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Flyers 5, Oilers 4: We’re just as surprised as you are

Some observations for your morning…

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Philadelphia Flyers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Well that was certainly an exciting and perhaps unexpected turn of events. The Flyers have won seven games in a row! Seven! That’s wild! Let’s get into what we learned, shall we? A whole lot happened. So much that we ran out of space to talk about Nolan Patrick’s overtime heroics. So we’re just going to drop the goal here. It was pretty nice, folks.

All stats and graphics via HockeyViz, Natural Stat Trick, and NHL.com

1. Welcome back, Shayne Gostisbehere!

We’re going to get right into our biggest piece of news of the afternoon, with the return of Gostisbehere to the lineup after missing the last three games. One might figure that he might be a little rusty after missing those games, coming off of the bye week, and, well, they would be correct.

We don’t want to suggest that yesterday’s showing was actively bad, not by any means, but there were some hiccups—turning the puck over at the point on the power play to open up space for an Oilers shorthanded goal. That said, otherwise, he was fine enough. He put up three shots and a 4.21 Corsi For % Relative at 5-on-5, and seemed to be getting back into game speed well enough. It wasn’t the triumphant return that some might have been hoping for, but it will do.

2. The power play!

We won’t bury the lede on this one—it was a very good game for both of the Flyers’ special teams units, particularly the power play. It didn’t always start out perfectly; in fact, it usually didn’t, with the Flyers either struggling to get set up and cycling in the offensive zone, or doing something even uglier like giving up a shorthanded goal. But in the end, it all worked out. They went four for four on the afternoon. And here’s a sampling of a couple of the goals because we love those.

Is this a pace that’s sustainable for the rest of the season? No, absolutely not. But, that said, the work they’re doing is sound—getting traffic in front and looking for high danger chances, a model which got both Sean Couturier and Wayne Simmonds their goals—which suggest that they should still be able to get results on a perhaps more average rate. But, hey, it’s still nice to see them padding that season average a little bit.

3. Killing penalties

On the other side, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that the Flyers also got an equally strong performance out of their penalty kill. The Oilers had three chances on the power play, and the Flyers did well to shut them down, while also generating a bit of their own—they weren’t able to get any shots on net, but one nice shorthanded rush by Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier was almost something.

And, we really don’t have to tell you that Connor McDavid is dangerous on the power play, so you know how critical shutting he and the Oilers down on the power play was to the Flyers staging their comeback. They kept themselves out of a hole, and in better position to rally, thanks to the efforts of the penalty killers.

4. Chasing

And now that we’ve hit on some of the happenings of the first period, let’s swing back around and bring it into perspective—it was brutal. If you turned the game off at the first intermission and just assumed that they were going to lose based on the first period, we wouldn’t have blamed you. The Flyers were outshot 18-7 and were caught in their own end for long stretches, and in a way it seemed like a miracle that they came out of the first 20 minutes only down the one goal. The Oilers got the best of play and the Flyers just couldn’t seem to find an answer. They were able to regroup from there (and we’ll talk more about that later), but it was dicey for a while.

5. Starter Hart

Key to the Flyers making it out of the first period without falling too deep into a hole was, once again, Carter Hart. He stopped 40 of the 44 shots he faced on the afternoon, and came with a handful of huge saves when they were needed the most. Like this one.

Hart wasn’t perfect yesterday—his weakness on breakaways was displayed on Zack Kassian’s goal—but what he did was enough. He helped his team survive the initial onslaught and stayed strong while they made their push in front of him. Maybe it’s something of a foregone conclusion at this point, that Hart would form a solid support for them night in and night out, and fair or not, he kept with his pattern yesterday. He kept his head down and he did his job, and again to positive results.

6. Thursday’s OT hero keeps rolling

We’re still rolling with positive, folks! Travis Sanheim came up huge for the Flyers on Thursday in Boston, and whatever momentum he was building there, he kept it rolling into yesterday’s game. He broke onto the scoresheet again in overtime, this time picking up an assist on Nolan Patrick’s game winner, but he looked sharp across the whole of the game. He put up an adjusted 2.58 CF% Rel and four individual shots on goal. He got a look on the penalty kill and did well enough therein. And he brought a little bit more flash with a stellar play at the blue line to keep the puck onside and keep the Flyers’ push alive (they didn’t do anything with it, but the keep was still impressive). It’s just another strong showing for Sanheim, who continues to thrive in an increased role. He’s rounding out his game, and keeps looking better.

7. Second line gets some looks

We should also take a moment to give a nod to the Flyers’ second line of Oskar Lindblom, Sean Couturier, and Jake Voracek, for being able to generate some chances, even when the rest of the team was looking a little flat. The line put up five shots at 5-on-5, and gave us a little bit of flash, even though they were held off the board at even strength (though Couturier picked up that power play goal, of course). They found ways to get buzzing and they continued to show the chemistry they have building.

And it wasn’t just on the offensive side where they were looking sharp, the defense was sounds as well. The second line was tasked with matching up against Connor McDavid’s, and they were up to the task. When matched up against Couturier, McDavid was held to a 40 CF%. When away from him? 75%. That’s a sharp disparity, and speaks well of Couturier’s defensive efforts against the best player in hockey.

8. Snaps for Scott Laughton

The last of our nods, you guessed it, goes to Laughton. He was another who was held off the board, but it feels pretty safe to say that he was one of the most, if not the most noticeable, players on the ice through the second half of yesterday’s game. He put up a less than stellar 35.78 CF% (-8.20 CF% Rel) at 5-on-5, but as we said, the second half saw him surging. He was active on the rush and working well to be disruptive of the Oilers’ attempts to build up any late momentum. If there was a chance happening or some buzz starting while the third line was out there, you had to know Laughton was right in the thick of it. In short, he was able to keep to his details and put up a strong showing, and continued to be a bright spot, as he has for the duration of the season.

9. Finding ways to win

I’d like to start things off by dropping a chart in here. Because those are fun, right?

This tells us what we already knew, implicitly, that the Flyers were thoroughly outplayed through the first half of the game and somehow managed to stage a comeback and dominate the second half, themselves. And what’s behind this? This is the new Flyers, it seems, a team that doesn’t let all of the air leave the building when they fall behind, one that keeps after it and claws their way back. And as much as we don’t like to just throw buzz words like compete out there, this is really what the Flyers have shown us lately.

They were tenacious, and they didn’t concede this one when it started out badly. They buckled down, and they came back. And, wherever the rest of this season takes us, what they’re tapping into now, that’s important. To know that they can come back in games and get themselves wins they have no business getting, when it comes down to it? That’s going to stick with them beyond the end of this season.

10. The only damn thing I know

Remember that period of time when the narrative was that the Flyers couldn’t possibly win a game against the Oilers without Brandon Manning in the lineup? And then somehow they won a game without Manning in the lineup? And it all sort of became a meme? Anyway, I don’t really know how the mythology of that works now, when the Flyers play the Oilers and Manning is an Oiler. I guess it still means Flyers wins. Go figure.

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