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The Lindblom-Couturier-Konecny line is unstoppable and other line analysis from the season opener

Analyzing line performance for Flyers vs. Blackhawks

2019 NHL Global Series Challenge Prague - Chicago Blackhawks v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

The Philadelphia Flyers won their season opener on Friday over the Chicago Blackhawks and there are plenty of reasons to be excited. The team looked a little quicker and alive under new head coach Alain Vigneault, while Kevin Hayes played a pretty good game in between Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. We know the goals and saves that got us to the final score of 4-3, but let’s try to take a deeper look at some of the plays that may have gone unnoticed on Friday.

Line By Line will try to combine both the eye test and analytics. A deeper look at zone entries/exits, extended cycles, poke checks that started odd-man rushes, or whatever else actually happened during the game to illustrate how a certain player or team managed to do so well or poorly against the line they are facing that night. This, of course, will be a far from perfect exercise but not for a lack of effort. I’m going to use the play-by-play sheet from as well as Natural Stat Trick for reference of the events, but I am rewatching the games and part of rewatching is making sure there aren’t obvious glares between the play-by-play sheet and what actually happened in the game. With each game I’m working on a way to organize these thoughts and numbers in the most concise, informative way possible. This article ain’t it, but let’s see how the lines and pairs performed.

Claude Giroux - Kevin Hayes - Jakub Voracek

66.67 unblocked shots-for percentage (12 for, 6 against)
55.56 unblocked shots-for percentage in home plate area (5 for, 4 against)
53.85 shots-for percentage (7 for, 6 against)
33.33 shots-for percentage in home plate area (2 for, 4 against)
Minus-2 icing differential (forced zero icings, iced it twice)

In his first regular season game in a Flyers jersey, Kevin Hayes looked pretty good on a line between Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. The trio spent most of their 10:48 at 5-on-5 up against Dominik Kubalik - David Kampf - Brandon Saad and tilted the ice in Philly’s favor in the final 40 minutes. After each skater on the aforementioned Blackhawks’ line recorded their first shot of the game just 3:03 in, Giroux - Hayes - Voracek provided 12 of the 15 unblocked shots they were on the ice for and produced five of the seven unblocked shots from the home plate area over the final 57 minutes or so of the game. In fact, Chicago nearly went two full periods without a single puck getting to the net with these three Flyers on the ice, as the Blackhawks went with 1:44 left in the opening frame to Saad’s shot on goal with 4:34 left in regulation. They’ve only got one game under their belt and it’s a somewhat unique line (considering Giroux and Sean Couturier are broken up), but it has the elements to be an effective line especially if the ‘second’ line continues to pile up goals.

The Little Things

Let’s talk about some chances. A few times in this game Giroux and Voracek created space near the top of the circles while Hayes drove to the net for a rebound. The duo did it with a little over seven minutes left in the first period and they did it again near the close of the opening frame, when Hayes dished it to Voracek at the right point and kept moving towards the net before the Czech skater hit Giroux streaking into the zone for a blast that Corey Crawford denied. It won’t always be Giroux and Voracek looking for a shot with Hayes in front, but Hayes getting to the net while Giroux and Voracek look for a chance in space might be the optimal plan.

Although this line didn’t pot a goal, they drove play and, at the very least, kept the Hawks trapped in their own end at times. One cycle that illustrates this from Friday was when Travis Sanheim flipped the puck out of the defensive zone to alleviate pressure and it started a cycle for Philly thanks to these three. Hayes carried the puck into the offensive zone just 42 seconds into the second period and set Voracek up for an opportunity. Most cycles would have ended with Chicago’s ability to grab the rebound but thanks to Voracek winning a board battle behind Crawford’s net against Brent Seabrook and Kampf as well as Niskanen’s ability to beat three different Blackhawks (a straight line race where he had a few feet on the other three, but still) to a puck in the corner before throwing it to Hayes at the point this line cycled for 31 seconds with a pair of attempts.

Hayes is going to cause opponents problems all season long. On a pair of plays in the first period Hayes’ forechecking halted a pair of Chicago breakouts, as he pressured Kubalik to take the puck deep into the Hawks’ zone after he received a poor pass from Duncan Keith late in the Hawks’ first power play and then knocked the puck away from Erik Gustafsson in a 1-on-1 in Chicago’s zone minutes later. I also noticed Hayes shoot another puck down the ice on a faceoff with Crawford on the bench. He shot the puck out of the zone during a 5-on-3 kill against the Bruins in Boston during the preseason.

Hayes and Giroux also showed great chemistry when it comes to springing rushes. With possession of the puck in the defensive zone about eight-and-a-half minutes into the second stanza, Giroux flung a pass from the left faceoff circle that hit Hayes streaking at the red line on the other side of the ice. Hayes proceeded to enter the zone with speed alongside Raffl, who he nudged the puck to, for a rush chance from the slot. Giroux sprung Hayes again a few minutes into the third period when he batted down a Keith pass from the point to end a Chicago Cycle and threw it up to the former Winnipeg Jet at the Blackhawks’ blue line. He placed his breakaway attempt juuuuust outside the left post.

Oskar Lindblom - Sean Couturier - Travis Konecny

61.54 unblocked shots-for percentage (8 for, 5 against)
71.43 unblocked shots-for percentage in home plate area (5 for, 2 against)
54.55 shots-for percentage (6 for, 5 against)
60 shots-for percentage in home plate area (3 for, 2 against)
Minus-2 icing differential (forced zero icings, iced it twice)

There’s not much to say about this line other than they dominated on Friday. Outside of being on the ice for Alex Nylander’s goal against, which was probably more of the defense’s fault, these three didn’t do much wrong. With the majority of their work coming against Patrick Kane - Jonathan Toews - Alex Nylander in the 11:33 they were grouped together at 5-on-5, Lindblom-Couturier-Konecny also provided a 61.11 Corsi-for percentage and 63.19 expected goals-for percentage. Despite the fact they yielded five of the first eight unblocked shot attempts they were on the ice for, this line posted a 5-0 unblocked shot advantage over the final 35:30 with four of those attempts coming in the home plate area. Only one of the three goals this unit was responsible came at 5-on-5, as Lindblom’s tally came late in a power play and Konecny’s eye-popping second goal came at 4-on-4. People have had worse days at the office.

The Little Things

To go along with the goals, this line may have had the biggest momentum-shifting sequence in the game. Alex DeBrincat’s goal late in the second period could have been a backbreaker resulting in the Flyers losing a game where they entered the third with a lead. Instead, the third period started with a 40-second cycle from these three that started just 12 ticks into the final frame. Brent Seabrook attempted to clear a Justin Braun dump-in, but Lindblom kept the puck in the zone which led to a Konecny pass from below the goal line to Couturier in the slot. A Braun keep on Kane’s clear attempt off Couturier’s rebound led to another Lindblom-to-Couturier below-the-goal-line-to-slot plays before the 2011 pick jumped on his rebound to feed to Lindblom below the goal line. While Lindblom is engaged in a board battle Voracek and Travis Sanheim are able to rotate on before Lindblom walks his way from below the goal line to the crease for a chance to end the cycle.

The first goal of the season came thanks to Lindblom and Konecny. After Lindblom hassled Dennis Gilbert in the left faceoff circle before he gathered himself over to turn it over to Konecny at the left point, who took a few strides into the offensive zone and ripped one by Crawford.

The trio nearly added to their loaded stat line with a chance in the latter half of the second period, but Konecny whiffed on an outlet pass at the Flyers’ blue line before he passed it right into a turnover just inside the neutral zone with Couturier streaking behind the Hawks’ blue liners. The center would have had a breakaway from Chicago’s blue line.

On a 29-second cycle with around seven minutes left in the second period, Couturier set up Lindblom in the slot with a pass from behind Crawford’s net. After the puck briefly exited the zone, Konecny hassled Gustafsson into a turnover below the goal line. He then found Hayes flying into the zone off the bench for the team’s second high-danger chance off a pass from below the goal line.

Another little thing Konecny did in the win was he nearly set up Connor Bunnaman for his first goal in the NHL. After he exited the defensive zone with the puck, Konecny reached the red line near the right wall and dumped the puck into the opposite corner. With Bunnaman racing towards the net the puck hit the corner boards and bounced out to the first-year player near Crawford’s crease for a chance.

On top of his play to help on Konecny’s opening goal, Lindblom had two of the line’s three chances from the home plate area at 5-on-5 and seven (7) shot attempts (shots on goal, missed shots, and blocked shots) from in the same area. He and Couturier could honestly warrant about 3-4 bullet points in every one of these articles, but to highlight just one moment it was when Lindblom stopped a Blackhawks’ wraparound behind Crawford’s net and slipped a pass to Konecny, who circled from below the goal line to the point and feed Couturier for a one-timer in the slot. His goal was lucky, but after his luck with ice time last season he deserves a few breaks this season.

This line, as well as the pair of Ivan Provorov and Justin Braun, collapsed perfectly on a Kane zone entry with just under 11 minutes left in regulation. The forward had all his passing lanes taken away and forced into a turnover in a matter of a second. Kane’s decision to carry the puck in and not dump it past the defense may have helped, but whatever.

James van Riemsdyk - Scott Laughton - Carsen Twarynski

63.64 unblocked shots-for percentage (7 for, 4 against)
100 unblocked shot-for percentage in home plate area (3 for, 0 against)
57.14 shots-for percentage (4 for, 3 against)
100 unblocked shot-for percentage in home plate area (1 for, 0 against)
Minus-1 icing differential (forced once icing, iced it twice)

They didn’t score a goal and they may have not utterly dominated their opposition, but there isn’t too much to dislike about this line’s game on Friday. Although they only had one shot on net from the home plate area, mostly going up against the line of DeBrincat - Dylan Strome - Andrew Shaw, the line of James van Riemsdyk - Scott Laughton - Carsen Twarynski didn’t allow a single unblocked shot against in their 10:13 together at 5-on-5. A problem with the line is JVR’s offensive upside may not be reaching its potential paired with these two, but it did result in extended offensive zone time and a lack of high-quality chances against. If this line sticks the duo of Laughton and Twarynski may need to find more ways to feed the power forward.

The Little Things

An example of extended zone time from this line came halfway through the opening period. During a 41-second cycle, JVR checked Gustafsson off the puck before controlling a shot that just missed wide. Robert Hagg jumped on the loose puck at the right point and has an attempt to pass it to the corner denied by DeBrincat. The puck bounces off DeBrincat and right back to Hagg, who immediately fires one to the net for a rebound that JVR couldn’t free himself from a battle in front to dunk it. Shaw picked up the loose puck and looked to clear it out of the zone, but thanks to pressure from Twarynski he decided to wrap it back around his own net to Keith. After the puck circled back around to Strome and Shaw near the left point, Shayne Gostisbehere pressures the two enough that Shaw carelessly fires a pass across the defensive zone that is stolen by Tyler Pitlick, who just jumped on the ice for Laughton. Pitlick has an attempt blocked and ultimately turns it over to Keith in the corner to end the cycle.

Twarynski had a pretty nice scoring chance for himself in his NHL debut. After he batted a puck down near the blue line to extend a cycle nearly three minutes into the second period, Twarynski cut to the slot as the puck was moved to JVR behind the Blackhawks’ net. JVR found Twarynski quickly, but his try was denied by Gilbert.

Laughton made a handful of important plays in the win. After Braun lost an errant Hawks pass in his skates out in the neutral zone halfway through the first, Strome started a Hawks rush the other way. Laughton was able to backcheck his way into the play and knock DeBrincat off the puck to end the rush chance. The puck left the zone shortly after when Laughton carried a Provorov pass from the defensive slot to the red line for a much-needed change. He also pressured Keith at the point and intercepted his pass in the defensive zone to spring Konecny for his second goal of the game.

In terms of offensive chances, JVR’s best chance came with a little over eight minutes left in the second period. After Twarynski won a board battle in the offensive zone he slid the disc to JVR at the right point, who drove to the net for a scoring chance. The second overall pick also pulled off a shot on his counterclockwise play at the top of the crease on the power play during a man advantage minutes before his net drive.

Michael Raffl - Connor Bunnaman - Tyler Pitlick

61.54 unblocked shots-for percentage (8 for, 5 against)
25 unblocked shots-for percentage in home plate area (1 for, 3 against)
55.55 shots-for percentage (5 for, 4 against)
33.33 shots-for percentage in home plate area (1 for, 2 against)
Minus-1 icing differential (forced zero icings, iced it once)

Despite their inability to register a shot on net from the home plate area for the game’s first 49 minutes, the line of Michael Raffl - Connor Bunnaman - Tyler Pitlick did provide the game-winning goal. It was a quantity-over-quality type tilt for this line, as they owned 58.82 percent of the shot attempts they saw in their 7:43 5-on-5 time together and only mustered a 26.77 expected goals-for percentage. To make matters worse four of their eight unblocked shots came from defensemen. With all that said, this trio did also force an icing and a delay of game penalty, which is the kind of stuff you need out of your fourth line.

The Little Things

Raffl’s wraparound goal was the highlight of the game for this unit, but it wasn’t the only time the Austrian came close to converting on the move. With around 2:30 left in the second period, Raffl tried a wraparound move again this time forcing Crawford to move from his right to his left. It looked as though Raffl may have had Crawford on the other side of the net, but Gilbert was able to disrupt the chance.

After nearly scoring on Konecny’s perfectly-placed dump-in, Bunnaman also made a nice play to help set up Seabrook’s delay of game penalty in the first period. When Matt Niskanen knocked down an Olli Maatta clear attempt to keep a Flyers’ cycle going halfway through the second period, the former Washington Capital wrapped it around the boards to an apparent vacant point. Bunnaman was able to race over in time to keep the puck in the zone before he tried to saucer a cross-ice pass that Seabrook batted into the stands.

Although this line was hemmed into their own zone with less than ten minutes to play in the third period, Raffl-Bunnaman-Pitlick managed to escape a 40-second cycle against with zero goals against. After Gilbert successfully got a point shot through to Hart, Bunnaman and Raffl have a miscommunication on a zone-exit attempt, which results in Gilbert taking it away. From here this line forced DeBrincat-Strome-Shaw to the outside without a single shot attempt until a DeBrincat shot was blocked by Braun into the netting for a whistle.

Lines on the Fly

57.89 unblocked shots-for percentage (11 for, 8 against)
81.81 unblocked shots-for percentage in home plate area (9 for, 2 against)
58.82 shots-for percentage (10 for, 7 against)
80 shots-for percentage in home plate area (8 for, 2 against)
Minus-1 icing differential (forced zero icings, iced it once)

When it came to mixing and matching up front the Flyers didn’t miss a beat. The line of Lindblom-Hayes-Voracek was out on the ice for two unblocked shot attempts-for-and-against in the home plate area. The only other trio of randomness to see four unblocked shots were Bunnaman-Couturier-Konecny, who were on the ice for two unblocked shots for (one in home plate area) and two unblocked shots against. Konecny-Couturier-Twarynski and Lindblom-Couturier-JVR each provided a pair of unblocked shots from the home plate area with no unblocked shots against. The lines of Konecny-Laughton-Twarynski, Giroux-Hayes-Raffl, and Giroux-Couturier-Konecny only saw one unblocked shot for while the lines of Giroux-Couturier-Voracek, Voracek-Hayes-Twarynski, Pitlick-Couturier-Bunnaman, and Pitlick-Raffl-Twarynski were on for only one unblocked shot against.