What went right?
The Flyers came into this game looking to produce a three-game winning streak for the first time this season. After dropping five goals on the hapless Coyotes, the Devils presented a slightly more difficult test. New Jersey is towards the top half of the league in underlying even strength numbers and possesses plenty of speed and skill, so it wasn’t a given that any of the adjustments seen in recent games would translate into tonight’s contest.
Those concerns were silenced by an early flurry of goals and scoring chances, starting with Travis Sanheim squeaking one short side past Mackenzie Blackwood to make it 1-0. A smart decision by big No. 6 to cut towards the slot and put a puck on net for his first goal of the season, even if it was less a skilled tally and more a flub by Mackenzie on his post hug.
Cam Atkinson tickled the twine for the first time on a backdoor chance at 4-on-4. Nice vision by Ristolainen to get the puck to the diminutive sniper, but also a strong possession play by Sanheim to warp the defensive coverage and create the opening in the first place.
correction: it wasn't a power play goal. it happens.— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) December 15, 2021
it was still a good goal and this is what it looked like.
we love it. pic.twitter.com/qrCyeZ16fU
Justin Braun floated this knuckler past a few bodies to make it 3-0. Not much you can say about that one; sometimes you just put the puck on goal and get lucky.
Cam the Man caught a puck off the rush thanks to a nice shorthanded play in the defensive zone by Oskar Lindblom and a solid pass by Ivan Provorov. The team-leading goal scorer buried a heater to bring the lead back to three goals at 4-1.
Oskar Lindblom picked the corner after corralling a beautiful little saucer pass from Atkinson in the slot, giving the Swede his second tally of the year and the Flyers’ fifth goal of the game. This put Atkinson at three points on the evening. Not bad.
The Orange & Black finished things out with a beautiful steal and pass by Giroux handing Atkinson his first hat-trick in a Philadelphia uniform. The goal was nice, but the celly was impeccable.
Overall, about as close to a “great” game as we’ve seen this team play in the calendar year of 2021. Strong possession numbers, plenty of forced takeaways, and a propensity to work the puck to high danger areas won the day. Carter Hart looked confident and tracked the puck well, making saves when it counted. It may feel too late for this team, but suddenly the Flyers have a modicum of momentum again.
What went wrong?
The penalty differential for Philadelphia tonight wasn’t ideal, with the Flyers committing three infractions as opposed to New Jersey’s none. That ultimately didn’t matter much because the Devils have a poverty power play (ranked 30th in the league), but nonetheless you’d like to see this team drawing penalties and avoiding taking them.
There were some times where Keith Yandle got worked badly by swift crossover steps and superior strength from his man in one-on-one coverages. With how he’s played during the recent stretch of games, it might be time to end the iron man streak in the near future.
The second period saw a short slump in the first 10 minutes or so where it looked like the Devils were going to climb back into it, with New Jersey dictating the pace and manufacturing looks from the circles inward, but even that wasn’t much of an overall threat.
Not much else to complain about. Could some of the penalties have been avoided? Sure! But the Flyers won, controlled the game outside of that second period blip, and forced a Devils team loaded with young skill to the perimeter. It’s a start.
Oh, and P.K. Subban scored a goal. Neat.
Three Big Things
- According to Bill Meltzer, the Flyers were coming into this game with the same goals of tightening up their system via taking aggressive gaps, working on intermediate passing, and adjusting entry-exit methodology. To be honest, the main thing that I found effective tonight was the first of those listed tweaks; the consistent hampering of Devils players forced the younger opposition to make quick decisions, which lead to mistakes, turnovers, and goals the other way. I’m unsure if this will work against better rosters, but it’s a better fit for the way this roster is built than simply backing off and letting teams pick them apart.
- This might have been Travis Sanheim’s best game of the year by the eye test. He pushed play, pinched effectively, prevented the Devils from even entering the zone, and worked well with Ristolainen to cover any cracks in the defense. When he has his mojo going, Sanheim is a useful and impactful player. Hopefully that kind of performance becomes more common as this group attempts to get it together.
- Cam Atkinson is fun as hell and one of the few Flyers who consistently excites every time he touches the ice. Love him.
Post Game Tunes
Getting better isn’t done in huge leaps; it happens little by little in practice and in games. Pay attention to the little things if this team starts figuring things out.
Good night, good hockey, and as always, go Flyers.