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What we learned from the Flyers’ return against the Rangers

Some observations for your morning...

New York Rangers v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

The Flyers, at long last, were back in action last night after their 10 day layoff, and they were finally set to face off against the Rangers. Their first game back was decidedly a weird one, with the Flyers jumping out to a very early lead care of a goal from Nicolas Aube-Kubel, and then subsequently giving up two goals to crush their own lead, before a goal by Joel Farabee late in the third with the goalie pulled tied things up and sent them to overtime. And then with the help of some stellar goaltending from Carter Hart, the Flyers then killed off a penalty in overtime, only to go an lose this one in a shootout. Normal stuff. So it goes. Here are some of our takeaways.

All stats via Natural Stat Trick.

1. Finally, a strong start?

By now, we sort of know the Flyers to tend towards slow starts in their games, coming out a little flat and just hoping to weather the storm from opponents while they get their legs under them. And considering the long break that they were coming back from, last night felt like one of the few games when a start like that would have been wholly understandable. So what did the Flyers do? Came out with a whole lot of jump, scored the first goal of the game early, and had the Rangers on their heels for much of the period. Of course.

All told, it was a solid start to the game for the Flyers, as they out-chanced the Rangers 15-14 in shot attempts, and picked up a small edge in expected goals, with .37 to their .36 (even if they did have trouble getting their shots through, and did end up getting out-shot 8-4). There was no sluggishness and relatively little rust that we saw from them, just. a solid period of hockey—indeed one of the better periods that we’ve seen from them all season, go figure. Now, this wasn’t an edge that they were able to hold onto for the duration of the game—the Ranger really got back into the game in the second period, and we ended up, all told, with an adjusted 49.45 CF% and 35.65 xGF% for the Flyers—but they did seem to be in the mix through most of it, which feels like a solid achievement, given the roster they were working with.

2. New guys, hello!

As we mentioned way back in the preview for this game, one of the fun (if we want to call it fun) bits to come out of the Flyers’ need to fill in their lineup due to having so many players missing is, well, some of the kids on the Phantoms get a shot now! And last night we saw David Kase back for the first time this season after playing six games last season, and Maksim Sushko making his NHL debut.

Kase came into this game just about as advertised—through his first couple of games with the Phantoms this year, he had been flying, and he brought a lot of that same energy with him to the Flyers’ lineup last night. His line with Nolan Patrick and Connor Bunnaman did well together—by the numbers, they put up a 62.27 CF%, and showed a couple of nice flashes, generating some chances. All in all, a pretty solid return for Kase.

Sushko had a pretty quiet game, which feels more or less to be expected when you only play 5:55 across the whole of the night. His underlying numbers weren’t great, as his line got pretty well buries and he ended up with an adjusted 34.65 CF% on the evening. But the big takeaway seemed to be a more general one—it wasn’t a perfect game for him, but he also didn’t seem to be getting lost in the pace of play, which was certainly encouraging to see.

He also got a little lucky—on the shift that saw the Flyers called for two different penalties and the Rangers subsequently given a full two minute 5-on-3 power play, Sushko easily could have been called for a high-stick, but he didn’t. So, maybe we had a bit of cosmic grace to add to that NHL debut as well. No complaints here.

3. On special teams returns

Turning now to talk about the Flyers’ special teams showings last night, and well, it isn’t exactly a pretty picture. The Flyers had 8:27 of 5-on-4 power play time to work with, and they came out of it empty handed. They generated a good number of attempts, with 15, but had trouble getting those shots through, as only four ended up making it on goal. It really just seemed to be the same types of issues rearing their heads again, with some trouble on entries and a bit of overpassing, and overall just not looking like they were playing completely cohesively, just looking a bit out of sorts.

The penalty kill, too, had a bit of a bumpy evening, but this feels more like a true mixed bag. On the one hand, in their 3:56 of time on the 4-on-5 penalty kill, they only allowed five shot attempts, two shots on goal, and one high danger chance, which are totals that we can live with, in a vacuum. But on the other hand, they did have a pretty ugly breakdown on the play leading up to Colin Blackwell’s goal, as just about all coverage in front of the net was abandoned and a whole lot of space was opened up for the Rangers to work with, and they sure made the most of that.

Now, we realize that it’s hard to get too worked up about special teams underperforming a bit in this particular instance, as they had so many of their regulars in the personnel groups missing. But it’s also fair to have wanted to see just a little bit more from them. Both can be true.

4. Carter Hart does it again

We alluded to it in the introduction, but we’ll say it again—the Flyers got quite a solid game from Hart last night. We didn’t really see any rust that needed to be shaken off from him, and he was able to deliver some big saves for the Flyers when they needed him to. All told, he stopped 29 of the 31 shots he faced (including seven of eight high danger chances), good for a .939 save percentage on the evening.

It’s hard to blame him for the Rangers’ first goal of the night on the power play—they were moving the puck around well and had a whole lot of space to work with in front, so we’re more fussed about that defensive coverage than Hart’s own play. The second goal we can toss him some of the blame on, as the rebound on the initial save wasn’t great and that save also pulled him a bit out of position, so he couldn’t make the second, and that’s not great, but also the turnover at the blue line that started up that sequence for the Rangers shouldn’t have happened. So it goes.

What this all amounts to is that we come away from this one knowing that it wasn’t a perfect game for Hart, he wasn’t lights out and just going to steal this one for the Flyers, but he was very good, and made some really key stops to keep this game from getting out of hand. He made most of the big, timely saves. just not completely all of them.

5. Playing with house money

On principle, we don’t love losses. That’s true across the board. But, that said, in some ways it feels difficult to be too fussed about this loss. The Flyers were coming off of a 10 day break, missing six of their key contributors, playing a lineup that, up front, nearly looked more like the Phantoms’ opening night roster than their own. With everything stacked against them in this game, there really wasn’t much at all that they had to prove. The fact that we saw some nice flashes from them, and overall they were able to play with good energy after the long break was certainly a nice perk, but wasn’t wholly necessary to see. The Flyers made, just about, the most that they could have of a tough situation and still got a point out of this one. Was it a perfect effort? Absolutely not. But it’s showing that we can live with for the time being.