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Flyers 4, Blackhawks 1: Sweeping in Chicago

The third period was a bit of a trainwreck, and Joel Farabee was robbed twice, but it was a good win nonetheless.

Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

Back-to-back wins? In October? Alright, who is this hockey team and what have they done with the real Flyers? They may have made things interesting at the end, with Chicago dictating play for basically the entire third period, but they held on regardless. A strong second period and decent first lead to the win, but let’s get into the specifics already.

The Metrics

5v5 Corsi-For: 33CF, 40.24 CF%, 46.2CF% SVA

At first glance this looks like the Flyers got lucky as hell to win this hockey game, which in fairness is sorta true. In a broader scope however, the Flyers essentially broke even in the first period and then dominated the second, before losing all momentum in the third. After the second period they lead the shot attempts battle 26-21 with a 14-7 showing in the second.

As they did in the Dallas game, the Flyers were all over Chicago defensively after the first period. There were a few moments in the first where the coverage was slacking, and the backcheck was not up to snuff, but that quickly changed. The Blackhawks had just one shot on goal in the period while the Flyers racked up 13. Sure, this all changed in the third where they got outshot 16-4 and shot attempts were 28-7, but we’ll just pretend that’s all score effects.

Ok, maybe not. There were definitely some rough patches that period that I think would have existed even if the Flyers weren’t leading, but the fact they were didn’t help their cause in this department.

5v5 shot quality: 21 SCF, 12 HDCF, 48.14xGF%, 53.82 xGF% SVA

And here in lies where the Flyers excelled in this game. As they’ve done all season for the most part, they generated most of their offense from high percentage areas. This is something we just haven’t been accustomed to with Flyers teams over the past few seasons, but it’s certainly been prevalent in the opening games.

While they gave up their own fair share of chances in this area of the ice, almost three quarters of the Hawks’ scoring chances and high-danger chances at 5-on-5 came in the third period. In fact, heading into the third, the Flyers held the edge 16-8 in SCF, and 8-5 in HDCF. The totals would end 25-21 Hawks in SCF, and 13-12 Hawks in HDCF.

Not trying to diminish what the Hawks did in the third because they absolutely took it to the Flyers, and very well could have tied this game at the very least. However, the Flyers won this game in the second and first periods, and it left the Hawks playing catch up on the scorching hot Brian Elliott.

Even by the eye test, the Flyers have dominated second periods, but the expected goals number for the period really drives it home. The Hawks only managed a 0.25 xGF for the period which coincides with visually the much better defensive effort in the period, especially in the neutral zone. For the Flyers meanwhile, they had a 1.04 xGF in the period, ending with 80.15 xGF percentage.

After the second for instance, this was the heatmap:

While this looks good for the most part, come the end of the game the Hawks had expanded upon their shot attempts from the net-front area.

The Flyers got away with it in the first two periods, but with the Hawks pressing hard in the third to get back in the game, it became harder and harder to keep them at bay. This isn’t a recipe for success in the long-term, but I’m leaning more towards the first and second period being a true indication of how the team played last night.

Five Observations

1. More like penalty killed it! (I’m sorry)

Out of everything last night, I think the penalty kill was the most impressive aspect. The Hawks have one of the more frontloaded power play units in the league, and the Flyers shut it down with relative ease. Compared to last season which saw the penalty kill a disaster waiting to happen, this team’s PK has been anything but. They have struggled of late, but overall the process looks much better.

The aggressive nature the team now has while short-handed gave the Hawks fits last night, shutting down a top unit with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Alex DeBrincat. In almost six and a half minutes of power play time, the Hawks managed just one shot on goal, and five shot attempts. They went 0-4 on the man advantage and looked ugly in the process. In three and a half minutes of penalty killing in the second, the Flyers actually out chanced the Hawks 2-1.

The penalty kill percentage still may be below 80, but they’ve clearly looked better and the results like last night should come more often.

2. The first line was a force offensively

Say what you will about this line defensively — because they absolutely have their issues — but they are incredibly fun to watch on offense. The move of Claude Giroux back to center was a risky one, but he looks like he hasn’t missed a beat. This line was the Flyers’ best last night in terms of play-driving, with a 52.17 percent. If that line can do that well on a night-to-night basis, the Flyers have two first lines that can take over games.

They’ll give up their fair share defensively — but if they’re creating offense like they did last night — the benefits might just outweigh the costs. It’s a short-term fix for a team that is waiting for Nolan Patrick to return, so if they can just put these kinds of games together on a fairly consistent basis, this team will do well.

Outside of the fancies, it was an incredibly important game for Giroux and James van Riemsdyk. Both picked up their first goals of the season, and looked great in the process. The line was buzzing and Giroux almost got himself a shorthanded goal as well.

3. Joel Farabee is really good

The kid was on fire last night, and it has me feeling some kind of way. Farabee was on a mission last night and very well could have had himself a three point game in just his second NHL game. First, he was robbed of his first NHL point when he schooled Duncan Keith and made a tape-to-tape pass to Kevin Hayes darting to the net who buried the puck by Robin Lehner. Problem was, this league thought including offsides challenges was a good thing. It most certainly is not.

He would score his first point later on though as he picked up a secondary assist on the Hayes breakaway goal ironically, as it was Hayes who went offsides to disallow the first goal. What really sucks about the second one is that Farabee would have had his first NHL goal as he brilliantly intercepted a Brandon Saad pass, and scored a breakaway of his own. Hayes had not yet exited the zone though however, and the play was ruled offsides yet again.

As someone who has loved Joel Farabee’s game from the moment I started watching his tape studying up for the 2018 NHL Draft, it was so satisfying to see him put on a show like he did. He was intercepting passes like clockwork, stealing the puck with his insane forechecking/stick work, and making accurate passes all night. Even with just two games under his belt, Farabee is one of the smartest players on this hockey team. He truly has elite hockey sense. The points and goals are going to come for the kid, but for now he is sad face Joel.

4. Moose

What else is there to say about Brian Elliott? The job he’s done so far this season has been nothing short of incredible. He kept the team in the game vs. Calgary when no one else showed up, and was flat out dominant vs. Vegas. He’s making the “momentum saves” that just make the other team grip the stick a little harder, and overthink things on offense.

Carter Hart is without a doubt still “the guy” in net. But, the fact Elliott has been more than a competent back up has been so refreshing to see. I would like nothing more than to see Hart come out Saturday (assuming he starts) and dominates the Blue Jackets. If Hart steps up his game and Elliott continues to be strong in relief, there is zero reason why this team can’t make a run in the East.

5. What the Flyers did well in the second, and why it fell apart in the third

I think a lot of what went right for the Flyers in the second period, and what went wrong in the third coincide with one another. It all starts in the neutral zone. In the first the neutral zone play wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great either. In the second however, they tightened up big time.

Something this team has done exceptionally well this season is turning defense into offense, and they’re really nailing down the defense aspect. Last season and seemingly all throughout the Dave Hakstol era, the team never seemed to be tight enough in the neutral zone, and it resulted in far too many easy zone entries. This team has made zone entries a nightmare at times for the opposition.

It definitely needs to be more consistent, but when they’re clicking, the defensemen along with the backchecking forwards are all over the other team in the neutral zone. That pressure has been one of the best things about this team so far this season, and if it continues, it will be a nightmare for teams in the playoffs.

All data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick