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Flyers 4, Panthers 1: Momentum, hello

Some observations for your morning...

NHL: Florida Panthers at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Well how about that? The Flyers, after putting up a pretty decisive win over the Capitals on Saturday, were able to keep things rolling and come back last night and beat the Panthers on home ice. The win over the Caps was nice, but with the Panthers right in the mix with them for one of the wildcard spots right now, in a way this one felt just a little more important. They took care of business in the way that they needed to and it’s helping to keep them above water in the standings, which they sorely need.

All stats via Natural Stat Trick.

How’d they look out there?

5-on-5: 37 CF, 21 SF, 49.13 CF%. 44.05 xGF%

On the whole, the numbers don’t really look great for the Flyers in this one, as the Panthers came away from this one with a slight edge in shot attempts, and a more significant edge in Expected Goals. But the somewhat interesting piece to come out of this was the fact that, while the Flyers’ top two lines got pretty well caved in and struggled in their matchups, the bottom six was dominant. Morgan Frost and Connor Bunnaman’s lines put up 67.82 and 86.11 CF% and 54.62 and 80.32 xGF%, respectively, and while it’s obviously worth noting that these were more limited minutes against less difficult competition, it’s pretty stark reversal from what we’ve seen through much of the season, with the Flyers struggling to find a bottom six (and fourth line, specifically) configuration that isn’t getting buried consistently. They got some contributions from their bottom six last night, and really, that made all the difference.

Power play: 18 CF, 9 SF, 4 HDCF

Another day, another game with not a whole lot going on for the power play. They didn’t pick up a goal in this one, despite nine minutes of 5-on-4 time, and bit of 5-on-3 as well, but the good news, perhaps, is that they weren’t without their chances. They did get a bit more sustained offensive zone time last night, and that allowed them to rack up a few more shot attempts than we’re used to seeing from them. They’re still struggling to get a ton going in the way of high danger chances—which is what the double netfront configuration they’ve been running seems designed to do—but they did still get a few good looks. They’re far from a finished product, but there seems a bit of promise there, and at least they’re making some steps in the right direction.

Penalty kill: 10 CA, 5 SA, 2 HDCA

The Flyers’ penalty kill, while they didn’t give up a goal or play a wholly poor game, struggled a bit in this one. We still appreciate how they were able to limit the chances that made it on net, as well as to keep the Panthers to just two high danger chances in their nine and a half minutes of power play time, but they weren’t quite as sharp as we’ve seen them be recently. They really struggled with clears and breakouts, in a way uncharacteristically, and as such spent a good bit more time in the defensive zone than they’re likely used to. As we said, in the end this doesn’t matter too much, because they were able to prevent any goals during their time on the ice, and hopefully they’re able to buckle down and get back to old form tonight.

Three standouts

1. Carter Hart

He’s back, gang! After missing just under a month with injury, Hart made his return to the ice last night, and, all in all, he did pretty well! The first ten minutes or so of the first period seemed a little rough, as he was working on getting his timing back and just didn’t seem to be reading plays perfectly, but he really locked it down after that. All told, he stopped 30 of the 31 shots he faced, including all five high danger shots. The Panthers did still have some good looks in this one, and Hart did well to shut them down to keep the Flyers in it long enough to pull away with their lead. It wasn’t a perfect effort, but we’re not exactly complaining. It got the job done, and for his first game back after an extended absence, it’s not too bad at all.

And guys, it’s just really good to have him back.

2. Travis Sanheim

Well, you guys, Travis Sanheim sure does seem to love scoring on Sergei Bobrovsky.

Overall, it was a pretty solid night for Sanheim. Indeed, you can tell things are going well and he’s feeling confident when he takes the initiative to do things like we just saw, jumping in on the rush and generating chances that way. We don’t have any big complaints about his defensive game, that was sound, but offensive game really stood out last night. He put up four shots on goal, and came in second on the team in individual shot attempts with seven, behind just his partner Philippe Myers. And, considering what we know about his offensive game being tied so much to his confidence, it’s nice to see him standing out, there.

And, while we’re here, we should also note that this pairing has really been finding their footing recently, and they’ve been fun to watch. As we see them getting more comfortable and used to playing with each other—obviously they have some familiarity there from when they played together in Lehigh Valley, but everything’s a little different at the NHL level—we’re starting to see why the coaching staff has given them the leash they needed to just work through their growing pains, because the payoff could eventually be pretty tremendous. They’re working it out, and it’s been a treat to see.

3. Connor Bunnaman

We’re going a little outside the box here and praising not just the goal scorers, so we’re going to toss a little love Bunnaman’s way. Really, the whole fourth line had themselves a pretty outstanding night, averaging a 86.11 CF% and 80.32 xGF% in a hair under seven minutes together. And Michael Raffl and Nic Aube-Kubel both deserve a ton of credit for their efforts on the night, but were highlighting Bunnaman because he’s the new kid around here and we’re keeping an extra close eye on his development.

And with that considered, it’s been really nice to see him taking the steps forward that he has recently. He’s seeming to be getting more comfortable, and he’s making a lot of smart plays away from the puck. And, while he’s not one that we expect to put up huge numbers offensively, he has the ability to chip in, and we’re seeing him doing a lot of the right things—getting to the front of the net for chances, playing his game—where he’s looking like he’s close to having some chances go his way. It’s unclear how much longer he’ll be with the team, with Joel Farabee close to returning, but it’s been nice to see him settling in and really starting to look like and NHL player.

Two loose observations

1. On weathering the storm

In perhaps the least shocking turn of events, the Flyers played a pretty poor first period. Some power play time helped to make the final count across all situations look not as bad, but at 5-on-5, they only managed six shots and one high danger chance. And it wasn’t really a product with them struggling in their matchups or seeming to need a bit of time to adjust to defending what Florida was doing, they just weren’t really using their brains and making smart decisions with the puck. It burned them once on the goal against, and very nearly burned them a couple more times before that period’s end. In a way, it felt like a win in and of itself that they made it to the first intermission with the score tied.

And there’s not a whole lot more to break down, here, other than to repeat that once the Flyers got it together, they were able to gain some momentum and get the results they wanted. It just wasn’t there for them in the first period, somewhat inexplicably. And we can’t help but think what this team might look like, if they can ever learn to put up a true 60 minute effort.

2. On luck

As should be pretty apparent right now, the Flyers did play a good game last night, and they probably still did deserve to win that one, and we’re definitely not trying to take that away from them. But, that said, it is worth noting that they also got supremely lucky in this one, as well.

A couple of things were working in their favor—for one, the Panthers, for whatever reason got away from using the stretch pass to create space and breakaways up the middle, which was very successful in burning the Flyers and making them look silly in their last couple of meetings. But the Flyers avoided it and I’m glad. Also, the Panthers had a lot of good chances in this one, and missed the net on a lot of them. And it wasn’t even really because of anything the Flyers were doing defensively to force this, the Panthers just couldn’t seem to hit the net in this one.

And I know there’s something to be said about making your own luck and how when you’re playing well, the bounces will go your way, etc etc, but this really was a case of the Flyers getting lucky even independent of their own play. And we’re certainly not going to complain.

The only damn thing I know

Is anyone else’s week about to be ruined because there was a game on Monday? I feel like I’ve gotten so used to having games on Tuesdays and Thursdays that when we get a Monday game it throws everything all out of whack and I lose all sense of what day it is. Hopefully I’m not the only one.