Flyers
Scott Laughton was one of four Flyers to return from the NHL’s COVID list and one of three Flyers to score on Saturday afternoon. (Jeffrey T. Barnes/AP)

That was surgical! The (almost) fully healthy Philadelphia Flyers WIN, 3-0, over the Buffalo Sabres. Unsurprisingly, it took getting most of their good players back in the lineup to play their best game of the season. The scoreboard actually might not indicate just how well the Flyers played Saturday afternoon, as they looked dialed in from puck drop to final whistle.

With Justin Braun, Oskar Lindblom, Scott Laughton, and Jake Voracek all returning from the league’s COVID list, the Flyers are as stacked as they’ve been all season. Things aren’t perfect; Travis Konecny isn’t eligible to come off the COVID list until tomorrow (he very likely won’t play then). And we’ll talk more about the Phil Myers situation here. But the Flyers finally have some reinforcements and an all-NHL caliber forward group.

With Jack Eichel (day-to-day) and Linus Ullmark (a month) with lower-body injuries, the opportunity to build on Thursday’s strong showing and 39 shots were there for the taking. And sure enough, the Flyers largely picked up from where they left off. Philadelphia put together a strong opening period, outshooting Buffalo 11-6 and drawing two penalties while killing one of their own. Oh yeah, and they also took the lead. Travis Sanheim made a smart pinch along the boards and an even better set-up for Sean Couturier in the slot. Coots’ one-timer knuckled off Buffalo’s Brandon Montour and past a stunned Carter Hutton to give the Flyers a 1-0 edge.

Philadelphia’s dominance continued in the second, a vintage 2019-20 Flyers period. It just seemed like a matter of time and avoiding bad luck before the flood gates would open. The Sabres had a couple of dangerous shifts; Elliott made some nice saves, and Dylan Cozens and Victor Olofsson couldn’t hit the net on some great looks. But the Flyers were very clearly driving play in this one, generating 6 high danger chances and 15 shots to Buffalo’s three and eight, respectively.

Two of those high-danger chances wound up in the back of the net. After killing off another penalty, the Flyers came back looking stronger than ever. Let’s call their second goal today the revenue tour goal. Sean Couturier, scoring nearly two points per game since returning from an upper-body injury, starts the breakout. Frequent playoff healthy scratch and currently top-10 NHL scorer James van Riemsdyk makes the outlet. And Shayne Gostisbehere, a frequent press box visitor this time a year ago, buries a breakaway goal to double up the lead.

If the Ghost goal solidified the Flyers’ hold on the game, what happened next practically put it into a stranglehold. Alain Vigneault’s self-proclaimed “COVID line” of Lindblom, Laughton, and Voracek gave the previous goal an “anything you can do, I can do better” challenge. Voracek moves it out of the Flyers zone and Lindblom sends Laughton on a breakaway. It wasn’t as important as his last breakaway goal, but it was about as slick.

Philadelphia never took the petal off the metal in the third period, save for a late barrage of icings. All four lines were creating scoring chances and making some really slick plays. A Jake Voracek deflection and Michael Raffl one-timer nearly extended the lead, with the latter catching iron. There were a few more scrambles in front of Brian Elliott, but Moose and the Flyers defense put out the flames. A late Robert Hagg penalty put the goose egg in doubt, but the Sabres kept missing the net on some great looks, and the Flyers PK made it a perfect 3-for-3 against the league’s best man-advantage.

Despite their strong record, Flyers fans (myself included) have been complaining about the process all season long. Granted, our criticisms were warranted. Entering today, the Flyers have averaged 8.7 fewer shots per game than their opponent. The gap between them and 30th place Columbus is as big as the gap between CBJ and 9th place St. Louis. They’re 26th in 5-on-5 expected goals%. The PK is 30th; the PP is 26th in expected goals per 60. That’s a lot of reasons to be concerned.

That being said, hindsight is 20-20, but maybe we overlooked some things. I know, Philly fans overreacting, who could’ve seen that one coming? They played at least decently in five of six periods with an AHL bottom-six. Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier have looked unstoppable since returning to the line-up. The forecheck is coming back to life. The team looked as crisp as a perfect fall afternoon all afternoon, executing some outstanding passing plays. This game easily could’ve been 6-0 or 7-1.

So, the same question as last game: does this mean the Flyers are back? Well, what if I told you they never left? Or at least that they only left when Sean Couturier went down with a mitochondrial separation. The Flyers have only had a couple of games with a mostly healthy lineup this season, and they haven’t lost any of them. If the Flyers keep playing like this, those numbers I mentioned above will turn around. Now that Coots (and almost everybody from the COVID list) is back, the Flyers team that dazzled us down the stretch last year seems to be returning, too. And what a sight it is to see.

Alright, time to wrap this bad boy up and call it a day- *looks at healthy scratches*

Flyers
Why’d you have to do me like this, AV?

Myssing In Action

For the second time this season, I’m dedicating a special section to a surprising healthy scratch. I didn’t Phil Myers he had an amazing game Wednesday. And it’s not like he had a dominant performance in the last couple of games to make up for that. Alain Vigneault was more bearish on the 23-year old; in fact, Myers took a seat today with Justin Braun returning from COVID. Myers skated with Nate Prosser at practice yesterday, so I kind of saw it coming.

Was this the right decision? Well, it’s worth noting that Myers’ play may not be the only thing going into it. NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jordan Hall pointed out this quote by Vigneault: “We’re playing six games in nine nights, I have a feeling that if I can, I will be using more personnel. I don’t recall that any time in my coaching career — and I’ve been around a couple of years — six games in nine nights. We’re not the only team, a lot of teams are doing that. If I have the possibility to use a rotating forwards and Ds, that might be a possibility for me. We’ll figure it out game by game.”

The pause the Flyers COVID outbreak means they’ll be a very busy team moving forward. They play 17 games in the next 29 days and have ten back-to-backs left (more like 9.5 now). Perhaps a little load management, to borrow a basketball term, could be beneficial long term. The Flyers certainly don’t want to be running out of gas when the playoffs role around.

Of course, you actually have to make the playoffs first, and sitting Myers for Robert Hagg (who’s probably next in line to come out of the lineup) or somebody else hurts those chances. When Vigneault healthy scratched Travis Konecny, he called out the winger’s two-way play, and TK returned playing a much more well-rounded game, though he was held without a point and to just three shots in four games. It’s hard to call the move a resounding success, but you could definitely argue it had a positive impact.

When Konecny was scratched, I wrote that it felt like Konecny was “falling on the sword” for an overall irresponsible top-six. I can’t say exactly the same about Myers and the defense after limiting the Rangers to 27 shots and one 5-on-5 goal. Perhaps AV thought having Hagg and Braun would wake up their struggling PK? Or maybe it’s that Myers isn’t quite 100% from the upper-body injury he suffered, although that happened about a month ago. Look, I’m grasping at straws here, folks.

This is certainly a curious decision by Vigneault, one I agree with less than the TK scratch. When Myers is at his best, he’s an outstanding second-pair defender who can hold his own on the top pair against elite competition. He hasn’t been at that level the last few games; maybe this gets him back there. I’m a bit skeptical his play called for a measure this drastic, though.

I joined Adam Krieger on his podcast to talk about the latest in the NHL (plus a tiny bit of baseball talk). Check it out!

Lindies

Brian Elliott continues to absolutely dominate the Sabres. Moose is 15-2-2 with a save percentage in the .940s against Buffalo. He’s stopped 63 of 63 shots in his two starts against them this year, recording his third and fourth shutouts against Buffalo in doing so.

On Wednesday night, Ivan Provorov played his 331st consecutive game to begin his career, all with the Flyers. That passes Dan Girardi (330 games with the Rangers) for the longest iron-man streak by a D-man with one team to start their career. What a beast.

This is the first time Shayne Gostisbehere has scored in consecutive games since November 5th & 8th, 2018, both against Arizona. His offense is really coming into form; Ghost had 14 shots and 1 point in his first 9 games, but he’s got ELEVEN shots and 3 points in his last two.

Fans are slowly starting to trickle back into buildings across the NHL. The Sabres will have a 10% capacity crowd starting March 20th; the Flyers’ last opponent, the Rangers, had fans for the first time last night. Philadelphia is officially allowing fans to attend sports games, too. However, Pennsylvania’s capacity limit of 500 people isn’t enough to bring back fans when accounting for necessary increases to staff. But better days seem closer than ever.

Congrats to Claude Giroux on playing his 904th NHL game, officially moving him to second all-time for the Flyers. G passed Bill Barber today; only Bobby Clarke (1,144 games) has played more in orange and black than G.

Buffalo’s Curtis Lazar, getting a rare opportunity to play 1C with Eichel out, played in his 300th NHL game. He hasn’t exactly had the dominant career you’d expect from a 17th overall pick. But 300 games is no small feat, and he’s already got four goals this year, including one against the Flyers in these teams’ first meeting of the season.

Happy belated birthday to Joel Farabee! The Beezer turned 21 years old on Thursday. Crazy to think he could be a junior at BU right now.

And the ultimate congratulations to Travis Konecny and his girlfriend Karly Girard! The Stanley Cup would make a great cradle, just saying.

3 Stars (You Know You Played Well When the Goalie Gets a Shutout and Doesn’t Make It Here)

3rd: Scott Laughton – Goal (5), 4 Shots, 3 Hits

2nd: Shayne Gostisbehere – Goal (2), 6 Shots

1st: Sean Couturier – Goal (4), Assist (6)

Next

2/28, 3 PM – PHI vs. BUF

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Advanced Stats via Natural Stat Trick and Evolving-Hockey