After a tough loss against the Bruins on Sunday, the Flyers were back at it last night and looking to get themselves back on track against the Rangers. They had a big boost coming to them as well, as Claude Giroux was finally able to get back in the lineup, and this boost ended up going a long way. The Flyers played a solid game and were able to pick up a pretty tidy 4-3 win over the Rangers. It’s the best we’ve seen them look in a bit, and things look to be trending upward for the Flyers. *furiously knocking on wood*
All stats via Natural Stat Trick.
One of the bigger issues we’ve seen from the Flyers so far this season is their struggles to generate chances in bulk, and that’s seemed to have gotten even worse in their first couple of games back from their break. But, if we’re looking for a bit of good news, it would be that the Flyers made a pretty sharp turn away from that last night.
Indeed, they approached this game with much more of a shoot-first mentality, as they put up 72 shot attempts, 39 shots, and 37 scoring chances across all situations in this one. We did still see a few sequences of overpassing, but on the whole, the Flyers seemed to be playing a quick, more aggressive game, and weren’t shying away from creating a chance and trying to get a shot on goal when the opportunity presented itself. And that process paid dividends—the Flyers put up 3.92 Expected Goals on the evening and just about matched that with four goals on the board, as their results were quite reflective of their process. There were stretches when they looked to be positively dominating this game, and they just flat out looked more effective, and this was certainly a welcomed change.
2. The power play turns it on
Another positive takeaway from this game, which also in some ways feels surprising and new to list as a positive, was the play of the power play. The Flyers sure had a lot of time to work with on the man-advantage, as the Rangers simply could not stop themselves from taking penalties, and all told, the Flyers played 9:18 of 5-on-4 power play time. And in that time, they looked pretty sharp—their shoot-first mentality carried over, and they put up 17 shot attempts, 10 shots, and four high danger chances. They were able to get the puck moving well in the offensive zone, and the results were good, to the tune of two goals from Shayne Gostisbehere and James van Riemsdyk.
Now, they did get a bit of luck too—it was a perfect rebound off the boards that sent the puck right to the stick of an open Gostisbehere for the first power play goal of the evening, But the work that led up to it was also good, so maybe this is where we might consider dropping that old cliche about making your own luck.
3. Early returns from the Nolan Patrick on the wing experiment
The line shuffling continued for the Flyers heading into this game, and one of the more interesting changes that we got for this one was seeing Nolan Patrick moved to the right wing to play alongside Giroux (who, we should note, looked pretty stellar in this game) and Kevin Hayes, as the Flyers hoped to give him a bit of a jump start. And, in short, it seemed to work. Patrick had some really nice pace in this one, and we saw him making a handful of sharp passing plays with those linemates. Overall, really, the line looked really good—they picked up one goal for Hayes on a crisp passing play on the rush, and pretty well dominated territorially, putting up an adjusted 67.84 CF% and 78.33 xGF% at 5-on-5.
There does feel like there’s a bit of cognitive dissonance here, though. The Flyers put Patrick on this line in the hopes of getting him going again, and while the line as a whole did show some chemistry and was able to generate a good number of chances (14 shot attempts and eight scoring chances at 5-on-5), Patrick still came out of this game with only one shot attempt and zero shots on goal of his own. So, if the Flyers were looking specifically for more tangible offense from him individually, they’re likely coming away from this one wanting. But, all the same, it’s a line that seemed to be working, and it’s one that seems worth keeping together to see what they could do in this weekend’s series against the Sabres.
4. Brian Elliott
After coming in in relief of Carter Hart in the third period of the outdoor game on Sunday, the Flyers went right back to Elliott for this one, and overall, the results were pretty solid. Despite the fact that the Flyers out-chanced the Rangers by a comfortable margin in this one, they did still give up a fair share, meaning Elliott had a decent workload— he faced 27 shots and 12 high danger chances across all situations, making 24 saves in total. The Flyers also had a few stretches when they were hemmed into their own end and the Rangers were able to get a cycle going, and any lead they had started to look a bit tenuous, but Elliott made a handful of saves at key times, and was big in allowing the Flyers to hold on for that regulation win. And even on a couple of those goals against, it’s hard to blame Elliott fully—when your defense allows clean passes straight across the crease to an open Chris Kreider, there’s not a whole lot that he could do.
It wasn’t a perfect game for him—there were a handful of rebounds that he kicked out that did or nearly turned into dangerous chances for the Rangers—but overall, it was still a solid game. In short, it was just what the Flyers needed from him.
5. On process improvements
What all of this amounts to is that the Flyers played, all told, a pretty good game last night. It certainly wasn't perfect (and indeed, that feels like an unfair expectation given the pieces that they’re still missing), but it was a good game. There were pieces of their underlying process that have improved from their last few games, and in short, this is good news.
Claude Giroux is back. Justin Braun should be back in the lineup, if not for this weekend, but soon after. We’re hoping that the Flyers can get the rest of their missing players back soon. And as players are coming back, the Flyers’ excuses for underperforming are waning. These games are starting to really matter again, so to see their process trending in the right direction now is big. If they can figure things out now, as they get players back, they’re only going to be better, and they’ll be in a much better spot once they’re (at least as close as possible) to fully healthy again.