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Flyers 2, Canadiens 1: It isn’t pretty, but it works

Some observations for your morning...

Montreal Canadiens v Philadelphia Flyers - Game One Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Whew! We made it through Game 1 and it sure was an adventure, that’s for sure. The Flyers came out with the early jump and picked up the early lead from a Jakub Voracek power play goal, and looked to be pulling momentum in their favor. That didn’t hold, and the second period saw a huge surge by the Canadiens that the Flyers just had to weather. They gave up a power play goal to Shea Weber, but the good news is that Joel Farbee got the lead right back for the Flyers, and all they had to do was regroup for the third period and hold on to that lead. It took just about all that had, but they did it, and the Flyers made it out of this one with an ugly win, but a win all the same, and a lead in the series.

All stats via Natural Stat Trick.

How’d they look out there?

5-on-5: 45 CF, 26 SF, 53.76 CF%, 42.02 xGF%

This certainly was a weird one in a lot of ways. The Flyers pretty well dominated the chances in the first and third periods, holding the Canadiens to just 16 shot attempts and five shots in the first and 10 shot attempts and four shots in the third, but they got positively buried in the second period (30 shot attempts and 12 shots, so Carter Hart really had to come up big for them there to keep the game from getting away from them.

The one other piece that stands out is how the Flyers were bleeding high danger chances pretty consistently throughout this game (13 in total at 5-on-5, and 2.24 Expected Goals), and this is something that they’re really going to need to shore up going forward. Hart is obviously very good and capable of bailing them out when needed, but they shouldn’t make his job harder and bank on those saves to come.

Overall, this wasn’t a flat out poor effort, but still one that was far from perfect. Something to build on, if we’re being diplomatic.

Power play: 6 CF, 2 SF, 1 HDCF

We got something of a mixed bag from the power play last night. There was a bit of good, in that they did score a goal on their first attempt, which is more than they were able to do across the whole of the round robin, so we’ll take that. But beyond the first attempt, the Flyers didn’t really have much going at all through their next two chances. Indeed, the following power play saw them struggling to even gain entry into the offensive zone, spending more time regrouping in the neutral zone than actually working to create anything resembling offense. Power plays we know can be streaky, but there’s something here that still isn’t working, and one has to wonder when the Flyers are going to have to look to make some changes to help get them going again.

Penalty kill: 3 CA, 3 SA, 2 HDCA

It’s a really small sample that we’re working with here, just 54 seconds, but this was a pretty brutal showing for the Flyers’ penalty kill. The Canadiens were able to get right to work, firing off chances, and the Flyers didn’t really bring much in the way of pressure on the puck carrier, and instead got pretty quickly collapsed into the slot, leaving Weber open for the one timer. It was, in a lot of ways, a vintage Flyers penalty kill, and it felt particularly tough to watch, after seeing how sharp they looked throughout the round robin. Hopefully this can just be a negative blip for them, and they can regroup and bounce back in Game 2.

Three standouts

1. Carter Hart

There had been a lot of talk heading into last night’s game about just how Hart would be able to handle his first game of this series—understandably, as this is a big stage for a player who’s only just turned 22 today—but the good news is that Hart didn’t seem fazed by the gravity of the situation, and instead just turned up and had a really strong game.

All told, he stopped 27 of the 28 shots he faced, including 12 of the 13 high danger shots, and really came up big for the Flyers particularly in that second period when the skaters were scrambling and often in desperate need of bailing out. He didn’t have to make any huge flashy saves, but that’s just as well. Hart seemed poised and well put together, and set a good tone for himself for the rest of the series.

2. Joel Farabee

And speaking of kids who impressed in their proper playoff debuts, Joel Farabee also had himself a really solid game. He picked up the game winner in what was on its own just a really nice goal, but also an outstanding response to the Canadiens picking up a power play goal to tie the game just seconds before.

But outside of that contribution on the scoresheet, it was overall a really strong overall game. His line with Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux did well in general in their matchups, and Farabee came out of this one with an adjusted 55.09 CF% and 50.16 xGF%, both of which were good for third among all skaters.

He also took a couple of big hits in this one, and while we don’t want to get too deep in the weeds with notes on toughness, it was still nice to see him responding well to the uptick in physicality, and not letting it frustrate him, that he was getting knocked around a bit. He just kept his head down and played his game, and it lead to a solid, complete game. No complaints here.

3. Matt Niskanen

There was a lot about much of the defense corps’ collective performance that left much to be desired in this game, and we’re going to get into that more in a bit here, but we do want to take a moment to address something of an elephant in the room—Niskanen is not having a stellar return to play. He had a particularly dicey showing against the Lightning, and while yes, almost all of the Flyers’ defensemen looked a little off last night, some of that diceyness seems to have bled into Game 1 for Niskanen. And this just feels particularly jarring to see from Niskanen, him looking like he’s a step behind and just making poor decisions, considering just how solid and reliable he was in the regular season. This does lead us to believe that he’ll be able to get back on track soon enough, but especially with the workload that’s asked of him, the Flyers are going to need that to be sooner rather than later.

Two loose observations

1. Paying for your mistakes

Despite the fact the Flyers found the early momentum in this game and held the lead for much of it, the Canadiens weren’t going to go away quietly, and there were stretches (like, well, the entirety of the second period) where they were giving the Flyers a whole lot of trouble. And a good bit of this came just from the Canadiens being opportunistic, creating a bit of extra pressure and forcing turnovers and then burying the Flyers in chances when they couldn’t clear the puck out of their own end. We saw them score one goal because of this kind of work, and in a way it feels kind of miraculous that it was only the one goal scored. The Flyers had to weather the storm in this one, and it should serve as a learning experience for the rest of the series—if they don’t want to get burned, they’re going to have to tighten up defensively and make better choices with their puck management, just about across the board.

2. Defense pairs in the blender

As we alluded to earlier, this really was not a particularly strong showing for defensemen not named Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers, and as the Flyers were trying to stabilize and get back on track, that meant that things got a little weird for the first part of the third period, and the defense pairs got shuffled around for some different looks. Nothing really stuck, and seemingly just as quickly as the experiment began, we were back to the original pairs again and hoping for the best.

And this leaves us with an open question—do you make changes to the pairs heading into Game 2? Or do you just write this off as some weirdness from a first proper playoff game and give it another game and hope it gets better? We’ll have to wait until tomorrow to see what the coaching staff decides, but either way, something has to give.

The only damn thing I know

I think I want to complain about Farabee getting called for roughing for *checks notes* trying to escape a headlock. I think I want to complain about that. But I don’t want the league to fine me $25,000. So I’ll leave it there.

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