A big road trip is off to a pretty good start.
This game pretty much encapsulated the best and worst of this team, from a mess of a start to a hellacious finish.
(All stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick)
1. A horrific start
The Flyers got their fair share of chances offensively, but they were an absolute mess defensively for the first 20 minutes of this game. Buffalo was living in the slot and crease to start this game, and Jack Eichel was skating circles around the defense. His first goal of the period was an absolute laser; flying through the neutral zone past Gudas, he wired a puck far post to beat Stolarz and put the Sabres up early. He would deflect a shot by Lawrence Pilut later in the period to give his team a two-goal lead. Little did we know that was the last time Buffalo would score in this game.
2. JVR came to play
Jimmy Pigeon has had a rough start to the season, getting injured just four periods into his return to Philadelphia and being rather quiet since coming off IR. With Couturier out, JVR got a chance on the top line and he did not disappoint. He got the Flyers on the board with a snipe directly off a face-off win by Giroux. Overall, he was tied for fourth (with Travis Konecny) among all Flyers skaters today with a 52.07% adjusted Corsi For % (CF%) at 5-on-5, and led all Flyers skaters with five shots. The Flyers really need their depth to come back to life. Hopefully this game was a turning point for van Riemsdyk.
3. Stolarz continues strong play
Anthony Stolarz really stabilized things for the Flyers after their awful start. He really didn’t have a chance on either goal against today and he made more than a few ten-bell saves to stave off the Sabres. His positioning has been solid, and he’s tracking the puck well. The thing I’ve maybe been most impressed with is his athleticism in net. For a guy coming off multiple knee surgeries, Stolarz doesn’t seem to have lost a step athletically. It’s nice to see a goalie in net who can make an acrobatic, sprawling save without wondering if he’s still going to have intact groin/abdominal musculature when he stands up.
4. Raffl had a very Raffl game
Michael Raffl was very strong today. Although it won’t show up in his shot metrics (48.33% adjusted CF%), he excelled in the little things today, winning puck battles, getting in hard on the forecheck, and making plays in the offensive zone that lead to scoring chances. For an advanced-stat darling, this was mostly an eye-test kind of game for Michael Raffl.
5. Sanheim finally got more minutes
Sanheim was used as a top-4 D man today. No, really. He had the fourth-most 5-on-5 minutes among Flyers defensemen today with 17:07, and he had 17:12 total TOI. His shot metrics were far from impressive in this one (ironically) but I think that can be attributed more to his partners in this one than his actual level of play. Radko Gudas (35.21% adjusted CF%) was atrocious in this one, and his next most common partner, Andrew MacDonald, was his usual poor self (44.31% adjusted CF%).
Sanheim did, however, spend the third period mostly with Shayne Gostisbehere, with Provorov getting stuck with MacDonald. We’ll see if these pairs stick moving forward. It’s nice to get Sanheim more minutes, but I’m not sure the pairs that played the third period make up a formula for sustained success.
6. Provorov looked like himself today
Tage Thompson turning him like a top in the first period had us all thinking Provorov was in for another rough game, but it may have had the opposite effect. Provorov was vintage Provorov in this one, scoring a goal as the trailer on the rush and leading the team with a stellar 63.95% adjusted CF% in 23:37 of ice time today. He was significantly better with the puck on his stick in this one and was involved in several dominant shifts with Gostisbehere and the top line before the pair was broken up in the second period. It’s been a confusing and tumultuous season thus far for Ivan, but today we got a glimpse of the 2017-18 Provorov. Hopefully we see more of this kind of game from him moving forward.
7. Getting a feel for this team yet, Chuck?
For me, this game showed you the very best and very worst this roster has to offer. We saw a team that was running around in the defensive zone like a headless chicken to start this game, and a team that was filled to the brim with offensive firepower to end the game. Something is needed to stabilize this volatile team. Whether that’s accomplished internally or externally remains to be seen. I think I’ll leave that to Mr. Fletcher to figure out.
8. The PK looks different, and it’s working!
The Flyers went 100 percent on the PK again today. Sure, it was only one penalty, but given how this team had looked for the first 23 games or so on the man disadvantage, we should take anything we can get, no? There seems to be a bit of a shift in their system, with players actually moving and attacking the puck carrier and forcing the opposing power play to make quicker decisions with the puck. What a novel idea!
Although their streak of penalties killed started before Rick Wilson arrived, this change in scheme seems to coincide with his arrival. Given the ineptitude of the PK for the four-plus years prior to his hiring, I think it’s fair to wonder if Mr. Wilson has at the very least made some recommendations to Lappy to try and salvage the flailing special teams unit.
9. The captain took over
Back at center for the first time in well over a year, Claude Giroux seemed right at home and then some, notching 4 points in the win including a snipe of shorthanded goal that mirrored his goal from Thursday night. As the most underrated and underappreciated athlete in Philadelphia over the past decade, I cannot overstate how truly awesome it is to see Giroux playing at this level. I was not among the throng of fans and media members who questioned if Giroux was falling off a cliff at the end of the ’16-17 season, but I was certainly concerned about his level of play. It was hard to envision him ever returning to PPG status after three consecutive seasons of declining production. Giroux silenced the critics last year with a Hart-worthy campaign, and he looks to be on his way to an even better year thus far.
10. Final thoughts
A game like this from Giroux has everyone wondering if keeping him at center when Couturier returns is the way to go, and although it’s an extremely small sample off which to base this opinion, I think it’s worth wondering. The chemistry between Giroux and Couturier is undeniable, but the argument could be made that having Giroux at center makes them much deeper as a group.
On the other hand, the move to wing always had the underlying theme of preserving Giroux’s career and potentially expanding his window of high-level production, which should not be ignored. At the very least, this game may have demonstrated that the option to return Giroux to center is available if necessary.