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Predators 4, Flyers 0: So much for “new year, new Flyers”

Starting to think the stealth tank is happening.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

1. They really didn’t look that bad

The Flyers did in fact lose 4-0 last night to the Nashville Predators, but they played, in my opinion, a much better game than they did vs. Carolina. They dominated the first period defensively and offensively, controlling the puck and the scoring chances for the vast majority of the period. The second period was where the game began to slip away from the orange and black and that was reflected in the possession metrics for that period.

Nashville won the raw Corsi battle 24-18, scoring chances 14-12, and high danger chances five to four. The goals were due large in part to the defense collapsing rather than the goaltender letting in some weak ones, as was the case vs. Carolina. The biggest difference from the Carolina game to this game was their legs were moving last night. Sure, they were flat-footed at times and when they were Nashville took advantage, but compared to the Hurricanes game they were flying.

2. Effort was there

Which brings us to something harped on a good bit from the Carolina game, effort. The Flyers effort vs. Nashville was leaps and bounds better than it was vs. Carolina even when they went down a goal early in the second. In the third period we saw more of the flat-footed play it seemed, but also at that point they were down four goals so it’s hard to chastise them for that one.

I mentioned in the preview the Flyers would need to be ready for the steady aggressive attack of the Predators, and early on they absolutely were. They matched the Preds intensity and kept the pace of play moving in a big way. Transition defense yet again was their bugaboo, but for a good while in the first period each time Nashville got moving towards the offensive zone, the Flyers were ready to go right back at them. If a few posts turn into goals, the entire mood of this game is a lot different.

3. Took good shots, failed to finish, as is tradition

The post and crossbar welcomed the Flyers into the new year, that’s for sure. The post struck as Travis Konecny was on a two-on-one rush with Claude Giroux, a vice versa of the rush they had vs. Nashville a few games ago, but Konecny hit iron. That was just 25 seconds into the second period which would have drastically changed the momentum of the game. Instead, Nashville scores just moments later and the Predators take a 1-0 lead. I’m not saying if Konecny scores that goal, the Flyers win the game, but I do believe it greatly impacts their chances.

Scott Laughton would not ring one off the post or crossbar, but late in the first period he was set up beautifully by Sean Couturier and Ivan Provorov, all to be stopped by Juuse Saros. Laughton didn’t get a whole lot on the shot and Saros was able to make the relatively easy save thereafter. If Laughts is able to bury that shot, the Flyers finish off the first period up one instead of tied at zero.

Claude Giroux would ring a shot off the crossbar later in the game, and at that point if you hadn’t thought so already, you knew then it wouldn’t be their night. The Flyers did a lot right offensively last night, in fact plenty more right than Nashville, but at the end of the day they didn’t finish those great chances. The finish has seemingly been lacking for so long with this hockey team, and they did no favors of making fans quiet on that issue last night.

4. Wild first period

On a lighter note, what ah, what was that first period officiating? There had to be four missed calls in the span of a minute or two and that might be showing some generosity to the referees. What this did for the pace of play though, was create a fantastic period of hockey. Compared to the Carolina game on New Year’s Eve, this was an absolute barn burner. The two team’s traded offensive rushes and we didn’t see a whistle for extended minutes in the period. With how tightly games are called in the regular season in today’s NHL, it was nice to see the pace stay up.

5. New lines/PP setup

Scott Gordon shuffled the lines yet again last night, with Michael Raffl on the top line with Giroux and Konecny, Laughton with Couturier and Voracek, and JVR with Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds. The 5-on-5 lines weren’t the only recipients of changes however, as the top power play unit saw a minor but seemingly effective change. Jakub Voracek and Shayne Gostisbehere switched spots and although the power play of course didn’t score, there were some positive signs. Ghost’s aggressiveness in that spot to cut to the slot area opens up the Flyers options immensely on the power play which has been struggling all season long.

One change I would like to see Scott Gordon make at this stage is moving Oskar Lindblom up the lineup, a shocker I know. Laughton didn’t look bad alongside Couturier and Voracek, but he simply looked out of place. He’s a very good third or fourth line player, but lacks the high end skill to have a spot in the top six. While this was something most of us were fully aware of prior to this game, it was made even more clear with this game.

6. Neuvirth looked good

It’s hard to really put any blame on Michal Neuvirth for this one. We’ll dive into the defensive issues shortly, but Neuvirth was left hung out to dry on almost all of the goals. If there’s any goal I’d put primarily on Neuvirth, it’s the fourth one and that’s simply because of who is shooting the puck. I would like my goalie to be able to stop a shot from Rocco Grimaldi even if it was in a good shooting zone. But, as I just mentioned, it was in a good shooting zone and the Flyers defense absolutely left Neuvirth hanging on this one, as they did with the three prior goals.

If the Flyers are tired of bad goalie performances, which I’m sure a lot of the skaters are, the goalies also have a fair point to make in their own right. The poor goalie showings I believe still outnumbers the horrifically bad defensive ones, but at a certain point I’m sure the goalies are a little perturbed by all the odd-man rushes and overall lack of coverage defensively.

7. Defensive breakdowns burn them again

Speaking of those breakdowns, let’s dive into them. The first goal shocked me when it happened, simply because I’m not sure what Shayne Gostisbehere was doing defensively. Kevin Fiala brought the puck into the Flyers zone straight ahead, not even trying to make a move, and Gostisbehere just kinda ... stood there. He made no effort to attack the puck carrier as if he thought he was the only one back. Only problem is, Robert Hagg was back and in pretty good position to guard a partial two-on-one even if Fiala managed to get a pass by Gostisbehere. Then Jordan Weal failed his backcheck assignment on Craig Smith, and Smith promptly makes him pay with a snipe by Neuvirth.

The second goal, well it was an Andrew MacDonald special. Before I dive in on AMac who I do believe deserves a good amount of blame here, what in the world is Scott Laughton doing? Laughton is along the boards and in that moment his assignment is Ryan Johansen, he lets Johansen get behind him who receives the pass from Ryan Hartman, and feeds Viktor Arvidsson on the partial two-on-one to give Nashville the two goal lead. While yes, MacDonald was covering his man in the slot in Hartman, he wasn’t in a particularly dangerous area and it appeared as though Laughton or Couturier were going to be right on him. Mac left Sanheim down low to deal with the rest, and sure Sanheim could have played that a lot better, but he shouldn’t have been in the position in the first place. Voracek also could use some blame as he essentially doesn’t move from the far side faceoff circle, so there’s a whole lotta blame to go around here.

The third goal was simply a result of a bad pass from Travis Konecny, that the Predators turned into offensive in no time. Ivan Provorov did the best he could to recover, but at that point everyone knew what was coming.

8. Backchecking still an issue

In the Flyers first meeting with Nashville, the backcheck was dominant and stifled the Predators on numerous chances. Tonight the backcheck was relatively nonexistent and a main factor in the first, and second goals. The Flyers play a system that involves guys covering for defensemen jumping up in the play, pinching at the blue line, being aggressive in general. If the players don’t want to do that, there’s a big problem with the attitude of these forwards. It’s not all of them of course, but there are a few specifically who just do not make a good enough effort defensively.

9. Simmonds and the first power play

Simply put, James van Riemsdyk needs to take Wayne Simmonds’ spot on the first power play unit. Simmonds has not been producing the way he’s expected to on the power play, and keeping JVR on the second unit is just a waste of his talent. I’ve seen some complaints about JVR and I get it, he hasn’t been spectacular since returning from injury, but he’s basically limited to what he can generate at 5-on-5 with the second unit being as abysmal as it gets. He may as well not even get power play time because it’s not like the second unit even generates any chances. He was a power play specialist in Toronto, and he was damn good at it, either play him on the first power play unit over Simmonds or trade Simmonds so you have no choice.

There are no excuses for failing to use JVR in the way he should be at this stage of his career, he’s not a rookie anymore and you know what kind of player he is. Start using him properly.

10. That’s so Flyera of the game — Rocco Grimaldi from Zac Rinaldo

Trying something new here with the final observation, and that brings us to the TSF or “That’s so Flyera” of the game. And there is no better candidate for that than the fourth and final goal from Nashville. A Rocco Grimaldi goal with Zac Rinaldo getting the primary assist. Rinaldo of course, the former Flyer who has been the subject of much ridicule for his dirty/borderline hits, and Grimaldi the guy who you ask yourself “wait, he’s still in the league?” If you’re seeing Grimaldi’s name and wondering why it might sound so familiar, he scored the game winning goal for the USA in the 2013 World Junior Championships vs. Sweden. He also had one hell of a quote back in 2011 that if you weren’t aware of until now, you can thank me later.

All stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick