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Flyers 3, Canadiens 2: A win’s a win

Some observations for your morning...

Philadelphia Flyers v Montreal Canadiens - Game Six Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

They did it, folks! The Flyers survived their first round series and knocked the Montreal Canadiens off after six games. It wasn’t a pretty series, and the same was true of last night’s game, but the Flyers were able to eke out a win, hanging on by the skin of their teeth after blowing an early game two goal lead. It got a little dicey more than a few times, but it was, if only barely, enough.

Before we pivot and get to talking about the Flyers’ Round 2 series against the Islanders, let’s put a bow on this one and get to some notes from last night’s game.

All stats via Natural Stat Trick.

How’d they look out there?

5-on-5; 25 CF, 12 SF, 34.69 CF%, 35.05 xGF%

We’ll get right to the point on this one—by the numbers, this was not a good game for the Flyers. Really, it might just have been their worst of the series. There wasn’t a single line that we can say won their matchup, and the Flyers were pretty consistently getting caved in while they were on the ice at 5-on-5. We saw flashes of them getting some good looks and showing some jump, but more than anything, they were opportunistic with the chances they were getting, and struggled to consistently generate chances throughout the game.

Mans maybe we come away from this one and note that, while the performance wasn’t stellar, somehow it was still enough, and this would be true. But there’s a lot to learn from this one, and the Flyers are going to have to do some work to shore up fheir process, going forward.

Power play: 9 CF, 5 SF, 1 HDCF

Overall, it was an okay night for the Flyers’ power play. It wasn’t the same dynamic performance that we got in their last game, as they didn’t get on the board, though for what it’s worth, the Kevin Hayes goal only happened because of setup work that happened while they were still on the power play.

This is one, it seems, that we could call middling. They didn’t generate a huge number of chances, and we’d like to see them getting more high danger chances, particularly, but they did still sustain some zone time and get some good puck movement going, which remains a step up from what they were doing early in the series. It was a fine enough showing, and they seem to be trending in the right direction.

Penalty kill: 4 CA, 1 SA, 1 HDCA

We didn’t see quite as much of the penalty kill last night, but we can come out of this one saying, like the power play, that they had a good but not great showing. On the one hand, we like that the Flyers were able to really limit the number of chances the Canadiens could generate, holding them to just four shot attempts and one shot, keeping them pretty well contained.

That one shot, however, did turn into a goal, and that’s not something we feel great about. It was a tough one, as Nick Suzuki picked up a rebound to score, but the Flyers also sort of lost him in coverage, letting him get the inside on them to park in front of the net. So there’s our negative from the night, and hopefully that’s a play that they can learn from.

Three standouts

1. Carter Hart

After a tough showing in Game 5 that nearly saw him pulled, Hart was able to come in for this one looking much improved, and this was something, it would turn out, that the Flyers would pretty badly need. As we talked about already, the Canadiens were really firing on all cylinders last night, and with the Flyers having stretches where they really struggled to break the puck out of their own end, Hart had to come up big for them a handful of times.

All told, he stopped 31 of the 33 shots he faced, including seven of eight high danger chances, which was one of his heavier workloads form this series. It wasn’t a perfect showing, we did see a couple of shaky moments, particularly around playing the puck, but overall Hart was solid, and it was important to see him not only play as well as he did, but just respond well to his rougher Game 5 showing.

2. Shayne Gostisbehere

As far as the skaters go, certainly one of the Flyers’ best was Gostisbehere. Reinserted into the lineup due to Matt Niskanen’s absence, Gostisbehere really hit the ground running. We first saw him standing out, bringing some of that signature offensive game, as he helped to set up Kevin Hayes’s goal. He didn’t get an assist on the play, but it only happened because he made a really great keep at the blue line to keep possession and play moving while the Flyers still had a bit of power play time left to work with.

We liked the offensive flashes we saw, but even more notable was Gostisbehere’s play away from the puck—as we said, the Flyers spent quite a bit of time in their own end playing defense, and Gostisbehere had a few moments where he had to take on a more defensive role as well, and to pretty stellar results. In short, he played a really complete game, and was perhaps te Flyers’ most consistent skater throughout.

It’s hard to say what the Flyers will do for Game 1 of the second round, as Niskanen will be available again, but if nothing else, this showing for Gostisbehere really should have solidified a place for him in the lineup, going forward.

3. Travis Sanheim

Sticking with the defense for a bit longer, Sanheim also had a standout night in a few ways. We saw him showing some confidence in creating chances and jumping in as the second wave on the rush, and this paid off pretty immediately, as he beat Carey Price with a nice shot and picked up what would end up being the game winner.

We also saw the negative side of his game pretty immediately after that goal, as he got beat in the corner in the defensive zone, and that kicked off the sequence that led to Nick Suzuki’s second goals. Sanheim giveth, and Sanheim taketh away, as it were.

But joking aside, despite the couple of blunders, Sanheim did have a strong game, and it was nice to see him activating offensively. He’s a dangerous player when he’s feeling confident enough to jump in offensively like that, and if that holds, it’ll be a real asset to the Flyers in the next round.

Two loose observations

1. Forechecked [nearly] to death

In some ways, it really does feel like a miracle that the Flyers were able to pull off a win in this one, with how thoroughly they were outplayed for most of the game. As has been the case throughout the series, they really struggled with the aggressiveness of Montreal’s forecheck. They were losing races. They were losing puck battles. Montreal was getting the better of retrievals on dump-ins. And all of this made for Montreal having the heavy advantage in possession, and the Flyers having to work just that much harder to hold them off. Things could have easily gotten out of hand, but with a bit of luck, some good goaltending, and some strong defensive play in-zone when it was most needed, the Flyers were able to survive the Canadiens’ surge. But all of this really goes to show that the Flyers never found a way to completely solve the Canadiens, not so that they could outplay them consistently. Which brings us to our next point...

2. Gotta learn from this one

The Flyers are going to face the Islanders in Round 2, and as we know, that’s a team that plays a similar style to the Canadiens, but better. The Flyers played far from a perfect series, but a lot of their issues are fixable (zone entries, dump-in retrievals, re-emphasis on getting to the net, etc), if they’re willing to change the game plan and put in the work to play a smarter game. It may not be their preferred style, but they can find success playing this style.

And maybe there’s some solace to be found in the fact that the Flyers, despite not reaching anywhere near their true talent potential, were still able to win this one, and then how good would they look if they do really pull it together? And that’s true. There’s more that this team can give, and we know how dangerous they can look when they’re on. They just have to work a little smarter and get there.

The only damn thing I know

How are we feeling, gang? The Flyers just won their first playoff series since 2012 and we’ve got to be riding pretty high. I know I am. We’ve got the Islanders up next and there’s a lot to think about heading into that series, but for now, we’re not going to worry about that. Let’s just revel in this win for a bit longer, yeah?