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What we learned from the Flyers’ season opening series against the Penguins

Some observations for your morning...

Pittsburgh Penguins v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Flyers are back, folks! There are new looks happening all over the place this season, but one is this new baseball-style series feature, where we’ll see the Flyers play the same team twice over the course of a couple of game. The Flyers just wrapped up their first mini-series against the Penguins, and they picked up wins in both of those games. We certainly like those results, but also have to wonder at what cost?! as they also lost Sean Couturier early in last night’s game. He’s due to have an MRI on his shoulder today, so we’ll have some answers soon enough on his status, and can panic appropriately when those come down. But until then, let’s have a look back on these last two games and talk about how the Flyers fared in their season debut.

All stats via Natural Stat Trick.

How’d they look out there

5-on-5: 42.32 CF%, 43.49 xGF%, 70 GF%

Diving right in with these underlying numbers at 5-on-5, we see that they were, well, they were not very good. The Flyers were pretty thoroughly out-chanced in both of those first two games, struggling particularly last night, as they only just hit 20 shots across the whole of the evening in all situations. But it was a tough go for the Flyers at evens, as they really struggled in their matchups pretty much across the board to generate both more raw chances and high danger chances than they were bleeding.

The good news is that the goal-based results were really working in their favor over these two games, and that helped the end results not look so ugly. But, of course, we know that we should expect those to regress downward eventually if the underlying process doesn’t improve. When that happens either way is an open question, but we’ll be keeping an eye on it.

Power play: 11:57, 14 CF, 8 SF, 4 HDCF, 3 GF

If we were to try to find one term to capture the power play’s performance in this series, it would probably be “a mixed bag.” The power play looked solid in the first game, picking up two goals on their three attempts, and looked to be quickly shaking off whatever had ailed them so terribly last season.

But in the post-game interviews, Kevin Hayes made a good point that, it’s true, you don’t have a lot of time to practice your power play, but your opponent also doesn’t have a lot of time to practice their penalty kill. So maybe you find a little magic in that first game like the Flyers did, but it feels pretty certain that, with a chance to game plan a bit more, and with a few more reps under the penalty killers’ belts, they’ll be more prepared the next time around. And that’s just what happened here—the Penguins penalty killers looked more prepared for what the Flyers were going to throw at them in the second game. The Flyers still got a couple of looks, but the Penguins’ adjustments combines with the Flyers’ own out of sync stretches pretty well killed any momentum they began in the first game. So the power play remains a work in progress.

Penalty kill: 13:18, 16 CA, 9 SA, 3 HDCA, 2 GA

Overall, it was a fine enough showing for the penalty kill over these first two games. The Flyers still gave up two goals, but both seemed to be more of a result of smaller breakdowns and personal errors than glaring issues in the system. The Flyers had a good bit of penalty kill time, and were able to keep what can be a dangerous Penguins power play quite enough, being particularly successful in limiting the number of high danger chances they gave up, making Carter Hart’s job just a little easier. We still feel like there may be room for improvement, but for the first two games, it’s hard to be too fussed about what the penalty kill provided.

The other piece to this, of course, if that in a perfect world, you won’t find yourself shorthanded five times in one game. There was at least one weak call in last night’s game, but also... let’s work on that discipline, folks.

Three standouts

1. Travis Konecny

It would be a bit of an understatement to say this was a big week for Konecny. He had himself a solid first game, and appeared to pretty quickly get himself settled into the new season and make himself really effective. He picked up one point on Wednesday (originally awarded with a goal, but it was later changed to Oskar Lindblom’s and Konecny given an assist), and then a team-high four points (two goals and two assists) as he really came on on Friday while a lot of the team was struggling to create much offense. The underlying numbers are there too (though the average is boosted quite a bit by Wednesday’s stellar numbers, and Wednesday’s weren’t as strong, so it goes) as he’s posting an adjusted 50 CF% and 52.51 xGF%, putting him in the top three among all Flyers skaters in both of those metrics.

All in all, despite this being effectively still a preseason game as far as the teams were concerned, as they worked to shake off some of the rust, Konecny truly came in immediately in regular season form. He brought some nice speed, some flashes of nifty play making, the scoring bursts, and of course his usual brand of agitation, getting in the mix and running his mouth at opponents at every opportunity. Truly, it was a delight to see.

2. Joel Farabee

Farabee also got off to a hot start to the season, picking up four points (a goal and three assists) in Wednesday’s game, a total which, even though he didn’t add to it last night, still has him sitting comfortably at second in scoring on the team, behind Konecny. Getting a chance to play on a line with Claude Giroux and Kevin Hayes, the line showed some promise—they looked dangerous in the scrimmage, and then were flat-out dominant in Wednesday’s game, but did struggle (as did all of the lines, to be fair) last night. Farabee, on the whole, didn’t seem to have too much rust to shake off, as he quickly got to playing his game, being hard on the forecheck, creating some chances when space opened up, and bringing that bit of scoring touch, to boot. There was a lot to like.

It wasn’t a perfect showing for Farabee—the underlying numbers weren’t stellar, as he put up an adjusted 43.59 CF% and 47.77 xGF% across the two games, not great totals on their own, but at least middling, relative to his teammates—we know that there’s another gear that he can hit, but after seeing him lose a bit of steam down the stretch last year, it was nice to see him coming out with some jump this year and work to get himself back on track, back to looking effective.

3. Carter Hart

Hart got the start in both of these first two games, and overall, it was a really strong opening couple of games for him (except, well, for that one pretty brutal misplay leading to a goal against in Wednesday’s game). Hart had a reasonable workload—67 shots against between the two games, with 34 on Wednesday and 33 last night—and did a lot to keep the Flyers in each of these games when they looked to be struggling a bit. This was a pretty critical piece last night particularly last night, as through the end of the first period and throughout the second the skaters really struggled to get much of anything going, and the Penguins were allowed to virtually run the table. The one-goal lead the Flyers were nursing was a tenuous one, but Hart was the reason they were able to hold onto it for long enough to pick up an insurance marker in the third period.

And this really shouldn’t be a surprise—we know how good Hart is and how he’s able to bail the skaters when they need it. We know what we’re going to get out of Hart, but that doesn’t mean we appreciate it any less.

Two loose observations

1. Depth can help you big (but it can’t save you)

Probably one of the biggest talking points around the team heading into this season has been the forward depth. And with good reason, as it really is not a hot take to say that the Flyers’ forward group is one of the deepest in the league. And we saw just how huge that can be for them—in Wednesday’s game, we saw scoring up and down the lineup, and 11 of the 12 forwards picked up a point in that game. The Penguins were able to hang around to a certain degree, but ended up being pretty thoroughly overrun by the talent the Flyers have up and down the lineup. They’re still ironing out some kinks, but if nothing else, it was a look at how this group is likely going to cause a lot of matchup issues down the line.

But, as we saw as last night’s game went on, as much as your depth can really help you out, that’s an important piece, but really no amount of depth can make up for losing a player like Sean Couturier. His defensive impacts were certainly missed in this one, specifically, and we saw how badly the Flyers could get caved in without him. The Flyers have enough talent where, if it is going to be significant time that Couturier misses, they can still put together a solid lineup. But it isn’t going to be anywhere near close to what it could be.

2. Weirdness abound

It’s fair to say that, despite the outcomes, there was a fair bit of weirdness and messiness in these two games. The results, ultimately, were good, but as we talked about above, there was still a good bit that the process left to be desired. But is this something to get terribly worked up about? Not just yet. It’s important to remind ourselves that, even though these are meaningful games, the Flyers still didn’t have a pre-season, and there are pieces that they can only be worked out in game situations, and they didn’t have to luxury of having much runway to do that. So the Flyers are more or less adjusting on the fly (sorry), and it’s not all going to be pretty right out of the gate. If any of these problems linger in a big way beyond the next week or so, then we can be concerned, but it’s fair to give them a little bit of leeway to try and shore them up before then.

The only damn thing I know

I know we’ve only gotten through one of them, but I'm kind of really liking this two game mini-series against one team setup. That’s something that I enjoy about the AHL schedules, that a lot of times you’ll see the same team twice in one weekend, and so far I’m enjoying it here just as much.

Maybe part of it is the lizard brain wanting blood, and relishing getting to say “if this first game got wild can you IMAGINE how wild it’s going to get next tomorrow/next time???” But momentum and continuity and all that are fun too. I guess this will be neat and cool until it isn’t, right?