It’s a two for one special, folks! The Flyers were on the road this weekend for back to back games against the Hurricanes and the Stars, certainly not an easy trip, but they ended up with a split, dealing Carolina their first loss at home of the season on Friday, and then dropping last night’s game to the struggling Stars. The highs were high and the lows were low, that’s for sure, and we’re here to touch on some takeaways. Let’s get right into it, shall we?
All stats via Natural Stat Trick.
How’s the offense going?
It’s been an ongoing struggle, we’re certainly aware by now, for the Flyers to create much in the way of offense and get their scoring game going again, and that did extend into this weekend’s matchups as well. While it was enough and they did manage to eke out a win on Friday, they did it while only scoring two goals against the Hurricanes. Saturday was another two (though we could quibble that it really should have been three, as a very quick whistle erased what should have been a goal on Saturday for Zack MacEwan, as he chipping in a puck that got behind Anton Khudobin. So it goes). It’s better than getting shut out, to be sure, but the feeling is that they’re still underperforming their true talent level.
But the trouble in scoring isn't wholly for lack of chances. The Flyers still managed 44 shot attempts and 23 shots on goal at 5-on-5 against the Hurricanes, and 49 shot attempts and 24 against the Stars. But the big issue also isn’t a new one. They’re struggling to get to the net for more dangerous chances, so we’re not seeing them best leverage their talent and really test opposing goalies. It’s something the players are certainly aware of, they alluded to it after last night’s game, but doing is another thing entirely.
The power play stays stagnant
To the surprise of probably no one, the Flyers are still trying to get themselves back on track on the power play, and they’re struggling in a big way. They picked up one goal on the weekend on nine attempts, and it goes without saying that this was just not a stellar conversion rate. And the process remains a work in progress—the Flyers had 5:43 of 5-on-4 time against the Hurricanes and were only able to register five shot attempts, three shots on goal, and zero high danger chances. Last night was a step forward, as they put up 13 shot attempts, nine shots and goal, and three high danger chances in 6:21 of 5-on-4 time, but they still didn’t have the cohesiveness and the jump that they need to be really effective.
The eye tells us that moving Keith Yandle back to the top unit was the right move, but it wasn’t his unit that ended up scoring last night. For as much as we’ve complained about Ivan Provorov underwhelming on the power play, he was the one to get them their only power play goal of the weekend. (Those complaints don't become any less valid because of that though). Getting some of their important personnel back into the mix is almost certainly going to be a boost to the power play, but there’s still enough in how disjointed they’re looking to keep us feeling concerned. There’s a lot of work to do, yet.
Welcome back guys!
But, if we’re looking for a bit of good news to tap into, it’s that the Flyers finally got some big additions to the lineup, as Ryan Ellis and Kevin Hayes got back into the lineup for last night’s game. And while we were keeping our expectations reasonable for their first game back after a long time away, the initial returns were good. The idea seemed to be to ease Ellis back into the mix for this game, pairing him with Keith Yandle on the third pair, but he ended up getting a relatively heavy workload in this one, as he saw 18:45 of ice time across all situations. Not quite as much as we’d expect him to get on a normal night, but pretty close, and we didn’t have any major complaints about his play in all of that time. He held up well under that workload.
Hayes, too, was pretty well thrown right into the fire, and he looked okay. His line with Cam Atkinson and Joel Farabee was something of a mixed bag, and they came out of the night with an adjusted 60.2 CF% (good!) and 23.48 xGF% (less good!) at 5-on-5, and overall Hayes looked good but not great just yet. He looked a little slow, particularly on the ends of shifts, but that’s to be expected, considering he hasn’t played a game in months. But it seemed to be more of an issue of him needing to get him timing and conditioning back up to game speed than him looking majorly hindered by injury aftereffects. He’ll need a bit more time to get back up to speed, but there wasn’t anything that we saw last night that suggests that he won't be able to do that with relative ease, and that’s certainly good news.
The lines went in the blender
And with these new additions into the lineup, that means that some shuffling had to take place, and the forward lines in particular saw some big changes (and not really for the better).
It wasn’t captured completely in the numbers here, but the initial looks for these lines weren’t great. The second line looks like it could work, and that’s pretty much what we've been penciling in for when Hayes returned. But the first line took a definite step back in the speed department, and that hurt them. The third is a bit of a mixed bag, as we look at it and note that it was a good move to bump Derick Brassard down, and the move to wing certainly isn’t a bad thing, but it also has Scott Laughton at center still (probably not optimal for him), and it’s also not a line where he’ll get much play driving support from his wingers. And then Oskar Lindblom doesn’t seem to be a great stylistic fit on the fourth line with Nate Thompson and Zack MacEwan. It’s all just a little bit off, and they looked it last night.
And maybe this is like when you get your wish from a genie but something about it goes awry—it was clear the lines needed some tweaking after the last few games, but it doesn’t look like the Flyers found the right mix on the first shuffle. Back to the drawing board.
But, before we go, why don't we take a step back and look at the big picture. Things are not going great for the Flyers right now, but it also certainly could be worse. With 16 points, the Flyers are holding on to the fourth spot in the division (though only just barely, as the Devils also have 16 points). It was a tough slate they were given here, closing out a three games in four days week with a back to back on the road, and that’s worth acknowledging. Expectations were pretty low heading into Saturday’s game, given the fact that it was the second of the back to back games, and there was travel involved, and things went just about how we expected. The fact that they were able to take care of business against the Hurricanes on Friday really saves the trip, and we can avoid coming away from it with too sour of a feeling.
There’s still a lot that needs to be done to convince us that things are definitely trending in the right direction again, but the Flyers finally have the pieces back where they can best optimize their lineup and give themselves the best chance to get back on track. As we said, the lines will still need some tinkering with, but we’ve got a start. The Flyers have the Flames, Lightning, and Bruins on deck this week, and that’s not an easy group of games, to be sure. They’ll have a bit of practice time to make some tweaks, and then they’ll face this next big test. If things don't start to turn around in the next week here, it’s fair to be concerned, but we're not quite there yet. Let’s give the new look lineup a chance to get rolling, yeah?