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Flyers 3, Penguins 0: You just hate to see it

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Some observations for your morning...

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

They did it! The Pittsburgh Penguins, who always seem to have the Flyers’ number, no matter how beat up they are, came in to town and the Flyers shut them out at home. There’s nothing more to put in the introduction than that. They kept their nemesis off the board and it was pretty sweet.

All stats via Natural Stat Trick.

How’d they look out there?

5-on-5: 46 CF, 24 SF, 54.37 CF%, 52.65 xGF%

On the whole, it was a strong night for the Flyers. It wasn’t as though they were still getting buried by shots, but their goaltender was bailing them out and they still managed to get a win anyway, but rather that their underlying process was sound, and that made this win feel pretty deserved. The Flyers out-shot and out-chanced the Penguins at just about every turn and looked like the better team on the night. We really should give them credit for their defensive game which seemed to make all the difference in this one. The Flyers were able to pretty well take away most of the Penguins’ time and space, and really limited how much they were able to generate offensively, holding them to just 16 shots and six high danger chances at 5-on-5. It was team defense that did it, not just the defensemen, and we have to commend just about everybody for their efforts. They got the job done.

Power play: 8 CF, 3 SF, 1 HDCF

We’ve been seeing a lot of positive things out of the power play recently, but last night, they just didn’t really seem to have it. In just under five minutes of time on the ice at 5-on-4, the Flyers only registered three shots and one high danger chance, and really didn’t look all that threatening. So what do we do with that? We know that power plays tend to be streaky, particularly the Flyers’, but the hot streak they were on was just barely a streak, not long enough for us to feel sort of okay about them cooling off again after. We’ll survive if it turns out this was just a one off, and they come back after the break and get back on track, but falling back into that old slump already would be decidedly bad news.

Penalty kill: 4 CA. 3 SA. 2 HDCA

And, as perhaps could have been expected out of a night where the power play looked flat, the penalty kill delivered and looked much sharper out there. Because apparently we can’t have both.

Anyway, as we said, the Flyers’ penalty kill came up big for them last night. The Penguins were trying their hardest to find a way to come back in this one, and three separate power play opportunities seemed, on paper, to be a good chance for them to do just that. instead, the Flyers had them pretty well taken care of, limiting them to just three shots and two high danger chances in this six minutes. They were also able to generate on good shorthanded scoring chance of their own, as well as having a nice stretch at the end of the first period which saw Kevin Hayes just toying with the Pittsburgh power play, collecting the puck from them and weaving through four skaters, playing keep away from them, and doing it successfully. And, if you were Claude Giroux, that had you a little nervous (as he admitted after the game), but for the rest of us, it was a whole lot of fun.

Three standouts

1. Jake Voracek

His line as a whole had themselves a solid night, but Voracek was also quite noticeable on the individual level, really showing some extra jump and generating a good bit extra offensively. First and foremost, he picked up the first goal of the game (and, of course, the ultimate game winner) off this really great feed from Couturier to get the lead towards the beginning of the second period.

The underlying numbers in this one were also strong—Voracek had a team-high five shots across all situations, including four scoring chances and two high danger chances. He also came out of this one with an adjusted 50.98 CF% and 70.36 xGF% at 5-on-5, which is all just to say that he stood out very clearly on the offensive side, but this didn’t come at the expense of the defensive side of his game, as the Flyers dominated possession when he was on the ice.

And, mind you, he was able to do all of this while matched up against Sidney Crosby’s line. Not too shabby at all.

2. Philippe Myers

Myers was held off the scoresheet again last night, but despite that, we still came away from this one feeling pretty positively about his game. Myers, still on that second pair with Travis Sanheim, picked up four shots and an adjusted 65.53 CF% and 61.17 xGF%. He and Sanheim were also largely tasked with shutting down Malkin’s line, and they were successful in that. It was a pretty complete game from the both of them, and it was nice to see.

And the further good news is, above all, that we’re starting to see his game stabilize after a bit of a rough start. We may well still see him slide back into some less great habits—he is still a rookie after all—but it’s clear that he’s working out the finer points of his game and figuring out how to limit some of the bigger mistakes he was making. It’s a work in progress, but it’s still nice to see that progress happening.

3. German Rubtsov

He’s back, gang! With Michael Raffl missing last night’s game with an upper body injury, Rubtsov was called up to fill in for him. It was his second chance after something of a lackluster initial three game showing, so we were paying extra attention to how he would fare this time. So how’d he do?

The short answer is that he was okay. Playing in a fourth line role and getting no special teams time in a game with a good number of penalties called isn’t a great recipe for earning a lot of ice time, so we saw Rubtsov decidedly limited last night. That said, he had one lapse defensively where his read was a little late, but he also very nearly had two really good chances in close early in the first period. So it was bit of a mixed bag, but it feels like something positive to build on. He’s likely heading back to Lehigh Valley soon, so it’s unclear when that next chance to build will come, but it’s something.

Two loose observations

1. The big guns showed up

We’ve done a lot of talk on the season about how the Flyers’ depth has generally been showing up for them, and this has made them even more dangerous of a squad. But with each member of the top two forward lines collecting a point on the evening, they showed that it really was their show, and they were taking over. The Giroux line came out of this one with a 71.33 CF% and 89.21 xGF% and the Couturier line with a 48.27 CF% and 71.14 xGF%. In short, they just about wholly dominated their matchups, and didn’t give the Penguins much space to work with when they were on the ice.

And really, in a tough game against a divisional rival who you’re chasing in the standings, this is exactly what you want to have happen. You want to see your top players showing up and taking over the game. A win’s a win, and if this one had ended 1-0 on a goal from Tyler Pitlick something, we still would have taken it. But this was just a bit more satisfying.

2. Fun but frustrating?

Sort of an interesting trend, if you will, that we saw in this game was that there seemed to be a lot of space for both teams to work with, down the middle of the ice. They would be able to pick up a good bit of speed coming through the neutral zone and it would look like something dangerous was about to happen, and then the defense would sweep in and break up the rush. It made for, as the section title suggests, a fun on-ice product, even if it was a little frustrating. And we can be a little both sides-y about this one—we commend the Flyers’ defense for being able to break down the rushes that the Penguins were trying for up the middle, while also wishing that the forwards were able to find a way to do a bit more with the space they had.

Is that entirely fair? No, but we’re doing feelings here and those aren’t always fair. Objectively, it was a strong defensive effort on both sides. So it goes.

The only damn thing I know

That’s all folks! It’s officially bye week/All-Star break time! Enjoy your break, gang, do something fun, whatever that looks like for you. It’s been a pretty long first half of the season—we’ve earned this little reprieve here.