Flyers Fan Reaction (FFR4) Gm 30: PHI 3, SEA 2 (OT) – Threading The Needle
Can you SEA the light? The Philadelphia Flyers WIN, 3-2, in OT, over the Seattle Kraken. The Flyers sweep their inaugural season series with the NHL’s 32nd franchise in their first game after Christmas. For better and for worse, it eerily resembled their final game before Christmas. Most importantly, the result didn’t change, stretching their point streak despite a sluggish showing in their first game since Dec. 18.
It’s no secret, at least among the most die-heart Flyers fans, that the team’s annual post-Christmas road trip usually means trouble. The Wells Fargo Center’s annual Disney on Ice show always displaces the Flyers (and 76ers) for a week or two this time of year. Over their last five trips (there wasn’t one last year due to COVID eliminating all hockey last December/early January), the Flyers have a combined record of 3-15-4 dating back to Dec. 2014 in road games played between December 19 and January 7. That’s a staggeringly low 37-point pace. It is a nightmare that has spanned multiple players, coaches, and even GMs. Even when the Flyers are good, this time of the year (often reserved for their annual California road trip) seemingly always gives them fits.
On Wednesday night, Mike Yeo and a new group of Flyers players attempted to tackle that challenge, which started in Seattle for the first time before extending to the Golden State. Here’s the good news. With tonight’s win, the Flyers have tied their victory output from each of their last three post-Christmas road trips. It’s one more than they had in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 trips combined. They showed some more resilience, tying the game with less than five minutes left in the third period just fifteen seconds after Seattle took their first (and only) lead of the game. And after a few middling starts, Martin Jones returned to peak form; he was excellent, stopping 34 of 36 shots from a Kraken team that controlled play all night.
Of course, that last sentence is where the line between good and bad comes into the picture. To have any chance of righting the ship after the nearly month-long losing streak that cost Alain Vigneault and Michel Therrien their jobs, the (what turned out to be) seven-game stretch that began starting on Mike Yeo’s second game behind the bench. Only one of the teams in that run (Vegas) is above the NHL’s bottom quarter of teams. After losing the first of those games to New Jersey, the Flyers have gone 5-0-1 since. That’ll do.
It’s a run of form good enough to get them back into the playoff picture. Look at the league’s standings right now, and you’ll see the Flyers currently sit just two points behind (and with a game in hand) Detroit for the last playoff spot in the East. Granted, that’s a bit deceiving since both Philadelphia and Detroit are fairly far behind the Bruins in points percentage; Boston sits just one point behind the Flyers despite having played four fewer games. Philadelphia still sits just eleventh in the East by points percentage (Columbus is also ahead of them, albeit by just one-thousandth of a percentage). The road back still has a lot of track ahead of Philadelphia. But in terms of points, which are what ultimately matter, the Flyers are firmly on that road.
Now for the bad news. During their six-game point streak, the Flyers haven’t shown enough to inspire confidence they’ll be able to see that road through.
|Corsi For% (5v5)||Expected Goals% (5v5)||PP%||PK%||Shooting% (All Situations)||Save% (All Situations)|
|First 24 Games||47.70% (25th)||44.88% (31st)||13.9% (29th)||79.2% (22nd)||7.48% (T-28th)||.904% (23rd)|
|Last 6 Games||47.76% (20th)||48.06% (18th)||30.8% (T-7th)||88.9% (T-9th)||10.63% (6th)||.933% (9th)|
The Alain-Vigneault-coached Flyers (plus the team in the first few games under Yeo) simply weren’t very good. At best, they’ve been inconsistent during their current point streak. 5-on-5 play is what matters most, and the Flyers have been more fine than fantastic during their 5-0-1 run. They’ve been better, but they’ve also failed to overall outplay some of the league’s worst teams. Even if you eliminate the Vegas game, the Flyers have still been outshot and out-chanced in their last five games against Arizona, New Jersey, Montréal, Ottawa, and Seattle. Those teams have a combined record of 43-81-15.
The Flyers aren’t on a six-game point streak because they’re playing like an outstanding team. Their recent success in the standings seems largely a result of the natural ebbs and flows of a hockey season. Tonight’s game was a microcosm of that. The Flyers didn’t win because they played better than Seattle. They won because out of the minuscule chances they did create, the Flyers finished on three of them. And also because out of the bevy of quality looks Seattle generated, Martin Jones kept all but two out. That (plus great special teams, a key part of the Flyers’ standings surge that broke even on Wednesday) can beat a bad team. It can even beat a good team on the right night. But it’s not going to get you all the way down the road back.
The first two periods of Wednesday’s game may have been the Flyers’ two worst of the entire season. The Kraken racked up over 70% of shot attempts and over 77% of the expected goals at 5-on-5 in the first two periods. Philadelphia struck early on a mesmerizing feed by Claude Giroux to James van Riemsdyk to lift the former past Bill Barber for second in all-time Flyers scoring. Yet their offense went silent after that, testing Philipp Grubauer just three times in the next 26:34. Seattle tied the game 8:02 after the van Riemsdyk goal with a power-play one-timer of their own from Yanni Gourde. They spent the next 35 minutes kicking furiously at what looked like a door but was actually a brick wall with the No. 35 and last name Jones stitched into it.
Seattle was even kind enough to offer a warning to the Flyers that even the rock-solid Jones could be beaten when Jérémy Lauzon appeared to give Seattle a 2-1 lead early in the 3rd. A Mike Yeo successful challenge for goalie interference by Jaden Schwartz saved the day, but only briefly. Lauzon actually broke the tie with 5:28 remaining in regulation felt eerily similar to Artem Zub’s go-ahead strike in Philadelphia’s last game before the holidays, which also saw an early feed fade away due to objectively poor play against an objectively poor opponent.
Therefore, it was only fitting for the rest of the game to play out in nearly identical fashion to that contest against Ottawa. van Riemsdyk’s second of Wednesday night was certainly a prettier goal than Joel Farabee’s equalizer against the Senators; a beautiful short-side snipe over the left shoulder of Grubauer. But both served the same purpose. And for the second straight game, the Flyers back-end put the game away, with Ivan Provorov undressing Grubauer off a beautiful stretch pass from Kevin Hayes 2:14 into overtime.
Philadelphia legitimately outplayed the Kraken from the Lauzon goal out. But waiting nearly fifty-five minutes to start controlling play leaves little margin for error; too little on most nights. It was a D+ performance for a Flyers team at about a C level roster health, with Sean Couturier, Carter Hart, Scott Laughton, Derick Brassard, and Ryan Ellis (who is still out with his lingering lower-body injury) replacing Hayes, Morgan Frost, and Max Willman on the COVID Protocol list. But the Flyers have too few games and too much ground to make up to wait for their help. And Philadelphia’s struggles to move out of their zone and through the neutral zone for nearly the entire first two periods can’t be explained just by their absences.
Victories should always be celebrated, and with how deep of a hole the Flyers dug for themselves, any points are welcomed. But as the schedule starts to get tough again, the Flyers will have to rise to the occasion to maintain their progress. Performances like their one on Wednesday night won’t be enough to turn this season around for good.
Not only did Giroux pass Bill Barber with his assist on the first JVR goal (career point #884), it also marked his 600th NHL helper. Bobby Clarke is the only Flyer to reach that mark, and only eight other active players have reached the milestone.
It’s been no secret the Flyers have struggled in second periods this year, and tonight was no exception; Seattle wound up with roughly 75% of shot attempts and expected goals in the middle frame, doing everything but scoring in the second period. Struggles to that degree, both in one game and throughout thirty, rarely boil down to just one issue. But I wonder if the long change plays a big role in why that period has consistently been the Flyers’ worst all season. Having the benches farther away from your zone emphasizes the importance of defenders who can move the puck well. And the absence of Ryan Ellis, probably Philadelphia’s best defenseman and a great puck mover, has the Flyers’ blue-line over their heads in that aspect.
Granted, it’s not like Ellis is a bullet-proof solution; the Flyers were out-chanced in three of the four second periods Ellis has played in this season. But it could help explain one of the many frustrating aspects about the Flyers this season.
Travis Konecny might be the toughest Flyer to evaluate right now. On one hand, he’s a goal scorer without a goal in 14 games, dating back to November 18. But he does have eight assists in his last eight games, and nearly set up Kevin Hayes for a late regulation game-winner with a gorgeous cross-ice feed. Konecny looked like his usual pesky self, too, challenging just about every member of the Kraken in post-whistle scrums and displaying his spunk consistently. Konecny sure didn’t look like a slumping player tonight. But the Flyers need him to start putting more pucks in the back of the net.
No Flyer is playing better hockey right now, at least relative to how they started the season than Travis Sanheim. It was his beautiful cross-ice pass that set up JVR’s tying goal. He and his partner Rasmus Ristolainen were 1-2 (in reverse order) in Corsi For% on the Flyers Wednesday. It’s been great to see Sanheim playing with such a high level of confidence; it definitely made a difference.
POG Starter Jacket Standings are back! Turns out I was just being hyperbolic about my fear they wouldn’t be findable with the new COVID restrictions on media access to players and locker rooms.
Starter, Jones, Unknown – 2
Sander/Sanner/Sandra/Sanny, Gobs, G, Hollywood, Risto, Coots, Jones, Honey Badger, – 1
If you’re feeling extra chipper and a bit generous after the win, here’s a reminder that NHL All-Star voting has opened. You can vote for Giroux, Couturier, or Cam Atkinson (or write in another Flyer) as the captain for Team Metro at NHL.com/Vote through January 8.
3rd: Martin Jones (PHI) – .944 SV% (34 Saves/36 Shots), 2 GA on 2.28 Expected Goals Against (All Situations)
2nd: James van Riemsdyk (PHI) – 2 Goals (6, 7), 3 Hits
1st: Ivan Provorov (PHI) – Goal (3), 3 Blocks, 27:04 Time On Ice
PHI: 12/30, 10:30 PM @ SJ (16-14-1, W1)
SEA: 10/30, 10 PM vs. CGY (15-7-6, L1)
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All Advanced Stats are 5-on-5 unless otherwise stated and via Natural Stat Trick