Bruins 4, Flyers 3: 10 things we learned from an eventful preseason contest
Most Flyers fans weren't able to watch, but those who could make it down to the Wells Fargo Center last night were rewarded with a fairly exciting preseason game.
Morning Observations is a feature where we break down the previous night's game with an analytical eye.
#1: Provorov was the most impressive of the prospects
So far in the preseason, Ivan Provorov has played in three games. Only one of those games was televised so that all fans could watch and evaluate the team's blue chip defenseman prospect, and of course, that was Provorov's worst (but still good!) game. By all accounts, he was one of the best players on the ice during Monday's split squad contest in Newark, and last night, he yet again was fantastic.
Provorov certainly had his moments on the power play, but he did his best work at 5-on-5. There was one second period shift in particular that showcased the complete skillset of Ivan Provorov. Over the course of a minute of ice time, Provorov took both a shot and engineered a shot assist in the offensive zone, forced a dump-in via aggressive neutral zone play, provided support for Andrew MacDonald in the defensive end and took the lead in moving the puck up ice, and then capped it off with a gorgeous stretch pass to Jordan Weal that sent him in on Malcolm Subban for a breakaway goal (0:38 second mark).
It was no surprise that the numbers backed up the eye test, as Provorov led all Flyers blueliners with a 66.67% Corsi For percentage at 5v5 on the night. There were a couple hiccups, namely a failure to settle a bouncing puck while retreating through the neutral zone, which eventually led to a late second period Bruins goal. But even in that instance, Provorov was only in the situation because he had alertly backed up Shayne Gostisbehere after Ghost blasted a slapshot from the center of the point right into the legs of a Boston player. In other words, his biggest mistake only happened after he was smart enough to prevent an immediate breakaway opportunity. Provorov was a monster last night.
#2: Konecny was fine, but did most of his damage on PP
Like Provorov, Travis Konecny finished last night's game with a well-earned primary assist due to a move that showcased his instincts and his skills. But unlike Provorov, I'm not sure he dramatically helped his case to make the Flyers' opening night lineup.
Undeniably, Konecny was stellar on the power play. Again taking Claude Giroux's role on the left half-boards, the 19-year old was feeding Wayne Simmonds down-low and Brayden Schenn in the slot with ease, functioning as the main distributor on the unit. And on Schenn's goal, he showed a willingness to slip into the high-danger area when opportunity presented itself, crossing across the low slot to take a pass and create a scoring chance. Konecny was unable to get a shot off (Schenn collected the puck and scored immediately after) but just having the instincts to successfully get to an area that the penalty kill is desperately trying to protect is pretty impressive.
However, Konecny's play at even strength can be described as "just-okay." His Corsi For percentage of 47.83% was below the team average, and that's despite playing with great linemates in Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek. He specifically struggled at times in aiding the breakout on the left side, as the high-forward along the boards needs to be able to hold his position when receiving a pass even when pinching defensemen cause a collision. Too often Konecny was unable to do that, resulting in some extended shifts in the defensive zone.
When it comes down to it, the Flyers know that Konecny is ridiculously skilled, and it surely doesn't come as a surprise that given the added time and space that comes along with a 5v4 power play, Konecny can take apart the opposition. The question regarding his NHL-readiness is more on the physical side -- can the 19-year old still create in the tight-checking environment at 5v5? On Wednesday, he was unstoppable regardless of the situation. Last night, he looked a bit more like a specialist.
#3: After a jittery first period, Myers impressed
The revelation of preseason and training camp, Philippe Myers finally looked like a 19-year old during the first period last night. There was some hesitancy with the puck, which burned him midway through the period when he was cleanly stripped in the neutral zone, resulting in a Boston rush and scoring chance seconds later.
Myers proved he has a short memory in the second period, however. While he wasn't making highlight reel plays, his neutral zone defense was consistently excellent and his reads were sharp. That's what stands out the most about Philippe Myers -- his hockey intelligence with and without the puck. He rarely attempts "difficult" plays, but that's because he's almost always in a position where the simple one will get the job done. Myers was sent back to the QMJHL this morning, but he had one heck of a camp and there's every reason to believe that he'll have a real shot to make the club next year, so long as he builds on his breakout junior season in 2016-17.
#4: Sanheim was great in 50 percent of the ice
Last night, Travis Sanheim was both impressive, and made the decision to loan him to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms this morning very easy for the Flyers' front office. Sanheim made a number of great plays against the Bruins, but every single one came either in the offensive zone or on the attacking side of the neutral zone.
Through my viewings of Sanheim's play in the WHL and this preseason, I feel confident in stating that no defenseman in the Philadelphia organization (Gostisbehere included) is more effective than Sanheim right now in the cycle game. Sure, Ghost has the better shot, but Sanheim is far better at pinching to keep pucks alive on the forecheck, partially due to his superior size. He also possesses a keen understanding of when to activate down low, rarely getting caught chasing a transition rush.
His play in the other half of the ice surface still needs work, though. Sanheim's gap control is inconsistent, and despite his obvious skill with the puck, the 20-year is still prone to passing mistakes while under forechecking pressure. There's every reason to be excited about Travis Sanheim, but he will benefit majorly from extended time in the AHL, working on the finer points of his defensive game.
#5: Lyubimov looks like a find
Last season, the one consistent positive from the "Untouchables" line of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Ryan White and Chris VandeVelde was their ability to be absolute demons on the forecheck. Sure, they gave most of that back via consistently awful defensive zone play, but while on the attack, they were formidable. With the loss of White to free agency, Dave Hakstol must put together a new fourth line, and the competition in camp for spots on that line has been fierce. It's been under-the-radar signing Roman Lyubimov who has been most impressive of the players battling for a fourth line role, at least during the preseason games.
If Hakstol wants to replicate the Untouchables' heavy forecheck with his new fourth line, Lyubimov is the perfect fit. He's tenacious down low, and also seems to be both faster than White and stronger in puck battles than Chris VandeVelde. He hasn't shown much in the way of scoring talent so far (and if his KHL numbers are any indication, that may never emerge), but in terms of the little details of his game, Lyubimov has excelled. Whether it's enough to make the team out of camp may depend on the status of Travis Konecny, as the youngster would create an even bigger logjam in the bottom-six by forcing a player like Raffl down to line three. At the very least, he's a clear upgrade over VandeVelde and should be above him immediately on the organizational depth chart.
#6: Gostisbehere was just a bit off
Shayne Gostisbehere delivered a standout performance for Team North America in the World Cup of Hockey, playing like one of the better blueliners on a roster stacked with young talent. There was a theory that the competitive action would make it easier for World Cup participants to seamlessly switch to regular season speed. At least for the Ghost Bear, that wasn't the case last night. While he certainly had his moments (he faked Jake DeBrusk out of his pads in the first period), Gostisbehere did not look his best against the Bruins.
He struggled with turnovers, with one particularly egregious one in the neutral zone (0:28 second mark) leading to a dangerous chance moving the other way. He also didn't seem to have his usual electric speed. It's nothing to be especially concerned about, as it was just Gostisbehere's first preseason game, but I did find it interesting that there didn't seem to be any benefit to his early start to the competitive season.
#7: Top line rolled
The Flyers won the 5v5 Corsi battle last night, taking 43 attempts at the net to the Bruins' 34. But that edge can be attributed entirely to the stellar play of the team's top line of Brayden Schenn, Nick Cousins and Wayne Simmonds. They torched Boston every time they hit the ice, spending shift after shift in the offensive zone. Cousins had a few mistakes with the puck, but to his line's credit, those errors were only noticeable because the unit always seemed to have control of that puck and were always threatening for dangerous chances. Schenn and Simmonds in particular look close to being ready for season start, even if the former will unfortunately not be in the opening night lineup due to suspension.
#8: Weal stepped up, but his limitations remain apparent
After a few underwhelming performances, Jordan Weal finally delivered last night. Ivan Provorov may have gotten most of the attention on Weal's goal due to his fantastic stretch pass, but Weal was still the one who got open in the first place and capitalized on the ensuing breakaway. The 24-year old was better on the cycle as well, showcasing his offensive creativity on a regular basis.
But even in this game, his Corsi For percentage was merely 50% -- a decent but not outstanding rate. With Weal, everything always comes back to his physical limitations, which hurt him in two key areas. First, even last night he was ineffective on the forecheck, a key aspect of Hakstol's tactics. Second, and most important, he can look overwhelmed when attempting to provide support for the breakout.
He gets manhandled along the boards when he tries to be the high-man outlet, and as the low-man, he hasn't shown the high-end skills necessary to consistently move the puck out of traffic. When you lack bulk and strength, you need to be ultra-skilled to compensate, whether it's skating the puck out of trouble or always finding the open man. if Jordan Weal fails to become an NHL regular, I believe breakout issues will be the biggest reason why.
#9: Scott Laughton disappointing in games
Laughton improved dramatically in 2015-16 from an on-ice statistical performance standpoint when he was shifted over to left wing in February. This summer, I theorized that his skillset fits better on the wing, and the Flyers seem to agree, as he kicked off camp exclusively playing there. Unfortunately, in preseason games, we haven't seen the same exciting winger from the latter part of last season. In fact, out of the players battling for a role on the third line (Cousins, Weise, Read, Laughton), the 2012 first round pick has been the least impressive to my eyes.
Laughton's 47.62% Corsi For percentage was the lowest among forwards last night, and again, the eyes backed up the stats. His speed in particular has not been apparent thus far. I doubt it's a physical ailment that is slowing Laughton, and more a lack of decisiveness on the ice that could be causing Laughton's general ineffectiveness.
At the start of camp, it was difficult to imagine Scott Laughton not making the team, but I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility now. After all, Laughton is waiver-exempt, so the Flyers do not risk losing him to another team if they assign him to the AHL. In addition, if Travis Konecny makes the team, that turns the third line competition into a five-man race, rather than a four-man one. Let's say the third line becomes Raffl-Cousins-Weise, and Read moves down to the fourth line -- what happens to Laughton? Is he the 13th forward? Or do the Flyers take advantage of his waiver-exempt status and remove him from the roster entirely?
#10: Game not being televised was a travesty
As fans realized yesterday, the Flyers-Bruins game last night was not on television or available for streaming. Frankly, this was a disservice to all of the diehard fans who follow the team on a daily basis. Sure, the networks couldn't have known weeks in advance that this game would have so many of the highly-touted prospects still battling for roster spots. But it was still a Saturday night hockey game, preseason or not, and fans care enough to watch it.
I'm sure preseason ratings can't be very high, but judging by my feed as I tried to live tweet the game (which was loaded with questions about what I was seeing on the ice), I imagine last night's contest would have performed better than whatever the local sports networks chose to air instead of hockey. As far as preseason games go, this one was especially important, and it's sad that the fans who obsess over this team didn't have a chance to see it.