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Analysing Rasmus Ristolainen’s Flyers Debut

It was....less than optimal.

Boston Bruins v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

Following a convincing victory in which the Flyers defeated a hapless and Hakstol’ed Seattle Kraken 6-1, the Flyers once again put half-a-dozen goals past their opponents in front of an energetic Wells Fargo Center crowd.

This time around, against a much hated rival in the Boston Bruins, key performances by Cam Atkinson, Keith Yandle, and Joel Farabee saw the Flyers defeat the Bruins 6-3, with a Martin Jones start in goal not bringing as much foreseeable doom as one may have anticipated.

While the Bruins controlled this game for its entirety from a possession and shooting perspective (including a lot of net-front chances), the Flyers were clinical and took advantage of the opportunities that came their way. They were also the beneficiaries of their own devised strategies, working hard to be first to pucks, and players have shown real positive chemistry in the early days of the 2021-22 season.

Natural Stat Trick

Additionally, and perhaps most on the forefront of Flyers fans’ minds heading into yesterday’s game, was the debut of 6’4”, 215lbs defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. The 26-year-old, as many know, was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Robert Hägg and a third....just kidding, it was Robert Hägg, a second, and a first round pick. This high price, and his cap hit of $5.4M, had many capfriendly users concerned, given the cap hit for a player who may only be here for a single season, or even worse, if they signed Ristolainen to a player-friendly deal after this season (given the existence of Cam York and Egor Zamula).

Then, there is Ristolainen’s existing body of work, which is suboptimal and betraying of his impact at best and outright bad at worst. Ristolainen has been a decent producer (in all situations) throughout his career, mainly thanks to his role on Buffalo’s power-play. However, whether due to his usage against his natural ability level, or his inability to impact the Sabres positively when on the ice, or even just the Sabres’ ineptitude to win games, Ristolainen has never been able to break even possession-wise. His career average Corsi-For at 5-on-5 sits at an abysmal 43.18% (yes, Corsi is not the best way to measure the effectiveness of defensemen, but for Ristolainen’s to be that bad paints a picture of his effectiveness regardless).

On the positive side, however, Flyers’ fans who had wanted to see a large defenseman play physically (to be fair, the entire team are playing more physically thus far) and clear opposing forwards from the crease were giddy upon seeing Ristolainen wearing the orange and black. In the past, it felt as if the Flyers were simply giving up that prime real estate without fighting back, and perhaps, Ristolainen would help to solve this problem.

Well, he has officially logged one game as a Flyer, so let’s see just how Big Rasmus did...

Boston Bruins v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Perhaps this is due to coming back from injury, but for a defenseman that is expected to play a fairly significant role in the team, Ristolainen did not log nearly as much ice time as one may expect. At all situations, Ristolainen logged 18:37 minutes, compared to the likes of Ryan Ellis, Ivan Provorov, and even Travis Sanheim who all logged over twenty minutes.

Additionally, Ristolainen did play physically as expected. He delivered a monster hit on Charlie Coyle that had the crowd at the Wells Fargo Center roaring.

However, his physicality also cost the Flyers, as he took an interference penalty trying to stop a Bruin by checking him into the ice while already down.

From an eye test perspective, he was not great, but not atrocious either. For a debut, it wasn’t standout in either direction. However, it was possible that some of the physicality he displayed masked how he truly performed when looking at the statistical profilings of the game report.

This turned out to be the case.

Ristolainen logged a 36.36 CF% at 5-on-5, finished second worst in expected goals against with 2.03 (only better than Travis Sanheim, who logged far more ice time than Ristolainen), and also finished second worst in High Danger CA (once again, only bettering Sanheim, who did not look remotely good defensively). When Justin Braun is heavily outperforming your advanced stat output, that is...concerning to say the least.

Yes, this is one game, and Ristolainen is just coming back from an injury. However, the early results for him are noteworthy, and not in the way Cam Atkinson’s early results are noteworthy.

Ristolainen certainly has his supporters, and for the Flyers’ sake, let’s hope that their optimism in his play turns into tangible results.