Blue Jackets 4, Flyers 3: As if!

Some observations for your morning…

Happy Friday, friends! We’re staring down the weekend and what better way to get us ready for it than to talk about a loser point-getting game for the Flyers? That’s how this works, right?

All stats via Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com

1. A decent start was had

Good news, friends. We get to start this thing out with a bit of positivity. Because the Flyers started last night’s game out positively. It’s true! After all the bemoaning we’ve done, they came out with a bit of jump and were starting to buzz. They were crashing the net and looking to create some chances in close (and their first goal came as a direct result of that sort of work). Curiously, a stint on the power play (more on that soon) actually interrupted that momentum, as all of the good work was happening exclusively at 5-on-5. They came out of the period trailing in proper shots six to 11 but holding the edge in shot attempts 15 to 14. And that’s an issue in and of itself, but at least there was some pressuring being done (if only they had been able to carry that with them into the next period).

2. The power play!

Let’s get right to it then, shall we? The Flyers did indeed have some chances on the power play last night. I mean, they had chances to do power plays. Not that they were able to generate too many chances on said power plays. So it goes, or seems to, of late.

It’s really been the same old story here—they can’t get set up, they can’t get cycling, they can’t convert. And it’s becoming a problem, not just in games like last night’s where they could have used the power play’s help in bringing them back from a deficit earlier, but across the board. Maybe it’s a symptom of them pressing when things aren’t going their way, and the floodgates will open eventually and then they’ll really start going (as Claude Giroux thinks is the case). Maybe that’s true. It’s not like we haven’t seen that whole saga before, either. But we’re nearing a point of getting antsy—how long is too long for them being this ineffective before something gives? If the floodgates are going to open, we have to ask, when?

3. Doing the thing

We’re doing a lot of segueing as we move through these early goings, it seems. We talked about that buzzing that was happening early, and then we mentioned Claude Giroux by name in our last point, which brings us to this point—the top line was really doing its thing last night.

It was a full line effort that set up Giroux’s goal last night, and that type of pressure seemed to just about match with what they were doing through the early part of the game, particularly. Indeed, if you looked down and just saw that there were really good chances being generated, there’s a good chance it was the top line out there doing that work. And the numbers back that up—the line came out of the night with an average adjusted 66.37 CF% at 5-on-5, which is… yeah that’s pretty good. They did the work to get themselves more than just one goal (the disallowed offside goal, hello), but that’s all they ended up registering, that stuck at least. But the underlying work at least was solid. So it goes.

4. Goalie check

It’s been a wired road so far with the Flyers’ goaltender situation, as the revolving door continues to do its thing, and somewhere along the way, here, Anthony Stolarz, freshly back from injury, earned himself the starter job. And, all in all, things are going pretty well for him.

The first goal he gave up last but was ugly, there’s really no other way to put it. But beyond after that, he responded well, cleaned up, and did well to keep the team in front of him in it, even as they were spending extended stretches of time defending, and he did so while also bringing just a little bit of flash with a few big saves, which is always nice. All told, he stopped 26 of the 30 shots he faced for an .867 save percentage. It hasn’t been a perfect go of things, but we can see him getting more and more settled in, and that’s really all we can ask for.

5. Killing penalties

So, we certainly got a nice look at the Flyers’ penalty kill last night. Five whole looks. And, as strange as it feels to say after the way things started out this season, all of those looks were good. We’ve seen the Flyers look progressively more aggressive on the penalty kill, in the way that they’re chasing down loose pucks and the puck carrier himself, rather than just looking to block lanes once the puck’s in the zone and moving. The same can be said when it comes to defending entries—they’re doing so tighter, not just backing straight up into the offensive zone. In a way, it’s starting to look more and more like the Phantoms’ penalty kill that we’ve been heaping praise onto in our weekly reports. It’s not reflecting in the standings just yet (they’re still 30th in the league), but the work’s getting better, and they’re starting to get good results.

6. A note on discipline

This is normally the type of section that we’d save for the end of one of these articles, that we’d use to close things out, but we have to get it out of the way now. Five penalties in two periods is entirely too many. Because it sets off a whole spiral of potential badness—first off, you’re relying on a penalty kill that’s spent the bulk of the season hanging out around last in the league to bail you out. And when, in this case, it does, you’re coming off a long stretch where some guys have just played a bunch, have been stuck defending for an extended period of time, and when others have been sitting on the bench getting cold. It’s hard to come out of that and not get burned soon after, much less work at building much momentum back at even strength. They need to tighten up. They can’t keep shooting themselves in the foot.

7. Travis Sanheim time

The time has finally come, friends. We’ve spent just about this whole season talking about how Sanheim’s been playing very well, and it’s a shame that he isn’t getting more minutes, or really any special teams time, and also wondering when things were going to start going his way, with the offensive side of his game. Well, ask and you shall receive, it seems. Because Sanheim single-handedly brought the Flyers back from a two goal deficit and drug them to overtime. He picked up his first two goals of the season, and man were they ever nice.

And, in a way, they were almost prototypical of what we’ve come to expect out of Sanheim, if he’s given some space and allowed to play his game his way. When he activates on the rush, he can look downright lethal. He’s got the speed, and good hands in tight, and we saw that last night. it’s been a long time coming, and maybe, just maybe, this is the floodgates opening? Here’s hoping.

8. Shots and all

So the Flyers put themselves in sort of a strange position last night. Or, that is, the numbers tell us something of a strange story. Let’s break some of them down.

The Flyers came out of this one having been outshot 30 to 26 in total, but made up a lot of that ground in the third period (they were outshot 25 to 11 after the first two periods). And those numbers give us a picture of the game that’s pretty decidedly ugly. But it’s not as though the Flyers were being completely shut down through this one—indeed they came out of this with an adjusted 50.17 CF% at 5-on-5 (and a 54.29 CF% in all situations). So, it seems, the Flyers were doing well to generate chances, but a good chunk of them just weren’t hitting the net.

And perhaps this shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. Our eyes told us they had a bunch of shots that just sailed wide, or that a Blue Jacket got a stick on in front. So what do we do with all that? We can use it as a chance to take a step back and acknowledge that there was some decent work going on there. But also, you know, please hit the net, guys.

9. Rallying

We’ve alluded to this a few times already, so we’re just going to take this as our chance to circle back and try to wrap this up neatly—the Flyers rallied late in this one. We’ve seen this before, that they fall behind and then come out with a third period surge, and are able to, if not pull out a win, at least get themselves to overtime. And we saw that again last night. They hit the third period with more jump and were able to come out and dominate. They earned that standings point with their late game efforts, but the thing is, they shouldn’t have gotten to the point where they needed that push in the first place.

There comes a point when they need to find a way to stop falling into this same old trap, to come out stronger, and if they’re building momentum, to hold onto it. Because what they’re doing, it can’t keep happening.

The light at the end of the tunnel, perhaps? The team doesn’t seem too worried. Or Claude Giroux doesn’t, at least. He spoke on it after the game, that it feels like they’re finally starting to put it together. That they’re figuring out what it takes to win games.

10. The only damn thing I know

I have a grievance to air. No, it’s not Festivus yet, but I really need it to get this out there. The Flyers played MMMBop in their 90s night pregame video, and that’s just cruel. It’s not a bad song, but now I’m condemned to have it stuck in my head for approximately the next week. And I don’t know if I’m prepared for this. Keep me in your thoughts, friends.

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