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Coyotes 3, Flyers 1: No longer streaking

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Some observations for your morning...

NHL: Arizona Coyotes at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that certainly was a hockey game, right? It was kind of messy, not the prettiest, but the Flyers altogether played a very solid game and were able to control play through a good portion of the game. And, yep, they still lost. That’s hockey, baby!

All stats via NHL.com and Natural Stat Trick

How’d they look out there?

5-on-5: 50 CF, 23 SF, 55.74 CF%, 52.7 xGF%

If you looked at that stat line and kind of got a little sad, well, I don’t really blame you. The Flyers played another very solid game, by the underlying numbers. They didn’t run away with play completely like we’ve seen them do a few times already, but they were able to grab the edge in both shot attempts and high danger chances created, and were doing all they could to keep the Coyotes on their heels. The one piece that really sticks out from this one is just how much puck possession they had—in a way, the numbers feel even a little low, considering how it felt like they just about had the puck for a good majority of the time. The Flyers did just about everything right in this one at 5-on-5 in terms of making sure that they got and kept the edge in territorial play, and it’s hard to be too fussed about their process. And maybe they didn’t execute well on all of the chances that they had, and the details still weren’t all that way there, but they also just happened to run into a hot goaltender, and that made all the difference.

Power play: 9 CF, 4 SF, 1 HDCF

Another night, another look at the power play struggling. They had three chances on the man-advantage last night and once again didn’t look terribly clean, and likely left some more chances on the table. And maybe you’re tired of hearing me talk about how the power play isn’t clicking, so we’re going to so something a little different. Let’s see what some of the players think about what’s going wrong. (Hat tip to our pal Charlie for asking about the power play).

Matt Niskanen: “Like most power plays, if you can enter the zone clean with possession that helps. If you win the draw, that helps. And then just common stuff; good puck support, net front presence, crisp puck movement and then take a quality shot with numbers around the net. Just a little bit better in all of those areas and we will get back on track.”

Jakub Voracek: “We had a tough time to set up. The puck was kind of bouncing around on us for some kind of reason in the zone. Putting a lot of pressure on us just in years past I think all five guys had a job to do in a certain area of the ice when in their zone. Right now we’re not sure where to go 100%, that I think a problem. If one guy doesn’t go the other guy has no idea what to do. Better circling in the power play I think.”

And we’re detecting a bit of a theme here. Does it help to know that they know what’s lacking? And it’s just a matter of executing? Maybe? Let’s just get back to executing.

Penalty kill: 4 CA, 2 SA, 1 HDCA

This was another one of those showings where we come away having mixed feelings about the penalty killers’ efforts. On the one hand, they did show some disruptiveness and were able to break up some of the Coyotes’ attempts. But on the flip side, the Coyotes also weren’t looking terribly sharp on the power play, and did a bit of shooting themselves in the foot, as well. So it goes.

The elephant in the room, of course, was the goal that they allowed on the penalty kill. It was a tough one—Brian Elliott noted after the game that that entry play is one that Arizona likes and one that they tried to game plan for, but they still let it happen. Ideally, you want Provorov to be able to take the pass from Clayton Keller to Phil Kessel away, but that shot can’t trickle through Elliott like it did. It happens sometimes, but that doesn’t make it any less rough.

Three standouts

1. Morgan Frost

We wouldn’t really say that this was Frost’s best game (and nor would he), but rather one that saw him able to generate a few really nice chances, but also commit a few turnovers and take a bit of a step back. But what we really want to hone in on here is that first part. After that early success in his first couple of games, scoring’s dried up some for Frost, but it’s not for lack of trying. He’s still doing just about everything he can right to be able to create chances, and his line is still looking threatening just about every night, it’s just that the execution isn’t all the way there right now. Frost had six shot attempts last night (good for third on the team) including two really good chances where the shot just went wide of the net. it’s a little tough to watch, but we have to take a second to remind ourselves that he’s still a kid and still adjusting, but at the same time, still not playing all that poorly. And he’s put himself in good position for things to start breaking for him soon, scoring-wise, it’s just a matter of that finally all coming together.

2. Matt Niskanen

We’ve got an unironic hat tip to the only Flyer who was able to get on the board last night. Kuemper was really on last night, so it was no small feat to get one past him, and Niskanen was able to capitalize nicely on a screen in front and make a quick shot from the point past Kuemper. And we like the flash that comes with being the only one to score a goal, that’s fun, but Niskanen still had a solid overall game. As we noted earlier, the Flyers as a whole played a sound defensive game, and Niskanen was no exception to this. He put up an adjusted 57.47 CF% at 5-on-5, so the Flyers were getting the better of the shot share while he was on the ice, and he made a couple of very nice defensive plays to break up would-be Coyotes chances, to keep the margin in the Flyers’ favor. It feels like it won’t be long before it feels trite to talk about how steady he was, but this was the best word to describe him. Just steady.

3. Shayne Gostisbehere

We’re going to keep with our theme of talking about defensemen and move right along to Gostisbehere now. He hasn’t been perfect, but there’s been a lot to like about his game since he’s gotten back into the lineup. He put up a 58.29 CF% and 60.96 xGF% at 5-on-5, so like with Niskanen, the Flyers were getting the bulk of the shot attempts and high danger chances while he was on the ice, which we like to see.

And then there was really nice play in the defensive zone where he stayed aggressive on the puck and broke up what might have a chance for the Coyotes, and which had most of us pleasantly surprised. It was good stuff.

While we’re at it, Philippe Myers also had a pretty decent game. The underlying numbers weren’t quite as solid (37.67 CF%, hello), but there were still a handful of nice defensive plays that he made that stood out. It wasn’t as strong of a game as he had on Tuesday, but he was still active and noticeable out there.

And what I’m really trying to get to here is that these two are showing a lot of good recently, and even though there seems to be a rotation of defensemen on the third pair, they’re doing just about all that they can to make the case that there shouldn’t be. We want a meritocracy, and they’re doing well to prove that they’re earning more permanent spots in the lineup again.

Two loose observations

1. Yes, we’re still whining about the first periods

Full disclosure here: the first period wasn’t great for the Flyers (again), but it also wasn’t a stellar period for the Coyotes either. We’ve been talking about slower first periods where it’s more like the Flyers get torched in the first 20 minutes and then pull it together after that. Last night wasn’t quite the same case—they hit the first intermission tied with Arizona at five shots apiece and had out-chanced them 21 to nine across all situations. But, still, we left the period feeling like they weren’t really on yet.

Charlie said it really perfectly, that it feels like they’re spending the first periods probing, that somehow they’re feeling the other team out instead of emphasizing creating more dangerous chances, even when they might otherwise have to opportunity to do so. This hasn’t killed them so far, it’s seemed more like they’ve been treading water before they really turn it on in the second period, but after last night we can’t help but wonder if they had figured things out even earlier if this game might have gone a little differently.

2. The big picture

We’re going to shoot straight on this one—this loss sucks. The Flyers were pretty even with the Coyotes through the first period, and then pretty thoroughly outplayed them through the rest of the game. With the exception of Darcy Kuemper, the Coyotes didn’t play particularly well. This is one that the Flyers probably should have won, but the bounces weren’t there for them, and they weren’t connecting on the chances they needed to, so they didn’t.

But there are two big takeaways here. The first is that they came out against a very good team and played well. Yes, the Coyotes weren’t playing their best hockey, but the Flyers were still able to control play through much of last night’s game, and that’s not nothing.

The second is that, despite the loss obviously bringing their five-game winning streak to an end, the mood in the locker room after the game wasn’t all that negative. The players acknowledged that they could have done more, but also seemed to recognize that they played a solid game and they shouldn’t be too down about their performance. The big question, then, will be if they’re able to walk the walk and come out and play well against Ottawa, to keep this loss from leading to a spiral. The real test is ahead.

The only damn thing I know

How much do you love organizational continuity? Last night kind of felt like, to a bit of a lesser degree, the Phantoms going up to Springfield on Wednesday and outshooting the Thunderbirds 63-23 (no, that’s not a typo) and still managing to lose 3-1.

Sports are just bad sometimes, fam.