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Bend don’t break: winning while not at their best has been the Flyers’ success

The hallmark of a great team.

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

The Flyers take on the Montreal Canadiens tonight in what should be an exciting and pivotal second game in their best of seven series. By now, we’ve had enough time to properly sit back and analyze the Flyers’ performance in the series opener, and the statistics back up what I and many others observed from the pure eye test. It was a very close game with swings in momentum as Canadiens tried to hustle and harass the Flyers into making mistakes, which to their credit, the Canadiens were able to do somewhat. This game could have gone very differently had it not been for a key slip on the part of Artturi Lehkonen, and of course, for some key saves from Carter Hart.

Regardless of that fluke play, the Flyers held strong to seal a victory after outplaying Montreal in the first period, and absorbing a lot of pressure in the second and third periods. The Canadiens played a fast, simple style that, in honesty, relied on the Flyers trying to pick them apart with their creativity, only to counter attack when a mistake was made. Montreal played the hockey version of what in football (soccer) they call “parking the bus”, where they simply sit back and wait for the key moments where they can try and rush up ice.

In the end, it didn’t prove a winning strategy, but it was fairly effective. Especially in the second period, where the peak of Montreal’s pressure came, their team Corsi-For sat at 71.43%. Therefore, it wasn’t all too shocking to see the following possession chart, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick:

Natural Stat Trick

In nearly every hockey game, possession swings and changes as momentum shifts. However, it’s more common for this to change at smaller intervals multiple times rather than the huge, singular shift we see happen around midway through the second period. It’s quite stark and evidently clear therein that the Flyers were out-chanced.

However, the Flyers still won. They won because of how they play hockey, and how they are able to be the worse team on the ice and still find ways to win. Sure, the Canadiens’ players are overall less skilled than the Flyers’ players, and this is partially why Montreal play in the way that they do. However, they still work very hard, and despite losing the possession battle midway through the second, the Flyers were able to match Montreal’s drive.

The system that they play under Alain Vigneault allows for them to utilize their ability, combined with their work-rate, and be in the best position (both literally and figuratively) to find ways to win despite being outplayed at times. It has made them resilient, a resilience that comes out in Joel Farabee’s go-ahead goal just moments after Montreal tied the score. It’s a resilience that allows them to stick to their system and counter-act mistakes, bending but not breaking when faced with pressure. It’s the sign of not just a good team, but a great team.

Of course, I would be wrong for not mentioning Carter Hart in all of this. He stopped 27 of 28 shots, and was an integral component to this victory. None of the systematic success that the Flyers have enjoyed would matter without Carter Hart being the stud that he is. In the end, this whole opinion piece could be simply titled “Carter Hart I love you”, but again, Hart is put into a position to succeed due to the defensive system in front of him being not just competent, but actively good. It’s not often you see Hart get assaulted with shots on a nightly basis, and while I’m confident Hart would be successful regardless, not having to see 40+ shots a night can only be a good thing.

This is what leaves me so excited about what this team can do. The Flyers have clearly demonstrated the ability to win when not at their best, to bend and not break. It’s a clear indicator of their pedigree, and should leave every fan and analyst thrilled.

Bring on Game 2.

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