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After recovering to force overtime, Cam Atkinson took advantage of a fortuitous bounce to find Travis Sanheim to lead the Flyers to their fourth victory in their last five games. (Derek Hamilton/AP)

Flyers Fan Reaction (FFR4) Gm 29: OTT 3, PHI 4 (OT) – Sanny Claus

After recovering to force overtime, Cam Atkinson took advantage of a fortuitous bounce to find Travis Sanheim to lead the Flyers to their fourth victory in their last five games. (Derek Hamilton/AP)

Flyers Fan Reaction (FFR4) Gm 29: OTT 3, PHI 4 (OT) – Sanny Claus

What a present! The Philadelphia Flyers WIN, 4-3, in OT, over the Ottawa Senators, blowing an early 2-0 lead and a dominant first period until they suddenly didn’t. A trio of goals gift wrapped by Ottawa’s top defenseman Thomas Chabot propelled the Flyers to victory, improving them to 4-0-1 in their last five games.

While it certainly doesn’t excuse the level of futility the Flyers previously exhibited, it is worth noting just how strong the competition was during the Flyers’ ten-game losing streak. Going by points percentage, eight of those ten defeats were to teams currently in playoff spots; two losses in New Jersey were the only exception. Five of the defeats were to teams currently top six in the entire NHL. Thankfully, after what was essentially a schedule loss twelve days ago in Mike Yeo’s first game as the interim head coach — playing the stacked Avalanche on the second half of a back-to-back — the schedule finally granted the Flyers a reprieve. Five of their six games since have come against non-playoff teams; Vegas being the only exception.

Philadelphia realistically probably needed at least eight points in those games to claw back into the outskirts of the playoff race. They earned nine. On Saturday, they outshot and out-chanced their opposition in a whole game for just the second time in a month; their 6-1 thrashing of the Devils on Tuesday was the only other.

Yet unlike on Tuesday, the Flyers can’t say they played a complete game. It was definitely refreshing to see a guns blazing start after looking flat to begin Thursday’s fan-less game in Montréal. Two quick strikes — one from Claude Giroux off a gorgeous set-up by a rejuvenated Oskar Lindblom, and another at the end of a dominant offensive zone shift three minutes later from Lindblom himself — put Ottawa on their heels early. Even after D.J. Smith called a timeout following the Lindblom goal at 7:32, Ottawa didn’t even manage their first shot on net for over seven more minutes. By goals, expected goals, shots, Corsi; pick your stat of choice, the Flyers took it to the Senators across the board in the first, making smart decisions with the puck and spending tons of time with it throughout the period.

Whatever Smith told his club during the timeout apparently paled in comparison to his speech during the first intermission. Throughout the final forty minutes of regulation, Ottawa largely outplayed the Flyers, holding them to just over 40% of shot attempts and crushing them by expected goals. A quick burst of their own early in the second courtesy of a bad angle Tim Stützle goal and Alex Formenton picking Keith Yandle’s pocket in the neutral zone en route to a short-handed breakaway marker tied the score. And after several close calls scattered throughout the third, the air went out of the Wells Fargo Center when Artem Zub’s point shot deflected through traffic and past Martin Jones to put the Senators ahead with just 6:17 remaining in regulation.

It seemed unlikely that the Flyers, even with their recent point streak, would be able to shake off their sluggishness and mount a heroic late comeback. Fortunately, they didn’t need to. All it was took was Thomas Chabot deflecting in his second goal of the night; first on the Lindblom tally, then on Joel Farabee’s bad-angle toss just 52 seconds after the Zub goal. Any doubt that this was meant to be the Flyers’ night dissipated for good when Chabot’s clear off the glass 90 seconds into 3-on-3 suddenly caromed off a stanchion to a lurking Cam Atkinson in the slot. As a result, Chabot was too flat-footed in the corner to cut off a wide-open Travis Sanheim, who buried Atkinson’s backdoor feed for his third career overtime winner.

The Flyers’ five-game point streak makes it safe to say they are at least on the road back towards a playoff spot. But there’s still lots of work to be done. Even if we throw out the aforementioned schedule loss to Colorado, the Flyers rank 21st in Corsi (47.94%) and 27th in Expected Goals (46.77%). Yes, their special teams have been strong over that stretch, but the Flyers undeniably need to improve their 5-on-5 play, especially in the defensive zone, to have any chance at seeing that road through. It’s not like this is a big secret; the Flyers themselves know things right now better than before, but still not where they need to be.

Philadelphia’s final two games before a five-day Christmas break will go a long way in showing how big of a gap they still need to close. Not only does their quality of competition drastically improve, but the importance ratchets up as well, with two divisional matchups against Washington (T-1st in the NHL with 43 points) and at Pittsburgh (winners of six straight) will be one heck of a litmus test for the Orange and Black. They’ll take victories in either (preferably both) of those games any way they can get them. But they’re unlikely to pull out a win if they play the way they did tonight, at least post-first period.

Look closely enough over this five-game point streak, and you can see flashes of what the Flyers hoped they would be at the start of the year. But the overall picture is still far too murky to declare the Flyers are back for good. That label still needs to be earned. This week will go a long way to showing how likely achieving that goal is.

Lindies

Since Yeo took over, the Flyers have scored four-plus goals five times; the exact amount of times they did under Alain Vigneault in 13 more games.

When the Flyers fired Dave Hakstol midway through the 2018-19 season, one of the biggest beneficiaries of the change was Oskar Lindblom. After being infamously healthy scratched in Hakstol’s final game as head coach, Lindblom quickly worked his way up to the top six under interim coach Scott Gordon. Lightning appears to be striking twice, as Lindblom took an immediate promotion from Yeo and hasn’t looked back. Interestingly, his underlying numbers (both raw and relative to teammates) aren’t up to par. But Lindblom’s assist on Giroux’s goal was absolutely highlight-reel worthy; plus, he was a key part of arguably Philadelphia’s best line tonight (alongside Giroux and Atkinson). Lindblom, like the Flyers as a team, is on the road back. Not all the way back yet, but making progress.

GamesTime on IcePointsCorsi For (Relative to Teammates)Expected Goals (Relative to Teammates)
Lindblom Under Hakstol (2018-19)3011:5611-1.99%+4.86%
Lindblom Under Gordon (2018-19)5114:4922+6.37%+7.59%
Lindblom Under Vigneault (2021-22)2113:261-3.42%+1.61%
Lindblom Under Yeo (2021-22)714:135-3.12%-4.80%
For what it’s worth, Lindblom’s raw expected goals percentage under Yeo is roughly the same as it was with Vigneault.

Another area that’s seen a confidence boost under Yeo? The Travis Sanheim-Rasmus Ristolainen pairing. They’ve had a really up-and-down season; horrible start together, settled down in the first half of November, then struggled alongside the rest of the team in Vigneault’s final few weeks and were broken up. Yeo put them back together, and in seven games under his watch, they’ve racked up a 53.42% Expected Goals mark. Sanheim has seven points in as many games, while Ristolainen has nearly doubled his point total (from 4 to 7) under Yeo. He also made the defensive play of the night, saving a potential tap-in for Tyler Ennis early in the third with a lunging stick-check.

Of course, any player who’s thrived under the last two weeks doesn’t mean they’re solely doing so because Vigneault is gone.

Claude Giroux continues to rack up the milestones. His goal tonight ties him with Bill Barber for the second-most points in Flyers franchise history; a record he nearly broke with a gorgeous move off the rush later in the period, only for Anton Forsberg to barely shrug it off.

Speaking of records, Keith Yandle needs just 13 more games to catch Doug Jarvis for the most consecutive games played in NHL history. But Yeo and his staff might be forced to have a hard conversation about Yandle if things don’t improve soon. Obviously, his turnover leading to Alex Formenton’s short-handed goal was particularly egregious. But this has been building up over the last month or so. Yandle has long been heralded for his puck movement, but he’s appeared indecisive to my eye as of late, leading to several poor plays and turnovers.

Cam York, the most logical option to replace Yandle, has dealt with COVID and by all accounts isn’t playing amazing in Lehigh Valley (though he did have an assist Saturday night), so that gives Yandle a bit more rope. Nobody wants to see him come this close to setting the record only to come up just short. But Yandle knows he has to earn that milestone with his on-ice performance. Both since the 10-game losing streak started and Yeo took over, only Nick Seeler, Yandle’s partner in each of the 10 games he played in, has a lower expected goals percentage than Yandle, who’s been hovering in the mid-30% range.

When you hear coaches talk about the importance of toughness and fighting, it’s moments like Zack MacEwen’s second-period scrap with Dylan Heatherington that they’re talking about. Shots were 8-3 Ottawa in the second period before MacEwen dropped the gloves; they were 13-6 Flyers the rest of the frame. As someone fortunate enough to be at this game, MacEwen’s fight definitely helped get the crowd back into the game. He’s far from an imperfect player, but MacEwen has played his role pretty well since coming to Philadelphia. I’m sure Mike Yeo appreciated it, but I think somebody else might’ve loved it just a little more.

Philadelphia has tied their longest points streak of the calendar year with tonight’s outcome; they also went 4-0-1 in a stretch from January 26-February 3. The last time the Flyers had a longer run was their nine-game winning streak just before the 2019-20 regular season was shut down.

Speaking of shutdowns, the COVID-19 situation continues to get worse; both for the Flyers and across the NHL and sports in general. Max Willman and a Flyers staff member were placed on the COVID list before tonight’s game. Carter Hart was also out with a “non-COVID illness,” with Felix Sandström called up from Lehigh Valley to back up. Getting Joel Farabee back from his shoulder injury was obviously a nice boost, but it’s another frustrating setback for a Flyers team that has to seriously wonder if their optimal lineup will ever take the ice this season. Oh, and Wade Allison is out with an upper-body injury in Lehigh Valley as well.

However, the Flyers are honestly pretty fortunate just to have played tonight; only five of the ten NHL games originally listed for Saturday night actually happened. Hopefully, the NHL can make it to their annual three-day Christmas break safely. But there’s no doubt this is not a good situation. Win, lose or draw half-lose (thanks, pity point), it’s just a total shame all around.

Looking around the Metro, let’s just say the Flyers might not be the only tri-state area team with a coach firing if the Devils can’t flip the switch soon. More on them from our own Ryan Schwager here.

Perhaps the biggest tragedy (ok, not actually) is the restricted media access as part of the NHL’s enhanced COVID protocols means the end of the POG Starter Jacket standings, which I previously always got from the Flyers Twitter. I’ll probably restart it anyway if/when protocols are relaxed and they return. But it won’t be officially official anymore (unlike before when it was clearly the most official ranking in hockey ;).

3 Stars

3rd: Alex Formenton (OTT) – Goal (6), Assist (4)

2nd: Oskar Lindblom (PHI) – Goal (3), Assist (3)

1st: Travis Sanheim (PHI) – Goal (2), 23:19 TOI

Next

OTT: 12/21, 7 PM vs. STL (17-8-5, W2)

PHI: 12/21, 7 PM vs. WSH (18-5-7, W1)

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All Advanced Stats are 5-on-5 unless otherwise stated and via Natural Stat Trick

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