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What we learned from the Flyers’ disappointing series against the Penguins

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Some observations for your morning...

Philadelphia Flyers v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

Well, at least that’s over. The Flyers had a three game series against the Penguins this week, and on the whole, it wasn’t a pretty happening. The Flyers dropped the first and third games, and while they mounted a stellar comeback to pick up a win in the second, it was a disastrous start that had them deep in a hole in the first place. Which is all to say that this was, in a word, a messy series for the Flyers. They’re right back at it tonight, so here’s hoping that they can right the ship, but let’s dig into some takeaways before we move on and completely erase this series from our brains, yeah?

All stats via Natural Stat Trick.

How’d they look out there?

5-on-5: 52.10 CF%, 49.46 SF%, 47.68 xGF%, 41.73 GF%

After the Flyers’ series against the Sabres, we made note that perhaps the biggest positive takeaway was how they were able to positively dominate play at 5-on-5, and it was one of the more isolated pairs of games when their underlying process seemed to be pretty well locked down. We were hoping that they could carry some momentum from that with them into this series against the Penguins and, well, that didn’t happen. We had some period to period variance, the Flyers weren’t a disaster across the board, that would be an oversimplification. But looking at the whole of the series, the Flyers took a step back in their process from where they were against the Sabres. They generated a good number of shot attempts, but were held to the outside and struggled to get shots through on net, much less generate too much in the way of high danger chances. The Penguins out-did them by more dangerous chances, so it isn’t much of a surprise that the goal-based results also left something to be desired. The results were reflective of the process, it was as simple as that.

Power play: 20:20, 33 CF, 23 SF, 11 HDCF, 2 GF

It was something of an interesting week for the Flyers on the power play, as we got a bit of a mixed bag from them.

The good: the Flyers got a few nice looks on the power play, and were able to pick up goals in Tuesday and Saturday’s games, care of Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes, respectively.

The bad: when they weren’t scoring on the power play, they really didn't have a whole lot going on at all. The Flyers close to overwhelmingly fell victim to overpassing, and a general lack of urgency hurt them. The Penguins’ penalty kill was playing pretty aggressively and that gave the Flyers some trouble, but more often, it was the Flyers beating themselves by not being efficient in their plays and making mistakes. They just weren’t clicking, on the whole, and generally were looking pretty listless. So, feast or famine, things of that nature.

Penalty kill: 13:43, 21 CA, 12 SA, 7 HDCA, 3 GA

The Flyers’ penalty kill, too, had something of a tough series. Now, we don’t look at the chances against on that stat line and just feel awful, it’s not as though they were bleeding an extreme number of chances—it wasn’t great, but we’ve seen worse—but they did get burned badly a few times, and that’s what really sticks out. They gave up one power play goal on Tuesday, were perfect on Thursday, and then came back yesterday and went one for three, giving up two pretty rough goals, as the Penguins put on a bit of a passing clinic and the Flyers just had nothing to offer in terms of pushback. The Penguins were dictating play, and they were just hoping to weather the storm, and it wasn’t a strategy that particularly paid dividends.

Standouts

Joel Farabee

The sky is blue, water is wet, Joel Farabee continues to be a revelation for the Flyers. He missed Thursday’s game after being placed on the NHL’s COVID Protocol list, so he was only able to get in for two of the three games, but he was a real positive force in both of those games. The Flyers only had two goals scored in their first game, and Farabee had both of them. He was held off the scoresheet yesterday, but he still brought a lot of jump, and his line with Sean Couturier and James van Riemsdyk was the only line to come out with the edge in both the shot attempt and Expected Goals differentials, with a 53.04 CF% and 54 xGF%. It wasn’t a case of Farabee wholly putting the team on his back to drag them to victory, but he was a positive force in each of his games played, a high point in an otherwise pretty lukewarm series.

Claude Giroux

If we want to talk about putting the team on one’s back and dragging them to victory, though, we should probably talk about Claude Giroux. He had a pretty solid series, on the whole, but Thursday’s game really saw him taking over. After Sean Couturier got the Flyers on the board on the power play late in the first period, Giroux took over and really pulled the team back into the game. He picked up a goal in the second period to get the Flyers back within one, then set up Scott Laughton’s game-tying goal, and then went ahead and scored the game winner late in the third period so there was no need to even force overtime. It was a stellar scoring outburst, and the underlying numbers were strong as well, as he put up an adjusted 61.24 CF% and 63.79 xGF% (first and second among all skaters, respectively) and just positively dominated his matchups.

Should this be a surprise? No, we’ve seen Giroux put up performances like this time and again over the years. And it really shouldn’t have been a case of him needed to do it here, if we’re honest. But it worked and it did see Giroux look like he was really getting going again, which was a welcome sight.

Loose observations

On shooting oneself in the foot

Here we are again, folks. The Flyers’ defensive deficiencies are not a news to us all, we know that this has been a weakness in some capacity through the whole of the season, but they were on full display this week. The distinct low point was the three goals against scored in 1:11 on Thursday to put the Flyers in a big hole, but really the defense was suspect through the whole of the series.

There are only so many times that we can say something has to give, but something does have to give. If Myers is going to miss more or less significant time,

We need to talk about Nolan Patrick

We should preface this with a couple of notes, get them out of the way right off the bat: we’re trying to be delicate with this, because it doesn’t really feel fair to pile on just one player after the team performances that the Flyers just brought, and we’re also sympathetic to the hill that Patrick’s had to climb to get himself back into game shape after his long absence. But his play recently has certainly has left something to be desired, and it’s become something of an elephant in the room in need of addressing.

This series saw Patrick start, as he had been for the past few games, playing wing on the line with Claude Giroux and Kevin Hayes, and arrangement designed to help get him going, and then when that didn’t work, demoted to fourth line center with Connor Bunnaman and Michael Raffl. And, to be clear, the series wasn’t a disaster for Patrick—he had flashes of strong playmaking, and we saw him throwing the body around a bit in the second game, so there were positives to be taken away. But the issue, as has been the case, remains consistency, as just as often as we saw him standing out positively, we saw him looking a step behind or just plain disengaged.

Patrick has just four points and 14 shots on goal at 5-on-5 through his first 21 games played (just one more than Bunnaman, who has played about six fewer games and just about 86 fewer minutes), and this, it goes without saying, is a problem. The ask for Patrick is that he produces offense, and that isn’t happening right now. It’s not just an issue of him getting unlucky, the underlying process isn’t putting him in a position to succeed. It just isn’t working.

And, again, we can be sympathetic to what Patrick’s gone through and try to keep our early season expectations reasonable, but it is fair to come away from this one thinking that we wanted to see more from him. What we got, in short, wasn’t the look of a demoted player doing everything he could to get himself bumped back up in the lineup.

The only damn thing I know

If we’re looking to tie this one up neatly, we should close out by just making note that this was not a very fun series. Sure, the result was bad for the Flyers and their play wasn’t always sharp, but the Penguins didn’t look positively dominant either. This series was pretty messy for both sides at times, and the product was just sort of weird. Hopefully this isn’t what the real playoff series look like.