Well, that was something. From pretty early on in last night’s game, the feeling was that we were going to be in for An Experience, and that’s exactly what we got. With wild swings in momentum, some big goals, and enough breakdowns for us to still find something to be grumpy about. The Flyers survived some surges, and of course this weird game took overtime to decide, and Travis Sanheim got to play hero. That extends the Flyers’ points streak to five games, and gets them back to hockey .500, which is... something... right?
All stats via Natural Stat Trick.
A strong start
The Flyers looked like they had learned something from Thursday’s disastrous showing against the Canadiens, which saw them torched in the first period, and came out for the start of this one with some very good jump. Really, they dominated that period—they outshot the Senators 14-7 across all situations, and out-chanced them 10-6 in scoring chances and 5-0 in high danger chances. It took 13:40 for the Senators to even register shot on goal. The Flyers were looking not just clean in their passing movement, but highly creative, and that felt like a pretty refreshing change from a lot of what we’ve seen from them this season. They were cycling well, so well that it felt like a bit of a miracle for the Senators that they made it to the first intermission only down by two. This game was looking like it was going to be a blowout, and the Flyers looked very sharp.
...and they lost it
Now, we did expect that after a brutal first period, the Senators would use the intermission to regroup and come out looking at least a little better, and that’s how this one played. But we also saw the Flyers take a step back after their strong start, and that burned them in a big way. The speed from some of Ottawa’s youngsters in Tim Stutzle and Alex Formenton gave them some trouble, and they were able to pull their team back into the game. But all of that sharpness that we saw from the Flyers early on evaporated when we hit the second. Again they were struggling to complete what should have been simple passes and break out of the defensive zone. They fell back into old bad habits, and they in turn got lucky that momentum and the score didn’t swing too far out of their reach.
And that, it goes without saying, is a real problem. Because with the way this game started, how well the Flyers were clicking offensively combined with how weak Ottawa’s defense is, this game should not have been close. They let this one get away from them, and even though they still came away with the win, it isn’t one that we feel great about.
Not a banner night for Martin Jones
We noted already that it took a little while for Ottawa’s offense to get going, so that meant that Jones was able to ease into this one a little bit, but the bad news is that it didn’t really seem to help him all that much. It worked out to being a fine enough showing, as he allowed three goals on 31 shots, but we wouldn’t come away from this one thinking that this was Jones at his sharpest. His angles were a little off in this one, and he seemed to be struggling more than usual in tracking pucks, particularly through traffic (that was pretty clearly evident on the third goal of the night, a shot by Artem Zub from the point that beat him pretty cleanly through traffic). He was just steady enough to keep this from getting out of hand (the Senators only having five high danger chances on the night helped that a bit too), so what the Flyers got from him last night was still enough, even if it wasn’t his best.
Travis Sanheim stands out
Despite the weirdness in last night’s game, there were a number of standout performances. Joel Farabee looked good in his return to the lineup, Oskar Lindblom keeps picking up steam, and with another goal last night, Claude Giroux moved into a tie for second in scoring in the franchise. And all of those are very good and we appreciate them, but we also want to throw a nod in the direction of Travis Sanheim, as he’s quietly not just gotten himself on track after a tough start to the season, but established himself as the team’s best defender over the last little bit here (yes, in some ways that's a low bar, but it’s still good).
He picked up the goal to win this one in overtime, and what a goal it was. We’ve seen Sanheim’s confidence skyrocketing of late, and it’s been paying dividends. We’re seeing him activating offensively more often, and looking sharper in the plays he’s making. It’s been a real boost to the team, on top of the added bonus of him and Rasmus Ristolainen settling in a bit. There’s always going to be a bit of risk in Sanheim’s game, but we’re seeing far, far more of the reward at this point, and that’s certainly welcome.
The team’s confidence needs a boost
If there was one thing that was clear from last night’s game, it’s that this team is still a bit fragile. They let this one spiral, fell into bad habits, and it almost got completely away from them. It’s certainly a work in progress, and that’s something that Mike Yeo addressed directly after the game:
What we are trying to build is a gameplan with the right habits. But a lot of this game is about attitude too. When the other team has a push how do you respond? That is something we are still working on. Our previous game against Montreal we had a really bad first period and then the second and third period were better. I think we spent 9 or 10 minutes in the offensive zone and that is the mindset we have to have. Things are going to happen in the game and you cant feel sorry for yourself and you have to have that attack mindset. I think it will become easier to do that for our group when we continue to gain confidence.
Maintaining confidence and taking things in stride is something we’re still seeing this team struggling with, and there isn’t really a clear fix for that, but at least they’re trying. They stuck with this one enough to force an overtime where they could take over, but there’s still quite a bit of work to be done.