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Canadiens 3, Flyers 1: Allegedly, there was hockey played last night

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Some observations for your morning...

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that was certainly something. I guess you could call it a hockey game. The first half or so of the game makes that designation a little questionable, but indeed, that was a hockey game that the Flyers played last night. It’s a tough loss after that exciting overtime win over Pittsburgh on Sunday, and stings just a little bit more as it means, while they’re not yet mathematically eliminated, the Flyers’ playoff push may well be effectively stalled. Sigh.

All stats via Money Puck, Natural Stat Trick, and NHL.com

How’d they look out there?

5-on-5: 27 shots, 43.55 adjusted CF%, 33.05 xGF%

So, how’d they look at 5-on-5? Not great, gang! As we said in the intro, this was something of a strange game in that the Flyers didn’t look very good for most of it, but didn’t really look awful either. It was also strange in that the Flyers’ offense seemed to come in flurries at 5-on-5. They’d have stretches where they were scrambling around and struggling to do much of anything out there, and then they’d get a bit of zone time and come close to tying things up on the shots front, and then the cycle would repeat. But eventually, Montreal solidified their edge, even as the Flyers we settling in and looking more effective than they did in the opening period, the Canadiens’ defense did well to keep them to the outside and keep the bulk of their shots from getting through. Credit to the Habs for this solid defensive work, but the Flyers could have done more to create more chances, and more dangerous chances, to boot. But they just didn’t really have it.

Power play: 4 shots, 6 CF, 2 HDCF

It didn’t start off as the greatest of looks for the Flyers, as they struggled to get set up at the start of their first (and only) attempt on the power play, and then subsequently gave up a shorthanded rush, but when they were able to regroup and get themselves set up in the offensive zone, things started to turn for them. They were able to generate six shot attempts, and get four of them on net. They got a nice bit of puck movement going, and were able to create something of a scramble around the net which, unsurprisingly, got them some of their best looks of not only the attempt, but of the night. it also got them a goal.

Would you look at that. Getting some traffic in front of a very good goaltender creates some chaos and opens up better scoring chances. Funny how that works out.

Penalty kill: 0 SA, 0 CA, 0 SF

Nothing to report here. The refs were definitely letting them play last night, and this resulted in the Flyers not being called for a single penalty. They probably should have been, at some point, but we guess we’ll take it. Not having to kill any penalties is good. Good talk.

Three stars of the night

1. Carter Hart

It was Starter Hart time again, folks, and while it wasn’t the absolute best game we’ve ever seen from him, Hart still had himself a good night. All told, he stopped 32 of the 34 shots he faced (including seven high danger chances) for a .941 save percentage. We’ve talked some already (and will continue to do so) about how the team in front’s efforts left something to be desired, but, all in all, Hart was pretty sound, and worked to do all he could to keep his team in the best position to come back from that early deficit.

Does it sound a little strange awarding first star of the night to the goalie who gave up two in a 3-1 loss? Probably a little. But we can’t really fully begrudge him those goals—the first came with a breakdown in front that saw Andrew MacDonald dropping to try to block the shot and then having Brendan Gallagher just shoot it straight through his legs, and the second came when Hart was screened by three guys in front of him. He admits that he could have worked harder to track the pass, to fight through the traffic, but it would have been a hard stop to make. He had his work cut out for him, and he did well, all things considered.

2. Sean Couturier

Maybe we picked a bad game to roll out a new format that requires choosing stars of the night, considering that no one way really stellar last night. So we’re grading on a bit of a curve.

That said, Couturier had himself a pretty solid game. He picked up that goal on the power play, as we noted above, and that was certainly pretty nice. He also put up an adjusted 48.55 CF%, not a great figure on its own, but still good for a 10.58 CF% Relative. He wasn’t immune to the missteps of the early part of the game, but he was still out there working to generate offense, and trying to remain sound defensively (some nice backchecks, hello). He showed a bit of life, serving as someone we could point to and say “hey, he’s out there actively doing things, or trying to,” and that deserves a nod, standing out in a mess of pretty uninspiring performances.

3. Shayne Gostisbehere

In the same vein of “hey, he’s out there actively doing things,” Gostisbehere also had one of those games.

As Micah has so astutely noted in the caption to this chart, the Flyers certainly kept themselves to the outside in last night’s game, and Gostisbehere did contribute to that. Granted, he is a legitimate shooting threat from the perimeter, so we can more or less expect that. One of his shots from the outside came with a bit of a screen in front, and did turn it into one of their better chances of the night. He was also one of the few players who was able to break lower in the zone for a higher danger chance. In a game where the Flyers weren’t doing themselves too many favors in terms of working to create quality chances, Gostisbehere was able to generate a couple of genuinely good looks.

And then, there was also the bit about him trying to wreck Phillip Danault in the last seconds of regulation. Some of the players talked after the game about them needing a bit more emotion, and that was... well that was indeed some emotion.

Two loose observations

1. Turnover City

If you happened to just check in with the score after the second period, and found yourself wondering how exactly we had gotten there, in that two goal deficit, it would be an easy answer for you: turnovers.

If we were looking for one word to describe the early goings of last night’s game, it would be “sloppy.” The Canadiens were aggressive in their puck pursuits, yes, but the Flyers were struggling on their own to hold onto the puck, to make clean passes, to break out of their own end. They found themselves caught in the defensive zone for extended stretches, giving the Habs time and space to work with, and it’s little wonder why that led to them getting burned.

And, in the interest of fairness, we should note that the Canadiens also struggled through the first period to hold onto the puck for themselves, so it was kind of a big mess, all around, but the Flyers weren’t able to recover quite so easily, when the second period hit.

2. Time and space

We talked about this some in our notes on the Flyers’ performance at 5-on-5, but it bears repeating that they didn’t have a whole lot of space to work with, out there. Montreal, while not having a ton of foot speed, as a whole, were playing fast, were playing aggressive, were winning more races to loose pucks and eliminating opportunities, and the Flyers just didn’t have an answer for that (which feels a bit curious, for a team that does have a fair bit of foot speed, up and down the lineup). They found themselves close to smothered, at times, pressured and forced to either turn over the puck or make some kind of awkward panic play that didn’t stand a real chance of turning into anything particularly dangerous. And we try not to get too self-centered after a game like this—it is possible that the other team just did all the right things and there wasn’t a whole lot that your team could do—but we do feel comfortable saying that the Flyers, on paper, do have the tools to hang with a team playing like the Canadiens did last night, they just, for whatever reason, weren’t prepared to break them out. There was more that they could have done to keep Montreal from completely setting the tone of that game.

The only damn thing I know

We’re pointing this out, knowing full well that we’re risking becoming That Guy who’s obsessed with former Flyers coming back to Philly, no matter how short of a time they spent here, or how small a role. That said, it’s a little bit funny that the Canadiens have kind of become the Flyers: north of the border edition, right? Maybe it’s even better because they didn’t all come directly from here (with Jordan Weal coming to Montreal by way of Arizona). Maybe it’s because it all happened in the last couple of months. It’s just become a weird landing spot. Marc Bergevin is on a Pokemon-esque mission to capture all Former Flyers. Totally what’s happening here.