What a strange game this one was. The Flyers came out and, per their usual pattern, gave the Rangers a bit of space to work with and some chances, but they were largely able to weather the storm there. The first period lacked a bit of continuity, it felt like, with four power plays dealt out in that period alone (two per side), and with no scoring from anyone, it was shaping up to be something of a goaltending duel.
The second period was, well, more of the same, with quite literally half of the period being taken up by special teams, but this time we did get some scoring! Well, it was the wrong kind, as the Flyers gave up a shorthanded goal for Jesper Fast to give the Rangers the initial lead. They came back though, and showed why playing until the final buzzer is important, as Travis Sanehim got them on the board with just a second and a half left in the period. And we had a tie game again.
The third period, then, saw the Flyers offense just about explode, as, after about seven minutes of back and forth and not much happening and all of us wondering if this might just end up going to overtime, Kevin Hayes broke through the give the Flyers the lead. The Rangers had some good chances after that, but the Flyers put this one away nicely—with under five minutes to go, Sanheim and Hayes both picked up second goals and just about sealed things off.
And, of course, to cap things off, as the third period was winding down, Nicolas Aube-Kubel got a chance out on the power play and sent an absolute laser in on Lundqvist to beat him and pick up his first NHL goal. At long last.
Nicolas Aube-Kubel's first goal in the NHL! pic.twitter.com/28c1LSrCPk— Brad Keffer (@brad_keffer) December 24, 2019
All stats via Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com
How’d they look out there?
5-on-5: 42 CF, 22 SF, 49.52 CF%, 53.58 xGF%
Perhaps one of the more frustrating parts of this game was that, even though we didn’t get to see quite as much of it as we usually might (indeed, with all of the special teams, at times we were wondering if we might ever see 5-on-5 again), the Flyers’ play at fives was pretty solid. They just about broke even in shot attempts (they had a slight edge in the raw total, but gave that up when the differential was score and venue adjusted), but pretty handily picked up the edge in high-danger chances. It may have taken them a bit to break through, because Lundqvist is still pretty good and all, but they were able to keep at it, and that onslaught at the end seemed to be a fitting reward for the good work they had done at 5-on-5 throughout. It wasn’t a perfect effort, as some breakdowns led to good chances for the Rangers as well, but it was enough.
Power play: 14 CF, 8 SF, 1 HDCF
What was, then, neither perfect nor enough was the power play. As we said in the above recap, the Flyers had six chances on the power play and couldn’t do anything with them. That might sound like an unfair assertion, as Aube-Kubel’s goal was on the power play, after all, but with a goal coming when the game was all but over from a player who’s probably not going to be getting much power play time in the future doesn’t count. We’re super happy for Aube-Kubel, and this isn’t to take anything away from him, it’s just that this isn’t really reflective of the power play’s play nor really repeatable for them.
We talked about the shorthanded goal, and that was rough. The Flyers, in 12 minutes of time on the man-advantage, managed to generate eight shots and one high-danger chance. That’s not enough. They had trouble getting much going in the way of momentum, their passes and entries weren’t very crisp, and as a result, they struggled to create chances. It just wasn’t good enough.
Penalty kill: 8 CA, 4 SA, 1 HDCA
On the flip side, and has been the case for much of the season, it wasn’t a bad night for the penalty kill, at least. They had just under seven minutes of penalty minutes to kill (including about a minute of 3-on-5 time) and were able to do it pretty handily. The skaters were solid and, with some good stick work, were able to break up many of the Rangers’ would-be chances. They were disruptive when they had to be, and when they slipped up and let the Rangers get a shot off, Carter Hart was right there with it.
And then there was one shift where Hayes was able to generate a breakout, pick up almost a scoring chance, and then was just playing keep away with the Rangers—he had possession of the puck the whole time and just no one could get it off him, it was glorious.
The Rangers’ power play doing a bit too much passing at times certainly made the Flyers’ shot suppression job a bit easier, but the Rangers were able to have a few sequences where they looked threatening, and the Flyers were still about to shut them down. All around, it was a good effort.
1. Carter Hart
It really felt like this was just going to end up ending a goaltending duel, with Lundqvist playing as well as he was and then Hart needed to really be on to hang with him, and the good news is that he was exactly that. Hart faced 35 shots on the night (including nine high-danger chances) and was able to stop all but one of them. Alain Vigneault was clear in his post-game that he felt Hart was their best player last night, and it’s hard to argue with him there. With dropping the early lead, the Flyers were going to need to find a way to solve Lundqvist, who also seemed to be on, if they wanted to get back into this one, and they needed Hart staying steady behind them to keep them in the mix, and he seemed to have no trouble with that. He was tracking the puck well and handled the Rangers’ chances against with ease. He was in good form last night, just as they needed him to be, and it was nice to see him pick up a win over the Rangers and still one of the best goalies in the league.
2. Travis Sanheim
Sanheim had himself a game last night, that’s for sure. He showed some spark very early, pulling almost a very nice move on a defender on his first shift, and while it didn’t completely work, it did lead to him drawing a penalty, so that was pretty nice. Sanheim also led the team in shot attempts on the night (with seven) and shots (four), while also picking up and adjusted 67.38 CF% and 74.46 xGF%. But, of course, the real flash came with the two goals he scored on the night.
It’s taken him a little bit, but Sanheim says that he’s feeling much more confident now that we’re deeper into the swing of the season to activate more and try to create more offensively, and in short, it’s been a real treat to watch. We know about his offensive instincts and what he can bring to the table there, and now it’s looking like we might well be seeing more of that from him as we keep going forward.
3. Kevin Hayes
And, of course, we could be remiss if we didn’t talk about the Kevin Hayes revenge game a little bit. A lot gets made of a player squaring off against his former team, and maybe there’s something there, maybe there isn’t, but the fact remains that Hayes looked really sharp in this game, and it’s hard to imagine that this wasn’t an easy game for him to get up for. We already talked about his efforts on the penalty kill which were pretty remarkable, but outside of that, it was still a very solid game for Hayes. He was second on the team behind Sanheim in shot attempts (five), and was tied for the team lead with three individual scoring chances. And then, of course, he also had two goals! Let’s look at the shot on that first one again, shall we?
Not too shabby at all. And while it’s nice to see a player dunk on their former team, it’s also just nice to see Hayes continuing to produce for his new team. He’s been dependable just about all season, and he’s not really showing any signs of slowing down any time soon.
Two loose observations
1. Enemies of complacency, gather here
We’re doing a bit of beating a dead horse right now, considering we complained about this earlier in this very article and have been doing so for most of the season, but we have to still ask: how long are we going to have to put up with the power play being terrible? They showed some promise to start the season, but it’s largely been a whole lot of nothing ever since. Their passing hasn’t been terribly clean, nor have their entries, and they’ve struggled to keep the puck in the offensive zone, and overall just shot themselves in the foot. And it’s getting pretty brutal to watch.
What has to change? I’m not sure I have the answer, and I’m not going to pretend that it’s as easy as just changing which defensemen is on which unit or something like that. Something’s got to give, and it’s got to happen soon. This game was close for way too long, considering the number of chances that they had throughout the game.
2. The big picture
Before we go, we’re going to take a quick step a back and look at the big picture of where the Flyers are at, heading into the break. We could alternately title this section “a big two points,” because that’s what the Flyers were able to pull out of this one. With this win, the Flyers have jumped up to third place in their division, just two points behind the Islanders (though the Islanders have two games in hand). Things are tight right now, with fourth and fifth place Pittsburgh and Carolina just a point behind them, but for now they’re comfortably in a playoff spot.
There’s a lot of hockey yet to be played, and it may feel a little early to be doing too much standings-watching, but with how close things are in the Metro right now, it’s hard to overstate how important every point is. The Flyers may not be directly competing with the Rangers for a playoff spot (they’re nine points behind them), but picking up a tidy win over a divisional opponent is no small feat. And they’re going to need to keep doing that, but we’ll worry about that when the time comes. For now, we’ll just appreciate the win.
The only damn thing I know
That’s it, gang! The last game before the holiday break! From your friends here at BSH, enjoy your holiday if you celebrate, and enjoy your break if you don’t. It’s been … something so far. Maybe fun. Sometimes not. See you guys on the other side.