With a mild wave of my hand I feel confident in telling you, “This is not the hockey you were looking for.”
Yes, the Flyers won, extending their season-best win streak to five games. Yes, they somehow have turned a disastrous 10-game losing streak into a 5-5-5 performance over the past 15 games. And yes, it’s Star Wars day and I have something to say about that as well later, for those of you who are crossover fans.
But the reality is, last night’s 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres, a team that, based on talent, is in that awful purgatory between NHL and AHL caliber, was Ugly, and yes, that capital U was intentional.
Don’t believe me, ask some Flyers.
“It was a boring game to watch,” Jake Voracek said. “I should know, I played in it.”
And while waiting for Dale Weise to finish up what had to be the longest media scrum of his career, Michael Raffl was standing off to the side waiting his turn – quite impatiently.
I was standing next to him and this quick exchange took place:
Raffl: (to no one in particular) “Come on Weiser, enough already.”
Me: “Guess you really don’t want to talk to us tonight, huh?”
Raffl: “You saw the game. Every answer I give you guys is going to be a one line answer. That’s all this game deserved.”
Hey, at least they could acknowledge when their own product was bad.
“Yeah, I don’t think it was our best game today,” said Valtteri Filppula, who scored a goal. “But it’s good, sometimes you have to be able to win these types of games and I think that’s a good sign.”
So is winning five in a row. It has quelled the mob chanting for Dave Hakstol’s firing… for now. It has saved the season from plummeting into the abyss… for now.
But, when you play that ugly of a game against the worst team in the sport, it’s got to leave you a little chaffed, even though you still got the two points.
Here’s the rest of the Raffl conversation, before his scrum:
Me: “Well, at least you guys won the game right? You gotta be happy with that, right?”
Raffl: “We’ll take it, but I would say we played better in about six or seven of those games in the 10-game losing streak than we did tonight. This wasn’t fun. It was like a war out there. There wasn’t anything fun about it at all.”
So yeah. Bad hockey. So much so that a non-media member sitting in the press box said to me at one point, “What the hell are we watching tonight?”
Which brings me to the shaping of a hockey narrative – which I think is one of the stories I want to tell you today.
I know the Philadelphia hockey media has taken some abuse over the years on this web site – some guys more deservedly so than others.
But, I will tell you it’s probably the hardest sport of the four majors to really cover for the following reasons:
- It’s the fourth sport nationally, so the assumption is, outlets don’t need to have reporters covering the sport who are willing to dig deep for great stories – which encourages pack journalism.
- Most of the people covering it never really played the sport, so gauging what is good and bad is often done statistically, which doesn’t always tell the story – even through analytics.
And it’s that second point that’s the real sticky one. Because what ends up happening is we become such slaves to those numbers – both traditional measures and modern analytical measures, that we oftentimes miss what’s happening right in front of us.
I admit, there have been times in my 18 years around this sport, that I have fallen in that trap myself. And, to the defense of the guys on the beat who are there day in and day out, it’s easier to do that when you have to provide content on a daily basis.
But, now that I am of the part-time variety here on Crossing Broad, and I don’t have to write something of value every day, it’s admittedly easier to sit back and be a little more analytical of a game.
I’m not a slave to a deadline. I don’t have to tell you any specifics about the game if I don’t want to. I don’t have to operate in that pack journalism mentality that is forced upon the media on game nights by the team – so that everyone ends up with mostly the same quotes.
No, my job here is easier in the sense that I’m given free reign to write about what I want as long as it’s compelling, informative and accurate.
So, I feel bad for the guys covering the team – at least the ones that are left anyway – because they’re working their tails off, even if the protocol leaves them chasing those same tails on a daily basis.
Which is why, last night, Travis Sanheim was your No. 1 star and everybody wanted to talk to him.
Look, it’s understandable. Sanheim scored his first NHL goal:
Travis Sanheim scores his first NHL goal! pic.twitter.com/R9Kgyp5B5p
— Sons of Penn (@SonsofPenn) December 15, 2017
And because of that his team recognized him post game by giving him the Ric Flair robe:
Sanheim wearing “Wooo” pic.twitter.com/jFN0zk9rA4
— AntSanPhilly (@AntSanPhilly) December 15, 2017
Good for Travis. It’s been a long-time coming and it’s certainly worth mentioning since he is such an important building block for the future of the franchise.
But star of the game? A crush of happy horseshit questions from the media?
Especially when he had plays like this:
Sanheim held the puck for a little too long and his turnover nearly resulted in a goal the other way. pic.twitter.com/aCB7SGGlal
— Sons of Penn (@SonsofPenn) December 15, 2017
Brian Elliott misplays the puck and it's 1-0 Buffalo. pic.twitter.com/6Cepe5Hq0y
— Sons of Penn (@SonsofPenn) December 15, 2017
Yes, that’s on the goalie primarily… but where was Sanheim going? He went too far with Filppula right there, ended up getting in the way of Elliott trying to get back into the crease, and wasn’t in his proper position to negate Kane in front of the net.
And he had at least one more turnover in the first period that I couldn’t find on Twitter.
To his credit, with everyone in the media salivating over his first NHL goal as a great story line, Sanheim started spitting truth:
“I don’t think we were very happy with our first period, especially me,” he said. “I thought minus the goal, that might have been my worst period of the season.”
Thing is, look at the advanced stats, and it looks like Sanheim had a good game as well.
His Corsi For percentage (CF%) at 5-on-5 was 60.00, which is very good.
So good possession numbers, scored a goal, must have been a good game, right?
“It’s obviously a challenge to find both sides of [the game],” Sanheim said. “I am just trying to stick with my game. I think the offensive side has always been there. I think if I make the right reads I can join up and join offensively. In saying that I have to make sure I am keeping it safe in my end.
“The better I am defensively; it turns out the better I am offensively. I am just trying to work on the little areas defensively and I can join offensively.”
Improvement? Yes. We’re starting to see it in bits and pieces. But, play this way against a better team? Toast.
The other narrative being pushed last night was discipline. Questions were flying around after another low penalty total for the Flyers that their improved play may be related to the fact that they are taking fewer penalties.
On this five-game win streak, the Flyers have only been shorthanded eight times. And if you count the last loss of the 10-game losing streak, it’s only 10 times in six games.
That’s definitely good stuff. It’s definitely a point worth talking about – like we did here on Crossing Broad two days ago.
Again, not a shot at the writers – it’s much harder to do that job when you are in the moment under deadline pressure and you have to construct a story.
So, I had no interest in that either.
Nor did I have interest in breaking down Elliott’s puckhandling mishaps. You already saw one, that led to the lone Buffalo goal, but then there was this one too:
Before the goal, Nolan Patrick saved Brian Elliott from another brutal goal after a bad play with the puck. pic.twitter.com/WPUJ4AH5Ru
— Sons of Penn (@SonsofPenn) December 15, 2017
So yeah, Elliott was a little shaky in the first period. Maybe he was bummed about the death of net neutrality.
Whatever it was, he bounced back and made some big saves – again – to keep the Flyers in the game until Filppula’s goal put them ahead, and then Elliott did a nice job of protecting the lead, finishing with 19 saves.
No, the guy I was most interested in talking to was the guy on the board nobody in the media really seemed to care to talk to – Nolan Patrick.
See, in that story from Tuesday linked above, I wrote that the Flyers were doing Patrick no favors by playing him in meaningless minutes and that they should let him go to World Juniors to rebuild confidence.
And then last night happened.
No, he wasn’t a star of the game. He didn’t muster a point.
He made a nice play to bail out Elliott on that wraparound, which was the one thing the pack did want to ask him.
But, as everyone peeled out of the locker room to go hear Dave Hakstol say a whole lot of nothing, I stuck back to chat further with Patrick. To his credit, Charlie O’Connor from The Athletic was there with me too, but that’s it.
And Patrick was pretty hard on himself when I asked him about not playing a lot of minutes:
“I don’t think I deserved to play any more than I did in those games on the road trip,” he said. “I wasn’t playing very well and I wasn’t doing anything to help the team. The last couple of games I’ve been trying to do what they are asking of me and it’s been getting better. Obviously I want to get the coach’s trust and as a young guy I follow the guys who have been doing this for a long time in their career because I want to keep getting better and earning their trust.”
Nice self assessment from the kid.
Patrick averaged less than nine minutes per game in the three games in Western Canada. He was basically playing a fourth line role and not getting many minutes.
The last two games, he’s seen a bump in ice time, garnering over 12 minutes each game. Against Buffalo, he even was granted a shift late in the third period when the Flyers were protecting a lead – a situation that would have him rooted to the bench in front of Hakstol in games previous.
And while his possession numbers have been terrible, as I documented Tuesday, last night, they were pretty good. His CF% was 60.00 against Buffalo, tied for fifth best on the team.
“One of the biggest things I needed to improve on was D zone faceoffs,” Patrick said. “I just need to keep getting better at that. It’s something that’s pretty easy to work on. We have a lot of really good faceoff guys, so it’s good to go against them in practice and I can learn from them. There’s a lot to learn.
“You know, in Junior you are ‘That Guy’ and you are thrown into every situation. It’s a real adjustment here. There’s guys who have been in this league a long time who are the go-to guys and you just have to try to contribute whenever you get the chance. It’s a process. I’m not worried about points, or confidence, or anything like that. I know with my abilities it will come eventually as long as I keep working every day.”
I still think the Flyers should loan him to Team Canada for the World Junior Championships. And I know this was the worst team in the NHL that he looked really good against, so we should temper any excitement.
But, it’s rare that a 19-year-old player understands what his strengths and flaws are and what he needs to do to become more well-rounded. Patrick’s got that. And although his development is slower than many would have hoped, he does appear to have the right mindset and that can only bode well for him as he sticks around the league even longer.
Holiday light show
“This show is a new, can’t-miss holiday attraction in Philadelphia and one that we hope becomes an annual tradition for us,” said Shawn Tilger, EVP & COO of the Philadelphia Flyers. “This show is in line with the holiday staples of the region, and we’re excited to bring entertainment of this caliber to Flyers fans here on Saturday night.”
The 10-minute show, produced by Montreal-based technology firm PixMob, in conjunction with the Flyers and 3601 Productions, features eight, 32,000 laser phosphorus projectors and 50 moving lights that are programmed to be in sync with the 20,000 bracelets worn by fans.
At least the Flyers are in the middle of a winning streak, so handing out bracelets isn’t a bad idea. Because that’s never gone wrong before, has it?
In all seriousness, it actually looks cool:
I mentioned Star Wars in my lede.
I will tell you that my two sons convinced me to hustle home from the game last night to go see the late night premiere of Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.
As a kid, I was a Star Wars fanatic. I had every action figure, read every book, and saw each of the original trilogy movies dozens of times.
Then, the prequels came out when my oldest son was the same age I was when the originals came out. I didn’t think they were great, but I also didn’t think they were as terrible as everyone made them out to be.
Yes, there were issues. Yes, the acting was sub par. But, at least the story was there. It all tied together nicely, because it was what George Lucas had planned.
Then came the latest Trilogy.
I was one of the few who instantly hated The Force Awakens a couple years ago. Many Star Wars fans chided me for not liking it, although over time, I’ve noticed more and more people side with me that it wasn’t a good story.
What was a good story was Rogue One, which I felt stayed true to Lucas while J.J. Abrams went… well… rogue himself with a predictable story line in The Force Awakens.
So, with Abrams out and Rian Johnson in, there was hope that maybe the story would get better.
All the major reviews are in and they are praising Johnson for The Last Jedi.
I can’t. I just can’t.
Look, I’m not going to spoil anything here. I’m not going to break it down in gory detail. But, the plot of The Last Jedi is contrived. It takes faaaaaaaaaar too long to play out and tried to trick the audience with a lot of sharp twists and turns that only end up resulting in exactly what you’d expect.
The characters that die, die stupidly.
The ones that live, live in ways that really make zero sense.
And everyone has angst. Everyone is conflicted. And it keeps flip-flopping its way to a conclusion that, for me, is a flop.
There are new characters that are irrelevant. There are old characters with no thread to the story.
There are new creatures – including these annoying Furby-like creatures that really take to Chewbacca. Only thing is, I was waiting for them to get wet and multiply and start saying “Mogwai.”
Methinks the reason behind all the love is today’s audience likes things to be different than the past generation. I get that. Change is good. I don’t disagree.
But when you fly directly in the face of the original story, you’re hurting your product and cheating the audience.
It’s why Mark Hamill has had some negative comments about the movie, although he’s backtracked recently. But he did say Lucas’ original storyline for episodes 7-8-9 was far different than we we ended up with.
And that’s a real shame.
Look, I’m going to be on an island on this one, like I was two years ago, but I’m confident, in time, everyone will look back on this film and say, WTF?
Go see for yourself.