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Hurricanes 5, Flyers 3: Five thoughts on a fifth straight loss

Some observations for your morning…

Carolina Hurricanes v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The Flyers lost, again. For the fifth straight game they’ve failed to pick up a victory, and for the fourth straight they failed to come away with any points at all. Zero out of a possible eight — not ideal! Their most recent loss, coming at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes last night, saw them go down four to nothing five minutes into the third period only to miraculously strike three times in just over four and a half minutes to make a game of it. Maybe in an alternate universe the Flyers complete the comeback, but we wouldn’t be so lucky. Or maybe we were the lucky ones if you’re all in for the so-called stealth tank. No matter where you stand on that, what matters is that the Flyers dropped another stinker and sit 29th in the NHL, tied with the Los Angeles Kings and Ottawa Senators for the least amount of standings points. They just played game 40. They’re tied for last. That’s our reality.

From line four to line one

When the line rushes at pregame skate surfaced online there was a strong scent of misdirection coming from Scott Gordon. A fourth line skater for weeks, Oskar Lindblom was skating alongside Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux. Talk about a confidence booster. What looked like lineup trickery turned out to be him showing his true hand, as Lindblom would indeed start the game on the top unit, and later skate alongside Jakub Voracek and Scott Laughton.

Lindblom came into the game without a point in his last 14 contests, a streak that would continue after he failed to register a point, let alone be on the ice for a Flyers’ goal, in the game. What’s frustrating is that Lindblom delivered another fine game by the underlying numbers, only to leave a -2 and extend his scoring drought. He was one of just three Flyers to generate at least two high danger chances on the night, and the other two, Wayne Simmonds and James van Riemsdyk, each left with a goal to show for it.

The new look line might not have cashed in — no Flyer could for the first 46 minutes of the game — but prior to being split as the team entered the third period the trio possessed a 60% Corsi for at 5-on-5 and a scoring chances for percent of, wait for it, 100. Yes, they left the game a minus one in goal differential, but the three were able to combine for seven scoring chances themselves while holding the Hurricanes to none in just over eight minutes of ice time. That line worked last night, and while there may be better fits for first line right wing on the roster, it wouldn’t be the worst thing to see more of them together down the road.

From line one to line four

Speaking of better fits for the top line long-term, Travis Konecny began the game on the fourth line alongside Phil Varone and Dale Weise. As the saying goes, “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” as we’ve once again arrived at a place in time where Konecny finds himself at the bottom of the lineup. The third-year pro hasn’t scored since December 8th, a stretch of 13 games, and entered the game pointless in his last six contests. While six games without a point is no cause for concern, when you’re a member of the top line and playing with Giroux, going six straight without producing any tangible offense won’t sit well with anyone.

So the somewhat struggling, somewhat snakebitten forward found himself with new linesmates, ones that he seemed to have instant chemistry with. The line’s continuity was noticeable throughout, with no moment surpassing when Konecny was able to set up Varone for a high danger chance from behind the net following a good 30 seconds or so cycle from the line midway through the first period.

He was reunited with his usual linemates and picked up the secondary assist on Couturier’s goal, so maybe he’s out of the dog house for the time being. Who knows, he’s still in the midst of a 13-game goalless drought.

They weren’t that bad

Yes, it was four to nothing at one point, yes they struggled to beat another goaltender that entered the game with a save percentage hovering just around 90, and yes they were once again tiresome to watch at times, but did they actually play a bad game? While admittedly a pretty uninspiring twenty minutes all things considered, the Flyers delivered a strong defensive performance in the first period. They did put the puck in the net twice as well! Both times just happened to be after the whistle blew, first because of the puck hitting the rounded glass at the bench, and then the second time when a penalty was called. Two fake goals, yeah that feels right.

Then the second period began and, well, things quickly went downhill. The Flyers actually had a nice shift to begin the period, with Voracek setting Laughton up for a quality chance, but just under two minutes into the period the Flyers would allow the first goal of the game to Dougie Hamilton. Then came Simmonds’ second minor of the game and the penalty kill looked like its old self — bad.

In all honesty the penalty kill didn’t play the Justin Williams’ goal all that poorly, and it was a shot that Michal Neuvirth should have had. There were at least sticks in the passing and shooting lanes, something that can’t be said about the Hurricanes’ second power play goal of the game that would come about fourteen minutes later.

What a passing lane for Sebastian Aho to take advantage of. Both Dale Weise and Radko Gudas bit on the fake shot, allowing Aho to make an uncontested royal road pass to Teuvo Teravainen for a one-timer that left Neuvirth with little to no chance of keeping his team down by only two at that point.

Outside of the penalty kill they continued to push play in the right direction in the period, out-shooting the Hurricanes at 5-on-5 20 to 7, and out-chancing them 7 to 2. The period where the mess began might have been their best of the night if not for the penalty kill being unable to keep Carolina from scoring. As expected considering they were now down multiple at this point, the Flyers continued to dominate the shot share at even strength and we’re able to convert once when Couturier redirected a Giroux shot-pass past Mrazak to make it a 4-2 game. The process was there last night, they really just lost this game due to poor penalty killing and goaltending.

Signs of life from the power play

A power play goal! For real! And not just one, but two! Prior to Simmonds’ goal, the Flyers were on an abysmal stretch of games that saw the man advantage produce a goal in just three of their last 48 opportunities. After two goals last night the power play has improved to 29th in the league, but things had gotten so bad that they actually held down 31st place for a bit. With the talent this team has up front, and how lethal Giroux, among others, has been on the power play over the years this drought is almost unfathomable.

When Simmonds scored it broke the over 120 minute goal drought the Flyers were suffering through at all situations, and have the power play some much needed life. There’s plenty of positive signs in the underlying numbers, like the fact that the Flyers are twelfth in score-adjusted Corsi for percent at 5-on-5, but when the puck isn’t going in the net and you’ve won just 15 games of the 40 games that you’ve played, your season outlook looks bleak. Because of things like that, among other headache-inducing things about this team, I truly feel that there are valid arguments to suggest all of the following;

  • This is a above average team that’s being dragged down by poor special teams play
  • This is just an average team underperforming, they’re not good, but also not this bad
  • This team is below average and are close to where they should be in the standings

Really this all ties back into the thought that this team really hasn’t been that bad at 5-on-5, not only tonight but on the season as a whole. To date they’re the worst special teams team in hockey with a combined special teams success rate of 88%. The only other teams with a special teams success rate below 90% are the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings. It goes without saying that they need to be better in this area of the game — it’s just up to you to decide how much you weigh team performance in special teams versus even strength.

A new second defensive pair emerges

With the news that Andrew MacDonald would be missing his first of two games last night, Christian Folin drew back into the lineup for the first time since November 24th. The addition of Folin meant the the Flyers would be dressing two right-shot defensemen again, and allowed them to have both Robert Hagg and Shayne Gostisbehere play the left side of the ice. For Gostisbehere, that meant a date with Radko Gudas.

Gudas, who seems to always drive play no matter the role he’s thrown into or the partner he’s given, and Gostisbehere, who has a strong history of elite level play that he’s been unable to get back to this season, worked great together. In just over twelve minutes at 5-on-5, the pair won the shot battle with a very nice 69.7% Corsi for, and an even more impressive 88.88% scoring chances for.

With Travis Sanheim having an extended stay on the top pair with Ivan Provorov, a second pair consisting of Gostisbehere and Gudas could be a huge advantage should the duo continue to click. These are two players who have driven positive results in top-pair roles before, with Gostisbehere doing it just a season ago, that would be facing secondary competition. You could, in theory, be looking at a potential 1A, 1B situation at the top of the defensive depth chart.

Data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick