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What we learned in the Flyers’ latest series split against the Rangers

Some observations for your morning...

Philadelphia Flyers v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Well, that break was nice while it lasted, right? The Flyers had three whole days off between games early this week, but got back into action on Thursday to kick off this last run to end the season with a two game series against the Rangers. And it was, well, it wasn’t stellar. The Flyers picked up a win on Thursday, and it was one that we can pretty much only call cursed (their first goal of the game went in off of James van Riemsdyk’s face, he had to leave the ice to get repairs done, and then he came back and scored a second goal. Normal stuff), and then responded to that by bringing something of a lackluster showing last night, and dropped that one 4-1. None of this really feels new, though, we’ve seen series splits like this time and again throughout the season. What’s one more, right?

All stats via Natural Stat Trick.

By the numbers

Dipping first into some of these 5-on-5 numbers from this series, there really isn’t a whole lot that’s surprising. Averaging out the two games, the Flyers come out of this series with an adjusted 51.5 CF% and 47.91 xGF%, which feels about par for the course—this season we’ve seen a good bit of them managing to win themselves the overall shot attempt share, but being forced to keep most of their chances to the outside, while struggling to limit the number of high danger chances allowed, in turn. We got some more of that this week.

The edge in the shot attempt differential is skewed a bit by last night’s performance (the Flyers put up a 54.61 CF% to give Thursday’s 48.32 percent a boost in the average), but in both games, the Flyers came in below 49 percent in xGF%, and if you’re coming away from this series feeling like there wasn’t much time when it looked like the Flyers were really dominating (even when they were winning), well, that may well be why. The results went their way on Thursday, but the underlying process wasn’t particularly strong in either of these two showings.

Power play inconsistencies continue

The section heading for this one really says it all, huh? The Flyers’ showings on the power play over these two games were a little up and down, if we’re being honest. On Thursday, they looked pretty sharp, were able to move the puck around in-zone pretty well, got some nice looks, and looked threatening. They picked up nine scoring chances and seven high danger chances, and were rewarded nicely for those efforts, with both of those van Riemsdyk goals we mentioned in the introduction coming on the power play.

But in last night’s game, they didn’t really have that same level of effectiveness. They struggled to hold the puck in the zone, and didn’t look nearly as precise in their passing, and that all amounted to them looking pretty flat (and squandering a good bit of 5-on-3 time they had to work with, to boot).

None of this is a surprise, of course. The power play has been maddeningly inconsistent all season, and we just got another taste of that this week.

Notes on goaltending

The goaltending performances from this series were a similar mixed bag. With those three days off between games, we got a well rested Brian Elliott on Thursday, and all in all, he looked pretty sharp. He had a pretty considerable workload as well, as he faced 35 shots on the night, and only let in two goals, keeping the team in the mix and keeping things from getting out of hand when the skaters in front were still trying to get their legs under them. And, if nothing else, it was a reminder of how good he can look when his workload in managed well and he gets a bit of rest. Who knew?

Alex Lyon was up in the rotation last night, and that one, well, it didn’t go quite as well. The team in front actually did some good work last night to limit the number of chances that were getting through to Lyon, but he wasn’t really in top form—he made some nice saves, but there were more moments when he just didn’t seem to be tracking the puck all that well. This meant that, in the end, he gave up four goals on 24 shots, and that’s a pretty tough one to swallow.

And, as always, we’re reminded of the difficulty of his situation, spending just about the whole of the season on the taxi squad and getting so little actual playing time, but this performance was still one that could have been sharper.

Welcome, Jackson Cates!

One of the neat bits to come out of last night’s game was newly signed forward Jackson Cates’s NHL debut. The Flyers signed him out of UMD last week, and after he completed his quarantine, they moved him right up to the active roster, and were looking to get him in for an NHL game pronto, and that just turned out to be last night.

All in all, it was a fine enough first game for Cates, if a bit of a mixed bag, considering he was making the jump straight from the NCAA level to the NHL. The good news is that he brought a nice bit of energy and had a couple nice looks for himself, and he definitely made his presence known in that way. The bad news is that David Quinn was really trying to get Artemi Panarin’s line out against Cates’s as much as possible, and that went just about as well as expected—Cates came out of this one with an adjusted 40.47 CF% and 36.37 xGF%, losing that matchup pretty decidedly.

He’s, in all likelihood going to be more of a factor with the Phantoms next season than with the Flyers, so we’re not going to get too fussed about him not coming in and looking positively lights out in his debut. But it was cool to see him make that debut, all the same.

“There’s no quitters on the team.”

If there’s one quote that’s haunted us through this series, it’s that one from Brian Elliott from Wednesday. It’s one that makes a lot of sense to come from someone on the team—I mean, they’re certainly not going to roll up to a media availability and say “yeah, we’ve given up—but it really opens up a whole can of worms when placed against the backdrop of, well, the whole of the season.

To be clear, we don’t really think the team has wholly given up on the season. They haven’t been consistent, to be sure, but the positive flashes are enough to show us that there’s still engagement happening, even if the results aren’t there. But it remains that the engagement hasn’t been completely consistent either, and there have been more stretches than we’re particularly comfortable with when the teams has looked just plain listless, and the question of quitting hasn’t seemed so far fetched.

And, in the face of stretches of flat, poor play, if we’re to believe that this is what the team looks like when they are still trying? Well, that is a bit troubling.