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What we learned from the Flyers’ pair of 3-0 wins over the Sabres

Some observations for your morning...

Philadelphia Flyers v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

The Flyers really are back, folks! After hanging on for a 4-3 win over the Rangers on Wednesday, the Flyers were back at it fo a pair of games back to back against the Sabres this weekend, and they came out of it with a pretty tidy sweep of this mini series. With Jake Voracek, Oskar Lindblom, Scott Laughton, and Justin Braun back in the lineup, Flyers built well on their good work from Wednesday's game, and there was a lot to like about what they brought to the table this weekend, so let’s just dig right into that, shall we?

All stats via Natural Stat Trick.

How’d they look out there?

5-on-5: 61.14 CF%, 65.47 SF%, 66.34 xGF%, 100 GF%

Perhaps the most exciting takeaway from this series was the work that the Flyers were able to do at 5-on-5. It’s no secret that they’ve struggled pretty mightily so far this season to consistently drive play at 5-on-5, too often getting caved in and buried by shots and attempts, but this was distinctly not the case this weekend. Indeed, the Flyers took the edge in the shot share at 5-on-5 by a pretty comfortable margin across these two games, out-doing the Sabres by both raw shot attempts and high danger chances in both games.

Their worst single period of the series was the third in yesterday’s game, when they were out-chanced 14-6, but by then they were already leading 3-0, and while it didn’t look like they were playing their best, the level they were playing at was still enough to keep the Sabres frustrated and, ultimately, off the board. The Flyers, in short, looked dominant in this series, and it’s probably the best we’ve seen them look across a pair of games since the round robin last summer.

Power play: 10:00, 19 CF, 13 SF, 6 HDCF, 0 GF

The Flyers’ power play was really solid on Wednesday, picking up two goals against the Rangers, but this was the one area where they couldn’t seem to carry much momentum with them into this weekend. The Flyers were somewhat limited in their chances, with just 10 minutes of time spent on the man-advantage between these two games, but did still put in a bit of good work. With some of their regular personnel back at it, they were able to look perhaps even more threatening, and were able to generate a handful of good chances from some flashes of sharp puck moving, but just weren’t ablate bury any of them. But, if nothing else, the process seemed to offer some promise, so here’s hoping they’ll be able to build on it in their next series against the Penguins.

Penalty kill: 12:50, 17 CA, 9 SA, 3 HDCA, 0 GA

And while the power play may have left us wanting a bit more, the penalty kill was very sharp. They came in to face a Sabres power play that was at the top of the league, and while they were without Jack Eichel in the first game, still had some weapons to work with, and the Flyers pretty completely neutralized them. The Sabres had just under 13 minutes of power play time to work with, and the Flyers kept them off the board and limited the number of quality chances they had to work with (just nine shots and three high danger chances). It was a mix of good blocks and a few nice breakouts to eat up a bit of time, and while it wasn't always a pretty mix, it was effective enough to get the job done.

Three standouts

1. Sean Couturier (and friends)

Since the Flyers resumed play after their COVID shutdown, Sean Couturier has been playing some really great hockey, that’s been clear, and this weekend certainly saw him continuing that. He picked up goals in each of this weekend’s games and just looked positively dominant in stretches. His line with James van Riemsdyk and Joel Farabee also continued to look sharp, setting up a goal for van Riemsdyk on Saturday as well as a number of very good chances that they just missed on capitalizing on. They dominated in their matchups, putting up adjusted 60.20 and 51.38 CF%s and 70.97 and 62.42 xGF%s in their last two games, respectively. This is a line that’s already finding their stride and already causing a lot of trouble for opponents, and it’s been a real treat to watch.

2. Shayne Gostisbehere

Gostisbehere also carried his solid play from the week with him into the weekend. Saturday in particular saw him looking like he was just playing on a whole other level, as he put up 11 individual shot attempts, six shots, and four scoring chances. He also found himself rewarded for that good work, as he picked up a goal late in the game as he joined the rush and capitalized on a chance on an odd-man rush.

He built on that with another strong showing on Sunday—it wasn’t at that same level of individual dominance, but it was still solid, as he totaled a 72.04 CF% and 70.85 xGF%, good for second and fifth among skaters, and helped the team maintain a comfortable edge in possession while he was on the ice.

In short, this weekend was a flash of vintage Gostisbehere, and a welcomed boost to the Flyers.

3. Both goalies!

With a pair of shutouts under their belt this weekend, we would be remiss if we didn’t extend a nod to both Brian Elliott and Carter Hart for their play in each of their respective starts.

As we noted earlier, the Flyers on the whole did well to limit the number of chances that the Sabres generated, which made life easier for both Elliott and Hart. On Saturday, Elliott faced 23 shots against and six high dangers chances, and on Sunday Hart faced 28 shots and eight high danger chances, so both didn’t have a tremendous workload, but they were still tested with a number of good chances, and came up big for the Flyers to maintain those shutouts. And both of those strong performances held a lot of meaning—for Elliott, it was a continuance of his strong play from Wednesday’s win over the Rangers, and for Hart, it was a good step to get back on track on track after last weekend’s tough showing against the Bruins. It’s hard to find much to be fussed about in either of these performances, as the Flyers’ goaltending situation stabilizes a bit once again.

Two loose observations

1. Actually dominating play

We talked about this already, but it bears repeating that from a possession standpoint, this is probably the strongest pair of games that the Flyers have put together all season. It isn’t just a matter of looking at the team and feeling grateful that at least they look better than they did when the lineup was cobbled together with leftovers and call-ups from the Phantoms, they actually looked good this weekend.

It was an encouraging sign—we know that the Sabres certainly aren’t the most difficult competition that the Flyers have faced this season, but this was a flash of what this team can look like when they’re clicking and actually executing their system, and indeed, what they should look like with the talent they have at their disposal. The Flyers finally look like they’re figuring it out, and they’re starting to look flat-out dangerous again.

2. Replenished lineup provides a real boost

Ice cold take: the Flyers were better now that they’re healthy again.

Yes, this is a given, but it’s worth highlighting how getting a more or less full lineup back not only helps them from the injection of skill back into the mix, but for the fact that it allows everyone to slot back into their proper spots and the Flyers to start benefiting from some mismatches in matchups.

One of the standouts over the last two games was how sharp the fourth line of Michael Raffl, Connor Bunnaman, and Nicolas Aube-Kubel looked. Now, we didn’t dislike any of their play when they were asked to play up in the lineup before these two games, but against the Sabres we saw them really clicking and flat-out dominating in their matchups. Maybe it feels like a smaller detail, but it’s another affirmation of what a complete and clicking Flyers team can do. The reinforcements brought back in allowed for this line to slot back into their optimal spots, and their skill caused some real problem for the Sabres in their matchups. It’s exactly what a team as deep as this one should look like, and the Flyers were reaping the benefits.

The only damn thing I know

We’re having fun again, right? This time last week we were probably not feeling great, coming off of that loss to the Bruins and with a good chunk of the team still on the COVID Protocol list, but this does feel like a pretty sharp turn away from that. Travis Konecny was removed from the protocol list yesterday, and the team is finally back to full strength, and finally looking like they’re really trending in the right direction. It feels like the Flyers are back, and that feeling sure is sweet.