We finally have NHL hockey back….sort of! With the majority of the league back and divided into two hub cities for the next month or so, it was time for the teams to start getting their skates under them and get back into the swing of things. What better way to get back into NHL hockey and the Stanley Cup Playoffs than facing off against your most hated rival the Pittsburgh Penguins. While this game didn’t count for anything or have the intensity one would normally expect from this storied rivalry, it was still nice to see actual NHL hockey being played. This game was kind of what you would expect out of an exhibition game with fast intense play in some moments and dull sloppy play in others. With all of that in mind, let’s get down to the best and the worst of this exhibition game between Flyers and Penguins.
Scott Laughton’s Overtime Winner
This goal was an example of a great finish by Scott Laughton and even better pass by Travis Konecny. The Penguins and Flyers had been trading chances all throughout overtime, but about halfway through OT, Shayne Gostisbehere dished the puck to Laughton, who then passed it to Konecny. What happened next was a heads up play by Laughton that showed off his hockey IQ. Right after Laughton made the pass to Konecny, Laughton saw a small opening in the defense of the Penguins and immediately skated as fast as he could down towards the Penguins net. Konecny took a wide turn with the puck and when he looked back up ice, Laughton had beaten the Penguins defense and only had the goalie to beat. Konecny made an amazing pass to thread the puck past all three Penguins players and right to Laughton in stride. Laughton then shot the puck above the right shoulder of Tristan Jarry for the overtime winner and a Flyers victory.
Why this was the best play of the game was because it showed off a great mix of smarts and skill by Laughton and Konecny. Laughton has had a breakout season for the Flyers this year and has stepped up in a big way for this team by providing them with scoring depth, defense in both sort handed and 5v5 situations, and some toughness in the absence of Wayne Simmonds. Travis Konecney is known for his trash talking and his ability to score at a high level on the wing, but has also shown the ability to make some great passes this season that have set up his teammates for success. The overtime goal was a great showcase of what both players have brought to the Flyers this season and what they will need more of going forward into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Scott Laughton, who is known more for his role as a grinder in the bottom six, was able to show off his hockey IQ and recognize that there was a lapse in coverage. That high hockey IQ is going to be important for a player like Laughton because he is going to have to use his smarts way more than his speed if he’s going to take advantage of his opponents and continue to be an effective depth player for this hockey team. It also helped that he was aided by a great pass from Travis Konecny who hit him right on the tape and put him in a breakaway scenario where Laughton could capitalize. This play was just a perfect storm of good thinking and good skill that made the Flyers the winners of the first exhibition game of the NHL restart.
Best Flyer of the game: Scott Laughton
Sean Couturier’s goal in the first period
It sure didn’t take long for the Selke finalist to start making his mark in the NHL restart. Couturier’s goal in the first period wasn’t conventional by any means. It was actually a bit lucky, but Couturier put himself in a great position to score off of a delayed penalty and a nice pass from Claude Giroux. Couturier was able to sit in the slot and once he got the puck, just kinda threw the puck at the net. The puck bounced off of Marcus Pettersson and found it’s way into the back of the net to tie the game up about halfway through the first period.
Kevin Hayes gift from Evgeni Malkin
I guess there is still some rust for Malkin to shake off before his team takes on the Canadiens in the play in round in a few days? I have no idea what Malkin was thinking here, but he took a puck in the corner and just threw it right to Kevin Hayes who just walked right in and fooled Tristan Jarry for an easy goal right before the end of the first period. It was nice the see Hayes take advantage of that gift from Malkin and I don’t think Hayes is ever going to get a better takeaway from an opponent in the NHL restart.
Connor Sheary’s goal in the 1st period
Connor Sheary’s goal was combination of a bad defensive breakdown by the Flyers defense, lazy skating to make up for the defensive breakdown, and being burned by top line talent from the Penguins. These types of plays should be expected in an exhibition game where the players are playing at game speed for the first time in 4 months, but there might be something of concern to watch for going forward in the round robin games and the first round match up. I’ll explain why after the play breakdown.
The play begins at the Penguins end of the ice with the Penguins gaining possession of the puck and immediately starting a counter rush. The Flyers have their top forward line (Giroux, Voracek, and Couturier) and their second pair defense (Sanheim and Myers) out on the ice and they don’t look prepared for for the rush of Penguins coming their way. This puts the Flyers in a 3 on 2 situation. The Penguins top line of Crosby, Guentzel, and Sheary are coming up ice fast with Guentzel carrying the puck on the left side of the ice, Crosby down the middle, and Sheary on the right. Myers starts to play against Guentzel and this is where the breakdown starts to happen. Sanheim starts to try to catch up to Crosby instead of staying steady and playing against the potential 2 on 1 in Crosby and Sheary. I’m not sure if he was expecting help in the form of Giroux or Voracek , but regardless, he leaves the whole right side of the ice open. Now Guentzel has an easy pass across ice to an open Connor Sheary, who quickly gathers the puck and beats Hart uncontested for the first goal of the game. Mind you, Claude Giroux was trailing on the play and didn’t hustle to try and break up Sheary’s scoring chance. So basically we have an odd man rush, a defensive breakdown at the hands of Sanheim, and a lack of hustle from a trailing Giroux all leading to an easy goal for a dangerous Penguins top line.
Now for the reason why I might be a bit concerned in the future. Do you know who the defensive pair was for both Penguins goals on the night? That’s right. Sanheim and Myers were the defensive duo on ice for both Penguins goals and both times had defensive breakdowns that lead directly to goals. I get that this was an exhibition game and that the players were probably not playing up to their fullest, but it is a bit concerning to me that this pair, while playing well together all year, is going to be new to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Sanheim/Myers pair is going to be relied upon to take some tough minutes against some good scoring lines in the playoffs and they are going to have to be up to the task if the Flyers want to make a deep run. We know Provorov and Niskanen are going to get the toughest competition and play the most minutes, but the second defensive pair is going to be getting some tough competition too and they are gonna have to go up against teams with deep lineups and players who can score in bunches. The Sanheim/Myers duo is essentially a rookie pair and going to be completely new to the grind that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Mental lapses and being unable to clear the crease of players can’t happen when the margin for error is so low. The duo were playing amazing defensive hockey right before the break happened 4 months ago and were the no doubt second best defensive pair of the team, so it’s understandable that it’s take some time for the pair to regain their chemistry and get back up to game speed. I’m just worried that this pair might be exploited by some teams with deep rosters and smart head coaches who can play the match ups and put their best lines against this pair. It’s just a small observation I noticed during the game and something to keep an eye on going forward.
Worst Flyer of the game: Travis Sanheim
Jason Zucker’s goal in the third period
This was a classic case of being unable to clear the opponent from the goalie crease and the opponent taking advantage of that free space in front of the net. The Flyers lost a face off (which rarely happens) and the Penguins took a shot on net, which Brian Elliott stopped but not cleanly, so the puck was loose out in the goalie crease. All of the Flyers were unable to keep Malkin out of the crease and from swiping at the loose puck, which eventually found it’s way onto Jason Zucker’s stick for a dirty greasy goal. I don’t know if the Flyers didn’t want to get physical because it was an exhibition game or they had a mental lapse, but not clearing an opponent from the crease when he’s making a play for a loose puck is just not acceptable.
The arena operator
While it’s nice that both teams get their goal horns played when they score a goal, I did notice that the Penguins goal horn was played immediately after the Penguins scored both of their goals and was really load. On the other hand, when the Flyers scored their three goals, the Goal horn was barely audible and bit delayed, especially on the Laughton Overtime Winner. What’s going on here NHL? Clearly a Penguins bias.
What did you think? Agree or disagree with either of my selections? Did I exclude a game you thought should have made the list? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter @snapp1eapp1e
photo credit- NHL.com