The Philadelphia Flyers finally suffered a loss at home after two straight thrilling victories. They were able to score 13 goals in their first two home contests, but couldn’t find the back of the net in a 1-0 shutout loss at the hands of the Nashville Predators.
The Flyers have played well enough to win in every game so far this season, and Thursday night was no different. Some 1-0 shutout losses are incredibly boring with not much to take out of, but there were plenty of things to take away from this one. Hell, there were even a few positives!
Sanheim impresses in all situations during home debut
Travis Sanheim finally got to play on home ice after being healthy scratched for the past two games. He was back in the lineup, on the third pairing with Radko Gudas, and he didn’t disappoint.
Sanheim had more than a week off between his two games, but he didn’t show any signs of being rusty. He was fantastic from the very start and played well in all situations throughout his career-high 19:27 of icetime.
Sanheim’s great night started on one of his very first shifts. He batted the puck out of midair along the wall in the defensive zone then made the smart, simple play by sending it behind the net and around the zone. He followed the play up ice and received a pass in the offensive zone for a scoring chance. Rinne stopped his shot, but it fell right to the side of him in the blue paint. That was one of a few chances the offensive defenseman had.
With Jordan Weal out of the lineup, a spot opened up on the second power play unit. The Flyers have two units comprised of four forwards and one defenseman normally, but on Thursday night they elected to go with three forwards (Sean Couturier, Nolan Patrick, Travis Konecny) and two defensemen (Ivan Provorov, Sanheim) on the second unit. Sanheim moved the puck well and showed off his speed while getting a chance to play on the man-advantage.
Not only did Sanheim play on the power play, but he got a chance on the penalty kill as well. With Radko Gudas in the box for “high-sticking,” Sanheim went to work. He positioned himself well in the defensive zone and got a big blocked shot and clear. He was on the left side of the ice, blocked the shot, then chased it down in the corner to clear it out of the zone.
Sanheim does tend to lean to the more “offensive defenseman” side rather than the “defensive defenseman” side, but he can definitely hold his own in the defensive zone. Prior to that he fended off two Predators along the boards to help win a puck battle. He also stepped up at the blue line a few times, including a great play in the third period, to use his aggressiveness and stickplay to deny a zone entries.
Sanheim even got into it after the second period horn. There was a scrum in front and after getting a cheapshot in the face, he went right back at Roman Josi and Ryan Johansen. He’s young, but he won’t take crap from anybody.
Overall, Sanheim had a fantastic home debut. In his first three games he had a play or two where he looked lost or out of his element, but he looked like he belonged on Thursday night. He was relied on in every situation and he passed the test.
Sanheim finished with two shots on goal, three other shot attempts, a takeaway, and two blocked shots in 19:27 of icetime. He played 16:20 at even strength, 2:03 on the power play, and 1:04 on the penalty kill.
Hopefully Sanheim will stay in the lineup on Saturday against Edmonton, or at the very least Tuesday against Anaheim.
Hagg remains solid in spotlight
Robert Hagg has been the one rookie out of the spotlight. The main focus has been on Nolan Patrick up front, and the yo-yoing of Travis Sanheim in and out of the lineup early in the season. But Hagg has been consistently solid for the Flyers.
It’s been said time and time again, and I’m going to say it again here: when you don’t notice Hagg on the ice, that means he is doing his job. He has played great during the first six games of the season leading up to Thursday night’s contest, and that continued against Nashville.
Hagg has been good with and without the puck, keeping his man to the outside, and being strong on the boards. He continued to do that on Thursday night, but this time it was a bit more in the spotlight.
There were back-to-back plays in the first period that really stood out for Hagg. After his defensive partner, Shayne Gostisbehere, blew a tire in the offensive zone, Hagg had to race back and get in position to defend a two-on-one chance. And he did so beautifully. Hagg got back into the zone and positioned himself with his stick along the ice to deny the cross-ice pass.
On the next play Hagg was once again defending a rush. This time a 1-on-1 chance against Craig Smith. Smith got past an overaggressive Gostisbehere, and sped into the zone with only Hagg in front of him. Smith was on the right wing and tried to go around Hagg, who was coming over from the right side to defend the left side. Smith tried to go around Hagg, but he smartly used his stick to take away the lane and then bodied him up to make sure he couldn’t get a shot off.
Those were the two highlights of the night for Hagg, who went back to blending into the background after that. He continued his strong play in the defensive zone and held his man to the outside a few times in the third period that I made note of. He also had a nice shot on goal that threatened Rinne.
This was a rare bad game for Shayne Gostisbehere, but luckily his perfect complement of a partner in Hagg was there to cover for him. It’s a situation where the numbers don’t tell the story. Hagg’s possession numbers were abysmal (25.81 CF%), but he played well defensively to make up for it.
Robert Hagg has done well to mesh into the Flyers lineup over these first seven games. He hardly seems like a rookie and has brought a sense of calm to the second pair.
Miscommunication leads to lone goal
When a defensive breakdown happens on the ice, it’s usually the fault of more than one person. However, when defensive breakdowns seem to consistently happen with a certain player on the ice, it could be more than a coincidence.
On the Capitals’ first goal in Saturday night’s game, many (including myself) were quick to place blame on Andrew MacDonald for the goal after he was drifting towards the blue line. However, you could put almost equal blame on the forwards that were supposed to cover for him, in that case Jake Voracek. A team’s defensive system is complex and has many moving parts, but it’s easy, and sometimes accurate, to place blame on the player on the ice with a worst track record. And that player almost always happens to be MacDonald.
A similar play occurred in Thursday night’s loss that led to the lone goal against. But this time it happened in the offensive zone. Wayne Simmonds did well to control the puck and skated back towards the point where he slid a pass to MacDonald, who was jumping into the play in the offensive zone. MacDonald mishandled the puck, rather than getting a shot off or getting it deeper into the zone, and that started a rush the other way.
Simmonds, who started the play and was carrying his line, attempted a poke check in the high slot to keep the puck in the zone, but failed to connect. In hindsight it was an ill-advised play for Simmonds, but he was trying to create offense in the third period. The other two forwards, Valtteri Filppula and Jori Lehtera, were caught in deep on the play, and were in no position to help out defensively once the rush started.
Fiala got past Simmonds and skated up the ice. Filppula couldn’t keep up with Sissons once they got through the neutral zone, creating a two-on-one. MacDonald was trying to get back into the play, but as he directed Ivan Provorov to take the puck carrier, meaning he’d break up the passing lane, Fiala sauced a pass to Sissons who was then in all alone and beat Neuvirth with a well placed shot.
It’s a play that happens a few times a game usually, but this time it gets magnified due to it resulting in the lone goal of a 1-0 game. You can probably blame the whole five-man unit except Provorov for the goal, but MacDonald is the easy mark due to his track record with defensive miscues.
So yes, it might not be all MacDonald’s fault on plays like these. However, the fact that he seems to be on the ice for these breakdowns more than any other defenseman is not a good look. It’s not just this season, but in past seasons as well. A forward may not cover his man here or there, but a more sound defenseman wouldn’t make as many mistakes as the 5 million dollar man.
Offensive woes without Weal
When the Flyers recalled Matt Read on Thursday afternoon, some people began to worry about Simmonds’ availability. Simmonds participated in morning skate and was good to go for the game. However, it was Jordan Weal that would be held out of the lineup with a minor upper-body injury.
Read didn’t get into the game, although he did warm up with the team, but instead it opened the door for Jori Lehtera. After sitting in the press box for the first six games, Lehtera got into his first game with the Flyers. And he was thrown right into the fire as it was a straight swap of Weal for Lehtera on the second line.
Weal has yet to prove himself as a top-flight winger in the NHL, but over his past six games this season, and strong stretch last season, he has shown that he is a capable middle-six, if not top-six, winger. Going from a guy like that to a fourth-line at-best forward like Lehtera on the second line is a big drop off; especially when you already have Valtteri Filppula on the line. Filppula is a solid middle-six center that can play on the second line with good wingers, like Weal and Simmonds. However, when you give Filppula a mini-Filppula in Lehtera, not even Simmonds can save that trio.
A top-six right wing, a fourth-line left winger, and a middle-six center are not what you want to make up your second line. The Flyers felt that on Thursday night. In a tight-checking game against the Predators, the top-heavy lineup finally came back to bite them in the butt.
One of the worries prior to the season about putting Claude Giroux on the left side of Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek was that it would create a top-heavy lineup that the other forwards couldn’t compensate for. That had yet to be a problem through six games, but a weakened middle-six, a tight-checking game, and bad puck luck cost the Flyers.
The top line was still able to create various chances throughout the night, but the pucks weren’t going in like they were over the prior two games. Couturier was robbed at least twice, including off a great toe drag shot and off a Giroux setup in the third period. Couturier also set up Voracek with a drop pass, but he couldn’t get a shot on goal. The line was doing what they have been doing throughout the season, albeit in a lower volume, but they weren’t able to capitalize this time. The 8-2 win was domination. the 5-1 win was opportunistic. A game like last night’s 1-0 loss was bound to come eventually.
The Flyers were out-attempted at 5v5 play, 52-39, but that didn’t tell the whole story. They got more scoring chances (18-14) and high-danger chances (5-2) than the Predators. It was a lower-paced game, but the Flyers were still getting to the high-quality areas. A lot of their shots came from the slot and the dirty areas.
Weal’s injury status is day-to-day after being a late scratch, so it’s possible that he’ll return for Saturday’s matinee. However, if he is out I think Matt Read will make his season debut. Lehtera is on the roster to be an extra forward, while the Flyers want Read to be consistently in game action. They know he can’t crack the NHL lineup right now, so they have him staying active in the AHL. Now, with a minor injury to Weal, Read could get his chance.
I don’t think Read would be placed on the second line, but rather there would be a few changes in the bottom-nine. The fourth line has done well together but Michael Raffl could slide up the lineup with Read taking his place. Raffl could either be slotted alongside Filppula and Simmonds, or the Flyers could try a trio of Simmonds, Patrick, and Konecny as the second line while having a Weise, Filppula and either Raffl or Read third line. That would give the Flyers a pretty definitive top-six and bottom-six, but also make the most of their talent with Simmonds not having to carry his own line.
I’m sure more light will be shed on the situation at practice on Friday.
Neuvirth near-perfect again
Michal Neuvirth cannot catch a break. He has a league-best save percentage (.957) and goals against average (1.36) through three starts, but has just one win to show for it.
Neuvirth’s effort on Thursday night was wasted in a shutout loss, much like his performance in Los Angeles to open his season. His 40-save game on Tuesday night is his only win on the season so far.
Neuvirth didn’t need to make a ton of big stops against Nashville like he did against Florida, but he was consistently being peppered with shots. The Predators got seven shots in the first period, nine in the second, and eight in the third. They also had 30 shots that were blocked or missed the net. He was kept on his toes throughout his 58:30 prior to being pulled for the extra attacker.
It’s not something that you want to see continue to happen for Neuvirth. He has played near-perfect hockey in all three of his starts, but two of them resulted in losses simply because the Flyers could not score. Even on Tuesday night he had to fight through a tough first period before the Flyers put a four-spot up on the Panthers.
The Flyers’ goalie tandem should continue to be evenly split as we move forward. Both goalies have played well so far, with Elliott catching a few more breaks as the Flyers spotted him eight goals in his last start.
It’ll be interesting to see who gets the nod on Saturday. Elliott has seen more of the Oilers because he played with the Blues and Flames in the Western Conference, but Neuvirth is the hot hand right now even after a loss.
- The Flyers went 0-for-5 on the power play, but it was a lot better than it sounds. One of those power plays was just 30 seconds after a weak call against Simmonds, another was 1:06 to end the game with the goalie pulled, and another had Dale Weise on the top unit after Simmonds got hit up high on the bench. They also should’ve had a few more power plays in the game. There were at least three plays in the first period that should’ve been called: Konecny taken down from behind, Gostisbehere slashed, and Leier slashed to end the period.
- On the flip side, the only two penalties called against the Flyers were rather weak. Scott Hartnell embellished to get a high-sticking call against Radko Gudas, and then Simmonds tapped a player’s stick out of his hand while on the power play to get called for interference.
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