Let’s dig into the Flyers latest win — a 5-3 road win over the Rangers in New York on Sunday afternoon — and their sixth-straight overall, with ten things I liked and didn’t like.
1. The new (old) power play keeps clicking
After spending long periods of time this season experimenting with all kinds of different stuff on the man-advantage to varying degrees of failure, the Flyers recently made a change to a more familiar power play setup and have reaped the benefits.
Took a whole five seconds for the Flyers' power play to score. pic.twitter.com/suMACJEbp0— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) March 1, 2020
The Flyers connected on three of their five power plays on Sunday afternoon with Claude Giroux in his usual office to the right of the netminder and Jakub Voracek at the high circle on the opposite side. That’s power play goals in four of their last five games (6 for 14), as the Flyers’ special teams creep towards multiple top-10 units in the NHL.
Not only are the results showing up, the players sure seem to take to the return to a formidable and proven setup with the extra man. Just ask Jake about it.
Flyers' power play is 12 for 35 with the new/old setup. They were 11 for 61 (including 6 for 35) before that.— Ryan Gilbert (@RGilbertSOP) March 1, 2020
"We got moved back to our old spots ... Now we just have a lot of options ... Every time we make a pass it's really dangerous for opposing teams." pic.twitter.com/aIQlLL6dTi
2. Carter Hart, we’re not worthy
The boxscore often doesn’t provide enough context into a players performance in a given game, and there aren’t many better examples to show that than Hart’s case in this one.
In the end it’ll show Hart stopped 23 of 26 shots for a meager .885 save percentage, but our friends at NaturalStatTrick pegged the Rangers for a staggering 17 high danger chances at 5-on-5. While the Rangers matched the Flyers with three power play tallies of their own, Hart was flat-out dominant at even strength and that was the difference in what ended up being a much closer game as time went on.
That’s a heck a lot of red there in the high danger area for the Rangers, but no goals due to the stellar work of Hart — a big reason the Flyers skated away with two more points.
3. Matt Niskanen sets the tone
The reasons that Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher went out and traded for veterans like Niskanen and Justin Braun were twofold. One, they were upgrades over what they had and two, they’d bring stable veteran leadership with Stanley Cup playoff experience.
As we’ve seen with the experience and leadership of a veteran NHL coach in Alain Vigneault pay dividends for the Flyers throughout the season, the leadership of Niskanen was evident right from the jump in this one.
The 33-year-old did a little big of everything on Sunday afternoon, notching the first goal of the game, providing three blocks, a game-high seven hits, and soaking up 5:11 of shorthanded ice time.
Niskanen strikes on the power play! pic.twitter.com/OgvBwy04to— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) March 1, 2020
Niskanen led by example right from puck drop, and everyone else took notice.
4. How not to defend the Rangers’ elite
While everything was (mostly) good for the Flyers on Sunday, there were a few glaring issues and they pretty much started and ended with giving the Rangers’ stars — Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad — too much time and space.
Already difficult players to defend, the Flyers seemed to sag back on these two as the game worn on and they made them pay although in a too little, too late scenario. This was evident as the Rangers power play found the back of the net three time, and at even strength where the Flyers leaned on Hart to bail them out from further Panarin/Zibanejad damage.
Zibanejad scores on the PP to get the Rangers on the board. Nice pass by Panarin pic.twitter.com/lhmPRhMCjj— Fitz (@FitzGSN_) March 1, 2020
With Chris Kreider out indefinitely after breaking his foot in the game on Friday, the Flyers needed to have all eyes on these two and simply gave them too much space to operate with at times.
And boy did they get burned as Zibanejad scored twice and added an assist while Panarin dished out a pair of helpers himself.
5. Derek Grant is a f****** Flyer
Of the two trade deadline acquisitions, there’s no doubt that the Grant addition is much closer to moving the needle than the Nate Thompson one. The journeyman was enjoying a breakout season in Anaheim (shoutout to that 17.3% shooting rate), but provides a capable penalty killer and bottom six forward on a playoff team.
After a rough first 20 minutes in a Flyers uniform after a red-eye flight from California, Grant has settled in nicely in the last eight periods. He showed off his opportunistic penalty killing with his first goal as a Flyer with a neat finish on the future Hall-of-Famer Henrik Lundqvist on Sunday and was rewarded postgame by his new mates.
Derek Grant's first goal as a Flyer! pic.twitter.com/kzxHZUDt5S— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) March 1, 2020
First goal. First assist. First Helmet. @DGrant57 | #PHIvsNYR pic.twitter.com/yxnGdRiYNd— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) March 1, 2020
6. The Couturier flu game
There was late word that Sean Couturier would possibly miss this one due to illness, and the Flyers went as far as recalling Joel Farabee to boot, but their 1C was able to shake it off and tough it out.
The machine was able to tough it out to the tune of a team-high 4:07 of shorthanded ice time, his 21st goal of the season all the while entertaining the Rangers’ top line most of the afternoon.
Though Vigneault did a nice job managing his ice time as the game progressed, Couturier still played a prominent role and didn’t miss a beat while likely battling through some sort of illness (probably the poops).
7. Nate Thompson taking penalties
While Grant has made himself quite useful since arriving at the deadline, Thompson has been far less impressive and didn’t help matters Sunday by picking up two minors on Sunday.
Both were careless plays that could have been avoided and of course led directly to two Rangers goals that helped them climb back into the game at two different points.
With Farabee being an emergency recall only, and the Flyers seemingly set on getting him consistent playing time in Lehigh Valley, Thompson’s role appears safe for the time being (he did chip in 3:50 of shorthanded time) though a rash of lapses like on Sunday could see him fighting to stay in the lineup every night.
8. Brendan Lemieux
Another standout performance from the Rangers’ faux tough guy, as he picked up more penalty minutes (12) than ice time (10:36). This time it was Nicolas Aube-Kubel who Lemieux set his sights on, but the Flyers young pest wasn’t biting and earned his club a power play.
The refs had seen enough of Lemieux, too, giving him a 10-minute misconduct and sending him to the second intermission early.
You just hate to see it.
9. Streaking and peaking
The latest home-and-home sweep (hello, the Panthers and Blue Jackets) gives the Flyers six-straight wins and a three-point gap between themselves and the Metro-Leading Capitals.
Speaking of Capitals, the Flyers can make it seven-straight down in Washington on Wednesday, starting a week that includes a short-turn against Carolina the following night and a date with the lowly Sabres on Saturday to close out the week.
Is it crazy to think that the Flyers could find themselves at the top of the Metro by the end of the week? Sure doesn’t seem so given the run they’re currently on, and the Caps and Hurricanes are reeling a bit themselves to boot.
Time to strike while the iron’s hot.
10. AV’s martini’s
Don’t let Monday ruin your Sunday. #PHIvsNYR | #NowOrNever pic.twitter.com/3zTLYd7suZ— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) March 1, 2020
Heck of a week, coach, keep it up and there might be another Jack Adams in your future.
*Stick tap to the incomparable NaturalStatTrick.com and hockeyrefernce.com for statistics used above.