It’s the new look, post-trade deadline Flyers, and their first showing in Detroit last night, well, it did not go well for them. We’ve got a lot to go over here, so let’s just get right into the meat of this, yeah?
All stats via Natural Stat Trick.
Every day, a little weirder
It really does seem like every day is bringing us a new adventure around here. With Monday’s trade deadline in the books, the Flyers are now without Justin Braun and Derick Brassard, and that things are looking pretty different around here. And as a result of these changes and perhaps not enough time to call up another forward from Lehigh Valley, the Flyers went with an 11 forwards and 7 defensemen setup last night, and it was, well, it was about as smooth as you might expect. It took a while for much rhythm to be established, and the start was understandably a little tenuous. One would imagine that the Flyers are not going to be running this configuration for the duration of the season, whether that’s because of a recall or an injured player coming back. But things got a little weird in this one and with the season effectively over for the team, this is probably not the last of the weirdness we see. Buckle in, folks.
A tough night for Ristolainen
We do kind of hate to pile on just one player after a loss, because this is a team game and a lot of factors play into a loss, but we do have to single out one player here, because what an absolutely disastrous game this was for Ristolainen. Because when you get four non-empty net goals scored on you and one player’s mistakes are the reason for them, that’s worth pointing at. Let’s hit the highlight reel.
Rasmus Ristolainen interferes with Carter Hart on Detroit's opening goal. pic.twitter.com/xYWxpiS24f— Ryan Gilbert (@RGilbertSOP) March 22, 2022
Rasmus Ristolainen makes a good defensive play then erases it with a turnover, leading to another Detroit goal. pic.twitter.com/9Xs44M5GEk— Ryan Gilbert (@RGilbertSOP) March 23, 2022
Not a great breakout pass by Risto there. pic.twitter.com/YyDCn2DKYS— Ryan Gilbert (@RGilbertSOP) March 23, 2022
Between turnovers and failures in coverage on three of those four goals against, that’s a really tough individual showing. Mike Yeo made a point of saying after the game that just isn’t really true. Ristolainen was given 50 percent offensive zone starts (along with Travis Sanheim), and while that’s not as easy of a workload as Yandle and Connauton (100 percent) and Seeler (75 percent), it’s certainly not as difficult of a workload as Cam York and Ivan Provorov (20 and 28.57 percent offensive zone starts) were given, and they did straight up well in this game. It was a shame that this happened here, because the Flyers did have a nice response later in the game, once they’d settled in with some new lines, and had some chances to work with. They had this game within reach, but those mistakes sank them.
And listen, Ristolainen is not as bad as he was last night, but he’s shown across his career and this season in particular that he’s capable of dropping these kinds of games with relative consistency, and while it is hard to blame him on some level (he is what he is) more than anything, it’s curious how the front office has looked at that and this bit of predictability and decided that was worth giving him a 5x5.1 extension.
We alluded to this already, but we should give the Flyers credit for the response they had to falling behind early and really just shooting themselves in the foot to start. That was a start that, earlier in the season, might have spiraled into something really ugly, but it didn’t here. They didn’t get too down on themselves, and just chipped away and continued to pick up some steam as the game went on. They responded physically as well (looking at you, Zack MacEwen, with not one but two fights on the evening), and there was a lot to like in that. The Red Wings did give the Flyers some space to work with, some chances for free, and while we would have liked to see them cash in on a few more of those chances, they were there for them.
In any event, just as much as the Flyers are trying to make progress on the structural side of their play, they’re working to improve the mental side, the part that gets down and lets things get out of hand at the slightest show of adversity, and this game was a testament to the progress they’ve made in that department.
By the numbers
But, all of that said, we still wouldn’t come away from this one feeling like this was the Flyers’ best offensive showing. They did pick up some momentum as the game went on and got the better of the chances in the third period on its own, but on the whole, they struggled to really get their offense going. All told, they came out of this one with 31 shots on goal and 21 scoring chances at 5-on-5 alone, and that seems promising, but the six high danger chances is the bit that’s telling—they were getting puck to the net but they weren’t really making things as difficult on Alex Nedeljkovic as they could have. And all of that came while they were also giving up more than they were creating (they came out of this one with an adjusted 42.78 CF% and 41.95 xGF%). A slower start and falling into a hole early certainly didn’t help them, but for as much as we might have like the overall jump in this one, as we look at how this one graded out, how shorthanded offensively they were in this one was pretty clear.
A nod to Joel Farabee
Okay, so not only was the 11F/7D not the last weirdness we’d see, but it’s not even the last bit of weirdness we’re talking about in this article. An interesting byproduct of the current roster situation was that Farabee saw himself moved to play some center (something he’s only done sparingly in junior and college) but it... worked? The all winger line with him, van Riemsdyk, and Atkinson was buzzing, and while they only had 7:34 of time together, they put up an adjusted 56.53 CF% and 85.71 xGF%, while also combining for a goal, and Farabee was at the center of that (sorry). He picked up a goal (away from that lone) and led the team in scoring chances at 5-on-5 with four, and Yeo praised his ability to move into the offensive zone with control of the puck in this one. All in all, he was impressive.
Now, do we think this is something that’s going to work out in the long term? Probably not. But at this point in the season, there’s nothing left to lose, it can’t hurt to try it, and if it does end up working out, well, then you’ve got something interesting here.