The Philadelphia Flyers are streaking into the bye week. The Flyers beat the Sabres on Sunday afternoon by a final score of 4-1 for their third-straight win, sending them into the bye week on a high note.
The game was closer than the final score suggests, since two of the goals were empty-netters, but the Flyers played well against the Sabres for the most part and earned two points in the win.
Here are five storylines from the Flyers’ big win before the bye week.
Gostisbehere’s weeklong showcase continues
Shayne Gostisbehere finished off his weeklong showcase on Sunday afternoon. On Tuesday his improved defensive play was on display against the Penguins. Then on Thursday it was his tremendous ability to keep the puck in the zone at the blue line. On Saturday it was a power-play blast that was tipped home. Finally, on Sunday it was a fantastic two-way play in the second period that sparked the Flyers. Gostisbehere has been doing all of these things all season long, but each of the past handful of games has shone a light on that particular aspect of the game.
After the Sabres opened the scoring with a power-play goal early in the second period, Gostisbehere provided the spark that the Flyers needed to wake up after a sleepy first period. His play without the puck has been much better this season, especially recently, and he made two great plays, nearly in succession, that started a rush the other way that he eventually finished on.
First, after the Sabres won a battle and cleared the zone, Gostisbehere stepped up to break up a cross-ice pass in the neutral zone, getting the puck back in deep. The Sabres broke out of their own zone and Jake McCabe tried to reach for a puck and poke it ahead for a potential odd-man rush. But yet again Gostisbehere stepped up, read the play, and broke the pass up on the Flyers side of center ice in the neutral zone
Jori Lehtera picked it up and skated down the left wing and into the zone. With Jake Voracek crashing the net, he dished it back across the ice to Scott Laughton who was trailing the play a bit. Rather than forcing a shot, Laughton smartly waited for Gostisbehere to get into the zone and fed him at the top of the circle. Gostisbehere wired a shot through Robin Lehner to tie the game at 1, and it got the Flyers going.
Those little plays are things that Gostisbehere does multiple times in every single game. They get the extra attention when they result in a goal, obviously, which has been happening a bit more recently, and they’re a great example of what Gostisbehere is doing this season to improve his game even more. He has gone from an offensive specialist to more of a two-way defenseman.
Gostisbehere led the Flyers defensemen in puck possession against the Sabres with a corsi for percentage of 64% (16-9 shot attempts), which included a scoring chances for percentage of 70% (7-3). He and Ivan Provorov led the team in ice time at 5v5 (Provorov 17:22, Gostisbehere 15:40), and were two of the top three overall (Provorov 22:42, Giroux 21:10, Gostisbehere 20:43).
He is now on a three-game point streak and has points in five of his last six games. The only game without a point is that one against the Penguins, where his defensive game was on display against Crosby. Gostisbehere also has points in nine of his last 11 games overall, with five goals and five assists during that span. He is playing great defense and still racking up the points.
Letting Gostisbehere loose and allowing him to play on the top pair has unlocked another level of play from both him and Provorov. Gostisbehere’s improved the areas of his game that he’s needed to this season, and he is being rewarded for it.
Giroux, Couturier connect yet again
The top line was creating scoring chances throughout the game, mostly in the latter periods off the rush, but they were only able to convert on the power play. It was a good wrinkle that the power play has broken out at times this season. Giroux got the puck from Voracek behind the net on the right side, skated over to the left side and sauced another great pass to Couturier, who fired home a shot to give the Flyers a 2-1 lead that they wouldn’t look back on. The goal came less than four minutes after Gostisbehere’s play sparked the team.
Couturier and Travis Konecny also just missed on connecting on a give-and-go. Couturier backed into the offensive zone and handed the puck off to Konecny before crashing the net. His tip went wide, however.
Couturier was able to blast home an empty-net goal on the Flyers’ first try, after missing the net several times against the Blues. It was his second-straight two-goal game, and third-straight two-point game. Couturier has points in six of his last seven games with seven goals and four assists for 11 points during that span. His defensive game is still there and he’s on pace for over 40 goals and 82 points. Can you say Selke?
Giroux’s passing game was on point all weekend long and it nearly resulted in a few more goals on Sunday. He set up Robert Hägg with a cross-ice one-timer that Lehner was able to fight off his neck, but it was plays like that one, and another chance off the rush, that keep Giroux going.
Claude Giroux is on a very similar tear to Couturier. He too was held pointless against the Penguins, but has a three-game point streak and points in 10 of his last 11 games as well as in 13 of his last 15. Over his last 11 games he has 18 points, and he has 24 points in his last 15 games. He is on pace for over 100 points and is among the league leaders in both points and assists.
At the halfway point of the season it is Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier that have become the Flyers’ new dynamic duo, and possibly one of the best duos in the league. If they keep up this pace we could see a few nominations for end of season awards.
Nolan Patrick dominates possession
One of the lines that has been able to control play a bit recently, but hasn’t gotten too much of a reward for it, is the third line. Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds scored on Saturday, but neither of those goals came with the complete line on the ice. Nolan Patrick has been the driving force for that line, as he and Weal have improved their games over the past few weeks.
Against the Sabres the line was absolutely dominant. Patrick was impressive from the get go. On one of his first shifts of the game he did it all, and it nearly resulted in a goal. He got his stick on the puck as Jack Eichel tried to go around him, and freed it up for Michael Raffl who got it back to Patrick in his own faceoff circle. Patrick got it right back up to Raffl, who sent it cross ice to Jordan Weal. He entered the zone and dropped it to Patrick, who dished a great cross-ice pass to Raffl crashing the net, but he couldn’t get enough on his redirection try.
Patrick is responsible defensively and seems to always do the little things to drive play forward. That was especially true against the Sabres. His line, when all three players were on the ice, had a perfect corsi for percentage through two periods. They led 12-0 in shot attempts, 7-0 in shots on goal, and 6-0 in scoring chances. It wasn’t until the third period that they allowed a shot attempt, and even then it wasn’t a shot on goal. In 9:16 of ice time together the third line won the shot attempt battle 14-2, led in shots on goal 8-0, and in scoring chances 7-0. They really deserved a goal.
The rookie centerman actually lead all players with a corsi for percentage of 84.21% (16-3 shot attempts) in 9:49. He was on the ice for a game-high 9 scoring chances, while allowing none against.
This is the type of progression and development that we need to see from Patrick. He has been ramping up his game over the past month and it seems as if he’s beginning to hit his stride even more as we start the second half of the season.
Neuvirth stands tall in rare start
After Brian Elliott started 16 straight games for the Flyers, it was finally Michal Neuvirth’s turn. Neuvirth was hurt for most of those 16 games, which definitely factored into Elliott’s streak. Elliott was also playing well for the most part, and received enough rest between the holiday breaks. Neuvirth saw his first game action since November 28th on Tuesday, and finally saw his first start on Sunday afternoon.
The Sabres aren’t a great team, but it was still a tough test for Neuvirth. The referees and the Flyers didn’t do him any favors either, as the Flyers took a penalty just one minute into the game, and then after killing that off they took another one 47 seconds later. There were plenty of early tests for Neuvirth. He had to scramble a bit in the crease to stand tall on their first power play, and then flashed the leather for an amazing glove save on the Sabres’ second man-advantage.
Overall Neuvirth ended up making 30 saves on 31 shots in the win, as the pressure was on in the third period. The 4-1 score doesn’t show how close the game actually was, since two of those goals came on an empty net. They did a good job of limiting the Sabres’ chances, but a one-goal game is always tough. Buffalo threw 16 shot attempts at Neuvirth in the third period, but just four of them were deemed scoring chances.
There were a few shaky moments in the third period when Neuvirth made an awkward save and had to sprawl in the crease to keep the puck out, but it was a good start for Neuvirth and it’s good to see him get a win under his belt heading into the bye week.
Overcoming sleepy start for big win before bye week
The Flyers returned home for a four-game home stand after splitting a two-game trip down south before the new year. This home stand started a stretch of important games for the Flyers that really won’t end until the season does, as nearly every one of their games is against an Eastern Conference opponent, or worse, a Metropolitan Division rival. They started out the home stand with a whimper against the Penguins, but put that behind them for a pair of dominant efforts against the Islanders and Blues before Sunday’s game.
Closing out the home stand with a win before the bye week was crucial. A 2-2 home stand wouldn’t be horrible, but losing to the Sabres yet again would be, especially after their performances on Thursday night and Saturday afternoon. The Flyers started out slow against Buffalo in what can best be described as a sleepy first period. Neither team really generated much offense, and the Flyers were lucky to come out of it tied. They killed off those two early penalties, but never got momentum until the second period.
Gostisbehere’s aforementioned goal that sparked the team really got the crowd into it and got the team going. The Flyers dominated the second period to the tune of 23-13 in shot attempts and 11-3 in scoring chances at even strength, as well as two goals (one at even strength, one on the power play). It felt like they were up by a few goals, and they played like that at times in the third period, but the Sabres were really limited in getting any type of quality chances throughout the game, and especially in the final stanza. At 5v5 play the Sabres managed just five scoring chances in the first period, three in the second period, and four in the third period.
Heading into the bye week on a three-game winning streak is a big morale booster for the club. They’re right in the thick of it in the playoff hunt, have a handful of players on pace for career-highs, if not there already, and are a young team that should kick it into gear in the second half.
(Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
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