The Flyers once lead 5-2 in this game, and ended up losing 7-6. You could say a lot happened in this game, so there’s naturally a lot to talk about here. So what the hell did we learn from that carnival of a hockey game?
1. The Flyers did contain the Leafs speed early on.
The Toronto Maple Leafs only know one speed, and that is balls-to-the-wall blistering fast. The Flyers on the other hand are well... how do I put this... not known for that. Despite these two statements both being factual, the Flyers contained the Leafs’ speed pretty well in the first half of the game. Each time the Leafs began a rush, the Flyers’ defense was aggressive and the backcheck was right on their tails. The talent of players like Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Auston Matthews was stymied in the early going, and the Flyers were playing a very well-organized game.
Now, take a look at the shot attempt totals and one may wonder, seeing as the Leafs had a stranglehold for essentially the entire game, how this was true? Well, considering the fact that it’s practically impossible to truly shut down the Maple Leafs’ offense, being close to breaking even with them in shot attempts in a period is a victory on its own most nights. They did this in the first period, only losing the raw shot attempt battle 26-21. The Flyers held their own and although hoping to “hold your own” against the best may be aiming low, it still holds true. The Maple Leafs have one of the most lethal offenses in the entire league, and it’s tough to contain them for extended periods of time, as we found out later in the game.
2. James Van Hockey a.k.a James Van Hatty aka Pigeon.
In a game that saw many twists and turns, James van Riemsdyk scoring good hockey goals was a stabilizer. The former Maple Leaf netted his fifth career hat trick and his second as a Philadelphia Flyer. He scored each goal in typical JVR fashion, all coming via those silky deflections that have made him oh-so valuable as a net front presence. He almost scored his fourth goal of the game in the dying moments as the Flyers tried desperately to tie the game, but alas, Frederik Andersen finally decided to wake up and kill our hopes and dreams. Thanks Freddy.
JVR now has 24 goals on the season and despite missing over a month of hockey, could very well have his third 30 goal season this year. After a slow start and adjusting to his new team, the Flyers forward has truly turned it on over the past few months, and been a key contributor in the team’s recent success. Without JVR, the Flyers are probably not even sniffing the playoffs, and his efforts should be commended. He’s now scored 12 points in his past 10 games, with nine of those points being goals. Needless to say, he’s been pretty damn good lately folks.
3. Anyone wanna help Brian out? No? Okay that’s fine I guess.
Brian Elliott made 44 saves ... and lost. The Leafs had 51 total shots on goal and Elliott quite simply did the best he could. Now, to be fair, the second Jake Muzzin goal was a soft one, and his performance in general definitely suffered as the game went on. However, what the hell do we expect? In the first period the Flyers had 11 shots to the Leafs 19, over the next two periods, the Flyers had just 18 shots relative to the Leafs’ 32. Sure, Elliott may have started to wear down in the latter stages of the game, but could he get some help?
This was frustrating to watch because even though the Flyers were still keeping up the attack even with their lead, the Leafs’ offense was just too much. They wore the Flyers down with their speed as the game went on and it reached a point at which superhuman efforts were going to be required to keep the lead. Does this excuse the fact they lost the lead and the defense was unable to help their goalie? Not really. However, this Maple Leafs team, as mentioned previously, cannot be stifled for too long.
4. Officiating was ... questionable to say the least.
This was quite an interesting development as the game went on. Early, the Flyers seemed to benefit from a good number of calls, including an Auston Matthews goal called back due to the net coming off its moorings. As the game went on, however, more calls seemed to go the Leafs’ way in pivotal moments. Now in no way do I blame the referees for the Flyers loss, but there were some things that just need to be cleaned up overall.
Hybrid icing is a great concept when done correctly, and in this game it was not called correctly. Two plays occurred that were almost step-for-step, stride-for-stride identical, and one was called icing while the other wasn’t. Each time the Flyers’ and Maple Leafs’ players were neck-and-neck for the puck, and one was called differently than the other. When these kind of plays happen, it’s just extremely frustrating to watch as a fan.
It makes you almost say go back to the old way, or just implement full no touch icing. Not to mention moments after the second icing debacle, the ref lost sight of the puck and blew the play dead, as not even three seconds later the puck landed a few feet from him. Sloppy game for both teams, and the refs.
5. Mitch Marner is pretty good at this whole hockey thing, eh?
Marner may have only scored one point in this game via an assist, but he created numerous chances for the Leafs that didn’t result in points. He was the Leafs’ fourth highest skater in Corsi measure, and was flying around the ice all night long. He’s a player that is set for a massive pay day, and some NHL team would be smart to offer sheet the hell out of that man come free agency. * cough * CHUCK * cough *
Although he only had one assist, it was a dazzler. Coming straight in on Radko Gudas, Marner skated to the opposite side then found Zach Hyman wide open in front giving him his 61st assist of the season. The list of things I would do to get this guy in a Flyers jersey are endless.
6. Power play was a big yikes.
While the game recap page on NHL.com says the Flyers had two power plays, I’m not quite sure if I believe them. On their two so called “power plays” or “man advantages” they mustered a grand total of... wait for it folks this is good stuff right here... two shots. Two power plays, two shots, it’s like they drew it up am I right?
Those two power plays were probably some of the worst I have ever watched, and I watched the power plays earlier in the season. Toronto does this crazy thing on their penalty kill where they put super skilled hockey players such as Mitch Marner on it, and by George it is pretty freakin’ effective folks! Marner made his biggest impact on the penalty kill if we’re being entirely honest. He had a Corsi of 80 percent while on the kill, which is pretty stupid given the fact his team has less players on the ice in this situation. Oh and lest I forget, every single one of those shot attempts was a scoring chance, and two of them were classified as a high danger chance.
There was nothing inspiring whatsoever about this power play. They couldn’t enter the zone, they couldn’t set up if they even managed to get in the offensive zone, and even when they did, they didn’t do much with it. Hopefully, this game serves as a wake up call for what the penalty kill should look like moving forward. What I mean by this is, get Travis Konecny on the penalty kill. We all talk about how much of a pest he can be, why not put him on the PK? He’s got plenty of speed for it and it’s not like Mitch Marner is considered a great defensive player by any means. Why not try it? A PK consisting of him with Scott Laughton, and Sean Couturier with Oskar Lindblom could prove extremely effective for this team next season.
7. Auston Matthews, also pretty good at this thing we call hockey.
What else can be said about this kid? Since coming into the league, Matthews has been one of the most exciting players to watch and he did it again last night. Matthews scored two goals en route to his third straight 34 goal season, in just his third NHL season. The first, simply an incredible pass by William Nylander (who definitely still sucks) to a wide open Matthews in the high slot - which is a bold strategy Cotton and it’s definitely not going to work out for the Flyers. Leaving a player of Matthews’ caliber alone like that in such a great shooting spot is less than ideal, and he made no mistake.
The second, a big rebound given up by Elliott, and poor coverage yet again by the Flyers defense, leading to a virtually wide open net for Matthews to shoot in.
8. Third period was a slow, painful death.
As the Flyers entered the third period still leading 5-4, there was some hope that they would be able to hang on with the same organized and disciplined hockey that kept them in it in the first period. That hope lasted about as long as Phillies’ fans’ tempers when Bryce Harper was hit with a pitch yesterday. Toronto absolutely dominated the third period, winning the Corsi battle by a staggering 22-6. Martin Marincin, because of course it would be Martin Marincin, tied the game at the 2:55 mark of the period. We then had to wait until the 15 minute mark on the dot to see Matthews give them the lead and score again just 2:21 later.
Then, to make matters even more aggravating, JVR scored at the 18:46 mark making it a one goal game again. This anxiousness would last until the very last second with Jakub Voracek’s pass getting to JVR who was stopped by Andersen with just seconds remaining, and then the last shot from Shayne Gostisbehere that was denied by Andersen. They kept us believing until the very last second, in true Flyers fashion.
9. High danger chances were... actually pretty even,
Despite getting their lunch handed to them in scoring chances and overall shot attempts, the Flyers did almost break even with the Leafs in high danger chances. They did so with a strong second period showing that saw them actually do one better than the Leafs, winning the battle 5-4. They would, of course, lose the war with the third period collapse. The Flyers failed to create a single high danger shot attempt in the third, while Toronto had five. All in all, shot quality really wasn’t a negative for the Flyers in this game in terms of their own.
Out of their 38 total shot attempts, 16 of them were of the scoring chance variety, good for 42 percent overall which isn’t too bad given the circumstances. Of course the Leafs, being the absolute juggernaut that they are, had 38 of their 72 attempts come via a scoring chance, good for 52 percent. They’re simply the better team here, people.
10. Playoffs? We talkin’ about playoffs?
No, we’re not. If there was any hope the Flyers could still make a run at a playoff spot, these past two losses have all but crushed those hopes. Sure, they’re not mathematically eliminated (yet), but it would take an incredible run and a lot of luck to pull it off, and it’s just very tough to see it happening. But you know what? That’s okay. This team should have come nowhere near a playoff spot this year. They fired their GM, they fired their coach, they traded Wayne Simmonds at the deadline; this team shouldn’t even have a whiff of the postseason.
The fact they still just barely do is a testament to how these players have rallied over the past couple of months. And although I’m just as tired as the rest of you are with moral victories, this is one I’m willing to take.
All data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, hockey-reference, and NHL.com