What a strange series this was. After a tough loss to the Devils early in the week, the Flyers were back at it with a pair of games against the Rangers, and it was certainly a mixed bag if we’ve ever seen one. The Flyers dropped a truly embarrassing 8-3 loss on Thursday, and things were really looking like this spiral was never going to end, but then they came back yesterday and played a relatively simple yet effective game, and lifted themselves to a 2-1 win to tie the series. So we’re coming away from this one with some conflicting feelings, to say the least, and as always, quite a bit to break down. So let’s dig into it.
All stats via Natural Stat Trick.
Three numbers of note
1. 56 CF% at 5-on-5
While the mixed results that the Flyers found in this pair of games likely has us feeling some kind of way, on the whole, it was a pretty strong series for them from a possession standpoint. Across these two games, the Flyers found a pretty comfortable edge in these shot impacts, putting up an adjusted 56 CF%, 53.26 SCF%, and 53.22 xGF% at 5-on-5, pretty well dominating from a possession standpoint, which, in isolation, is something we certainly like to see.
However, these numbers don’t bring us a ton of solace, given the fact that they still got blown out on Thursday, and knowing how they struggled to turn even their positive efforts into tangible defense. Indeed, even though the Flyers put up a whopping 95 shot attempts between these two games, only 60 of them became shots on goal, and they ended up with just 14 high danger chances. A shoot-first mentality is a good thing to have, especially at this point in the season, but it does remain that the Flyers aren’t going to find stellar results if they continue to let themselves be held nearly exclusively to the perimeter.
2. 4 goals against on the penalty kill
It was, of course, a tough pair of games for the Flyers’ penalty killers. They had 14:10 in time spent on the penalty kill, and in that time, they gave up 25 shot attempts, 14 scoring chances, six high danger chances, and, of course, four goals against. Yesterday did see a bit of an improvement in the later parts of the game, they were able to settle down a bit and find better results, but they really struggled here in finding clears and taking away dangerous passing lanes, and they were pretty well burned for it.
And perhaps just as noteworthy as the results themselves is the why they ended up in the position of needed to (and then not) killing those penalties in the first place. It’s hard to point fingers at just a few players, but a tough takeaway from this series was that we saw both Samuel Morin and Travis Konecny taking roughing penalties that didn’t need to happen, and then the penalty kill swiftly getting scored on.
It’s a tough balance—you want to see players engaged and showing some emotion, but there is a line not to cross, especially when your penalty kill is struggling as much as it is.
3. 4 goals from not the Couturier line
It’s no secret that secondary scoring has been something of an issue for the Flyers so far this season. For much of it, it’s been the trio of James van Riemsdyk, Sean Couturier, and Joel Farabee leading the charge, and even though that line’s been broken up now, those three are really who we’re still expecting to see making the big impacts.
But that wasn’t really the case in this series. Couturier chipped in a power play goal, but they also got a pair from Kevin Hayes and Nolan Patrick on the man-advantage, as well as two more from Claude Giroux and Samuel Morin. So the Flyers got a good bit of scoring from sources outside of their main contributor group, and while it wasn’t enough to boost them to a win in both of these games, it was still a nice little boost for them. There are a number of players up and down the lineup who the Flyers need to see get going again, and as much as we like that trio that we mentioned above, having them do All Of The Work isn’t really a sustainable model for team success. So this bit of secondary scoring that the Flyers got in these two games seemed, if nothing else, a step in the right direction.
Two loose observations
1. Goaltending rebounds a touch
It’s been a real struggle for the Flyers this season, so we’re very much on goalie watch around here, watching and waiting to see if Carter Hart and Brian Elliott stabilize a bit. And, if we’re looking for a bit of good news, it’s that we did see some decent performances in these two games. The numbers in Thursday’s game don’t look good for anyone (five goals against on 11 shots for Hart and three goals against on 11 shots for Elliott), but it is a bit hard to just blame the goalies for how that one played out, with how the defense all but self destructed in front of them. Yesterday, though, with a bit of help from the defense, we got a much stronger overall showing from Elliott, as he made 24 saves on 25 shots (and really couldn’t be blamed for the one goal against—not too many goalies are going to make a save on a shot with a cross-ice pass like that one had leading up to it).
It wasn’t a perfect showing, but what really stood out about Saturday’s game was that the Flyers were just getting... a reasonable amount of saves. It wasn’t lights out, but it was enough to bail out the team when they needed it, and it was more than enough to keep from losing this game for their team. It was a glimpse of what the team can look like then the defense isn’t fully imploding and they’re getting even just passable goaltending. There’s success to be found there, folks. What a time to be alive.
2. A bit of levity
We also had a pretty fun happening in yesterday’s game, and that came with Samuel Morin scoring the game winner, and also his first NHL goal. It was an important goal for the team, in that it secured them a much needed win, but the emotional boost it provided was something really special.
Morin has been through a lot in his career, coming back time and again from injury and to finally get a real shot in the NHL, back at his natural position, and to finally get that first NHL goal, after all that time and work and adversity overcome, well, that was really something. Also on the ice when the goal was scored were Shayne Gostisbehere, Scott Laughton, and Nicolas Aube-Kubel, each of whom spent time with him in the AHL—they came up together, and the celebration for the goal was proof of how much it meant to everyone.
Are we getting too ahead of ourselves and putting too much stock in that showing? No. We’ll reserve our judgement for another day, after he gets a few more games. But things have been really bleak around here for a while now, and this was really fun. I think we all needed this.
The big picture
There was a point made on the broadcast yesterday this being the point when the Flyers very well may be turning the season around. And it’s a nice sentiment—as we said above the boost from Morin’s goal was a big one, and the life we saw in the team was quite a bit more than we’ve seen recently—but we might hasten everybody to pump the brakes, for now at least.
Because we’ve seen this cycle before—the Flyers put up an embarrassing loss, then respond with a much stronger showing, only to fall right back into those same old bad habits in the next game. It’s happened time and again this season, with the Flyers struggling really mightily to sustain any momentum that they build.
It’s true, there’s something that felt different about this one, but we’ve seen the Flyers backslide before, If they want our belief that they’re really turning things around, they’re going to have to show us a little bit more.