Flyers Fan Reaction (FFR4) Gm 25: PHI 4, VGK 3 – The Willman To Win
“It’s hard not to just write off Friday’s game in Vegas,” I wrote on Wednesday, setting up a well-need reverse jinx. For the first time since November 16, the Philadelphia Flyers WIN, — yes, actually! — 4-3, over the Vegas Golden Knights. Winning at T-Mobile Arena is no small feat for any team, even though the Flyers are an impressive 3-1-0 in the building. But it was quite the way for the Flyers to finally snap their ten-game losing streak, surviving Vegas strikes in the final 90 seconds of each period en route to victory.
Tonight’s game didn’t fix everything wrong with the Flyers. And even if it had, it will take far more than one solid game to win back any more than a fraction of the goodwill lost over the last three and a half weeks. But the Flyers looked much more like the “sloppy but energetic” team that hung with the Avalanche, at least on the scoreboard, for most of their first game under Mike Yeo, less than twenty-four hours after Alain Vigneault’s dismissal. Sloppy but energetic is something you a coaching staff can work with (hopefully eliminating the sloppy part). The type of energy the Flyers were showing near the end of Vigneault’s tenure (and on Wednesday night in New Jersey) basically gave them no shot at victory from puck drop.
Maybe that makes it fitting the Flyers came after Vegas right from puck-drop; they outshot and out-chanced their opposition at 5-on-5 in the first period just once during their skid, but pulled off that feat again on Friday night. Granted, it’s not like the Flyers fully turned over a new leaf; collecting just 39.8% of shot attempts and 42.84% of the expected goals isn’t going to cut it. Nor is allowing 44 shots, even if part of that was a result of Vegas heavily utilizing the points; the Golden Knights certainly still had more than their fair share of quality chances.
Philadelphia won this game on the back of two areas; special teams and goaltending. Yes, Max Pacioretty’s 6-on-4 power-play strike with 1:30 remaining prevented the Flyers’ special teams from having a perfect night; that is if you exclude a first-period man advantage that ended after just four seconds due to a James van Riemsdyk tripping penalty. But the Flyers’ penalty kill frustrated a Vegas unit that even entering tonight ranked below them, stymying numerous entry attempts. On their man advantages, the Flyers moved the puck well, won face-offs, executed passing plays, and were handsomely rewarded with one-timed goals from Sean Couturier (from a bit of a distance) and van Riemsdyk (in his office at point-blank range).
Meanwhile, Carter Hart seems to have fully moved on from a bit of a blip on the radar that blew up on Sunday against Tampa. Hart actually had a few mediocre performances even before that contest. But Wednesday’s solid performance and Friday’s spectacular effort have Hart and his team back on track. Hart’s puck-tracking and technical excellence were on full display from start to finish, and he made a few highlight-reel saves as well, none bigger than a right pad robbery of Mattias Janmark in the middle of the third.
For a team that hadn’t won in 25 days, you wouldn’t expect much positivity surrounding their breakthrough. And there certainly isn’t from the fanbase; as I mentioned early, one victory won’t re-enchant the masses. It won’t even remove most of the paper bag profile pictures popping up on Twitter. Yet there were so many moments of significance in this victory. Kevin Hayes kicked off the scoring with his second of the year; he’s now scored in each of the Flyers’ last two wins. Max Willman, who was firing everything he could at the net tonight, completed his journey from ECHL nobody to NHL goal scorer with his first NHL goal on a scramble early in the second.
Both of the power-play goals go beyond the box score as well. Sean Couturier gave fans some anxious moments when he went missing from the bench, apparently for a cut on his arm that evidently was patched up just fine, as he proved on his one-timed goal just 3:54 into the third. Claude Giroux’s secondary assist on that tally officially makes him the all-time Flyers leader in power-play points with a jaw-dropping 334. Anytime you pass Bobby Clarke in a category, you know you’ve done something special. And van Riemsdyk’s slam dunk PP strike less than six minutes later marked the first time since October 10 the Flyers had scored multiple power-play goals in a game. It’s the only other time it’s happened all season. Oh, and it was his first in 11 games, too.
You can still be cynical about the long-term direction of the Flyers, or even just this season. But even though you don’t have to look very hard to find areas of concern about tonight’s performance, a word of advice; don’t. If the Flyers are as bad as many think, you’ll want to savor every moment of positivity. If they’re not? Maybe you’ll want to remember this night more positively than you currently feel. I’m not saying to ignore the concerns forever; just try to enjoy the fact the Flyers actually won a hockey game. Remember this feeling? It’s a pretty nice one to have.
Speaking of well-due congratulations, Paul Holmgren celebrated his second hall of fame induction of 2021 two nights ago. After being inducted into the Flyers Hall of Fame last month, Holmgren was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame on Friday. Congratulations to a Flyers legend on and off the ice.
Pretty solid Flyers debut for Kevin Connauton; nothing incredible, but he made a few really nice defensive plays (the Flyers as a team were great with their sticks tonight). It showed in his underlying numbers, as Connauton finished with a 62.48% Expected Goals rate; only JVR and Connauton’s partner Keith Yandle had higher marks. He and Yandle only played 11:19 together at 5-on-5 as teammates in Florida last year, so I’m not sure there’s much pre-existing chemistry there. But their debut as a duo in Orange and Black certainly went well.
I believe this is the first game all season Kevin Hayes had an “A” on his sweater after alternating road captaincy with Jake Voracek last year (Ivan Provorov, who’s been wearing an “A” all season before tonight, only did so IN home games last year). Good to see Hayes back in the official leadership group and back on the board Friday.
Carter Hart is now 6-0-0 when facing over 40 shots, recording a season-high 41 saves tonight. Yet you could argue the two biggest saves of the game came from Rasmus Ristolainen. Just seconds before Hayes gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead, Ristolainen swept away a Reilly Smith rebound chance destined for the back of the net after Hart made an excellent save on the initial chance. And with Mark Stone staring down an open net and the chance to make a Vegas comeback a lot likelier, it was Ristolainen who flung himself in the way of the puck and an otherwise empty net to keep the Flyers (at the time) ahead by two.
Speaking of “ahead by two;” if it feels like it’s been a while since the Flyers had a multi-goal lead, that’s because it has been; in fact, it’s been over a month. The last time the Flyers led by two goals was a 2-0 advantage on November 6 at Washington; the Flyers would go on to win that game 2-1.
The Flyers have now scored 4+ goals in four of their first five, none of their next seventeen, and two of their last three games. Sure, that makes sense.
It’s been too long since we had a Player of the Game Starter Jacket Standings Update!
Starter – 2
G, Hollywood, Risto, Coots, Jones, Honey Badger, Unknown – 1
I was disappointed to see Oskar Lindblom moved down to the fourth line just two games after scoring his first of the year following a reunion alongside Couturier and Travis Konecny. But Lindblom was still all over the ice tonight, leading the Flyers with four individual scoring chances. If he keeps that up, he won’t be on the fourth line for long.
3rd: Max Pacioretty (VGK) – 2 Goals (8, 9), 10(!) Shots, 22:18 TOI
2nd: Sean Couturier (PHI) – Goal (6), 61% Faceoffs
1st: Carter Hart (PHI) – .932 SV% (41 Saves/44 Shots), 3 GA on 3.05 Expected Goals Against (All Situations)
PHI: 12/11, 9 PM @ ARI (5-19-2, L4; please don’t squander what little momentum we have)
VGK: 12/12, 9 PM vs. MIN (19-6-1, W8)
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All Advanced Stats are 5-on-5 unless otherwise stated and via Natural Stat Trick