We went into Thursday night’s game not knowing which Philadelphia Flyers team would show up. Would it be the team that beat the Tampa Bay Lightning to end 2017, or lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins to open 2018? Well, it was a little bit of both, but moreso the former.
The Flyers opened things up in the second period with four goals, and then hung on for dear life in the third period en route to a 6-4 win. It was a well-balanced attack from up and down the lineup, with the defensemen helping to activate the offense. Shayne Gostisbehere owned the blue line, Robert Hägg was active in the offensive zone, and Ivan Provorov bounced back from a poor performance.
Here are five storylines from the Flyers’ exciting win against the Islanders.
Gostisbehere owning the blue line
If you look at the box score, you might not think much of the game that Shayne Gostisbehere played. He had just one assist and zero shots on goal in over 20 minutes (20:18) of ice time. However, it’s the little things that Gostisbehere does that makes him so good. Sure, he can shoot and he can pass which will make the highlight reels, but his other offensive skills are great as well. Whether it be carrying it up the ice, or keeping it in the zone at the blue line, among other things.
Gostisbehere gets on the scoresheet, but he can do other things as well. He showed off his defensive game on Tuesday, so it’s only fitting that the other half of his game was on display on Thursday. There were multiple times throughout the game, beginning early in the first period, that Gostisbehere made unbelievable plays to keep the play alive at the blue line.
He was spinning and deking out forwards at the line, and also made a few great plays to keep the puck in the zone. It’s something that he does so well and we see it so consistently that we almost take it for granted. But the plays he made on Thursday night were simply too good to overlook.
There were two separate dangles by Gostisbehere at the line early in the game while the Flyers had a bit of an extended power play on a delayed penalty call. That was just the appetizer for the main courses, though.
On the power play just moments later, Gostisbehere got his stick down to keep a clearing attempt in the zone and reset the offense. He fed Giroux, who went across to Voracek, whose shot on net was redirected home by Couturier. Gostisbehere’s keep at the line made the play happen, but due to the nature of it, only Giroux and Voracek picked up assists on the goal, when Gostisbehere really deserved one as well.
Luckily Gostisbehere would get rewarded with a point for his play at the line on one of the Flyers’ other goals. In the opening minutes of the second period, Gostisbehere stickhandled a puck to just barely keep it in the zone, and passed it across to Provorov on the right side. Provorov collected the pass and fired it on net, where Raffl tipped it home.
Those two keeps by Gostisbehere are where we focus, simply due to the result of the play being a goal, but he makes plays like that at the line on a nightly basis. Against the Penguins on Tuesday he dove to keep a puck in at the line to prolong the zone time. They got an extra scoring chance or two, but the piece of vulcanized rubber didn’t go into the back of the net, so no one really remembers it.
There is a play (or multiple plays) during every game where I say to myself, “great keep by Gostisbehere there.” It doesn’t always result in a goal, or even a scoring chance, but it keeps the play alive in the offensive zone and it keeps the puck away from the Flyers goalie, which is the primary job of a defenseman.
Nights like last night are a great reminder of how good of an offensive defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere is. He has a fantastic shot, great vision, and is one of the best players in the league at keeping play alive at the blue line.
Provorov bounces back, Hagg active in o-zone
Ivan Provorov had one of his worst games of the season on Tuesday night, getting beat multiple times in the defensive zone by inferior players that led to goals against. Robert Hägg struggled as well in the loss. However, both players turned it around on Thursday night. They each got in on the offense with a team-high eight shot attempts apiece, and Provorov led the way with a three-point night.
Tuesday was a rare off-night for both of these young defenseman, so it was good to see them bounce back in a big way. Provorov’s performance was a bit more obvious with the three points, but it was also playing a solid defensive game, per usual, and has really gelled well with Gostisbehere on the top pair. Provorov led all defensemen in time on ice (21:49) and allowed just one total high-danger chance against during that time, even on the power play.
While Provorov led in ice time overall, Hagg led at 5v5. He and Andrew MacDonald played the most as the team’s “shutdown” pair in the win. They led the way with over 18 minutes (18:55 for Hagg) and were the only Flyers defensive pair to both have positive corsi for percentages. Hagg had a 57.5% corsi for (23-17) and 72.22% scoring chances for (13-5). He was on the ice for two goals against, though.
Hagg couldn’t do much on the first goal, as he defended a 3-on-1 (then 3-on-2) rush well, keeping Clutterbuck to the outside enough to force a shot off the outside of the post. He was then in position in front of the net, but Clutterbuck beat MacDonald on the other side and the puck bounced off of him and in.
The other goal was a bit more on him, though it was a shot that shouldn’t have gone in. Defenseman Ryan Pulock faked a slap shot then went around Hagg and took a short-side shot to beat Elliott. Hagg took away the far side pretty nicely with his stick and body positioning, but Elliott got beat on the short side.
The good thing to see in Hagg’s game on Thursday night is that he was being active in the offensive zone. He had a few shots on goal in the first half of the first period, and continued to fire on net all game long. Point shots are usually undesirable, but with traffic in front or at the right time, they can be a bit more dangerous. Hagg also picked up an assist as he got the puck down to Jordan Weal prior to Wayne Simmonds’ rebound goal.
Power play swings momentum
After a poor effort on special teams on Tuesday night, the Flyers made things right on the power play against the Islanders. They scored three power-play goals for just the second time this season, the other time coming in the season opener. This time the third was the result of an empty-net goal, but even then the Flyers had to work a bit for it.
Not only did the Flyers score multiple power-play goals for just the sixth time this season, but they got a goal from both units as well! The top unit went to work for the opening goal, then the second unit worked it around for the second power-play goal of the game.
The first goal was the result of a great keep by Gostisbehere, and then a cross-ice pass from Claude Giroux to Jake Voracek. Voracek had just shot high and wide prior to Gostisbehere’s keep, so this time he kept it low where Sean Couturier was able to redirect it over Thomas Greiss for the goal.
Puck movement was key for the Flyers on that goal, as was preserving the play at the line. Gostisbehere kept it, allowing Giroux to make a pass across the middle of the ice to Voracek, which is a dangerous since it forces the defense and goaltender to shift sides and focus, and then he was able to slide it back across the ice on net for Couturier to tip it home.
The second goal, scored by the second unit, was more movement from both the players and the puck. Jordan Weal entered the zone with speed and circled back as the unit set up. He passed it along the left boards to Brandon Manning, who was on the power play for some reason, who then gave it back to Provorov at the line. He sent it to Patrick on the right point, who skated in a bit before dropping a no-look pass back to Provorov. He loaded up a wrist shot and sent it through a mass of humanity in front and through the five-hole for a goal.
The final power-play goal came in the final minute after MacDonald drew a tripping penalty, and some festivities happened after the whistle. Giroux shot the puck from the red line, but it bounced off of the post. They then retrieved the puck in the offensive zone and got it to Provorov, who scored his second goal of the game. It could’ve been his third goal, but Michael Raffl tipped his shot in earlier in the game.
All three power-play goals came at a big time for the Flyers. The first one opened the scoring in a period that the Flyers dominated, the second gave them a stranglehold on the game (at the time) for a 4-1 lead, and the third finally put the game away with an empty-netter. The power play was truly the difference in this one.
Couturier’s Gordie Howe Hat Trick
We can’t get through a storylines post without mentioning how great Sean Couturier played. He recorded his first career Gordie Howe Hat Trick with a goal, assist, and a fight.
The goal came from his office in front of the net on the power play, as he gets to the dirty areas to put points on the board. The assist was a good representation of his game as well, as he stood on the blue line and intercepted a pass as the Islanders tried to enter the zone. He got a bit lucky with Konecny finally coming onto the ice for Weise, but he still needed to flip a perfect pass to him over the head of a defenseman for a breakaway.
The final part of the Gordie Howe Hat Trick, the fight, was a little bit controversial. Well, not controversial, but rather ill-advised. He dropped the gloves with Josh Bailey after a clean hit at center ice. That’d normally be fine, but the timing was the issue. Couturier is a huge piece for the Flyers in the final minutes of a game, especially a one-goal game, and he took a five-minute fighting major with 5:10 to play in the game. The only saving grace is that Bailey has been great for the Islanders this season with 50 points through 41 games.
It wasn’t smart decision by Couturier, but in the heat of the moment there’s no way that even crosses his mind. I’m sure he regretted it nearly immediately after sitting down in the box and cooling off for a moment, but luckily it didn’t end up costing the Flyers.
Sean Couturier has been a new and improved version of himself all season long and he’s a man on a mission. He asked for a bigger role, more offensive chances, and he’s gotten it and thrived in it.
Bringing the energy and physicality
Ron Hextall sent a message to his team with a curious decision on Wednesday afternoon by calling up forward Tyrell Goulbourne, and the message was received loud and clear. He wanted Goulbourne to come in and bring some energy. Well, the energy was brought, and they didn’t even need Goulbourne. The rookie was unable to make his NHL debut due to travel problems and the weather, but the Flyers brought the energy and picked up their physicality against the Islanders.
It was clear from the get-go that the Flyers were the more energized, faster, and simply better team in the game. They let the Islanders back into the game late, mostly due to score effects and sitting back a bit too much, but the Flyers dominated the first two periods. They out-attempted the Islanders 43-29 through two periods, including 22-14 shots on goal and also 23-11 scoring chances (12-4 high-danger).
The Flyers were driving play and also driving the middle of the ice all night long. The heatmap of their shots was nearly the inverse of Tuesday night’s against the Penguins. They were getting to the dirty areas, they were shooting from the slot, and it was paying off.
Not only did the Flyers bring the energy in terms of driving play, but they had several big hits and three fights as well.
Travis Konecny got the party started after laying out Shane Prince. Prince challenged Konecny, Travis dropped the gloves, then quickly dropped Prince with a slam to the ice. That certainly energized the building, as well as his teammates, as they looked on with approving stick taps.
There were a few post-whistle scrums throughout the game, but things ramped up in the third period. Couturier’s fight started it, as he took down Josh Bailey. Then after the Islanders failed to get anything past Brian Elliott in the final two minutes, Andrew Ladd tripped Andrew MacDonald and things got physical along the boards. Dennis Seidenberg gave Scott Laughton a crosscheck, then Laughton got into it with Jordan Eberle and he beat him down worse than the Oilers got beat in the Eberle-Strome trade.
Tyrell Goulbourne wasn’t in the lineup, or even in the building, but the mere presence of him on the roster woke the Flyers up and they responded.
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