kill. We can’t really ignore it, considering how much we saw of it last night, but we also don’t have to do too much grumbling about it today, either. How about that.
The Bruins had five extended chances on the power play (and a little snippet after a stretch of 4-on-4), and in those five chances, the Flyers scored just as many goals as they did (that’s one a piece, for those of you keeping count). The Donato goal was the only one allowed, and came from one of only seven shots allowed. And then, of course, there was the shorthanded goal.
Lehtera finds Raffl wide open for a shorthanded tally. pic.twitter.com/2nfwgBw1wP— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) September 29, 2018
And it was the second shorthanded goal that Raffl has had a hand in this preseason. But outside of this bit of flash, it was a pretty quiet showing from the Flyers’ PK, but that’s not exactly the worst thing. Because we’re seeing them go from catastrophically bad to quietly pretty good, and we’ll absolutely take that.
7. Mark Friedman, also hello
We’ll admit it, we’ve fallen victim to tunnel vision this preseason. Coming into camp with the Andrew MacDonald injury in the front of our minds, and with Myers at the top of the depth chart, we were paying extra close attention to him, to see if he could earn a spot on the roster.
But in the background of all of that spectacle, Friedman quietly had himself a very solid camp, and earned himself the longest look of all of the bubble defensemen, and tonight capped off that preseason run nicely. He put up a shot had some nice work on the penalty kill (particularly in the controlled entry department)—it wasn’t a showing with a whole lot of flash, but it was quietly very sound. If nothing else, he looked comfortable out there, kept his head down and stuck to his game, and looked like he belonged.
Now, the numbers game is working against Friedman, so we imagine that he’ll be one of the players sent down to the Phantoms shortly, but all in all he gave us a lot to be excited about. Maybe he’s not so far from NHL ready as some might have thought.
8. Shots and all
Looking at the arc of shot production for the Flyers in this one, it paints something of a strange picture. After coming out strong and holding the Bruins to just two shots through nearly the first half of the period (ultimately giving up six in the whole of it) while putting up nine and a goal of their own, they came out in the second and took something of a beating. Instead of holding onto that momentum, they let off the gas entirely, let themselves be tied up in their own zone for long stretches of time, and in the end were only able to generate two shots across the whole of the period, but somehow still emerged clinging to the lead. All in all, they were able to regroup and maintain the shot quantity edge—putting up an adjusted 55.37 CF% at 5-on-5.
But what was perhaps the better mark for them was their efforts in creating high danger chances. All told, they tallied 10 high danger chances, and were able to keep their chances overwhelming grouped in the crease and just outside it. No giant hot spots at the points, not today! And, would you look at that. Their efforts were rewarded. Funny how that works out.
9. Loose ends
And we’re here! Our last loose ends of the preseason. Let’s get into it.
Ordinarily, we might dedicate a whole section to the power play, but seeing as their only had the one proper go at it, we’re just going to give it a small nod here. They were held without a goal on that one attempt, but both units were able to generate a bit of pressure, gave us a nice look. Yes, I did say both units. I know we’re really used to the second unit doing a whole lot of nothing, but this year? They finally have enough skill up and down the lineup that they should be able to put together two dangerous units. And that’s pretty exciting.
Next, we should extend a nod to Michael Raffl, who, after a relatively quiet preseason run, had himself a very good night last night.
Michael Raffl's second of the game! pic.twitter.com/fnahrzyTNP— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) September 29, 2018
That shorthanded goal was very nice (like, really nice), but the ultimate game winner deserves just as much praise (as it also put him two for two on his shots for the night). He closed out the game with an adjusted 55.44 CF% at 5-on-5, and reminded us of just how productive he can be against your average fourth line competition. Which is pretty nice too, as we can reasonably pencil him in on the fourth line to start the season. So this may just be the beginning. [insert eyes emoji here]
But, since we’ve touched on them, we should really extend a nod to the whole of the fourth line. Because they were very solid. Scott Laughton looked as solid as ever, and Jori Lehtera even showed far more jump than we’ve grown accustomed to (and came out with two assists on the night). And while this line remains something of an open question, with the roster crunch and some of the, er, off the ice concerns, this configuration may not hold into the season. But we find ourselves repeating our sentiment from the first loose end—the Flyers figure to have enough skill on the roster that they should be able to put together a productive fourth line.
10. The only damn thing I know
I feel like around this time last year, when NHL Network picked up the local broadcast of the Flyers’ preseason game in Boston, that we talked about how much of a mess their commentators are. I mean, I stopped listening for a minute to make some notes and they were off on some crazy tangent about baseball and mustard while play was happening, and I just don’t even know, guys.
But the worst was their persistence in making one particular name mispronunciation.
This one’s gonna haunt me. I just know it.