The Philadelphia Flyers continued their stretch of good play on Saturday afternoon with a blowout win against the St. Louis Blues. It was as close to a sixty-minute effort as the Flyers have gotten recently, as they got on the board early and were the more dominant team throughout the game.
The top line led the way for the Flyers, but the depth scoring was there as well and certainly made a difference. Tyrell Goulbourne made his presence felt on his very first shift, and the Flyers never looked back.
Here are five storylines from the Flyers’ blowout win against the Blues.
Konecny clicking on the top line
Travis Konecny may have found his role this season. At least for now.
Konecny started the season in the middle-six, and after an impressive preseason he couldn’t get going once the games started counting. He got demoted to the bottom-six and the fourth line last month, but since then has battled his way back up to the top. He found his game, worked hard, and has earned more ice time. He was put on the right wing of Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier on the top line just before the holiday break, and he has found his role.
The 20-year old forward has looked better and better each game on the top line. The results are showing up both while watching the game and in the box score. Konecny has points in four of his last five games, with one goal and four assists during that span. Most of that has come on the top line, except for a handful of shifts in the bottom-six when lines were thrown into a blender in Florida.
Konecny’s speed and creativity have been on full display with the top line, and he has been directly responsible for a handful of goals over the past few games. He only got an assist on Saturday, despite deserving more, and that seems to be a common theme recently. Those five points in his last five games are great, but he definitely could have a few more if things went his way even more than they are.
His one assist on Saturday was a thing of beauty. Konecny collected a pass in the defensive zone and was looking for an exit. He skated up the left boards and threaded a cross-ice pass to Giroux on the right side. It was a great pass from the top of the circle to the red line, springing a two-on-one rush. Giroux did the rest from there, providing a perfect touch pass to Couturier, who tapped it home. Plays like that are why secondary assists should not be overlooked.
Konecny was robbed of a potential goal earlier in the game, though. He used his speed to breakout of the defensive zone with Giroux on a rush. He sped by the defenders and drove the net as Colton Parayko slid down to take the passing lane away. Konecny was in perfect position to redirect the pass into the back of the net, but Giroux got a lucky bounce and scored a butt goal.
Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier have become the new dynamic duo for the Flyers this season, and Travis Konecny is fitting in very nicely on that top line. He’s still young, and learning, but he’s showing flashes of his potential while playing with two great forwards.
Couturier, Giroux close out first half with a bang
Not only is Konecny having a great series of games on the top line, but Couturier and Giroux closed out the first half with tremendous games. Saturday’s game was the Flyers’ 41st, the official halfway mark, and each of these players are either already setting new career-highs, or are on pace for new career-highs.
Giroux’s three points stole the show, and he could’ve had a fourth if he had hit the empty net late in the third period. All three of his points were quality points as well. They weren’t plays where an average player would’ve been able to make them. I touched on his butt goal above, with him getting a bit lucky, but he drove down the ice with Konecny and created a great chance. His assist on Couturier’s goal was absolutely amazing, as he sauced a beautiful pass right onto the tape of Couturier’s stick.
His third point of the game came in the third period on the power play. His shot attempt from the top of the circle was blocked, but he got the loose puck right back and dished a pass back to Shayne Gostisbehere as he spun off Paul Stastny. It won’t make many highlight reels, but it was a good play and the Flyers converted on it.
Giroux closed out the first half with 14 goals and 37 assists, giving him 51 points which is the second most in the NHL. He is just days away from turning 30 years old and is on pace for 102 points. Since December 6th he has 23 points (3 goals, 20 assists) in 14 games. The Flyers are 9-4-1 in that span, and he is a big reason for it.
Another big reason for the Flyers’ success this season is Sean Couturier. There were questions about his offensive game in each and every season leading up to this one, and even in the beginning of this one when he was on a point-per-game pace about 20 games in. He picked up two goals, one off Giroux’s pass and one blast into the empty net, to reach 40 points for the first time in his career in just half a season, and reached the 20-goal mark (and getting 21 as well) to set a new career best.
When discussing the Flyers’ most valuable player halfway through the season, the debate is between these two. Sean Couturier’s emergence as a top-line center is a great story, and my personal choice, but he likely wouldn’t be having as great of a season if Claude Giroux wasn’t on his wing. And vice-versa, Giroux has been the beneficiary of Couturier stepping up as a top-line center.
These two are having fantastic seasons and should be in the conversation for a few NHL awards. Giroux has a great case for the Hart Trophy if he keeps it up and powers the Flyers to the playoffs, and Couturier’s case for the Selke seems to grow each and every game.
Shutting down Schenn
One of the biggest storylines going into Saturday’s matinee was the return of Brayden Schenn. The Flyers beat the Blues earlier this season in St. Louis, but this was Schenn’s first time back in Philadelphia since being traded over the summer.
Schenn started the game for the Blues, and was on the top line, but after a rough first period he was dropped down into the middle-six. The Flyers completely shut down Schenn as they held him to two just two shots on goal and he was dominated in the faceoff circle, going just 5-for-17 (29%) on the draw.
The Flyers matched up top line against top line to start the game, and it was a great choice by Dave Hakstol. They dominated the Couturier vs. Schenn matchup in the first period. In 2:58 of Couturier vs. Schenn in the first period the Flyers led in shot attempts 5-0, shots on goal 4-0, scoring chances 4-0, and high-danger chances 2-0. Schenn was then moved away from Vladimir Tarasenko and the top line. He played just 3:58 total with Tarasenko, while his most common linemate was Alex Steen (7:52), a third-liner.
Hell, even Jori Lehtera was more of a factor in the game than Schenn was. Lehtera drew two penalties in his limited ice time, was a +1, had one shot on goal, and went 2-for-2 on faceoffs. The talk of the Flyers losing the Schenn trade should die down as time moves along, mostly due to the progression of Morgan Frost and then this year’s first-round pick, but also due to Schenn’s struggles.
The Flyers shut down Schenn, and most of the league has shut him down recently as well. Schenn has just two points in his last seven games, five in his last 13 games, and 13 points in his last 22 games. He has fallen below a point-per-game pace on the season without the help of Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko.
This isn’t meant to just be a knock on Schenn, though it is, but it’s also a testament to how well the Flyers played defensively in the game. They got beat twice by great plays by Tarasenko, and a third goal that found twine through traffic. They limited the Blues to single-digit shot totals in each of the first two periods before score effects took over a bit in the third.
Depth forwards make a difference
The top guys led the way for the Flyers, as they have done for most of the season, but a few of the goals that made a difference were scored by depth forwards.
First and foremost we have Scott Laughton’s goal to open the scoring. Tyrell Goulbourne made his presence felt on his first shift with a huge hit on Alex Pietrangelo to free the puck up, and Laughton deposited it into the back of the night with a snipe. The fourth line wasn’t necessarily the most skilled on Saturday, with a gritty Goulbourne and also Jori Lehtera on the wing, but they worked hard to get that goal and also drew a few penalties in the win. A fourth line isn’t necessarily going to make or break a team, but getting production out of them provides a little extra boost.
A line that has been gelling a bit recently after being reunited is the third line. Nolan Patrick has been making strides over the past month, and now he has Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds by his side. They have had a handful of good shifts in each of their past few games, and each of the wingers scored a goal on Saturday.
Jordan Weal has been playing better recently and he got on the board with a power move in front of the net off a rush to put the Flyers up 3-0. In the second period Then in the third period after the Blues climbed back into it to make it a 4-2 game, Wayne Simmonds deflected home a power-play goal in front to give the Flyers that extra cushion that they needed en route to a 6-3 win.
The top line can carry the team at times, but getting help from the depth forwards is always good. Back-to-back six goal games have the Flyers riding high and looking for a big win against the Sabres.
Closing out a win
The Flyers played one of their best overall games in recent memory against the Blues. They hung on for dear life in the third period on Tuesday, and were leaning that way a bit early in the third period on Saturday, but they put the nail in the coffin with a power-play goal midway through the period to end the Blues’ momentum.
They got going early on in the game thanks to an energy shift, and a goal, from the fourth line. That sparked the team and gave them momentum that they used to get out to a 4-0 lead. At even strength he Flyers out-attempted the Blues 20-12 in the first period, and 18-15 in the second period before score effects took over in the third period. The Flyers had more scoring chances in the first two periods (18) than the Blues had shots on goal (15).
The Flyers had a lead after the first period for just the second time in the past 22 games, and then they were able to keep it going with two more goals and then close it out in the third.
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