Well, folks. The Flyers were swept by the Bruins again. Things didn’t go very well in these last two games, and suddenly everything seems a little less fun. After a game that snowballed out of their reach from a string of poor penalties and subsequent burnings on the penalty kill on Wednesday, last night the Flyers responded with a low-event game, well, low event except for the two goals scored against them in 27 seconds in the third period to just about seal the game for the Bruins. If it sounds like there’s a lot going on there, you would be right. Let’s talk about it.
All stats via Natural Stat Trick.
42.54 CF% at 5-on-5
As we continue to check in with the Flyers and their 5-on-5 process, which has been a weak spot throughout the season, we see that it seems that they’ve taken a bit of a step back. While they haven’t been driving play very well in general, over their last couple of series, we saw them at least picking up some steam and looking like they were trending in the right direction, but these last two games were a distinct bump in the road. Just like their last time around, the Flyers really struggled to get much going agains the Bruins. Across these two games, they put up 79 shot attempts (19th in the league over each team’s last two games), while allowing 97 by the Bruins (7th in the league over the same span). They were able to keep the 5-on-5 scoring even at three goals apiece, and in a lot of ways that feels a testament to some overall pretty strong goaltending (but more on that later).
And maybe this shouldn’t come as a surprise—we know that the Bruins, beat up as they are right now, are still a team that’s driven play well this season, and was bound to give the Flyers trouble. But the fact remains that there’s still more than a bit to be desired when it comes to the Flyers’ own process, and somehow it feels like we’re back at square one.
44.10 xGF% at 5-on-5
Turning to check in with the shot quality numbers, and with these we have a bit of a curious mixed bag. The Bruins came out of this series with an edge in Expected Goals, with an adjusted 44.10 xGF%, but the Flyers managed to find the advantage in both scoring chances and high danger chances, coming out of it with 52.10 SCF% and 50.49 HDCF%, so maybe that all works out as a wash.
The other piece, of course, is that the Flyers just simply weren’t generating too many dangerous chances in the first place. They managed 41 scoring chances, but only 15 high danger chances between their two games against the Bruins, which isn’t quite a world-beating total. We can appreciate that they held the Bruins to relatively few dangerous chances, as well, but the fact that their own offense wasn’t really going remains a concern. And that also brings us to our next point...
14 shots at 5-on-5 on Friday
We’re going to do a bit of tunnel vision on last night’s game for a moment here. As we broke down in our last two sections, the Flyers’ differentials in both raw shot attempts and high danger chances left quite a bit to be desired, But what also stands out, beyond the fact that the chances were skewed comfortably in the Bruins’ favor, was that the Flyers just plainly were not generating a whole lot of offense in the first place.
Through much of last night’s game, we got what we can really only call low event hockey. After the first two periods, the Flyers were being outshot 11-7 at 5-on-5, and it really didn’t feel like much of a surprise that the game was still completely scoreless. But the Flyers, who we know can get a little over-reliant on looking for the perfect, pretty passing play, seemed particularly averse to just shooting the puck last night, and that’s something that hurt them in a bad way. Their offense wasn’t clicking in a really meaningful way, and they were getting by when the same was the case for the Bruins, but when they were suddenly in a 2-1 hole and were on pace to clock in at well under 20 shots in the whole game, that was a problem, and they weren’t really in a position to right the ship.
8 shots against on the penalty kill
This stat, on first glance, is probably a little misleading. In isolation, we might be able to say that holding a dangerous Bruins power play to just eight shots in 7:49 against them makes for a pretty solid showing. But the reality is that the Bruins also scored three goals on those eight shots, as they shredded the Flyers’ penalty kill time and again on Wednesday, making quick work of scoring on them in pretty gutting fashion. It was a recurrence of their earlier issues, with just the worst positional breakdowns happening at the worst possible time, and the Bruins made them pay for it.
If we’re looking for good news, it would come in the fact that the Flyers were able to rebound well from Wednesday’s poor showing and keep the Bruins’ power play off the board last night (as they also showed a bit more discipline and avoided shooting themselves in the foot with unnecessary penalties). Their process looked better, their coverage better (even without Philippe Myers in the lineup), so they were able to stabilize a bit and not let this one get out of hand. But it still seems a work in progress.
4 HDCF on the power play
And turning to the other side of the special teams equations, again we got something of a mixed bag. The Flyers had a pretty generous bit of time to work with on the power play—13:54 between these last two games—but don’t really have a whole lot to show for it. They totaled 18 shot attempts but were only able to get seven shots on net, and then only four high danger chances, as the Bruins kept them frustrated and pushed pretty well to the outside. But it wasn’t just stellar penalty killing that kept the Flyers frustrated, they did their fair share of hurting their own chances by getting, again, too hung up on making passing plays and struggling to get set up in the offensive zone. The end product was them just not looking terribly threatening, to put it simply.
The only thing keeping us from coming out of this one being completely doom and gloom is the fact that the Flyers did still pick up one goal on the power play last night (their lone goal of the game from James van Riemsdyk). It was a pretty direct reward for getting some traffic in front, as van Riemsdyk was able to work his magic and deflect a puck in past Rask, a bit of solid process work getting rewarded. But that’s about the end of the positivity, as the Flyers seem to still be looking for that right mix to be really deadly on the man-advantage.
21 saves for Brian Elliott
And since we mentioned it earlier, before we go, we should pivot back and talk about goaltending. Dialing in one Elliott’s performance last night, the numbers don’t look too bad. He wasn’t terribly busy, only facing 23 shots in total across all situations, and he only gave up two goals on those, which is good for a .913 save percentage. And all of that should seem fine. It’s just fine. But the truth of the matter is that the Flyers just needed a little more than that last night.
It’s a difficult situation, and it doesn’t really feel fair to pick on Elliott. He didn’t play poorly across the board, but the second goal that he gave up on Sean Kuraly was decidedly one he would want back—a shot from far out that didn’t look to have deflected—and the unfortunate part is that this ended up being the game winner. Now, as we noted already, the Flyers really weren’t doing too much to help themselves get out of the hole—and a one-goal deficit really shouldn’t seem as insurmountable as it ended up feeling—but two goals against in 27 seconds is also just not something that can happen, it’s a bit of a snowballing situation and it’s not an easy one to be in. It isn’t fair to ask your goalie to be perfect to win your game, so there’s a fair bit of blame to go around for how this game turned out, but it is fair to have wished that Elliott was just a little better last night. Maybe just one save better. So it goes.
If we’re being honest, these outcomes felt expected, and they felt expected in a couple of ways. If we’re looking at Wednesday’s game, there’s the point of “well, this Bruins power play has been lethal for years and if you keep taking dumb penalties and giving them chances, they’re going to find a way to hurt you,” That’s exactly what happened there. It’s fair to say the Flyers handed that game over, and it was a shame.
But there’s also the piece that is when doing only just enough to hang around can hurt you. Since Sean Couturier got hurt, that’s pretty much what we’ve seen from the Flyers—they almost never really dominate a game for more than a few stretches, but they make sure to do enough to stay in the mix and have potential to stay in the game. But the drawback there is that they never seemed to be fully going in those cases, and as we alluded to earlier, when the game gets just a bit out of their reach—-even if it’s just a one goal deficit like last night—they don’t have to juice to tie things up. Maybe a healthier lineup helps this, it certainly doesn't hurt. But as we’ve been saying all season, a stronger, more complete process is going to be an even bigger key.