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Film Study: Breaking down the Flyers’ second-period defensive breakdowns in Game 1

The Flyers had some ugly shifts during the second period of Game 1.

Montreal Canadiens v Philadelphia Flyers - Game One Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

The Philadelphia Flyers came away with a Game 1 victory on Wednesday night, but it wasn’t easy. The 2-1 final score reflected just how close the game was. In fact, it felt like the Flyers were the worse team for a large portion of the game.

The Flyers started out strong. However, the Canadiens started to take over in the latter stages of the first period and ramped up the pressure in the second period. The second period was the Flyers’ worst period since March. They were chasing the puck and just hoping to clear the zone at times.

Here are the Flyers’ shot metrics for the second period at even strength, per Natural Stat Trick.

Shot attempts: 13-32 (28.89%)
Unblocked shot attempts: 8-25 (24.24%)
Shots on goal: 7-14 (33.33%)
Scoring chances: 6-16 (27.27%)
High-danger chances: 3-7 (30%)
Expected goals: 0.61-1.07 (36.42%)

But the Flyers came out ahead with the lone even-strength goal.

The period started with 4-on-4 hockey after some shenanigans to end the first period. More open ice would typically favor the better, more-skilled team, but that was not the case for the Flyers. The top pair had a shift to forget in the opening minute.

First, Niskanen got passed rather easily in the neutral zone, allowing the Canadiens to gain the offensive zone. Ivan Provorov stopped the rush and pushed the puck up the wall, but he and Niskanen were unable to clear. That gave the Canadiens some extra time in the offensive zone and forced Carter Hart to make a point-blank rebound save.

At that point, Niskanen was able to retrieve the puck without much pressure. He should have been able to clear. However, his clearing attempt was weak up the wall and the Canadiens kept it in the zone. They did force a dump in as Montreal went to change.

With the puck just thrown in behind the net and the top pair on the ice, it should’ve been the Flyers’ turn to go up ice. But it wasn’t. Provorov lost the puck and although Couturier kicked the puck out to center, the Canadiens got it back in deep to keep the pressure on and create a few more chances.

The Flyers eventually cleared the zone, but the Canadiens gained control. It was a horrid first minute to the second period that would be a sign of things to come. There were then a few decent shifts, mostly with Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers on the ice, but then it got bad again.

Justin Braun was unable to corral a chip in with Tomas Tatar getting the puck to Brendan Gallagher. Gallagher attempted a wraparound with Shayne Gostisbehere out of position, but Hart came up with the stop.

Gostisbehere’s defensive deficiencies were exploited a bit there, but he was able to clear the puck out of danger after Hart knocked it to the ice off his back. Montreal retained possession, however, and cycled for a bit with a shot missing the net. Nate Thompson then found the puck at the top of the circle and tried to head up ice.

The key word is tried.

Instead of heading up ice, Thompson passed across the ice to Gostisbehere. Gostisbehere may not have been expecting the pass, but he should have been able to at least get it over the blue line. Instead, he was knocked down the Canadiens took over again. Luckily, they whiffed on a one-time chance in front.

Whether it be Thompson or Gostisbehere, that puck has to get out of the zone. It’s simple mistakes like that that can add up and end up costing you. It was then James van Riemsdyk’s turn to try to clear the zone. He also got the puck stolen from him and Braun got walked around, extending the Canadiens’ zone time even further.

Hart was eventually able to cover up and give the Flyers a chance to reset with a faceoff.

That stop came nearly 30 seconds after Thompson took control of the puck in the circle. That’s 30 seconds of unnecessary pressure; that can’t happen in the playoffs. Hart was then given a breather for a bit with the top two lines and pairings having a few good shifts in a row, including Claude Giroux hitting the post.

The third pair and line then had another scare with Derek Grant unable to handle Voracek’s chip off Gostisbehere’s pass, but Braun got there in time to poke it out to center

But they weren’t out of the woods just yet.

Travis Konecny tried to send the puck in deep, but his backhand try was intercepted and the Canadiens went the other way. They went on a rush and got a shot on goal.

Gostisbehere retrieved the puck behind the net, but it wasn’t over. He made a nice move to evade the forechecker, but his breakout pass was knocked down and kept in the zone. He did make a good play to block a cross-ice pass in the slot, but that should have never happened anyway.

The Canadiens kept the puck for a bit more before Gostisbehere dove to send the puck out to center ice.

Gostisbehere showed how dynamic he can be in the final round-robin game to earn him a spot in the lineup, but he was on the other end of the spectrum in the second period of Game 1. He’s at his best when he’s playing aggressive, and that was an aggressive pass, but sometimes – especially in the period of the long change and given the start to the period – the simple play is better.

It wasn’t all on the defensemen, though.

The second line got caught in deep with Scott Laughton getting knocked down, resulting in a 3-on-2 for Montreal. Myers misread the rush, but quickly got back into position to intercept the pass.

Later in the shift, Laughton made an aggressive pass to Konecny in the middle of the ice that resulted in a turnover. In hindsight he probably should have just got the puck in deep and let the forecheck go to work.

The Canadiens got into the zone, but Sanheim put a quick end to that and batted the puck down.

The Flyers had numbers into the zone, but Konecny tried to do a bit too much, resulting in this rush the other way.

Carter Hart is good, but I don’t know if Carter Hart is 2-on-0 good.

Provorov made another poor pass midway through the period.

He had other options available to him up the wall an across the ice, but it went straight to a Canadien. The Canadiens didn’t really get any high-quality shots off the rush or while in the zone, but it was another 30 seconds of zone time that the Flyers could’ve used in Montreal’s zone. Braun then couldn’t handle the puck in the neutral zone, allowing Montreal to walk right in.

Farabee was also unable to do anything with the puck in the neutral zone, leading to 20 seconds of zone time for Montreal.

We’re not even halfway through the period, folks!

But things would get better. This piece is about the Flyers’ struggles in the second period, but I can’t not highlight this play. First, Konecny makes a good play in the neutral zone to get the puck and enter the zone. He gets the puck to Kevin Hayes, who makes a brilliant play to pass back to Scott Laughton.

Price’s save was incredible, but the playmaking ability by Hayes to look at where Laughton is while awaiting a pass from Konecny is impressive as well.

The Flyers got back to playing their game more in the second half of the period, but there were still some lapses. Niskanen got caught in the neutral zone on a bad read with no one covering for him. The Canadiens came down on a 2-on-1 and Hart was forced to make a tough save while Niskanen was racing back.

The Flyers had survived the Canadiens’ pressure through most of the second period, but then they struck. Braun and Gostisbehere didn’t play this perfectly behind the net, but you can’t fault them too much for Aube-Kubel taking a penalty.

The Canadiens scored on the ensuing power play after Niskanen and Laughton got sucked into trying to find the puck in the slot.

The Flyers bounced right back.

Farabee went flying in on the forecheck, forcing a pass up the wall. Sanheim stayed at the blue line, got the puck, and fired it on net. Farabee camped out in front after forechecking, tipped the puck, and slammed it home.

It was good to see the Flyers bounce back, especially on a play like that.

The Canadiens appeared to have a 2-on-1 on a counterattack, but Myers had other ideas. Look at that speed.

In the final minute, Niskanen got caught on a pass at the side of the net. Joel Armia had two cracks at it, but Hart had the answer.

One of the reasons that the Flyers were able to survive the second period and come away with a 2-1 lead is the talent gap between the two teams. The Canadiens were able to create pressure, but they didn’t get enough high-quality scoring chances. When they did, Hart shut them down.

People may say that the Flyers got lucky in the second period because they’re playing a bad team, but there was no luck involved in setting up this matchup. The Flyers swept the round-robin tournament to earn the right for an easier matchup in the first round. The second period was one to forget for the Flyers, but there were definitely some learning opportunities. A lot of the mistakes were simple mistakes and things that should be able to be cleaned up. The Flyers looked much better in the third period after getting back to their style of play.

“I think our first and third period we were better as far as playing north-south and going quickly to what we do best,” Vigneault said after the game. “I thought in the second period, Montreal played a real strong period.”

“I think we just didn’t play our game in the second period,” Provorov said, pointing out the turnovers at the blue line and in the defensive zone. “When we got out there for the third, we finally started playing our game.”

Given the Flyers’ defensive depth and how many mistakes were made, I wouldn’t be shocked if Vigneault switches things up for Game 2. The pairs got shuffled for a few shifts in the third period, and he could also insert Robert Hagg back into the lineup for Gostisbehere. I don’t know how long of a leash Gostisbehere will have. This was one subpar game, but he had one great game before that. They may turn to Hagg for a simpler game in the defensive zone, however.

On the other hand, I don’t know how much they’ll change the lineup after a win, even though it may not have felt like a win at times. Vigneault may keep most of the combinations together after the victory and focus more on tactical changes rather than personnel.

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