If Wednesday night was the equivalent of an unexpected fun night at the bar when you have an impromptu meet-up with your friends and it turns out to be a great time with lots of laughs and lots of craft beers, then Thursday night was the equivalent of the next morning’s hangover.
On a work day.
With a meeting in the boss’ office first thing.
A quick reality check reminded the Flyers they weren’t going to win every game as they fell to the bigger, nastier, Los Angeles Kings, 2-0.
While all the good from Wednesday didn’t completely dissipate and all the bad from Wednesday didn’t suddenly magnify itself ten times over, there was enough of a shift in the hockey universe to turn the mood 180 degrees.
The silver lining is at least the Flyers aren’t the Pittsburgh Penguins (last night) – who lost to Chicago 10-1, giving up 10 goals in a game for the first time in 21 years. They’ve allowed 15 goals in 24 hours en route to an 0-2 start.
Imagine that start here. It would be apocalyptic.
Thankfully, for those of us documenting this team’s path, that isn’t the case. Instead, these are the 10 things everyone should be talking about at the water cooler this morning.
(Wait… does anyone really stop and talk at a water cooler anymore? Seriously. I haven’t worked in an office environment for almost two years now – and even then it was for only 18 months, so maybe my frame of reference is completely skewed, but we didn’t even have a water cooler. Coffee? Yes. Waiting for crap to print at the overworked printer? Yes. On the secret group chat that you think Big Brother doesn’t know about, but they actually are tapped into, getting all the dirt from the cube farm? Definitely! But water coolers? And chatting with co-workers at them? That might soon be too anachronistic for use in writing.)
1) Travis Sanheim
As I suggested yesterday, I wasn’t surprised to see one of the rookies who were scratched in the opener get inserted into the lineup against Los Angeles.
I will admit that I certainly thought it would be Sam Morin, not Sanheim.
We’ll dive into Morin and this lineup decision by Hakstol all the way down at No. 9, but the drumbeat from the masses for Sanheim to not only make the team but also be in the lineup was both steady and loud.
And as far as debuts go, for Sanheim, it was quite inauspicious:
Yes, the turnover at the blue line was Scott Laughton’s (a red X on an otherwise excellent performance by the Flyers’ fourth line center) and is the kind of mistake that has reared its ugly head repeatedly in these first two games.
But Sanheim broke Shooter’s cardinal rule:
Yep, Sanheim was watching the paint dry. He sees Travis Lewis coming, but he doesn’t get to the right spot to impede him, and then is only a witness to Nick Shore’s pass right on Lewis’ tape for a goal that would prove to be the game-winner.
If we want to look at this from a technical standpoint, Sanheim’s gap was off. He drifted too close to his own net. If he’s a stride further forward, Shore doesn’t have that passing lane to Lewis and has to make another decision with the puck.
Odds are, if he’s a step forward, this is just another play in a hockey game that no one is talking about this morning.
But he wasn’t. And we’re talking.
Sanheim’s night only got worse when he took a double-minor for high-sticking Lewis, opening a four-stitch gash on the bridge of Lewis’ nose at the end of the second period.
To his credit, Sanheim seemed to get better after that and had a mostly solid third period. That is until he got a little over-aggressive in the offensive end trying to keep a play alive as the Flyers were pressing for the tying goal and… well:
He’s not wrong trying to push the envelope offensively with his team down a goal, but there was still 2:30 to play. That’s a lot of time in a one-goal game. So much can happen. Hold your position rather than gamble on a 50/50 play (that’s probably less than 50/50 to be honest) and keep the team within striking distance.
Instead, the odd-man rush happens, Andrew MacDonald can’t stop the pass, and well, the game’s over before Dave Hakstol even had a chance to pull Michal Neuvirth for an extra attacker.
All told, Sanheim looked a little like a fish out of water. Still, it’s his first game, what do you expect:
BREAKING: rookie player makes rookie mistake in first NHL game filled with nerves, is human
— lex (@ronlextall) October 6, 2017
And, it should be worth pointing out, that last year in one of his first games (third? fourth?) Ivan Provorov was flat-out terrible against Chicago, but was the Flyers’ best defenseman by a mile over the course of the entire season.
It’s just that Hakstol doesn’t have as much patience with rookies once they are in his lineup. Mistakes have cost guys playing time before – including extended trips to the press box.
And after a game like last night:
travis sanheim is going to be scratched until 2020.
— collin mehalick (@collin) October 6, 2017
2) Groovy Neuvy
For the second straight game, the Flyers got a fine performance from their goalie. Neuvirth was a bit more flashy than Brian Elliott in the opener and really kept the Flyers in the game.
He had fewer saves than Elliott (25 as opposed to 32), but he was challenged a lot more by the Kings than Elliot was by the Sharks.
And he had one of those OhMyFreakinGod saves that are reserved for end of season highlight reels:
Neuvirth with a save of the year candidate, in game #2. pic.twitter.com/w2dvTkhNLH
— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) October 6, 2017
There were people who called the save “lucky” because, from the reverse angle, you can see that Neuvirth doesn’t get his eyes toward the puck until it’s already in his glove:
Goalies create their own luck with great technique and positioning. Neuvirth was able to stone Anze Kopitar because he was in a good position, had solid reflexes and played the pass with precision. That’s textbook goaltending, and it’s why the save was made.
The thing with Neuvirth that drives people crazy is he is so hot and cold. When he’s on – you get performances like last night. When he’s not, it’s pretty ugly.
If the Flyers can get good Neuvy more often than bad Neuvy, and Elliott can be steady-as-she-goes as he’s been for a long time now, their goaltending can actually be (I’m going to whisper this) a strength for this team. But there’s a sizable IF there. So, you know…
3) Only one O in PECO
That would be a zero. As in 0-for-5. Look, no one expects the Flyers to score three times on the power play in every game as they did in the opener, and there are going to be games when the power play doesn’t come through – this being one of them – but it’s funny how much difference a day makes.
Not 24 hours earlier, we were all singing the praises of the power play. They were striking quick, with great movement, good shots, a powerful net-front presence. That’s when they were 3-for-3 for the season.
Since then, the Flyers have failed on eight straight man advantage opportunities.
Now, just like the three goals in vs. San Joe was too small a sample size, so, too, is the 0-fer against L.A. So, no need to panic.
There has definitely been a difference since Wayne Simmonds’ last power play goal Wednesday. Suddenly, the Flyers are falling back into some old habits. Holding on to the puck too long looking for scoring lanes instead of creating them. Giving up a shot to make a pass. Not getting the puck to the net to create chaos around the goaltender.
When you have the power play skill that the Flyers do, sometimes those things can be masked because the skill compensates for the routine, but falling into those patterns makes it easier to defend their power play and forces them to work harder, which can be taxing on the players.
This isn’t a five alarm fire yet, but let’s be willing to identify the smoke when we see it.
4) Magnifying 5-on-5
Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m concerned this is going to be a thing yet again this season.
The Flyers simply don’t get enough production in 5-on-5 play. Look at the advanced stats and you’ll see that they, for the most part, had strong puck possession numbers. Their Corsi For was 51.25% (percentage of shots attempted at even strength). Not a lot of teams come out on the positive side of Corsi against the Kings, who are the founding fathers of advanced stats in the NHL.
Now, advanced stats don’t always tell the whole story. There are factors in hockey that math just can’t measure. But, when you win the puck possession battle and you are getting a lot of shots to the net, you are going to win more often than not.
The Flyers, however, couldn’t score against the Kings. Take away Wayne Simmonds empty netter against San Jose and they only have one even strength goal in the first two games, and it was a gift on a turnover by Sharks goalie Martin Jones.
That’s not a good pace to be on.
Getting shots is one thing, finishing is another – and the Flyers aren’t finishing right now.
Couturier couldn't quite get a shot on net after receiving a feed from Voracek through the slot. pic.twitter.com/wkuM3NV1Ur
— Sons of Penn (@SonsofPenn) October 6, 2017
Weal had an opportunity to shoot the puck, but decided to pass it to Voracek and didn't get a shot on net. pic.twitter.com/kJyNWiN4nm
— Sons of Penn (@SonsofPenn) October 6, 2017
Couturier, Voracek trying new strategy of skating puck into the net instead of shooting it. It's not working.
— Ryan Bright (@philabright) October 6, 2017
Things aren’t going to get any easier here either. Anaheim will pound you physically the same as L.A. Nashville is a team that grinds you down.
The Flyers can’t be over-reliant on their power play to make a difference. They need to start finding ways to out-perform the opposition when there are the same number of skaters on the ice.
5) The G Effect
This can really be a continuation of No. 4 because I’m concerned that this experiment with Claude Giroux on left wing is having an adverse effect on the rest of the lineup at 5-on-5.
Last night, the second line was abused. Jordan Weal, Nolan Patrick and Wayne Simmonds spent most of their night chasing Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson around the ice.
The third line didn’t fare much better.
The fourth line had some bite – so kudos to Taylor Leier, Laughton and Michael Raffl. But to me, that’s the only line that should be sticking together.
But the fact is, the Flyers are struggling to generate much in even strength offense with the way their lines are currently situated.
I know they need to give Patrick time – and they want him out there in key situations so he can learn to use his talents at this level, but if it’s going to stay this way, then we better be prepared for a lot of growing pains.
The other issue is, the Flyers aren’t as strong on the left side as they need to be.
I know this will bring out the full-throat calls for Oskar Lindblom, and he might be right on the precipice of being called up, but for now, he’s not here.
What’s the solution? I’m not sure there is one with the roster as currently constructed. Maybe you give this another game or two and see how it pans out, but there’s reason for concern that this isn’t going to work.
And no, subbing Jori Lehtera for say, Dale Weise isn’t going to make that kind of impact. Frankly, Lindblom may not make the necessary impact right away either.
But, getting Giroux back to center and Sean Couturier onto another line can at least help stabilize the middle of six forwards at even strength.
We’ll see what Hakstol has up his sleeve.
Does Andrew MacDonald deserve fan criticism sometimes? Absolutely. Is the griping fueled oftentimes by the fact that he has one of the worst contracts in the league? Yep. You bet.
But, does it go too far?
Look, MacDonald is what he is. He’s an NHL defenseman. If he were being paid more reasonably, he’d be compared to a bottom pair defenseman on every roster in the NHL.
But he’s not, and he’s unfairly gets the ire of social media.
Last night, MacDonald was really good. He logged 18:27 and made several smart plays in his own end. He showed patience with the puck. He broke up a couple of L.A. chances. He and Provorov logged the most minutes while shorthanded – and the Flyers stopped all five Kings power plays.
Following along on Twitter, I was amused at how some fans grumbled as they reluctantly admitted he was playing well.
Then, the final goal happens, on a 2-on-1, where he slides to try to block the pass and misses, and he gets killed on social media again – albeit unjustly this time.
I understand the frustration. I get the ire. Especially when a young defensive prospect like Morin is sitting in the press box.
But recognize the guy isn’t a total disaster out there. He may never win your heart, and I don’t expect him to, but he’s certainly an NHL-caliber guy, even if there are more intriguing players who could be playing instead of him right now.
7) Kings Trump Sharks
The difference between the Kings and the Sharks is night and day. This team is heavy. They outweigh the Flyers by an average of nine pounds per guy. They pound you physically. They are strong on the puck. They make you work for every inch of ice out there – and that becomes even harder when they are rested and waiting for you and you come in to play them on the second night of a back-to-back.
The performance in goal is disparate too. Jonathan Quick, who missed almost all of last season with an injury, was incredibly sharp – a lot like the guy who led the Kings to two Stanley Cups in the last six seasons.
Their defense is sound – they don’t give you a lot of room. And they are very opportunistic and take advantage of your mistakes – look at their two goals as examples.
Teams like this are going to be a challenge for the Flyers. This style of play is a bit of kryptonite to the Flyers. They’ll see it again tomorrow in Anaheim. They’re going to have to get better against it, or find teams will try to emulate it when playing them, which can bring more frustration.
8) We got Legs
If you want a real positive that might get overlooked, consider the Flyers were very good in the third period. They didn’t score, but they out shot the Kings 17-5 in what was a one-goal game for almost the whole period.
And again, this is coming on the second night of a back-to-back against a fresh team.
Part of that is youth, but part of that can be credited to the more intense training camp employed by Hakstol this year. The Flyers skated more and harder than other camps that I can remember – and I go back a bit with this team.
If the end result of that is a team that is in great playing shape and has the stamina to finish games strong, that will eventually bode well for this team. They will steal some wins by being able to keep the pedal on the gas at times when most teams are trying to get away with a brake pump.
And if that’s the case, then Hakstol should get a lot of credit for his ramping up of camp.
9) Decisions, Decisions
I guess Sanheim won the camp battle ahead of Morin for the final defensive spot. Although, after last night, I’m thinking his grasp on it might be a bit tenuous.
But, I question why L.A. was the right choice for a test for Sanheim considering their playing style. Wouldn’t it have made more sense for Morin to play against a bigger, stronger team?
We just may see that tomorrow against Anaheim, but if so, what was the matchup that made you think Sanheim was a better option against L.A?
It’s not like Sanheim is small. He’s big and takes up space, but he’s not a physical player like Morin.
Morin has some holes he needs to work on as well. They’re both intriguing rookies who are going to impress at times and make mistakes at other times, but if we’re playing the matchup game, as Hakstol suggested he will, I don’t see a big enough difference between L.A. and Anaheim. Maybe the end result will be Sanheim stays in the lineup against Anaheim and Morin stays out. I still don’t think it’s the right move, but at least it will be consistent.
Additionally, touching on a point from earlier, how long can Hakstol stick with the lines as situated if 5-on-5 play continues to struggle?
Without a roster move to improve left wing, I’m not sure the answer is available in the current forward mix. But that should fall back on the G.M., and Ron Hextall might have to answer the question as to whether finances are dictating his roster decisions right now.
As for who should start in goal, I’d go back to Elliott even though Neuvirth had a strong game. He was the one player Hextall brought in this year, so give him every opportunity to be the man. Neuvirth will get plenty of starts, I’d just go back to Elliott against Anaheim on principle.
10) Loose Pucks
- The Staples Center PA Announcer was far too glib and got into too much detail when setting up the moment of silence to honor the shooting in Las Vegas. It should have had a more solemn tone with less description. It was awkward and uncomfortable to hear.
- Radko Gudas is walking a fine line again with his physicality. He had a big hit in the first period that if timed differently could have been a bad, lengthy penalty and potential suspension. He reined it in last year and has to keep it that way again this year. If he starts crossing the line again, the Flyers have the depth to make a change.
- NBC Sports Philadelphia had Claude Giroux do one of the worst takes promoting Flyers games on their channel. If that was the best take, I’d hate to see what ended up on the cutting room floor. Find another option – that’s dreadful.
- Bill Clement was a gem with some of his analysis last night. The funniest coming in the first period talking about Laughton: “Scott Laughton is so sneaky from behind – in a good way – he doesn’t let you know he’s coming.” Stay hot, Bill.