James van Riemsdyk started the scoring (above) just 1:14, as the Flyers never trailed for the second straight game, sweeping a back-to-back for the second time this season. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Flyers Fan Reaction (FFR4) Gm 26: PHI 5, ARI 3 – Redeemsdyk

The first six seconds of this, but pretend it’s the Flyers.

The Philadelphia Flyers WIN, 5-3, in the battle of the back-to-backs over the Arizona Coyotes. Both teams played last night, and neither played perfectly on Saturday. But the Flyers certainly made fewer mistakes by both quantity and quality, and that was enough to earn them consecutive wins… for the first time since October 27-28. And all it took was Carter Hart standing on his head last night and playing the Coyotes to do it. Hey, at least it happened.

Facing the Coyotes is exactly what the doctor ordered for a Flyers team with, at best, fragile confidence. Snapping a ten-game losing streak is more about relief than momentum; that has to come from the games that follow. You may have heard that the last two times the Flyers lost ten straight (2017-18, 2007-08), they went on to make the playoffs, a seemingly preposterous yet somehow true statistic. How did they do it? Look no further than the games in their immediate aftermath.

Granted, the 2007-08 team had built up quite a bit of ground in the standings before their skid hit in February. But even if they could have coasted to the playoffs on that alone, they probably don’t reach the Eastern Conference Final if they don’t go 12-4-4 in the aftermath, a .700 points percentage that ranked 8th in the NHL. The 2017-18 team didn’t have that luxury, as their skid occurred in November-December they’re a better comparable for what this Flyers team is/was going through. They probably don’t even sniff the playoffs if they didn’t win six in a row to emphatically break out of their drought; it took (nearly) every last point to make it, right down to the final game of the season.

Tonight’s game was the best the Flyers have played in terms of their overall process in a while. Obviously, the fact that they were facing the Coyotes, who are 29th in Corsi and dead last by Expected Goals, must be taken into account. And it’s not like the Flyers were perfect; the Flyers didn’t quite manage to outshoot Arizona at 5-on-5 (48.48% Corsi) and Philadelphia’s 54.66% expected goals mark is more pretty good than outright domination, though both of those numbers receive about a five percent bump if you factor in score and venue effects. A raw 62% expected goals rate up multiple goals on the road is strong against just about any opponent.

And as I mentioned on Friday, it’s not like the Flyers were totally dependent on their opponent’s haplessness to win. Their power-play appears to be clicking, scoring for the third straight game (first time all season), and moving the puck well even on the two man advantages that they didn’t light the lamp on. Philadelphia’s penalty kill was excellent as well, allowing just 0.15 expected goals on two attempts. Arizona’s 2.19 expected goals for (all situations) were the second-fewest the Flyers have allowed all season; go figure, their lowest mark came in their first meeting against Arizona. Yes, it’s important to reiterate the Coyotes’ general lack of talent, and in one case, ability to hand over a goal like a Christmas present, wrapped and all, played a not insignificant part in tonight’s outcome. But the Flyers did some good things as well.

This is the type of bounce the Flyers have desperately needed for a while. And to think Karel Vejmelka absolutely stood on his head the first time he faced the Flyers this season.

But now the Flyers prepare to enter a new stage of their season. With their schedule easing up — just five games in the next eleven days before five days off (including Christmas), Mike Yeo will finally have the practice time to make whatever changes he sees fit to the Flyers’ structure. You can already see some developments; the Flyers are carrying the puck into the offensive zone much more now, relying much less on dump-and-chase than they did under Alain Vigneault; that and the improved power-play have helped the Flyers score four-plus goals nearly as many times this week (3) as they did in their first twenty-two games (4).

However, their overall defensive structure is still subpar; the Coyotes spent quite a bit of offensive zone time, and a better team would’ve had a good chance at matching the Flyers’ five spots with the chances Arizona generated. The Flyers can’t make up all of the ground they lost before Christmas break. But it’s possible to at least get things moving in the right direction. The last two nights, more so on Saturday than Friday, were a step in the right direction. A Flyers team that’s already given up so much ground needs to keep moving forward to show the team they’re becoming is far stronger than the team they were just seven days ago.

Lindies

Great news in Lehigh Valley tonight. Not only was in their annual Teddy Bear toss game but two of Philadelphia’s top prospects, Wade Allison and Cam York. The former had been out the whole season with a high-angle sprain from a pre-season rookie game; the latter had been out lately due to COVID protocols. It may not be long before both (especially the former) join the big club.

I hope Allison (#11) comes up soon; how could you not love his energy?

Here are a couple more Flyers milestones to watch out for. Scott Laughton played in his 400th NHL game tonight and made it one to remember it with a critical rebound goal early in the second after the Flyers started the frame flat. And Claude Giroux’s 5-2 goal was his 881st point, putting him just two shy of tying Bill Barber for second-most in team history.

The 5-2 lead the Flyers took in the third period on Giroux’s goal was their first three-goal lead since November 2. That happened to be their other game against the Coyotes, a 3-0 win which involved an empty-netter. Philadelphia’s last three-goal lead where every goal was scored on a tended net? Their second game of the season, a 6-1 thrashing of Seattle. It’s the only other game this season where that’s been the case; the Flyers did beat the Bruins 6-3 two nights later, but that also involved an empty-net goal.

The Flyers penalty kill could certainly use the shutdown night after allowing a PPG in each of their last five games. The penalty kill was just about the only thing working right when Vigneault was head coach (and Yeo was running the unit); hopefully, it can join the rest of the Flyers’ play in getting back on track.

There’s a classic saying that all goal scores (say for Alex Ovechkin) are streaky. It’s incredibly frustrating when they’re on a cold streak because many of them often look invisible during those stretches; someone like Cam Atkinson is an exception to this rule. James van Riemsdyk really isn’t, which was bad over the first twenty-four games of the year, during which he scored only twice. But his 4.08 shooting percentage was never going to last forever (his career mark is 11.9%). Sure enough, three goals in two nights might have JVR back on track. Maybe it would’ve been better if he hadn’t been credited for the 4-2 goal, which appeared at first to be Travis Konecny’s first since November 18. But beggars can’t be choosers, I suppose.

That scoring change also makes for van Riemsdyk’s 30th career multi-goal game. Streaky can be frustrating, but it also can be a good thing.

Speaking of JVR — POG Starter Jacket Standings Update!

Starter – 2

Gobs, G, Hollywood, Risto, Coots, Jones, Honey Badger, Unknown – 1

Other than October 27-28, the Flyers had only won consecutive games one other time this season before this weekend; October 8-10, their second and third games of the year. Streakiness isn’t always a good thing, either. Consistency is key, and the Flyers’ ability (or inability) to find consistent success will define their season; just as does every year. I know that’s a seemingly obvious statement; but since the most recent lockout, how many times have the Flyers looked dangerous for more than a month? Post-2014 Olympics and pre-COVID 2020 regular season are the only instances that come to my mind. I guess the 2017-18 team proved you can still lose ten games, not have a run like that, and still make the playoffs, but that doesn’t seem like a sustainable formula. I’d still take an encore*, though. (*2017-18 regular season encore only, please.)

3 Stars

3rd: Nick Schmaltz (ARI) – Goal (1), 5 Shots

2nd: Travis Konecny (PHI) – 2 Assists (9, 10), 3 Shots

1st: James van Riemsdyk (PHI) – 2 Goals (4, 5), 6 Shots

Next

PHI: 12/14, 7 PM vs. NJ (10-11-5, L2)

ARI: 12/15, 9 PM vs. NYR (18-5-3, W1)

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