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Flyers 2, Canucks 1: Flying now

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Some observations for your morning…

NHL: Vancouver Canucks at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Flyers are back to doing wins again, folks! After picking up a point in their shootout loss against Calgary on Saturday, the Flyers came in against the Canucks and got to work, and really just played a pretty solid game of hockey. Oh, and they also wrapped this one up in regulation. Thank heavens.

All stats via Natural Stat Trick.

How’d they look out there?

5-on-5: 55 CF, 33 SF, 57.94 CF%, 70.07 xGF%

Overall, it was a very strong night for the Flyers at 5-on-5, by the underlying numbers. They had a bit of a slow start to the game, as the first period saw them struggling a little to establish much momentum (though the same could be said for the Canucks, so no one was really running away with play either way early). But we really saw them surging through the last two periods, doing well to establish offensive zone time for extended stretches, and at the same time not giving the Canucks much space of their own to work with. The Flyers had some trouble closing on all of those chances that they were generating (but more on that later), but the fact remains that they were able to regroup during the intermission and come back out strong and work to pull momentum just about all the way in their favor. It’s a sound process, and we’d like to see them keep up that good work, going forward.

Power play: 1 CF, 0 SF, 1 HDCF

There’s a pretty quick chat to be had here about the Flyers’ power play, because we only saw it for two minutes last night and it still didn’t look very good. There’s really no news here, as has been the case, the Flyers looked a little listless on the man-advantage, struggling to get much puck movement and pressure going, and came away with not a single shot on goal. Maybe something would have been different if they had more chances over the course of the game, we don’t know. But their struggles to maintain offensive zone time while they have one more player on the ice continue, and it’s hurting them.

Penalty kill: 1 CA, 1 SA, 0 HDCA

If we’re feeling grumbly about the lack of production on the power play, the good news is that we don’t have to feel the same way about the penalty kill. The Canucks were able to get a bit of puck movement going and started to look pretty threatening, at times, but be it by the Flyers’ own disruptions (or one self-clear of the puck), they were able to shut them down pretty effectively. The Canucks were held to just one shot in their four minutes of power play time, and the Flyers’ penalty killers came up big again. What continues to stand out about them is how aggressive they are on their breakouts—it’s not just dumping the puck out and going for a change, if they’ve got a chance to put together a rush and maybe generate a shorthanded chance, or maybe just eat up some more clock, they do it. And, if nothing else, it’s refreshing.

Three standouts

1. Sean Couturier (again)

It feels a little bit like we’ve got some déjà vu going on out here, but we’re here and we’re talking about how good Sean Couturier was again. Because he was very good last night.

He picked up a goal last night, and this was one that we were especially glad to see go in—the Flyers were doing just about everything right on the play leading up to it, getting to the front of the net and creating a bit of chaos, and they had the puck still alive and ready for a rebound shot, and then it was Couturier who capitalized. Outside of the goal, Couturier had a solid night by the underlying numbers as well, registering an adjusted 60.66 CF% and 84.42 xGF%, as his line dominated in their time on the ice. As if we should expect anything less at this point.

More on this very soon, but what also continues to stand out is how he’s able to elevate the play of those around him—a struggling player put on his line suddenly looks sharper, and that’s a testament to Couturier’s skill. It’s somewhat comforting to know that the Flyers have something of a built-in security blanket in that way—you want players to be able to get out of a funk on their own, but if they can’t, at least they have their pal Couturier around to give them a boost.

2. Jake Voracek (again)

Speaking of which, it seems like at this point, the Flyer should just be taking their struggling players and just putting them with Couturier, and that will be enough to get them going again. We’re joking a bit, but really there also seems to be some truth here. We’ve not been seeing as much as we want and need from Voracek to start the season, but Vigneault has moved him to play with Couturier, and as was the case on Saturday, it’s continuing to pay dividends.

Voracek picked up another goal last night, and this time there’s really no questions about “well was he really a critical part of this play? the shot would have trickled through probably anyway, without his insurance play.” It was a great shot and a very pretty goal, but Voracek’s good night didn’t end there. Pretty much across the board, he seemed to take a step forward and just looked a little more together than he has through much of the early part of the season. He’s starting to get going again, at long last.

3. Justin Braun

Perhaps you all have heard—Justin Braun is an offensive dynamo now. I mean, just look at that assist on Voracek’s goal—he activated and dipped all the way behind the net and made that perfect pass from below the goal line to set up Voracek. Go watch it again. It was beautiful.

Joking aside, Braun did have himself a very solid game last night. The assist was nice but his defensive game was also sound. He showed some good hustle in breaking up plays and just looked disruptive out there. And the numbers back this up, as came out of this one with an adjusted 61.69 CF% and 70.76 xGF%, so the Flyers were decidedly getting the better of play while he was on the ice.

But that little bit of offense shown was still pretty great to see--he’s been effective overall in his role of more of a shutdown defender this season, but knowing that he can and will activate offensively when the chance is right in front of him is just an added bonus.

Two loose observations

1. Struggles in execution

A win’s a win and we’re happy about the results in this one, but as we alluded to in our situationally breakdown above, this game really shouldn’t have been as close as it was. The Flyers, throughout the whole of the game were getting a good amount of high quality chances, but as was the case on Saturday, they just didn’t have the timing all the way down, which would have let them ideally close on a couple more of those chances. Call it some new lines still adjusting to the new personnel, or call it just them not having their details all the way locked down, whatever it is, it’s preventing them from neatly sealing up the games that they should be winning. They should have been able to run away with this game, with the volume of chances they were creating. We do have to credit Thatcher Demko for doing his part and making some really stellar saves, but the Flyers shot themselves in the foot a fair bit by just not having their timing right. This time, it didn’t matter too much in the end, but we can’t expect that to remain the case forever.

2. Second period dominance

Sort of an interesting trend developing is how the Flyers are turning into a very strong second period team. On Saturday against Calgary, they held the Flames to just seven shot attempts and two shots in the second period. Last night, they held the Canucks to 12 shot attempts and four shots on goal. They’ve been playing a very strong second period game, from a territorial standpoint, but last night saw them looking like they were taking a step forward, still. There was a bit of luck involved in Elias Lindholm’s game tying goal, but the Flyers still let the Flames claw their way back in that one, but the same can’t really be said of the Canucks, who were still limited to 11 shot attempts and two shots at 5-on-5 in the third period.

It’s nice to see the Flyers dominating in the middle frame, but it’s even nicer to see them holding on to some of that steam and doing better to close out games.

The only damn thing I know

Normally this is my joke space, but I want to use this opportunity to kind of re-up something I said on twitter last night. The NHL’s Cancer Awareness month, and the Flyers’ own game, is great in a lot of ways. Raising awareness and celebrating those who have dealt with the disease is super important, no doubt about it. But it’s also a tough time for those who have lost someone to cancer. So, just a gentle reminder to be kind to your friends who have lost someone around this time. We’ve got to look out for each other out there.