Two in a row!
The Philadelphia Flyers have won back-to-back games for just the second time this season, and for the first time on the road. Monday’s 5-2 win in Calgary was followed up last night win a 4-2 win in Edmonton.
The depth scoring showed up again for the Flyers, as they were able to get offense from up and down the lineup while keeping the Oilers to the outside and limiting their chances.
Here are five storylines from the Flyers’ win in Edmonton.
A perfect power-play goal
The Flyers had some chances on the power play in recent games, but couldn’t convert. Special teams play has been a thorn in their side since the start of November, and really almost the whole season long. They came into the game just one for their last 11 power-play chances over their previous three games, and two for their last 16.
They had plenty of opportunities early on in the game against Edmonton with two power plays in each of the first two periods. They eventually broke through.
After failing to convert on their first three power plays of the game, the Flyers finally got a goal on the man advantage with a mixed group out there. Most of the top unit was still on the ice, but Weal had hopped on for Simmonds and got himself to the front of the net. It was a much-needed power-play goal for the orange and black, who couldn’t get many chances at even strength up to that point.
The top unit had a few chances on this power play before Weal’s goal. Simmonds had the backhand shot in front to highlight them, but Brossoit had stood tall until the perfect passing play. After a faceoff win, Edmonton dumped the puck and forced the Flyers to retreat. Simmonds went to the bench for a change, allowing Weal to join the disjointed first unit.
Voracek got the puck in the neutral zone and entered the offensive zone with ease. It was almost too easy. Seriously, look at this. Voracek is at the top of the blue line, about to hand the puck off to Couturier along the boards.
He gave the puck quickly to Couturier, and the Flyers spread out wide in the offensive zone.
Giroux was set up at the right point as the Flyers were trying to get set up off the rush. He wound up for a shot, but instead made a great slap pass right to the tape of Couturier, who was just below the left faceoff dot. Couturier settled the puck then immiediately threw it across the top of the crease to where Weal was set up for a gorgeous tic-tac-toe goal.
He could’ve settled for a point shot with traffic in front here, but used his vision to find Couturier to start the gorgeous goal.
Weal got the goal, and Giroux and Couturier got the assists, but credit should go to everyone here, really. Voracek got the clean zone entry, gave it off to Couturier on the left wall, got it back to Gostisbehere, and then Giroux went to work. Couturier backed up to the faceoff dot and Weal set up for the pass. It was a perfect power-play goal.
Giroux’s still got it
“Of course he’s still got it! He has 30 points in 28 games.”
Well, yes, but Wednesday night’s game had a few perfect examples of Giroux bouncing back this season. The power-play goal described above showed off Giroux’s everlasting vision and passing ability, and this next one is really impressive.
Dale Weise’s goal was the result of a pure hustle play by Claude Giroux. Giroux was at the end of a 1:22 shift and turned it up a notch to get to the loose puck. It was a long 1:22 too. There were no stoppages, he got in deep on the forecheck once, just missed setting up Simmonds for a scoring chances on another rush, nearly broke free after some offensive zone time from the Oilers, and then finally on the fourth rush up the ice of the shift they got the goal.
At the end of a long shift with a puck bouncing up the ice some players might head to the bench, especially with two defensemen between them and the puck. Here’s Giroux right as the puck is bouncing past Eric Gryba.
The defensemen were caught a bit flat-footed, and easily beats them to the puck.
He stops, avoids a hit, and he sauces the pass to the middle of the ice. Then he watches as Laurent Brossoit’s five-hole opens up like the Red Sea, giving the Flyers a 2-1 lead.
A fantastic hustle play by Giroux. He still has that extra gear to get the job done.
Defense leads to offense
The Flyers played a perfect road game in Edmonton. They kept it boring, didn’t give the Oilers anything to work with, and came away with two points. A lot of that has to do with keeping the Oilers to the outside and creating offense from defense.
Weise’s goal is a prime example of that. Simmonds does just enough to disrupt the pass to the point, causing it to bounce over Gryba’s stick and start a rush the other way. He also then unselfishly goes to the bench, rather than joining the rush while perhaps a bit tired. That shows the character of Simmonds, especially when you know Weise is the guy coming on the ice for you.
In fact, all of the goals were the result of a great defensive play leading to offense. The power-play goal might not be, but hey, it was off of a rush and they had to be doing something right to draw a penalty. I dissected the Weise goal already above, so let’s take a look at the next one.
Michael Raffl not only finished on a great shot to give the Flyers a two-goal cushion in the 3rd period, but he started the play as well. Raffl got his stick out just enough to disrupt Kris Russell’s cross-ice pass, allowing Voracek to get to it and start the rush.
Raffl guesses that Voracek will beat the Oilers player to the puck, and heads up the ice hoping for a pass. He slows up as Voracek turns at wins the puck battle, then he’s off to the races to beat Brossoit.
It also helps that Kris Russell fell, but you can almost expect that from him.
But let’s take a look back at it. Voracek was the furthest Flyers forward into the zone, down at the goal line, when the puck started going the other way. He backchecked hard and was able to get to the loose puck off Raffl’s stick.
Voracek gets a lot of criticism for his defense at times, but he got back into the play and helped create Raffl’s breakaway goal.
Last, but arguably not least, was the empty-net goal. Brian Elliott came up with a few late stops, keeping the Flyers ahead, and they sealed the win with Simmonds’ empty-netter. Couturier blocked a centering pass, Provorov found the puck in the low slot, and fed Filppula and Simmonds for the rush.
Defense led to offense not only in those specific instances, but it was a theme for the game as well. The Flyers were focused on limiting the Oilers’ chances, and they did just that. At 5v5 play the Oilers had 41 shot attempts (17 of which came in the 3rd), 30 unblocked attempts, 19 shots on goal, and six scoring chances. There were no high-danger scoring chances to be had.
The Flyers won the possession battle in each of the first two periods by three attempts each, though it felt like a bit more. The 3rd period was a different story though. After Raffl’s insurance goal it was really all Edmonton, with it culminating in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ goal. But Elliott and the Flyers were able to stave off the comeback after scoring three-straight goals of their own, and got the empty-netter for the victory.
McDavid shut down again
Dave Hakstol was able to match up Sean Couturier against Connor McDavid to shut him down back in October on home ice, but it was a different story in Edmonton. Todd McLellan got his choice of matchup and elected to use McDavid against both of the Flyers’ top two lines. Advantage: Philadelphia.
McDavid did have the assist on the shorthanded goal, but at even strength he was mostly invisible.
Of McDavid’s 15:07 at 5v5, 6:42 came against Valtteri Filppula, 6:30 came against Sean Couturier, and 1:49 came against Scott Laughton. Filppula saw the most of McDavid and was the most successful. The Flyers had more shot attempts (7-6), unblocked shots (5-4) and more than double the amount of shots on goal (5-2) than the Oilers in that 6:42. The Oilers and Flyers were even with four shot attempts with McDavid and Couturier on the ice, and the Oilers only manged one more shot attempt (2-1) than the Flyers with McDavd against Laughton.
The forwards are only half of the story, though. The defensemen are the real stars here. Andrew MacDonald limited the Oilers to zero scoring chances, just two shots on goal, and just six shot attempts in 10:04 against McDavid. Provorov was right behind him with 9:43, allowing one less shot on goal during that 21-second disparity. Provorov and MacDonald really did their job as the top pair in shutting down the best player in the world.
Even Robert Hagg and Shayne Gostisbehere limited the Oilers to five shot attempts, three of which were on goal, and just one scoring chance during just over three minutes against McDavid. McLellan also got McDavid out there against Travis Sanheim and Mark Alt for a shift or two. McDavid should’ve been able to run rampant on an AHLer like Alt, but the Oilers managed just one shot attempt in 1:39 against the third pair.
Brandon Manning was out again against McDavid, but his teammates took up the cause in shutting down McDavid in the season series.
Young players see limited time in 3rd
It what has become an all too common theme recently, Dave Hakstol shortened his bench again in the 3rd period on Wednesday night. Nolan Patrick, Travis Konecny, and Travis Sanheim have been the most notable players benched recently, and that was the case again in Edmonton.
Limiting the ice time of young players that are a defensive concern is fine in the 3rd period of close games. Last night was another one of those close games, and the young players got less ice time because of that. On Monday night Konecny, Sanheim, and Patrick were outright benched for the 3rd period, or most of it, which is unacceptable. However, limiting the ice time is somewhat understandable.
You definitely want to see the young players play more. They are the future and you want to see them develop. However, in a close game in the 3rd period limiting the ice time of less defensively inclined players is perfectly fine. I don’t agree with Hakstol’s general notion recently of benching Konecny and others in a three-goal game, especially when down three goals, but a two-goal then a one-goal lead in the 3rd period calls for you to use your best players possible, with a focus on the defensive side of things.
I have addressed my disdain for benching the young offensive threats in previous storylines from the last two games, which you can read at your leisure so I’ll try to keep this a bit brief.
Sanheim played 4:24 in the first, 4:27 in the 2nd, and 2:48 in the first 13:20 of the 3rd period before being benched. He was on the ice for the goal that made it a 3-2 game. 2:24 of that came in the nine or so minutes that the Flyers had a two-goal lead. Hakstol is willing to play his young players in the right situations. In a one-goal game with 6:40 left in the 3rd period, you want your reliable defensemen on the ice. Provorov, Hagg, and yes, MacDonald.
Konecny played 4:40 in the first period, 4:01 in the 2nd period, and 2:01 in the 3rd. He was benched for the final 9:45 of the game. Three shifts is probably one or two shifts too few, but it’s not completely ridiculous for a young offensive-minded forward. If he was benched, or got just one shift, then that would be cause for concern again.
What is a bit worrisome is the play and usage of Nolan Patrick. He played 4:24 in the first period, then was banished to just 1:39 over the course of four shifts (including a one second shift) in the 2nd period, and 2:09 over the course of three shifts in the 3rd period. Patrick looked better on Wednesday night, but he is still a rookie and is still coming back a bit.1:39 is definitely not enough in the second period, and 2:09 is questionable in the 3rd. He definitely needs more ice time, but I can see why Hakstol wouldn’t use him in a game where the other three lines were playing better than his.
The one saving grace is that Weise was also limited in the 2nd and 3rd periods along with his young linemates. Hakstol wasn’t using other veterans in the place of Patrick or Konecny, but rather he was going with the three lines that were playing the best hockey. Weise played 1:39 in the 2nd and 2:17 in the 3rd.
There are two sides to the coin. Patrick and Konecny have essentially been used as fourth-liners at best over the past three games. They are two key parts of your future and need to develop, so they should be getting more ice time. The other side of the coin is that the Flyers are coming out of a horrendous losing streak and need to lock down wins when they can. If Hakstol is coaching for his job, he’s going to put the lines on the ice that are playing the best in order to keep the lead late in the game.
It’s a game-by-game basis, but the overarching theme of benching the young players is worrisome. Hopefully once the Flyers are back out of their funk (which they could be shortly, if not now) Patrick, Konecny, and Sanheim will see some increased ice time. Sanheim’s should come next week, when he gets Radko Gudas back from suspension.
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