It’s good to be back!
Yesterday’s game was the first for the league in months, and while it may not have mattered as far as playoff seeding goes, it mattered a heck of a lot to the league, the players, and the fans. There were a lot of people doubting that we’d even get this far, myself included, but the job that the NHL has done so far regarding COVID-19 has been admirable. By the end of phase three only two players had tested positive, and zero since July 18th. The guidelines they put in place have clearly worked, and been properly enforced to this point. We can only hope for continued smooth sailing ahead.
And with that, let’s move on to the observations.
Rust? What rust?
No, not Bryan Rust. The figurative rust that is to be expected after not playing hockey since the beginning of March did not seem that prevalent. No, the game wasn’t up to par to say, a regular game in the middle of the season. But it also didn’t feel as disorganized as preseason contests. For such a long layoff, the Flyers played really well, especially through the first forty minutes. And as far as the third goes, I’d venture a guess that the shift had more to do with score effects, and the Penguins simply waking up, than something the Flyers were doing poorly.
The only other thing I will say is that, while watching the Toronto/Montreal game, it did seem like the pace of that game was a bit quicker than the game that we that watched the Flyers play. A little bit closer to the vibe of a playoff game. It might not mean anything, but it’s worth making a minor note here.
Hello, the penalty kill
One thing that certainly seemed to pick up right where it left off was the Flyers’ penalty kill. In just about ten and a half minutes, the Flyers allowed just two high-danger scoring chances, and less than one expected goal. Again, they allowed that little in over ten minutes! Kevin Hayes showed off his ability to kill time once again, and Nate Thompson got in on it a bit himself. Matt Niskanen and Ivan Provorov also had strong showings on the kill, especially Niskanen, and his ability to both block passing lanes and box players out.
Only complaint? The fact that they had to kill over ten minutes of penalties in the first place. Discipline, folks.
Friedman proving solid
A bit of a surprise was just how good Mark Friedman was in this game. And that’s not a knock on him, it’s a surprise because of the fact that he’s played in just seven regulation NHL games to date. The one moment that stood out to me the most from his game was when he had to make a quick decision while two Penguins’ forwards were closing in on him just beyond the Flyers’ blue line. He was able to pivot and keep enough space in between himself and the attackers to chip the puck up the boards to a teammate to break the puck out of the zone.
He also jumped into offensive rushes a few times, with one of these instances leading to this touch pass that gave Hayes a look in-close.
Yeah, no goal, but this passing play had to be captured. TK and Friedman pic.twitter.com/PlhbiKKaN5— Brad Keffer (@brad_keffer) July 28, 2020
Hayes, by the way, was awesome in this game. More on him later.
But back to Friedman, with all that being said, let’s be blunt: he’s eighth on the defensive depth chart, and is unlikely to outplay someone ahead of him enough that, in such a short amount of time, he’d displace them and get into games once the playoffs begin. Possible? Sure, but it’s an uphill battle. If nothing else, this should make the team even more confident in him should they look his way if an injury occurs.
A good start for Ghost
Now, Shayne Gostisbehere on the other hand, does have a chance to play his way into the game-one lineup. And this was a step in the right direction for him.
He might not have been as flashy as we’re used to seeing him be, but he wasn’t too safe by any means, and didn’t make any real obvious mistakes. With the microscope on him, a more risk-averse Ghost might be the result. If he can show that his biggest strengths are still present in his game — zone entry denials, exits, offense in general — and keeps the turnovers to a minimum, he’s easily one of the team’s six-most effective defenders.
Sanheim, Myers struggle
Continuing with our defenseman talk, our sights shift to a pair that the Flyers will need to be a lot better moving forward. One of the more important developments from this season has to be the success of team’s middle pair, consisting of Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers. In yesterday afternoon’s game, successful would not be a word to describe the pair.
Very early on they looked sharp, with Sanheim and Myers activating in the offensive zone, and the team getting extended zone time in just their second shift. However, the Evgeni Malkin line got the better of them in this one, and they did not fare much better against a Sidney Crosby line that featured, well, a not-so-up-to-speed Crosby.
They were on the ice for both Penguin goals, and while they weren’t directly responsible for the first, the second one saw Sanheim basically box Myers out (and hold his stick???) as the Pens got two cracks at rebounds. They wound up playing in their own zone way too much, and it’s no stretch to say that they’ve had better days.
With how great they were playing together prior to the league — the world — shutting down, there’s little reason to worry about them. Now, if this continues through the round robin, then that’s a different story. And even then it’d still be such a small sample size. But for the time being, you have to assume they’re still locked in as the middle pair. We’ve seen the damage they can do together.
Hayes line dominant
Kevin Hayes, Travis Konecny, and Scott Laughton made up the Flyers’ most effective line in the game. Hayes, especially, was everywhere in this game, with five of the team’s nine high-danger scoring chances. Konecny made his presence felt early with a hit, and made a number of slick passes throughout. The trio was largely up against the Malkin line, and were able to handle them, even getting the lone goal of the line duel.
After the two wingers teamed up on the forecheck to cause Hayes’ goal in the first period, they then also connected for the game-winner in overtime.
Konecny hits Laughton with the stretch pass, and he beats Jarry to end the game! pic.twitter.com/sRXlAky5Rq— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) July 28, 2020
We’ve seen this line in action during the regular season, and they look just as strong as they did then. The chemistry is evident with these three, but if this line sticks together and continues to click, it may be bad news for a certain up-and-comer.
Not much buzzing
Look, I don’t want this either, but we knew going into this that Joel Farabee was not going to be a roster lock. And while there is still time to for him to show he belongs once the round robin begins, this game did not help his case.
While a game-low amount of ice was a contributing factor, the Flyers were well out-shot and out-chanced in Farabee’s minimal minutes yesterday afternoon, to the tune of an Expected-Goals For percentage of 10. His line with Nate Thompson and Michael Raffl just did not have a good game. However, in their defense, the line’s struggles are a pretty direct result of their just under three minutes up against the Malkin line. Away from Malkin, and against the Penguins’ bottom-sixers, the trio just about broke even by every shot metric. So while they maybe weren’t as bad as the numbers make it seem, this is a line that definitely cannot handle star power — not that anyone would expect that to be the case.
Assuming Farabee gets a shot on the second line during the round robin tournament, he needs to show up in a big way to beat Laughton out for the spot. Few wouldn’t agree that the Flyers are much better off down the middle with Couturier-Hayes-Laughton-Grant, than they are with a center core that sees Grant bumped up to the third line, and Thompson centering the fourth line. But at the end of the day it comes down to Farabee needing to show, and being given the chance to show, that he’s ready for a top-six role in the playoffs. If they go with Laughton on the wing, there’s a high probability that Farabee is the one on the outside looking in.
One last note, on artificial crowd noise
I had been hoping that the fake crowd noise was going to be used sparingly, and in a way that didn’t feel out of place. Game one? A success. It wasn’t obnoxious, and I for one wholeheartedly welcome hearing more hockey sounds come through the broadcast. The league gets an A+ on the presentation from me.
All data referenced via Natural Stat Trick