9 Game Review #3: Shaky Start, Strong Finish

Coming off a brutal stretch of games against playoff teams where the Flyers exceeded expectations, many expected the Flyers to dominate the games in this part of their schedule, as they were gifted with games against bad or underwhelming teams. The Flyers didn’t quite dominate in the fashion we had hoped, but they were able to finish this stretch with a 4-game win streak, their highest of the season.

Let’s review games 19-27 of the Flyers’ season (home games are underlined).

  1. 2-1 L @ Ottawa
  2. 4-3 SOL vs. New York Islanders
  3. 5-2 L @ Florida
  4. 5-3 W @ Carolina
  5. 3-2 SOL vs. Calgary
  6. 2-1 W vs. Vancouver
  7. 3-2 W @ Columbus
  8. 6-1 W vs. Detroit
  9. 4-3 OTW @ Montreal

Overall, the Flyers posted a 5-2-2 record, which has allowed them to maintain their foothold on 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division. With this impressive stretch, the Flyers have also tied their franchise record for the most points earned in November, and also led the NHL in points in November with 24. From a results standpoint, it’s hard to complain. The team is delivering, morale is high, and fans are rightfully excited about the Flyers’ potential.

Yet, they began this recent sequence of games with pretty poor hockey. After dominating approximately the first five minutes of their match against the Senators, the Flyers played down to the level of their competition. They had trouble completing simple passes, they had difficulty getting out of their own zone, and could not get any of their shots past a pedestrian goaltender. Perhaps worst of all, they went 0-for-5 on the powerplay, including a 4-minute PP with four minutes to play. This was a game that the Flyers should have easily won, but instead lost in regulation to a bottom-feeder.

They followed up their awful showing in Ottawa by holding their own against the New York Islanders for the first twenty minutes of play. However, Philadelphia could not keep up with the red-hot Islanders, and continued their recent trend of blowing leads late in the game by ceding three goals in the third period. They were also unable to right the ship with a tilt against the Panthers, delivering another night where the players in orange and black were almost invisible. Their pitiful performances were reflected not only on the scoresheet, but the stat sheet as well. In these 3 games, the Flyers delivered an abysmal 46.99 CorsiFor% and a 41.67 GoalsFor%.

Soon, things began to turn their way with a stretch of games against teams currently in bubble spots or not in playoff positions. Philadelphia desperately needed to capitalize on this gift of “winnable” games, and they did just that. The Flyers were the better team on the ice in a 5-3 road win against the Carolina Hurricanes and continued to roll over the Calgary Flames, but blew another lead and ended up losing in the shootout. The Flyers deserved to win that game because they played well as a whole, but could not find a way to stop Calgary’s comeback in the third period.  Philadelphia replicated their strong performances against the Vancouver Canucks on Hockey Fights Cancer Night and won the game, but their goal-scoring woes continued; they were only able to find the back of the net twice.

Finally, each of the last three games in this stretch needed to be won; Columbus and Detroit are both basement-dwellers while Montreal is still in the hunt but a struggling club. Philadelphia continued their strong play by pulling out gritty, hard-fought wins against the Blue Jackets, Red Wings, and Canadiens, scoring three goals or more in each game. Over the last six games, the Flyers rocked their competition, going 5-0-1. Starting with the win in Carolina, the Flyers drove play (52.26 CorsiFor%), shot more and received fantastic goaltending (1.04 PDO), and as a result, had a slight advantage in their expected goals (51.69 Expected GoalsFor%). Yet, they outscored their opponents 23-12, which is a testament to their tenacious play and breaking out of their goal-scoring slump.

Overall, the Flyers had a terrible start, but rebounded by gathering wins even if they weren’t in the prettiest fashion. Most wins, including those against bad teams, are not going to be blowouts. Playoff-contending teams find ways to win close games, and the Flyers went 3-1-2 in the games decided by one goal. If they are going to continue their success for the rest of the season, the Flyers must continue to gather these kinds of wins.

Some additional observations:

Offense:

  • Morgan Frost was called up from Lehigh Valley to try and alleviate the Flyers’ goal-scoring issues. Frost dazzled in his debut against the Florida Panthers, flipping a backhander past Sergei Bobrovsky for his first NHL goal. After scoring 2 goals in his first two games, Frost has largely been held off the scoresheet but has played well. In his first 7 NHL games, he has 3 points.
  • After a long scoring drought, the points are beginning to come again for Kevin Hayes. He was scoreless in the games against the Senators and Islanders, but managed to record a point in 6 of the 7 remaining games, scoring 4 goals and 2 assists. For the season, he currently has 13 points in 27 games. Hopefully, Hayes continues his steady scoring presence – a team starved for scoring desperately needs it.
  • Speaking of scoring, goals are coming at a premium for club because the club’s forwards trusted to score have not been able to put the puck in the net. James van Riemsdyk didn’t register a point in 7 of the 9 games, continuing his underwhelming season. Claude Giroux and Oskar Lindblom were scoreless in 6 of the 9 games, and Travis Konecny and Jakub Voracek did not score a point in 5 games. If the Flyers want to maintain their position at 3rd in the Metropolitan Division, they will need to break out of their scoring slump, and quickly.
  • Though he has not scored a goal over the past 9 matchups, Joel Farabee is helping to create them. He registered an assist in 5 different games during this stretch. He continues to play well after being recalled from Lehigh Valley, but Farabee was called up for his goal-scoring prowess. It’s promising that he’s helping to generate offense, but the team needs him to score – he only has 2 goals in 21 games and has not found the back of the net since November 5.

Defense:

  • When Ivan Provorov signed his 6-year extension right before the start of training camp, a major worry was if he’d ever be able to live up to the $6.75 million he’d be making every year. Well, Ivan Provorov has not only lived up to his “Number 1 Defenseman” hype this season, but surpassed it. He has proven to be a backbone of this team, getting a minimum of 22:40 in ice time during these games. The Russian phenom is on pace for 51 points. He sent in his submission for “Goal of the Year” with his coast-to-coast overtime goal against the Montreal Canadiens to extend the Flyers’ win streak to four.
  • When the Flyers traded for Matt Niskanen this summer, many fans were concerned that he might not be able to return to his form that helped the Washington Capitals win the Stanley Cup in 2018. So far, Niskanen has arguably been the team’s best offseason acquisition. He and Provorov have formed a formidable duo on the top pair, which has easily been the Flyers’ most defense unit. In addition to being brought in to help Provorov, Niskanen had a reputation as a strong leader, and his most outward display of his intangibles this season was in the Black Friday game against the Red Wings. Niskanen took a shot to the face in the first period and headed for the locker room, but returned for the second period wearing a caged mask and stoppers for his bleeding nose. The team raved about his performance following the game, and Scott Laughton called him an invaluable member of the team.

Goaltending:

  • Brian Elliott was outstanding in his 5 appearances, delivering a stellar .932 SV%. His best outing was in Montreal, where he single-handedly kept the Flyers in the game and allowed them to make it to overtime.
  • Carter Hart was good, but not great. Though he was pulled in the Panthers game, overall Hart posted a respectable .913 SV% his 5 appearances during this stretch. The goaltending is the least of this team’s concerns.

Special Teams:

  • The penalty kill, once a major weakness of this team, has suddenly become huge advantage for the club. Since the start of the season, the Flyers have the 3rd-best shorthanded units in the league, killing 85.7% of powerplays. The powerplay stumbled through November after a strong October. Despite this, the powerplay is still in the top 10, converting on 19.6% of its chances.

Up next for the Flyers: a three-game homestand against the Maple Leafs, Coyotes, and Senators, a three-game road trip to Colorado, Minnesota, and Winnipeg, followed by games against the Ducks, Sabres, and Senators. Some of these are tough games and some should be “easy” wins, but the Flyers should do well in their next 9 matches.

-Katie Bogan

Image credit to Lynne Sladky (AP)

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