Back at home and back on track! After dropping the final game of their road trip through Western Canada to the Flames on Saturday, the Flyers were back home last night and looking to get themselves back in the win column. But if they were hoping for a smooth road back there and an easy win over the Coyotes, they would be out of luck. The Coyotes gave them some trouble, and they were holding on to a scoreless tie heading deep into the third period. But the Flyers just needed one break, and a goal from Sean Couturier (in his 700th game we might add), was just the ticket. Add in a couple of big saves from Carter Hart and a couple of insurance goals from Scott Laughton and Claude Giroux, and that's all she wrote. It wasn’t pretty, but it works.
All stats via Natural Stat Trick.
The good news: the Flyers were able to spend a good bit of time in the offensive zone in this one, particularly early on in the first period.
The bad news: their efforts to create chances were pretty messy, pretty disjointed, and despite having all of that zone time, they weren’t able to do... anything with it.
And this was really the big story of this game. The Flyers’ offense, who hadn’t scored a goal since the first period in Thursday’s game, was really struggling to get going in this one. The Coyotes were getting a bit of good goaltending, to be sure, but the bigger issue was the Flyers failing to create much in the way of dangerous chances. Their offense is a talented one, so they were able to make the most of their chances in the end, but the fact remains that things simply aren't clicking for them all that well right now, and while they had just enough working to get by against the Coyotes, it won't be enough for this stretch they're staring down.
New look power play does not deliver
Ahead of last night’s game, the Flyers opted to make some changes to their power play units, moving Cam Atkinson and Ivan Provorov up to the first unit, and we’re here with a bit more bad news—that did not deliver. Now, Atkinson has been playing extremely well, so promoting him makes a lot of sense, and we don’t really have ay quibbled about his play on the top unit, in all honesty. But the choice to move Provorov back up was certainly... curious, and pretty immediately asserted itself as a step backwards.
The forwards themselves were able to do a nice bit of work (the Flyers put up 10 scoring chances and six high danger chances in six minutes of power play time), with some crisp passing creating a nice tempo and a bit of danger, but all of that pretty quickly evaporated when the puck made its way to Provorov at the point and he had to dust the puck off, stickhandle a bit, or go for a little skate with it before making a pass lower in the zone. The Flyers looked to be at their best when they were effectively playing 4-on-4, keeping the puck away from the point and letting the forwards cycle on their own, and that kind of defeats the purpose of a power play.
Is it a little unfair to pick on one player? Maybe, but this comes down to Vigneault more than anything, and we’re trying to make a point. Yandle’s 5-on-5 play has left something to be desired lately, to be sure, but he makes the top power play unit better, so is it worth torpedoing that to send a message?
Regression eventually comes for us all?
Well, it isn’t a question of if regression does eventually come, that’s a fact, but it’s a question of if regression is actually what’s happening here. The Flyers’ line of Joel Farabee, Derick Brassard, and Cam Atkinson, which had been red hot at the start of the season, does seem to be cooling off a bit here. Now, they did sort of score a goal last night—Atkinson put a puck in the net, but it was called back because the officials ruled the puck was covered. Everyone agreed that this was the right call. But we can still be a little grumpy about it.
In any event, the line was technically held off the board again last night, and the bigger concern is that they just didn’t look nearly as threatening as they have up until a few games ago. They were out-chanced 6-12 and outshot 4-6 last night, and were able to generate just one high danger chance, and suffice it to say, that’s not great.
We knew this was probably coming—this line has been getting out-chanced pretty thoroughly to date, but they were riding on their shooting talent and luck. The rug was going to be pulled out from under them eventually, but it isn’t clear just yet whether this is fully that, it all crashing down on them, or if they can right the ship and keep themselves above water for just a bit longer.
Carter Hart shines
Of course, the Flyers wouldn't have been able to pick up the win last night if it wasn't for the stellar play of Hart. As we alluded to earlier, particularly early on, this game was a bit of an ugly one for the Flyers. The Coyotes got the better of them in terms of shots put on or in the direction of goal, and Hart had his work cut out for him to clean up after the skaters and keep them in the game until they could create themselves some more good scoring chances. He was tracking the puck very well, and was able to execute a handful of big, timely saves and that seemed to be a huge boost for the team in front. All told, Hart stopped all 29 of the shots he faced, including 10 high danger shots.
And the best news? We’re getting back into the space where performances like that feel almost expected. No more nerves around here, Carter Hart is back.
Surviving the trap game
With the winless Coyotes coming to town after the Flyers returned from, overall, a strong Western Canadian road trip (which have given the Flyers some trouble in recent years), there was ever a trap game to found, this one would be it. So we have to ask ourselves how we’re feeling about this one, if the Flyers really survived the trap game. They did pick up the win, which is maybe all that matters in the end, but they certainly didn’t bring their tidiest effort either. We saw some of the same struggles in creating offense rolling over into this game, the real difference was that the Coyotes weren’t as strong of a defensive team as the Flames, and the Flyers were able to cash in on a couple more of those few good looks that they got.
So we’ll take the win, but hope it’s a first step towards getting themselves back on track. The Flyers have the Penguins and the Capitals on the road on deck before they come home to face the Leafs. That’s a tough run, and the Flyers are going to need to be better.