Some observations for your morning
Happy Valentine’s Day, pals! The Flyers got you another blown lead and shootout loss, and we got you ten observations about this. I’m sure it’s exactly what you wanted. Let’s dig in.
All stats and graphics via Corsica.Hockey, Natural Stat Trick, and NHL.com
1. Moving on up
A new personnel arrangement swings back around: the third pairing of Brandon Manning and Radko Gudas got the start with the Nolan Patrick line last night. Which is somewhat curious, in a way, but it points to an arrangement we’ve been seeing, and continue to see: this pairing has been spending quite a bit of time with the top two lines, being sheltered by lines that figure to spend more time in the offensive zone generating chances than defending.
And this choice makes sense in a few ways. If it’s been pegged as a defensive liability—as it has proven to be of late, with the ugly breakdowns leading to goals against—it seems reasonable that they should be put with a forward trio that gives them the best chance to be removed from the defensive zone. Additionally, the Manning-Gudas pairing has proven useful from a shot generation standpoint. So, you get it.
The downside? Putting the Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere pair with the top line was not just highly effective, but also just a real treat to watch. So while sheltering the third unit might help reduce ugly breakdowns, you also sacrifice something in the way of productivity by way of promoting them.
2. Oh. Look at that. Konecny scored on another breakaway. That’s pretty neat
If there’s something we’ve learned since the last reconfiguration of the top line, it’s that this one is very good at springing Travis Konecny for breakaway attempts. And he is very good* at scoring on them. He did so again last night, just 1:54 into the first period to get the Flyers their first lead of the game.
*Okay, so maybe it’s more like he’s just regular good at scoring on breakaways. He had at least two more on the night, but wasn’t able to convert on those, as with the shootout attempt (which of course is not the same, but in the same vein). We’ve seen him take big steps forward with his shooting just this season alone, but it still remains that there’s work left to be done. But he’s getting a lot of practice, it seems, and it’s coming along nicely enough.
3. Turnovers (again)
I don’t remember what it was in reference to, honestly, but Brad made a comment in our Slack chat recently about how screaming into the void grows tiring after a while. And he’s right. But here we are, still, screaming into the void because the Flyers can’t totally get it together.
The turnovers situation in Arizona and Vegas were very bad. There’s no way to sugarcoat or mince words about it. The Flyers were veritable turnover machines and it was a miracle that they didn’t get positively eviscerated for it. They managed to clean it up some for last night’s match-up against the Devils, but the issue still presented itself, and it hurt them in the end. When the Devils started to close the gap and come back in the third period, sloppy play gave them more chances to work with (but more on that later).
But it isn’t all doom and gloom. The Devils weren’t exactly clean puck controllers themselves, and the Flyers had their chances to exploit their mistakes. But the downside is that they also weren’t able to close on those chances they were given. So it goes.
Okay. So we have to talk about it. We really have to.
With Brian Elliott going down in the shootout in Arizona, and the news that he had undergone surgery yesterday to correct a core muscle injury and would miss 5-6 weeks, Michal Neuvirth became the de facto starter. This was it. We needed him to come up big. He can put up a solid performance, we know he can. He just needs to do it. But oh boy did he not look good last night.
I spent a lot of time thinking about some fancy wording to break down his performance, but it was just one thought that kept sticking with me: dude has no idea where the puck is tonight. The first Taylor Hall goal was an ugly one, from a sharp angle, and it was certainly stoppable. It’s one he’ll want back, to be sure. But it was hardly an anomaly; troubles with positioning plagued him throughout the game, and there were certainly a fair number of time when his defensemen had to work to fail him out when he was down or out of position. And maybe we can chalk it up to fatigue from travel, or his general flukiness. But either way, it wasn’t the showing that fans—or the team—wanted to see from their new starter. He had the chance to show that he could handle the promotion, no problem, but he couldn’t quite do that.
5. A note on shot selection
I’m not going to say too many words leading up to this. Just have a look at this graph.
While we saw the Flyers dominating in the number of chances generating, we also saw them overwhelmingly holding the edge in the quality of chances battle. Just look at how dark the area around the net is. From the start of the game, they were working to stabling themselves as clear netfront presences, and looking to take high danger shots and chip away at pucks in the crease. And guess what: they were rewarded for it. With all three of their 5-on-5 goals coming from close to the net, to be exact.
And, of course, maybe this fact seems to suggest some sort of moral victory, that even though the Flyers lost the goaltending battle (and, yeah, the game) the work they were doing was solid. This would be true, sure, but it doesn’t make the loss and the blown lead any easier to swallow, even if it does seem to bode well for future results.
6. The Bees!
And the Honey Bees remain back and as good as ever! They’re continuing to produce! Would you look at that!
We’ve talked a lot recently about how the Scott Laughton line has been working very well together, how the work they’ve been doing has been solid and how it seems like things are this close to breaking open for them. And they got a taste of this last night.
The sequence leading up to the goal was formulaic Honey Bees in the best of ways. It was Weal carrying and controlling the puck in the zone. It was a pass from Michael Raffl from below the red line to the front of the net. It was Laughton out front to tap it home. It was the kind of full line effort that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing, and one that finally got the result it deserved for the work that led up to it. And while the question remains of how well the line will continue to produce, tangibly, going forward, this seems a good enough indication that more breaks are coming.
7. /extremely Something Corporate voice/ I’m not your STAR
Okay, so I sacrificed complete accuracy for the joke on this one. Sue me.
The NHL named Claude Giroux their first star of last week, and he is their star. And he remains a star. He continues to do good things. He’s earned the distinction.
Last night was, on the whole, a good one for Giroux. It certainly wasn’t perfect, but the good stuff was of a particularly flashy variety.
The less good: his line was pretty well thrashed by the end of the game by Corsi, and he himself put up an adjusted 39.30 CF% at 5-on-5.
The better: he still registered three shots on net, and tallied the team’s only power play goal. His setup for Konecny’s breakaway goal was great work and very nice to look at. The line generated a number of chances throughout the night, and he was right in the thick of it.
In sum, Giroux had himself a solid enough night, hitting a comfortable balance between doing the little things right and getting tangible production on the ice. It wasn’t enough to drag the team out of the hole it was in the midst of digging for itself, but it’s worth extending a nod to.
8. The power play
But hey, while we touched on it above, let’s talk a little more about the power play.
It wasn’t the best or most dynamic showing for it, but the power play had a decent night, all in all. They went one-for-five on their attempts (and had one of them abbreviated, after they took a penalty while with the man advantage). But a 20 percent conversion rate isn’t exactly one to feel too terribly bad about.
But where some feelings of disappointment may be coming from is the fact that a 20 percent rate just doesn’t feel like what the Flyers—particularly the first unit—are capable of generating. We’ve seen this unit look much more dangerous, being even more mobile and getting momentum rolling even faster, or to an even greater degree. And while, to be sure, their early season success can’t be sustainable, there remains the feeling that there’s something left to be tapped into.
And a blast from the past: Brandon Manning received another shift with PP2 on their last attempt. I don’t know how much I have to say about this. It didn’t work last time, but surely it will now. Sure. I’ll just leave you with that.
9. Fading out
We touched on this earlier, and it seems about time that we circle back around to it. I’ll be blunt: the third period was not a banner showing for the Flyers.
While the second period saw the greatest allowance of Devils goals (three in total), the third saw the Flyers yielding more in terms of shots. They had looked like they were working their way back into it, back to dominating like they did through much of the first period, but then they let it slip away. The Devils put up an adjusted CF% of 59.21 percent at five-on-five, and an HDCF% of 75.07 percent, clearly establishing themselves as the dominant presence.
Dave Hakstol noted in his press conference that there are times, especially during busy stretches like this one, where fatigue begins to creep into players and the game. And maybe that was the culprit here, or part of it. But the fact remains that this was one where the Flyers had a good chance through most of it, and while they still got the standings point, they found a way to lose.
10: The only damn thing I know
Before warmups, they showed that video of the Flyers saying what they did with their first NHL paycheck. You know the one. The one where Brian Elliott is a total dad and says that he put his in the bank because you never know how long they’re going to keep coming. And it was delightful and sad. Poor Dad Elliott. We’ll miss him for the next few weeks.