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What we learned from the Flyers’ series split with the Sabres

Some observations for your morning...

Buffalo Sabres v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

Well, things are still weird around here, folks. After a pretty nice sweep over the Penguins in their first series of the year, the Flyers met the Sabres, looking to pick up some steam. And what we got was a split in pretty dramatic fashion—the Flyers looked flat in the first game and dropped it 6-1, and then came back last night and shut out the Sabres 3-0. The win felt hard fought and pretty well deserved, but it did also come at a cost, as they lost both Philippe Myers and Morgan Frost in the process. All in all, it certainly wasn’t a perfect series, but there was a lot to be learned, so let’s dive right into that.

All stats via Natural Stat Trick.

How’d they look out there?

5-on-5: 45.92 CF%, 42.04 xGF%, 42.86 GF%.

If you recall our conversation after the Flyers’ first series against the Penguins, you may remember us noting that the Flyers’ process certainly had some holes in it, and while they were getting goals that time around, if they continued to get out-chanced like they were in those two games, we could expect the results to turn around and bite them, sooner rather than later. And, well, folks...

The Flyers’ 5-on-5 play in this series, by and large, was not an improvement over what we saw against Pittsburgh. The Flyers were still pretty handily outdone in both shot attempts and high danger chances, even in last night’s game which still looked like an improvement over the first. The scoring dried up in the first game because of errors and struggles to complete plays, but they certainly didn’t help themselves by bleeding so many quality chances for the Sabres to work with, and that didn’t completely change even in last night’s game. The defensive situation is a strange one, we’ll acknowledge that, with the defense corps missing pieces as well as them being without their best defensive forward in Sean Couturier, but something has to give here. We saw how this process can lead to them getting burned if they aren’t getting a bit of luck elsewhere, and it isn’t exactly a recipe for future success.

Power play: 6:00, 9 CF, 5 SF, 1 HDCF, 0 GF

The Flyers’ power play got off to a hot start, with two goals in their first game, but since then things have dried up a bit, and they weren’t nearly as productive over these last two games. They did get a couple of looks, but there wasn’t a whole lot generated in terms of really good opportunities (just one high danger chance between these two games). The Flyers were having a bit of trouble connecting, and even in last night’s stronger showing, they still looked a little listless. It isn’t a huge amount of time that they got to work with, but there still wasn’t a whole lot going on in that time.

They still seem to be looking for the right mix, and while the constantly changing injury situation isn’t helping things, it’s a mix that they’ll have to at least move closer to finding soon, especially if they aren’t able to completely shore up at 5-on-5 process, and even strength scoring remains something of a premium.

Penalty kill: 10:04, 17 CA, 12 SA, 2 HDCA, 2 GA

We got something of a mixed bag from the penalty kill in this series. On Monday, it likely won’t surprise you to hear, they were a bit of a mess. It wasn’t so much a big problem with their particular strategy and gameplan that the Sabres were just feasting on, scoring on two of their three attempts, but more that the defensemen simply could not help themselves from making mental errors and blowing coverages and leaving Sabres players wide open down low. So it goes.

The good news is that they rebounded well last night, killing all three of their penalties taken and limiting the number of breakdowns they made. They did—even across both games—by the numbers, limit the number of high danger chances they were allowing, making their goaltender’s life a little bit easier. So it certainly wasn’t perfect, but they do seem to be trending in the right direction.

Three standouts

1. Travis Konecny (again)

Konecny got off to a hot start to the season, and he certainly hasn’t cooled down after the Flyers’ first two games. He’s not producing at the same clip, but he did still pick up a pretty nifty goal last night to finally break things open for the Flyers, and, though not as easy to quantify, seemed to be one of the leaders in jump and intensity, turning things around from Monday’s showing. Still, there’s a whole lot to like going on here.

But we should also offer equal praise to his line from last night as a whole, A bit of shuffling saw Morgan Frost switched out for Nolan Patrick as the center for the line with Konecny and Lindblom last night, and it was by and large the line used as the Flyers’ first (by time on ice), and they looked really sharp. The underlying numbers were fine (44.79 CF% and 31 xGF%, both not great on their own, but good relative to the other lines), but what really stood out is the building chemistry between the trio, even as a new complete configuration (though you could mix and match, they’ve played together in pairs, but not all together at once). It’s a young line but there’s a whole lot of skill there, and a good mix of skillsets. It remains an open question whether the Flyers will choose to (or even be able to) carry that particular line into their series against the Bruins, but they certainly showed some promise, and deserve a longer look.

2. Morgan Frost

With Couturier set to miss a couple of weeks, another center vacancy opened up, meaning that Frost could finally get himself back into the lineup with the Flyers (the only silver lining to a really tough situation). It was going to be a big ask for Frost to be able to come in and more or less hit the ground running, even if he was being put in a third line role, not directly replacing Couturier, but overall it seemed a strong start to the season for Frost. He came out with some jump and we saw him attempting some really nice plays with line mates Konecny and Lindblom on Monday, and seemed to be reacclimatizing to the pace of play well. He even posted solid underlying numbers—one of the very few on the team-with and adjusted 53.48 CF% and 51.61 xGF% over these two games.

Now, it’s also fair to note that he only played 18:54 over those last two games, and his line led the Flyers in offensive zone starts, so there was a bit of sheltering happening there. That’s certainly understandable—it’s his first meaningful play since March and he’s still developing and getting adjusted to the NHL level. But, overall, Frost looked comfortable in his new role, and the flashes of playmaking that we saw already were really exciting.

The good news, in summation, is that Frost looked solid enough in his return to the Flyers’ lineup. The bad news is that he was injured in the second period last night and didn’t return to the game, so that return seems to have been short-lived. Frost took an injury in the second period of last night’s game and didn’t return. He’s scheduled to have an MRI today, so we’ll know more soon, but there’s a chance that he’s going to miss some time now as well. Back to the drawing board.

3. Brian Elliott

After Carter Hart got the start in both of the Flyers’ first two games against the Penguins, and with this back-to-back on deck, we knew that we were finally going to see Elliott at some point in this series. He came in in relief on Monday after the fourth goal given uo by the Flyers, and then got the start last night for his first bits of meaningful action this season, and overall, he looked solid. On Monday, coming in cold to a game that was already out of hand, he stopped 13 of the 15 shots he faced, and then stopped all 40 he faced last night. He certainly didn’t have an easy workload, and even if the Flyers weren’t making the same level of defensive breakdowns in front of him last night, he was certainly still tested, and he came up huge for them.

Now, maybe none of this should be a surprise—this is kind of what Elliott’s done his whole tenure in Philadelphia. He’s a solid backup who can often bail out the team when they need it. And he did exactly his job last night.

Two loose observations

1. Holes on defense are larger than they appear

If there’s one thing that we learned from Monday’s game is that the situation on defense is perhaps even more tenuous than we initially thought. Now, to be clear, none of the Flyers’ defenders had a particularly strong night. It was pretty much a total system failure, and it’s unfair to point fingers at one player in particular, and we don’t intend to. There are holes really up and down the pairs—Ivan Provorov is generally solid (even if he wasn’t on Monday) and so is Justin Braun, but he should not be penciled in night in and night out on the first pair, not at this point in his career. Robert Hagg is prone to blunders, and Eric Gustafsson, while strong on the power play, does not bring a ton in the way of defensive steadiness at 5-on-5. These are all things we knew already, and this means that the Flyers will tend to lean on Travis Sanheim and Myers, who have shown chemistry and skill in the past, for a bit of stability when needed, and when they’re having an off night, it all sort of starts to crumble and the issues seem even more glaring.

Now, the bad news is that the situation may be getting even more grim, if Myers is going to miss more or less significant time (he’s also set to have an MRI today). This likely means that we’d see Mark Friedman inserted into the lineup, and while he was very solid in the AHL, is still somewhat untested at this level. We aren’t really worried about his ability to come in and be able to stay afloat, at the very least, but he also likely isn’t the magic fix to all of the defense corps’s problems. There’s still some shoring up that needs to be done.

2. A note on response

Monday’s game was a tough one, there’s really no sugar coating it. The team looked flat, the intensity wasn’t really there, and they were struggling to complete simple, routine plays. They were going to need a serious bounce back in last night’s rematch, and how they came out for it, it felt like, would tell us a lot about the team. And the good news, perhaps, is that they did respond well, in the end. It can be a hard thing to quantify, response, but the team’s energy level seemed better, even playing two men down for the whole of the third period, and seemed to be crisper in many of their details, able to make some more plays, at the very least.

Now, last night wasn’t a great game for the Flyers. Honestly, I don’t know that I’d feel very confident saying it was even a good one. But it was enough. The process certainly still needs some work, and they’re going to have some obstacles ahead of them as they’re further depleted by injuries, but last night, at the very least, we saw them take a step in the right direction. And really, there isn’t a whole lot more we could have asked for.

The only damn thing I know

I know we were figuring this was going to be an especially bad and weird season with injury and illness absences. We knew this was going to be a thing that happens, it’s just a product of the times right now. But also... the Flyers... please stop getting hurt. It’s been four games. It’s too much too soon. I’m begging.