The Philadelphia Flyers had a chance to take a 2-1 series lead and keep home-ice advantage on their side in Game 3 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but they squandered it.
They got out to a fast start on Sunday afternoon, but after being unable to capitalize on their chances they gave Pittsburgh power play after power play, and momentum started to shift. The Flyers managed just one goal, Travis Sanheim’s first career playoff goal, in 5-1 loss to the Penguins
Here are five storylines from the Flyers’ disappointing loss in Game 3.
Dominant start squandered
The Flyers played their best period of playoff hockey in the opening stanza of Game 3, but they came away empty handed. It was a similar storyline to what we saw throughout the season: the Flyers dominated most of the period, but a bad turnover resulted in a 1-0 deficit after twenty minutes of play.
Sometimes those were only spurts of dominant play in past periods like that, but the Flyers had control for nearly the full 20 minutes of the first period. They controlled play at 5v5, generated chances on a power play in the latter half of the period and to close out the period, and had a successful penalty kill. That’s a great recipe for success, but the Flyers couldn’t capitalize on their chances whether it be due to skill or luck.
Despite trailing 1-0 after the first period, the Flyers weren’t deflated. And they shouldn’t have been. It was truly a dominant period of hockey.
In 14:47 of 5v5 play in the first period, the Flyers had 20 shot attempts, 12 scoring chances, and seven high-danger chances. That’s more than they had in 41:46 of play in Game 2, when they generated 19 shot attempts, 11 scoring chances, and two high-danger chances at 5v5 in a 5-1 win.
Those are numbers that should result in at least one goal, if not two or three. Yes, seriously. But the Flyers were both unlucky and couldn’t execute. Nolan Patrick admittedly didn’t get his shot high enough on his great chance just past the minute mark, Raffl couldn’t redirect Giroux’s shot in front, Laughton was robbed in front, and Sanheim’s chance off the rush was just a bit too low.
Here’s a compilation of those chances.
Filppula and Konecny also had a prime chance in front.
Not to mention their chances on the power play as well. If even one or two of those go in, it’s a completely different game and potentially a completely different series.
They slowed down a bit more in the second and third periods, but still limited the Penguins. Pittsburgh only scored that lone goal at 5v5, with another coming during 4-on-4 play, while the power play did the rest of the damage.
The Flyers were playing to their strengths in the first period. They were on the attack, therefore forcing the Penguins to defend, and it looked like it would be a close game after two lopsided scores in Pittsburgh. However, things took a turn for the worse in the second period and the Flyers could never get their groove back.
Undisciplined play opens door for Penguins
The number one key to this series was staying out of the box. The Flyers had mixed results with that in the first two games, mostly due to a successful penalty kill in Game 2, but it really hurt them on Sunday afternoon.
They killed off Brandon Manning’s tripping penalty in the first period, but then the Penguins scored on back-to-back power plays to take a 3-0 lead. The first one was after a weak call on Giroux, but a stick falling out of someone’s hands is usually going to result in a penalty, and the rest of them were warranted as the Flyers unraveled.
The Flyers gave the Penguins six power plays in the game, with most of them coming off of stick infractions. Manning was called for tripping, Giroux for slashing, Voracek for hooking and high-sticking, Laughton for high-sticking, Gudas for tripping, and there was also a too many men penalty. There is no excuse to take that many penalties in a game, especially in that fashion. Those are penalties that simply need to be avoided.
The Flyers controlled play in the first period, but Giroux’s penalty 1:12 into the second period started the downfall.They took four penalties in less than 10 minutes. One was a matching minor resulting in 4-on-4 play, but that is unacceptable in the playoffs. It makes it even more unacceptable when they’re playing a team like the Penguins. The Penguins scored a power-play goal 2:48 into the second period to take a 2-0 lead, and then four minutes later on a 4-on-3 power play to take a 3-0 lead.
The Penguins went 3-for-7 on the power play after going 0-for-4 in Game 2. That was arguably the difference in the game. If they scored once or twice in Game 2, they very easily could’ve came back. If they only scored once in Game 3, the Flyers could’ve easily came back. Some of that falls onto the penalty kill, which also played poorly (see: Andrew MacDonald flopping like a fish on Brassard’s goal), but the Flyers know how lethal the Penguins’ power play can be – hell, it’s the best in the league – and four opportunities are already too many, let alone seven.
Not only do penalties give the other team a chance to score, which the Penguins did, but they also take away from the flow of the game. The Flyers were rolling all four lines in the first period and finding success, but that came to a halt in the second period and it completely changed the game.
Hakstol, Flyers can’t shift momentum
The Flyers still had the momentum after the first period despite trailing 1-0, but that took a quick turn in the second period. That aforementioned undisciplined play gave the Penguins a chance to grab momentum, and they took it and ran.
The Penguins scored twice within four minutes, and you could tell that things were unraveling a bit. The Flyers tried to build back that momentum after the Penguins’ first goal of the period, but more penalties allowed the Penguins to score on a 4-on-3 thanks to a great shot by Evgeni Malkin.
At that point the Flyers were down 3-0 after the Penguins’ second power-play goal of the period. And this is where one of the biggest points of contention in the game and even after the game occurred. The Flyers (read: Dave Hakstol) did nothing after that goal to try to calm things down, and allowed another goal just five seconds later off the next faceoff. Giroux got beat by Crosby and then Brian Elliott allowed a bad goal to go down 4-0.
Dave Hakstol did not use his timeout after the Penguins’ third goal, and admitted after the game that he should’ve used it to try to stop Pittsburgh’s momentum. Hindsight is 20/20 obviously, and there is a bit of a results-oriented thinking there. Hakstol even noted that it would’ve been nice to have that timeout in a high-leverage situation later in the game, but sometimes those situations don’t come. He trusted in his guys to calm things down for the next few minutes, or at least the next several seconds, to get back to 5-on-5 play and reset things a bit.
The timeout definitely could’ve changed momentum for the Flyers, but let’s play Devil’s advocate here. Let’s say Hakstol uses that timeout, and regardless of whether or not the Penguins keep momentum, there is a goal later in the game that is close enough to warrant a challenge. If Hakstol used his timeout after the third goal, he wouldn’t be able to challenge a potential goalie interference call on a goal later in the game, with over half of the game still left. Furthermore, if the Flyers’ best players were simply able to survive that 4-on-4 shift and settle things down, they could’ve gotten back into it and made it a close game. A three-goal deficit is not insurmountable by any means, especially in the second period, and a timeout could’ve been useful later in the game.
Hakstol probably should’ve used the timeout to try to stop the momentum after the third goal. He showed faith in his top guys to get the job done on the next few shifts and they didn’t. The Flyers may not have been deflated after the first period, but they sure looked it after the third goal, and a timeout could’ve changed that.
While he didn’t use his timeout, he did make some in-game adjustments. That is something that he gets criticized for a lot, but he made a few changes in this one. One of the players to get moved down the lineup was Oskar Lindblom, which wasn’t a popular choice for many, but Travis Konecny got bumped back up to the top-six for some shifts and so did Scott Laughton, who had been playing consistently well until his penalty.
Lindblom being demoted was partially due to all of the special teams play, but also due to his play so far in the series. He has had a poor few games to start. His demotion is fine, but the other changes, or non-changes, are causing more of the questioning.
Konecny started the game on the third line, and played the majority (6:10 of 10:25) of his 5v5 minutes with them, but he also played 2:48 with Nolan Patrick on the second line. Ideally Konecny would be reunited with the top line, especially when the Flyers need goals, but they were able to generate a few rushes on the second line.
The amount of penalties in the game also shuffled things up a bit with some of the lines being jumbled due to special teams play. That gave the Flyers a chance to look at a line of Giroux, Patrick, and Voracek for a shift or two that generated some pressure and shots on goal.
The Flyers were unable to shift the momentum in Game 3, but Hakstol has a lot to think about with two days off before Game 4. He tinkered with some line combinations on Sunday afternoon, and you have to think that he’ll continue to do so whether it be in practice or early in Game 4 if things don’t go the Flyers’ way.
Elliott doesn’t do Flyers any favors
By no means is this loss on Brian Elliott whatsoever, but goalies that are successful in the playoffs tend to come up with a few more key saves when his team needs them.
Elliott was poor in Game 1, but bounced back with a strong effort in Game 2 to get the victory. He wasn’t directly at fault for most of the Penguins’ five goals in Game 3, but there were opportunities for him to make a big save for the Flyers.
The Penguins’ first goal of the game is a prime example of that. It was a bad turnover by Michael Raffl, who had the puck knocked off his stick, but Elliott completely overplayed the odd-man situation down low.
Patric Hornqvist chipped the puck over to Sidney Crosby on the left side, and Elliott slid across the crease to prepare for a shot. However, he slid a bit too far across the crease and opened up the backdoor for Crosby to score on the wraparound.
Elliott couldn’t go post to post to deny the wraparound because, well, he was outside of the post after sliding over.
I reiterate, this goal is not Elliott’s fault since Raffl turned the puck over to create a great scoring chance for the Penguins, but a save by Elliott in this situation would keep the Flyers rolling in a scoreless first period.
The Penguins’ second and third goals came on the power play with Elliott rather helpless, so he gets absolutely no blame there. MacDonald flopped on the first one.
And Malkin had a great shot on the second one.
However, the Penguins’ fourth goal needed to be stopped. It was a clean look by Brian Dumoulin that beat Elliott through the five-hole.
That was the goal that completely deflated the Flyers, and it was absolutely one that Elliott needed to stop. Not only was it a soft goal, but the circumstances made it even worse.
Once again, like in Game 1, the goaltending was not the make-or-break difference for the Flyers due to the way the entire team played, but a key save in the first period or even an average save in the second period would’ve allowed the Flyers to play with some more momentum.
Big guns come up small
Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds have combined for the same number of goals as me and you this series. Outside of a Game 2 outburst from Sean Couturier, the Flyers’ top line and top-six have been rather quiet.
To beat any team in the playoffs your best players are going to need to be some of your best players, but especially against a team like the Penguins. There will always be role players that step up in the postseason to give a team some extra juice, but in general a team is carried by its top guys.
That has not been the case for the Flyers in what is turning into a disturbing trend. Obviously this series, the one from 2016 against the Capitals, and the one from 2014 against the Rangers are three completely different teams, matchups, and circumstances, but they’re all trending in the same direction. The Flyers’ core has a chance to show what they can do, and they’re coming up small. That is partially due to the shallow nature of these teams, however. Claude Giroux is far and away the biggest threat on the team, making him the key focus of the opponent’s gameplan.
The Flyers generated a bunch of chances in the first period that likely should’ve resulted in a few goals, as described above, but the top guys were only involved in a few of them. The biggest place that the Flyers were missing contributions from their top players was on the power play.
The Flyers went 2-for-3 on the power play in Game 2, but they were an abysmal 0-for-6 on Sunday afternoon in Game 3. Zero for six. If they converted on one or two of those, they’re in the game. I don’t want to be overly critical because the power play was generating a bunch of chances and getting unlucky, especially in the first period, but in the playoffs things get magnified and they need to find a way to score. Especially when you get six chances.
Special teams play has been crucial in all three games in this series. If the Flyers killed off another penalty or two rather than allowing a goal, and scored on another power play or two, it’s a much closer game and the Flyers probably come out on top.
It’s still only been three games, which seems like an eternity in the playoffs, so Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds, and Couturier have at least a few more games to step up. If they don’t, it could be a short series.
Photo by Heather Barry/Sons of Penn
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