9 Game Review #4: Oskar Strong & The Injury Bug

The Flyers began the second third of the 2019-20 season on a high note, riding a four game win streak that placed them solidly in 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division.

And then the hurricane hit.

Games 28-36 (home games are underlined):

  1. 6-1 W vs. Toronto
  2. 3-1 L vs. Arizona
  3. 4-3 W vs. Ottawa
  4. 3-1 L at Colorado
  5. 4-1 L at Minnesota
  6. 7-3 L at Winnipeg
  7. 4-1 W vs. Anaheim
  8. 6-1 W vs. Buffalo
  9. 5-4 SOW at Ottawa

Overall, the Flyers posted an average 5-4-0 record, which isn’t good, but not terrible. The problem is that the Flyers play in arguably the hardest division in the league – even though they finished this stretch in the top 10 in the NHL in points, their recent spin caused them to fall out of a playoff spot entirely.

However, the Flyers played a bit better than their record indicates. They drove play to the tune of a 52.09 CorsiFor%, which ranked 9th. Philadelphia also had a 55.55% GoalsFor%, good for 13th in the league. Additionally, the team generated 2.42 ExpectedGoals/60 (11th in NHL), but actually scored 2.9 Goals/60 (7th in NHL) – a sign that they were scoring better than the metrics suggested.

So if the team didn’t play that poorly, why didn’t they perform better over the past nine games? The team struggled to ice a complete lineup, as the the Flyers were ravaged by injuries during this span: Michael Raffl broke his finger against the Maple Leafs and will be out for about four weeks. Travis Konecny suffered a concussion on a hit by Mark Borowiecki of the Senators and was out three games. Philippe Myers sat out three games due to back spasms. Tyler Pitlick also suffered a concussion against Minnesota and was out for two matches. Scott Laughton, who just returned from a broken finger, injured his groin against the Wild and was placed on IR. Nolan Patrick is still out indefinitely with migraine disorder.

Most heartbreaking of all, while the Flyers were on their three-game road trip, GM Chuck Fletcher announced that Oskar Lindblom was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, and is expected to miss the rest of the season. Lindblom did not play on the first road game against the Avalanche, but the press release regarding his diagnosis was sent out approximately 27 hours before their next match against Minnesota. This understandably left player morale at rock bottom, and this carried over into their remaining games on the road trip – the Flyers were decimated in their games against the Wild and the Jets. With the weight of Oskar’s news still fresh in their minds, it’s hard to blame the team for their play in these particular games. But, after the team returned home and got to see Oskar, they were playing like their old selves again. In the three games following the infamous road trip, the Flyers racked up an insane 76.15 GoalsFor% and handily controlled play to the tune of a 55.51 CorsiFor%. When playing for Oskar, the team was unstoppable, and cruised to a 3 game win streak to close out this series of games.

A team with this much talent sidelined was bound to take a hit. Even moreso, all but one of the injured players are forwards and most of them are middle-sixers. These are huge gaps in the lineup and are not easy to fix in a pinch – especially when the farm system, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, were also decimated by injuries. The Flyers had essentially their entire third line and two top-liners out during this time span; it would be hard for any team to stay competitive with this many players out of the lineup.

Some Additional Observations:

Forwards:

  • James van Riemsdyk has been on fire during this span. JVR racked up a whopping 10 points (7g-3a) over the past nine games. The team desperately needed him to regain his scoring touch, and this was the most opportune time to do so.
  • The prized rookie forwards on the team, Morgan Frost and Joel Farabee have been playing decently. The former had 4 points, all assists, in the past nine games, and was primarily playing with either Claude Giroux or Jakub Voracek. The latter only scored 2 points (1g-1a), but it was his reckless play that made him newsworthy during this stretch. Farabee laid a late hit on Winnipeg’s Mathieu Perreault, which earned him a game misconduct and a three-game suspension.
  • Speaking of rookies, David Kase was recalled from Lehigh Valley and scored his first NHL goal against the Anaheim Ducks, the team that his brother Ondrej plays for. Their parents were also in the building to witness David’s first goal, as they flew into Philly for the game to watch the two brothers face-off against each other for the first time in the NHL.
  • Kevin Hayes was an assist machine, generating 6 assists during this span. Hayes has been one of Philadelphia’s steadiest players this season, doing all of the little things right. He has been a solid presence on the second line this season, and is quickly becoming a fan favorite in Philly.

Defense:

  • Ivan Provorov and Matt Niskanen continue to be a stellar top pair for the Orange and Black. The duo has put up a 52.23 CorsiFor%, a 54.26 ShotsFor%, and a 53.06 Expected GoalsFor% when on the ice together. Additionally, Provorov and Niskanen have combined for 10 points over the past nine games. It’s safe to say that numbers 9 and 15 are forming the top defense pairing Flyers fans have been dreaming of for a long time.
  • Shayne Gostisbehere continues his mediocre season. Over the course of these nine games, Ghost was scoreless in 6 of them. Additionally, he is putting up a 46.56 Expected GoalsFor%, but actually had a 75% GoalsFor%, indicating that he was not usually a contributor to goals scored while he was on the ice.

Goaltending:

  • Carter Hart continues to shine in his sophomore season. During this span, he made 7 appearances and racked up an astounding .936 save percentage and 1.80 GAA. Hart solely kept the Flyers competitive in some of these games, particularly against the Colorado Avalanche. The 2016 second round pick is certainly living up to his “franchise goaltender” billing thus far.
  • Brian Elliott, on the other hand, was not very good during this span. In 4 appearances, he had a poor .877 save percentage to go with a 3.43 GAA. His recent struggles have led Alain Vigneault to give Hart the lion’s share of starts as of late.

Up next for the Flyers: a Monday night matchup with the New York Rangers in the last home game of the decade, the annual New Years’ road trip to the West Coast to take on the Sharks, Ducks, Kings, Golden Knights, and Coyotes, followed by games with Eastern Conference foes Carolina, Washington, and Tampa Bay. Three games are against division rivals, and five of the nine games are against teams well below them in the standings. This is a good opportunity for the Flyers to prey on bottom-feeding teams while also gaining some ground in the Metropolitan Division standings. This next series of games is crucial to the team’s success as we quickly approach the midpoint of the season.

All stats courtesy of NaturalStatTrick and NHL.com. Image credit to Philadelphia Flyers.

 

 

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