Just days after we learned that Justin Braun would be out for an extended period of time, it came out that Shayne Gostisbehere had an MRI yesterday and would miss the team’s game against the Washington Capitals. With Phil Myers and Robert Hagg already slated to play, the team decided to call up Mark Friedman to make his season (and meaningful NHL hockey) debut.
Shayne Gostisbehere out tonight for Flyers. Had MRI for knee injury today. That’s the reason for the Mark Friedman call-up— Adam Kimelman (@NHLAdamK) January 8, 2020
Friedman made his NHL debut last season, but it came in the Flyers’ regular season finale, which was a 4-3 defeat to the Carolina Hurricanes where he played 12:33. Thanks to how crowded the blue line has been over recent years due to better young players and veterans with immovable contracts, the 24-year-old hasn’t had his chance to prove he’s capable of playing at the highest level. Getting called up as an emergency replacement the day of a game may not be the ideal way to prepare for your first real NHL action, but he came in and didn’t cost the team.
He wasn’t expected to see a heavy workload or to be used on special teams, so it should come as no surprise that all of Friedman’s 13 shifts totaling 11:49 of ice time came at even strength. Nearly all his time came with Hagg, as the two combined for a 31.25 Corsi-for percentage (five shot attempts for, 11 shot attempts against) and a 38.71 expected goals-for percentage in 10:51 of ice time together at 5-on-5. The numbers weren’t great, but considering the pair featured somebody literally just called up from the AHL and a d-man who has struggled to routinely stay in the lineup it’s a win that they didn’t allow a goal against.
It’s also worth noting that even though the team didn’t generate much offense with him on the ice Friedman played a safe and simple game last night to help the Flyers grab a crucial victory. The first scoring chance Philly had last night came due to Friedman pinching during a cycle and eventually moving the puck across the slot to Scott Laughton (first play in highlight package below), but that was the only time the 2014 draft pick rolled the dice.
More times than not when it looked as though the Caps were about to head the other way with the puck Friedman’s first instinct was to shift back into defensive coverage. For instance on the aforementioned play Friedman managed to race back to the neutral zone to break up a Caps’ pass. Two examples came against Brendan Leipsic, as on different plays in the first and second period the puck worked its way back to the right point (Friedman was playing on the right side last night) where Friedman could have jumped up and taken his chances on a pair of 50/50 battles. Instead, the product of Bowling Green State University decided to drop back to allow Leipsic’s first chance to result in a broken 1-on-2 rush a few seconds later and poked it away from Leipsic in the neutral zone on the second bid.
Friedman also recognized Carl Hagelin attempting to leave the Capitals’ zone early on a shift nearly two minutes into the third period to get behind the defense for a chance. Instead, Friedman stayed in front of Hagelin the whole time and eventually broke up the pass intended for Hagelin in the neutral zone. Although Friedman and his teammates didn’t grab the puck after his breakup, the blue liner got his stick on another Caps’ pass seconds later to force Lars Eller to stop and skate back towards the red line to dump a puck deep rather than fly into the zone at full speed for an odd-man rush.
His hockey sense when it comes to reading and reacting transition play wasn’t limited to defense last night, as Friedman showed how his mobility can help the club move the puck up ice for offense as well. On four of his shifts last night Friedman immediately darted up ice once it was clear the Flyers had possession and when it was a good time (no Caps behind him and Hagg wasn’t up ice as well) to help the team transition towards Washington’s zone. After his first attempt to help the transition game on his third shift of the night didn’t result in a pass directed towards him, Friedman jumped up again on his fourth shift receiving a pass from Michael Raffl while streaking in the neutral zone and was able to reach the red line to Get Pucks Deep (this play, Raffl hitting Friedman streaking into the neutral zone to Get Pucks Deep, happened again in the third). The second time he jumped up should have resulted in a scoring chance, as James van Riemsdyk threw a cross-ice pass to Friedman in the neutral zone before the d-man held on to the puck for a brief second to open up a seam for Nicolas Aube-Kubel, who entered the Caps’ zone with speed in the middle of the ice. Unfortunately, NAK had his pass to Kevin Hayes in the offensive zone altered and the chance was killed.
Although he did a lot of little things right last night, Friedman wasn’t flawless. He lost a puck battle with Nic Dowd in the neutral zone early in the second period, which led to him being out of position with Hagg needing to shift from the left side of the ice to the right in d-zone coverage and Laughton covering the slot on a scoring chance against off the rush. Later in the period Mikhail Vorobyev passed the puck from behind Carter Hart’s net to Friedman, who was standing at the right side of the net. With Dowd pressuring him as soon as he got the puck, Friedman had his attempt at wrapping the puck out of the zone intercepted by Leipsic, who quickly set up Garnet Hathaway for a scoring chance seconds later (highlights below open with this play).
Later in the shift, Tom Wilson flung a cross-ice pass to Nicklas Backstrom streaking in the Flyers’ zone. Friedman had a delayed reaction to the pass which gave Backstrom enough time to line up a slap shot from the top of the left circle that Hart got a pad on.
None of these chances resulted in a goal and two of them could have easily been avoided by teammates’ decisions (Hagg didn’t need to slide across on the first chance since Laughton backchecked into the Flyers’ zone at full speed and Vorobyev had a path to clear the puck around the right boards rather than put his teammate in a precarious position), but they were Capitals’ chances Friedman couldn’t help to stop.
Overall it was a pretty strong performance for Friedman in his first meaningful NHL game. His mobility, decision making, and ability to keep his game simple against a team you can’t afford to make mistakes against helped the Orange and Black secure an important win. He may not have the highest ceiling and you’d like to see better puck possession numbers, but for last night at least he did a nice job stepping up when needed.