I told them not to do it, and they listened. After a poor start to the game, the Philadelphia Flyers showed us what kind of team they want to be towards the end.
If you started watching the first period as a new hockey fan, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell that the team in white didn’t have a win. Much to the dismay of fans, the Flyers spent a fair amount of time in the defensive zone. Despite the shots finishing at an even 13-13, it was a bad start. There were multiple odd-man rushes early in the period, and Phil Kessel somehow burned Travis Sanheim for a chance. A suboptimal period would have cost the Flyers a goal if the Arizona Coyotes weren’t the worst team in the NHL.
If Phil Kessel knew how to bury his chances, the Coyotes would have a lead. In the game preview, my one big thing to watch was the defense in front of Carter Hart and how the team bounced back. He played excellent in Calgary but was done wrong by his defense. Safe to say that any message head coach Alain Vigneault tried to send between the games on the defensive end didn’t work. At the intermission, the expected goals for (xGF) battle was 1.12-0.93 in favor of the Coyotes. Travis Konecny, Claude Giroux, and Oskar Lindblom have at least a 0.2 xGF.
It was a period that everyone wanted to forget. The Flyers are lucky they didn’t get scored on because their play showed they should have been. Tightening it up for the second period is necessary to win this game.
The second period got off to the same start that the first period did. The Flyers came out super slow, but the tides turned slightly when the third line generated some offense. The shots were 6-2 in favor of the Coyotes halfway through the second frame.
Hart continued to make some great saves both on odd-man rushes and good shots inside the zone. He stood tall when Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier, playing in his 700th game, couldn’t connect on a drop pass that sent Clayton Keller down the ice on a breakaway.
The Flyers thought they had a goal thanks to Cam Atkinson; however, after a lengthy discussion, the referees decided that the goaltender Karel Vejmelka—a player I pointed out in the game preview as someone to watch—had the puck frozen with his glove. Barrett Hayton had Derick Brassard in a headlock, and Brassard ended up kicking the glove knocking the puck loose. There wasn’t a whistle on the play, so everyone appeared confused that the goal was called off.
Atkinson gives us the lead but then ppl changed their minds apparently.— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) November 3, 2021
Even though the goal didn’t count, the Flyers’ second line kept the pressure on that entire shift, and the fourth line came back with some fire. Nicolas Aube-Kubel came close to scoring on a 2-on-1 rush, but there were no dice.
As for the rest of the period, the Flyers got a power play and didn’t convert. Atkinson hit the post, and it’s worth noting that the first power play unit looked excellent. The puck movement looked far more potent than it did against the Calgary Flames. The purpose behind the passes finally looked existent.
The Coyotes still led the xGF battle 2.04-1.66 at the end of the period, so they still had some work to do. The good thing is that they were getting closer and closer to scoring a goal as the period moved along.
James Van Riemsdyk got the first substantial chance of the period, and although he didn’t score, the line with Zack MacEwen, Aube-Kubel, and Nate Thompson started the period on a solid note.
Lindblom—a player with some of the best xGF numbers on the night for the Flyers—missed a prime scoring opportunity. However, moments later, this one counts! Couturier scores off of a great saucer pass from Konecny. Giroux went cross-ice to Konecny in the neutral zone, and he banked it to himself before throwing it across to number 14 in black. It’s the passing that you want to see from a Flyers team that was controlling play through the first half of the third.
The Flyers dominated possession. The best opportunity was arguably a tic-tac-toe play by Lindblom, Van Riemsdyk, and Scott Laughton, who couldn’t finish it off due to a sliding save by Vejmelka. It’s the kind of Flyers hockey that you’re expecting in a game against the worst team in the NHL.
The Coyotes pushed super hard at the end of the third, but it didn’t matter. Vejmelka left for the bench, but Van Riemsdyk stole the puck at the defensive blue line, and he fired it down towards the empty net. The young Coyotes goaltender raced back and dove to keep it out, but it didn’t matter as Laughton put the puck in the back of the net (with Vejmelka in it). An excellent cross-ice pass from van Riemsdyk was the catalyst. Couturier made an unselfish play to the captain Giroux, who started the play on the game’s first goal, with the net empty to make it 3-0. That was the game.
Three Big Things
1. I don’t know how often I will say this, but man, Hart looks excellent. He gets his third career shutout with 29 saves on 29 shots and 2.32 goals saved above expected. It’s the kind of win he deserved after getting beat by no fault of his own against the Flames. He’s playing like a truly elite goaltender, and even though it’s still early, there is a lot to like about what he’s bringing in the blue paint night in and night out.
2. A player that had a relatively quiet game was the captain, Giroux. He did have two points with a goal and an assist, but he was silently creating chances for his teammates on the power play for most of the game. He ended the game with a 1.15 xGF, which was far and away the highest on the team. Interestingly, his numbers at even-strength are that he had the worst expected goals for percentage (xGF%) on the team, tied with Konecny at 19.44 percent. At all strengths, he was tied for fourth with Konecny as well. I think the numbers at even-strength do him a slight disservice, but the numbers on the power play don’t.
3. I mentioned this earlier, but I liked what I saw out of the first power play unit. Even though they didn’t score a goal, they created significant chances with strong puck movement. The changes seem to have worked for the time being, and I look forward to seeing what they can do in a larger sample.
The Flyers improve to 5-2-1 on the season, and they head to Pittsburgh to play the Penguins on Thursday. Great win!