Two points is two points. That statement seemed to be the team’s main takeaway from what wasn’t the prettiest of victories last night in Ottawa. A three-goal second period from the Senators would’ve deflated the Flyers of yesteryear, but on this night they bounced right back and went into the intermission tied. They’d take the lead back early in the third, only to see it evaporate one final time, but in the end they won a game that they were supposed to win. It was far from clean, but two points is two points.
JvR’s hot streak continues
Through the early stages of the season, James van Riemsdyk struggled to score. He even found himself skating on the fourth line at times. However, with six goals over his last five games, JvR now leads the team with 12 on the season. This shouldn’t be too surprising — van Riemsdyk had been generating a ton of shots from the high-percentage areas of the ice, but just wasn’t getting a payoff. Now he’s not only scoring on plays that he hadn’t been converting on before, but he’s scoring goals without even having to shoot the puck.
Last night was his second two goal performance in as many nights, and has him on pace for another 27-goal season. His first of two tallies was a pass attempt that deflected off of Cody Goloubef’s skate and found its way into the net, while his second showed off his ability to beat a goaltender one-on-one. A bit more on that one in a moment.
Stretches of play where nothing is going in just comes with the territory of being a top flight goalscorer in the NHL, and it’s great to see van Riemsdyk break out of his most recent one.
NAK’s statement game
When it comes to convincing everyone watching that he belongs in the NHL, there’s not much more that Nicolas Aube-Kubel could have done last night. He was directly responsible for two of the Flyers’ four goals, finished with three shots on goal, was credited with six hits, and even blocked three shots. In present-day it’s pretty mainstream to believe that hits and blocked shots aren’t positive statistics, but actually show a larger problem at hand. If you’re a hitting machine who blocks a ton of shots, your team doesn’t have the puck very much when you’re on the ice. However, both things are still associated with a player’s effort level, which is something that a rookie fighting for a bottom-six roster spot needs to prove is high. So for Aube-Kubel, last night was a big step forward in proving that he belongs.
His standout moment in the game happened just about a minute into the second period, when he took the puck from behind the Flyers’ net, rushed down the ice, collected his own dump-in, and disrupted an exit, all leading to van Riemsdyk’s first goal of the game.
Later in the game he’d get his name on the scoresheet, picking up his second assist of the season with a three-line flip pass to van Riemsdyk.
JVR's team-leading 12th of the season.— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) December 22, 2019
What a pass by Aube-Kubel! pic.twitter.com/VFHkyIjG71
There’s not much to be said about a pass like that — it’s just cool as hell. It’d be irresponsible to look at this game and expect Aube-Kubel to play at this level every night, but if he can continue to be an all-around solid bottom-six forward, while every so often flashing like he did last night, it’s easy to envision a scenario in which he becomes a roster lock.
The power play remains troubling
For a second it looked like the Flyers’ power play was set to have a big night. On their first opportunity of the game, Kevin Hayes broke free and scored a power play goal off the rush. But in the four opportunities that followed, the Flyers’ power play looked like, well, the Flyers’ power play.
In 8:16 of power play time, the Flyers owned just 40.16% of the expected goal share. The Senators had double the amount of high danger scoring chances (four to two) than the Flyers did on their own power play. That’s really eye-opening. Their struggles on the man advantage have been talked about a lot this season, and it continues to be this team’s biggest weakness.
Giroux, stacked top line drives play but fails to score
In just over 14 minutes of ice time at 5-on-5, the line of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, and Travis Konecny finished with a Corsi-for percentage (CF%) of 75.76. They were on the ice for 25 shots taken by the Flyers and just 8 taken by the Senators. Despite controlling play, the three left as minus players thanks to a defensive breakdown, combined with an iffy rebound given up by Brian Elliott on Tyler Ennis’ second goal of the game.
Giroux played a season-high 25:28, and left without a point for the 19th time in 36 games. He’s on pace for just 54 points this season, and while there’s something to be said about needing your best players to put points on the board, Giroux’s lack of production shouldn’t be too concerning.
For one, he’s only recorded an assist on 46 percent of the team’s goals that have been scored with him on the ice at all situations so far, excluding his own 11 goals. Across the three seasons prior, that number was just over 60 percent. And that stretch includes his 58-point 2016-2017 campaign. The Flyers have still scored a fair amount with Giroux on the ice at 5-on-5 this season — though less than they had in the previous two seasons — and him not being given an assist on a scoring play doesn’t mean that he didn’t contribute to a goal being scored. The assists will come.
Secondly, the power play is a shell of its former self. While some of that is because Giroux hasn’t been good enough on the man advantage, he has spent a lot of time in a power play formation that has him playing away from a position that he’d seen success in for years. He can be better, but he’s been better than his point total suggests.
We’re quickly reaching the midway point of the season, and through 36 games the Flyers have amassed more standings points than they have since Jaromir Jagr donned the orange and black. They close out the year with matchups with the New York Rangers, San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, and Los Angeles Kings — teams that sit 24th, 28th, 26th, and 29th in the league. There are no guaranteed wins in this league, or any sports league for that matter, but there is a huge opportunity for the Flyers to extend this winning streak and potentially enter 2020 as a top-five team.
If they can do that, a tough January schedule looks a little less menacing with that kind of playoff cushion built up. For now though we’ll just enjoy three straight victories. Six points are six points.
Data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick