Don’t look now, but that’s two wins in a row for the Flyers to close out a historic eight game homestand. It was a weird one, with the Flyers taking this one 2-1 over the Golden Knights and coming away with first period goals from Justin Braun (a point shot that somehow Robin Lehner just didn’t see) and Oskar Lindblom (a nice little wraparound). And while we and the team alike would certainly like to take this result and run with it, it’s worth noting that is also, in short, inexplicable.
It’s inexplicable for a couple of reasons. First in that there never really felt like there was a time in this game when the Flyers really felt like they were in control of play. They were heavily outdone in terms of offensive production, buried by both raw chances as well as more dangerous chances. Across all situations, the Flyers were outdone 88-48 in shot attempts and 24-8 in high danger chances, which feels staggering laid out but also feels about right.
The five-on-five numbers don’t end up looking much better—the Flyers came out of this one with an adjusted 42.84 CF% and 27.41 xGF%.
Here’s a visual for that, if you’re so inclined.
And second was that in one way or another, they really couldn’t seem to get out of their own way. Turnovers were plaguing them throughout that game. The Flyers just handed the Golden Knights five opportunities on the power play—where they can be just lethal in their puck movement, as we saw laid out—and none of those penalties are ones we can look at and say “well, yeah, that’s one they kind of needed to take.”
They also handed over momentum when they were on the power play themselves, struggling to create much of anything, and then inexplicable in that when the man-advantage ticked away, it was like the switch flipped on again and they remembered that they could indeed create offense—two of their best chances, one turned into a goal, one didn’t, came immediately after their power plays expired. It’s baffling, really.
This game so easily could have gotten away from them, particularly late, and again coming from an unforced error. With minimal pressure coming and with other options in front of him, with 1:45 left in the game and the Flyers trying desperately to hold on to their one-goal lead, Ivan Provorov sent the puck straight over the glass and sent Vegas to the power play again. And the Flyers continued to hold on for dear life.
And given all of this, the real star of this show, unsurprisingly, was Carter Hart.
We’ve seen Hart handed some difficult workloads, but this one was hitting another level. Looking again at all situations, he had to face 48 shots in total, and 18 high danger shots, which is frankly an insane single game workload. The Golden Knights put up 5.47 Expected Goals across all situations, and Hart only gave them one (and that one goal was one that he didn’t really stand much of a chance on, with the Golden Knights putting together a bit of a passing clinic leading up to it on the power play, and the Flyers defenders being caught all but standing still and letting them do it).
He was little short of stellar in this one, and he was the singular reason why the Flyers were able to come away with this win.
But not everyone was quite as critical of the work of the skaters as we might be from the outside. Mike Yeo still found some positives in the team’s play in this one, particularly on the defensive side:
Most of the parts of our defensive game were pretty good to be honest with you. You let a team have a puck that much and you are putting yourself in a position where you are going to have to defend. Obviously, you do not want to be taking 5 penalties against a team with that much skill. Again, the work ethic was there and we were blocking shots. I think our structure was pretty sound for the most part, just too many turnovers. We have to be stronger on the puck and we have to be committed. Obviously, we want to have control of entries and create off the rush. When it is not there, there are other things you have to do. Your puck support has to be there so you can get to the offensive zone and break teams down. That is what that team did very well tonight and they did that better than us.
But while there’s some positivity there, it isn’t blind, and Yeo still acknowledges that this was far from the team’s cleanest showing. Because for as much as we can be pleased with the team’s commitment to playing defense and blocking shots, doing that kind of difficult work, there’s a degree of that being the bare minimum that they have to do to clean up their own mess, with how many chances they were allowing the Golden Knights to generate. It is still a step in the right direction, albeit a small one.
Maybe this was bound to happen eventually. Hockey seasons are long and teams who have no business beating better teams do pull that off from time to time. And, what’s more, the Flyers did have at least a few games during their big losing streaks that should have gone their way and didn’t, and maybe this is just the scales tipping back to even. Who knows.
But in a period when the team is looking to keep moving in the right direction, cleaning up their game and building good habits back up, this was not the kind of game you want to have. The team gave up too much and made too many unforced errors, and while it likely won’t be catastrophic for their process or anything like that, it’s a reminder that there’s still a lot of work to be done.