Flyers 5, Coyotes 4: Comeback City, baby

Some observations for your morning…

Well that certainly was… an adventure, you might say. It was quite the emotional roller coaster, to say the least, but at the end of the day we’re left with this: the Flyers brought it home and came back just a little bit stronger, and they got us a win at home. We haven’t seen many of those so far this season, friends, so this one was pretty nice, despite the route it took us to get there. There were some things to like, and some other areas where things got a little dicey. Let’s dig right in.

All stats via Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com

1.Now THAT is starting with some jump

We’ve spent a lot of this season so far bemoaning the starts that the Flyers have gotten off to, and with good reason—far too often they came out flat and struggled to get going, and more often than not dropped at least the first goal of the game and had to work doubly hard to try to dig themselves out of a hole. It was tiresome, and it was costly, and we and they knew that they needed to be better. They shored it up on the road trip, and they carried that momentum home.

The Flyers came out with some jump right out of the gate, with noticeably more speed than we’re used to seeing from them in the early parts of games, and they used that to get right to work. They took what had been working for them on the road trip and ran with it—creating some initial chances on the rush, but when they got the puck into the zone, they got it in deep, and they focused on generating chances in close. And it shouldn’t, then, come as much of a surprise that they were rewarded with two goals—care of Travis Konecny and Scott Laughton—before we hit the six minute mark as a direct result of those efforts. And it was exactly what we had been asking them for—a strong start to help them build their momentum and start to take over the game, to at least build themselves a cushion, should they need it (narrator: they did). The only bad part was that it couldn’t quite hold (but more on that later).

2.The power play

We got an early first look at the power play in this one, when they had a chance to extend their lead after 2:32 when Richard Panik was called for hooking, and we were hopeful that they could even out a little, start to get some results. And, well, that didn’t really happen. Not on that chance, not on any of the four chances they had on the night.

The least bad we saw from then was just an inability to close—they put up a couple of chances, particularly on that first go, but they just couldn’t quite get the finish. And then it got a little worse as they struggled to get set up and generate much of anything.

And then, of course, the absolute, abject tire fire broke out when they allowed two shorthanded goals in a span of 24 seconds. And, really, they shouldn’t have happened. The first was just bad luck—Derek Stepan had a clean breakout because the linesman interfered with Shayne Gostisbehere and didn’t let him through the neutral zone to make chase. The second was Michael Grabner doing what he does, and the Flyers doing what they do, in putting up an awful, sloppy shift in the immediate aftermath of that goal. Hakstol said after the game that he should have used his timeout after the Stepan goal to settle things down, and he’s right.

All things considered, this wasn’t a great game if we wanted to evaluate the performance of the power play, with all the messiness sort of skewing things. But we do remain with this: they went up against the best penalty kill in the league, and they couldn’t beat it.

3.Getting rattled

We touched on it above, this idea that the Flyers were up to their old tricks last night, in giving up a goal and struggling mightily to get settled after that. We saw it after the Stepan goal, where they just looked all out of sorts and couldn’t stop themselves from giving up another chance, but we saw this sort of spiral starting right after they gave up the Oliver Ekman-Larsson goal for the Coyotes on the power play. They started to deflate, and that early dominance that they came out with started to wither in a big way. We saw them spending much more time in their own end, and we started to get nervous. We’ve seen this one before—how long can they be hemmed in their own end for before they inevitably give up another goal, because they just can’t make a clean break out? They escaped the end of the first period unscathed, but the tone was set, and when the Coyotes started to take over in the second period it wasn’t much of a surprise. In the end, of course, we know they were able to battle back, but maybe it wouldn’t have had to be such a dramatic rally if the push back had come earlier in the first place.

4.Let’s talk about the goalies

Yes, that’s right: the goalies, plural. We saw them both last night, and it was something of a mixed bag.

Calvin Pickard got the start, and it really wasn’t much of a surprise—he’d played well against the Coyotes on Saturday, and with Brian Elliott just coming back from being a little dinged up, it made sense. But Pickard couldn’t bring that same level of play into last night’s game, it would turn out. He let in four goals on 18 shots and averaged a .778 save percentage on the night. It wasn’t all his fault, the support in front of his was lacking, but he still wasn’t as sharp as he was last weekend, so when the team needed a change, he was pulled.

This left Elliott to come in in relief, and he did so well. He didn’t have a whole lot of time to ease in, was tested right away with a couple of shots, but this ended up helping him get a feel for things right away, he said after the game. The Flyers were working to start their push towards a comeback, and Elliott kept them right in it, stopping all 16 of the shots he faced. They needed him to come in and do what he’s done for them, just be steady and keep them in it, and he did just that.

5.Killing penalties

We’ve alluded to it already, so let’s just get into it. It’s time to talk about the penalty kill. We didn’t see too much of it yesterday, which is good news, with the Flyers only taking two penalties on the night, and it was a split in terms of the results.

The first attempt, on Wayne Simmonds’s delay of game penalty that was actually Christian Folin’s delay of game penalty (easy mistake, they do look so much alike), was not a stellar one. The Coyotes got set up in the zone and got right to cycling the puck, and with the screen set on Pickard and no one making much of an effort to get around that, the goal was something of an inevitability. And the Flyers streak of power play goals given up reached nine games.

The good news, however, is they came back better on their second attempt (when actually Simmonds was called for cross checking). In this, they were more aggressive in getting after the puck carrier, and it worked out for them. The Coyotes weren’t able to set up the same as they did on their first go, and found their attempts frustrated. Is it worth putting in perspective that the Coyotes’ power play is also struggling right now, and that’s what the Flyers put up a good effort against? Probably. But they looked better for a moment, there, all the same. More of that, please.

6.Scott Laughton is kind of on fire right now

You heard it here, folks, Scott Laughton is good at that hockey. After having a comparatively quieter road trip, he came back home with force and was looking to veritably take over this game. Laughton gave them their second goal of the first period, providing that extra cushion that we talked about earlier, that they would end up needing badly, considering what was coming on the power play. And then, after the Flyers fell behind, when things were looking a little bleak, he came back and got them within one goal just under two and a half minutes into the third period, and we had a game again.

By the numbers, too, it was a good night for Laughton—he put up an adjusted 72.50 CF% at 5-on-5, leading all Flyers, and also registered three individual scoring chances, including two high danger chances for (both of which turned into goals). All around, it was a strong night for Laughton, as he continues to produce well, even as he’s been bumped back down to a fourth line role. Skill works there, too. Imagine that.

7.Travis Konecny is also Doing The Things

And at long last! After a slow start to the season, Konecny’s finally settling in and is really starting to produce well for the team. We’re giving him extra props, because he specifically did the ultimate thing we wanted the Flyers to do, that is come out with some jump and maybe even get the team off to am early lead. And that he did,

But outside of the initial flash of that first goal, Konecny was kind of all over the place for the bulk of the night (but like, in a good way). He was using his speed consistently and continuing to create chances throughout. He closed out the night with seven shots and four proper scoring chances, and an adjusted 57.02 CF% at 5-on-5. A couple of those chances very well might have turned into something, but it appears all of his early season bad luck hasn’t quite run out. He’s doing his best to get around it, it seems, and we may not be too far away from the scales evening and more bounces going his way. But for the time being, he’s certainly giving himself the best chance to succeed, making his own luck.

8.Regression session

So, we need to talk. We broke down that very solid start that the Flyers got off to, and how that was really a testament to the hard and smart work they were putting in—coming out with speed and stressing high danger chances.

And then things go south. And that’s about when folks start preaching about “keeping it simple” in order to work their way back into this. What does this mean for the Flyers? It means getting set up in the offensive zone and just throwing bombs in from the point and hoping for the best. We’ve seen them falling back on this all season, and the results haven’t changed—their shots were blocked with ease, before the pucks could even make to the net to become a proper chance. The Flyers only managed seven shots in the second period, when the bulk of this was going on, and they stayed behind. it wasn’t until they hit the third period and got back to getting pucks in deep and crashing the net that they were finally rewarded with some goals.

So, keeping it simple when falling behind might sound like a nice thing to say, but maybe it’s not always the actual best game plan, all things considered.

9.In defense of Nic Aube-Kubel

Are we really here to get riled up about this, even after a win? Yes, we are. But we’ll get on with it quickly so you can move on with your other business.

Aube-Kubel played a whopping total of 4:10 last night, and really this shouldn’t be much of a surprise, given how his other games to date have unfolded. But this lack of playing time defies logic. I asked Hakstol about it at practice on Wednesday, if Aube-Kubel would be working up to earning more minutes, or if this is just what we should expect going forward. He noted that it would be “whatever we need on a nightly basis. He’s done a good job in a limited role, and he’s gotta keep doing a good job, and if he dictates and earns some more ice time, there’s more opportunity for him, those minutes will come.”

And that’s valid. You’ve got to earn your ice time. I hear that. But Aube-Kubel looked good again last night—he laid a nice hit, managed a well-executed pass through traffic in front of the net, and came up with another shot of his own in close when the team was not doing a whole lot of shooting from there. And this was all well and good. So, we have to ask—if he’s doing good things, the best can be, short of finding the back of the net, in the seven shifts he’s given a night, what exactly does he have to do to earn those extra minutes?

10.The only damn thing I know

I don’t really know any of the music they use in the warmups mix, because even though I’m the same age as a lot of the guys it’s made for, I guess I’m just kind of lame. That said, I do appreciate when the in-arena music switches over to something I do know. Big fan of the COIN, BØRNS, and 5 Seconds of Summer (I know, I know, that song’s a guilty pleasure) that they broke out. Obviously this was just to appease me. Much appreciated.

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