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Capitals 5, Flyers 2: Not ideal!

Some observations for your morning...

NHL: Washington Capitals at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Well, they just didn’t have it last night, gang. That’s something that happens sometimes, and we’re allowed to say that, and in a vacuum, it’s okay. It just becomes less okay when the Flyers only have a handful of games left and they’re still trying to keep their place in the ever-tightening playoff race. So they drop one of their tough games in this tough schedule, and that’s, as we said, not ideal.

All stats via Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com

1. Pace, pals

There’s something to be said for playing with a certain pace as we head down the stretch, for coming out with energy and working to get chances early and keep your opponent on their toes. And the Flyers didn’t really do this. They came out a bit flat, and the Capitals were ready to play, so they, unsurprisingly, took the early edge in play while the Flyers just tried to keep up.

The good news is that they were able to recover and get themselves some zone time in the first period and do some threatening of their own, so everything more or less balanced out on this front. But it just wasn’t before they gave up some chances and got themselves into a bit of a hole.

2. Breaking down

A good part of that ugly start was the defensive breakdowns that just seemed to keep burning the Flyers. The first two goals of the night came as direct results of this. Let’s have a look at the tape.

The Capitals were able to get themselves a bit of sustained zone time, and that’s just about all they needed. The Flyers were left to scramble around, leaving players alone—particularly in front—with all the space in the world to work with. The Flyers gave up four high-danger chances in the first period, and just couldn’t seem to hold onto their man through those early goings. The Capitals are a very good team, and they can do some damage in a regular, relatively even played game, but they also didn’t have to work very hard for those first two goals.

3. Top line did some work early

To avoid getting too grumbly right off the bat, we should point out that is wasn’t all bad early (no, really!). While the team as a whole was struggling to generate a whole lot early, the top line of Oskar Lindblom, Sean Couturier, and Claude Giroux was getting some looks. They couldn’t seem to put anything away, but they were able to bring a bit of buzz, and that was something.

It was an okay night, as a whole, for this line. The three averaged an adjusted 47.64 CF% at 5-on-5, which isn’t stellar, but posted a CF% Rel above 14 percent. So they got themselves some looks, but couldn’t seem to solve Braden Holtby. We like the process, but could use a bit more on the results front. Hey, maybe tonight.

4. Starter Hart returns!

He’s back! After missing what feels like forever, at this point, with an ankle injury, Carter Hart is back and he got his first start last night. And it was … something of a mixed bag. He didn’t have an easy task ahead of him, and was tested with a couple of tough shots and deflections early, and he handled them well. But the Capitals somehow kept surging from there, and with the defense breaking down in front of Hart, his job got even harder.

All told, he gave up four goals on 31 shots, registering an .871 save percentage. It was an alright return, given those breakdowns we talked about, but he also wasn’t without a few signs of rust. His reads weren’t perfect (he went down too early on the Tom Wilson goal), but that also could have been expected. Do we like it? No. Do we wish he’d have done better? Yep. But we also understand, and hope he does better next time.

5. The power play!

It took them a bit to get there, but the Flyers ended up getting themselves a good amount of power play time, on the night. And they didn’t see them starting out looking very sharp. Indeed, they had a minute on the man-advantage before the first intermission, and they couldn’t even get a clean entry into the zone to register so much as a shot attempt (indeed, they gave one up, in that time).

But the rest of the night saw them buckled down, looking sharper, and downright threatening. They picked up a goal as that first power play expired (more on that later), and couldn’t seem to pick one up on the power play for the rest of the night. They did, however, register 10 shot attempts, and six shots, in total, as the new configuration continues to show some promise. We may, though, have to say goodbye to that configuration, as Jake Voracek returns from suspension tonight in Toronto. We’ll see what happens.

6. The power play goal that wasn’t a power play goal

So, the Flyers didn’t pick up a power play goal, but they basically picked up a power play goal, you know? The penalty expired three seconds before this one, and their first unit personnel were all still out there. It won’t show on their stats, but we know the truth.

And, in a shocking turn of events, James van Riemsdyk picked up a goal not from a deflection, which is kind of his thing. Just a really nice shot through traffic. Well done.

It all started, too, with this pretty stellar defensive play by Shayne Gostisbehere after a turnover led to a shorthanded breakaway. He was able to get the puck back and turn play moving the other way, and ultimately, allowed them to get that goal set up. It was, for lack of a better term, just a pretty sequence of events. And it was nice to see how the Flyers can do that same sort of work, taking advantage of just a bit of space and using it to get themselves a goal.

7. Killing penalties

We’ll cut right to the chase: it was another good night for the Flyers’ penalty kill. They only had about four and a half minutes of penalty kill time, but they were effective in it. They got themselves burned very badly last time (leaving Alex Ovechkin alone in his office, things of that nature), but for this meeting, they really shored things up. They only allowed four shot attempts and three proper shots on net in those 4:36, none of which might be classified as high danger chances. So they were able to keep after the Capitals, limiting their chances period, but most importantly keeping them from generating anything particularly dangerous. They had a bit of help, with one of the Capitals’ power plays being split by the second intermission, but the Flyers’ good work still stands. They didn’t give up a power play goal. They did the job.

8. A Yuengling Line goal

We’re touching on some of the Flyers’ offensive woes as we go, but it isn’t all doom and gloom, here. Some guys still showed up to do some offense. Scott Laughton came through!

It was a bit of a weird goal, as it saw an initial shot from the point rattle around in traffic and come to a wide open Laughton in front. A little weird, yes, but we’ll take it. By the numbers, it wasn’t a great night for Laughton, with one shot and an adjusted 30.71 CF% at 5-on-5, so the goal is kind of the thing allowing us to say “yeah, he still had a decent night.” So it was a bit of an individual boost, as well.

And, we should also note, that’s a goal for, as our pal Charlie has coined them, the Yuengling Line. So that’s more depth scoring. That’s fun.

9. Shots and all

Alright, gang, let’s have a look at some more numbers before we close this thing out. The numbers aren’t great in this one. The Flyers were outshot 32 to 24 in all situations, and 18 to 25 at 5-on-5, but they were able to outchance the Capitals 55 to 53 in all situations (but were edged out 42 to 45 at 5-on-5). So it wasn’t as though they weren’t getting any chances at all, they just had a real tough time making it on net.

But the one area where the Flyers graded out relatively well, all in all, was in high danger chances for. They didn’t win in this metric, either (no, of course they didn’t), but they did end up being close to even, putting up nine to Washington’s 10 (and those nine making up 41.67 percent of their total shots). So, if nothing else, we can respect that process, and hope to see more of that tonight.

10. The only damn thing I know

I don’t know if this is a hot take, I don’t know how we all feel about them, but I’ve gotta say, I’m not a fan of the green St. Patrick’s Day jerseys. I think they’re loud and gawdy and just Too Much. This has been my fashion column thank you for tuning in.