Maybe the best thing that could have happened for the Flyers this week was the winter storm Grayson.
After a listless performance against their arch rival Pittsburgh Penguins Tuesday, the Flyers called up Tyrell Goulbourne for Thursday’s game against the Islanders.
They called up Goulbourne for the purpose of providing energy to a lineup that is frankly bereft of any.
Before the game, Dave Hakstol said it was “too quiet” in the arena on Tuesday. He didn’t mean that as a knock on the fans, but rather the level at which his team was playing.
Ron Hextall echoed that sentiment and said it went beyond just Tuesday’s loss:
“[Overal this season the energy level has been] in and out,” Hextall said. “There’s nights where we need more energy as a group and obviously a big part of this is to bring us some energy.”
Except, it never happened.
Goulbourne was stuck in the Lehigh Valley because of the snow. He got a late start heading toward Philly and there was no evidence he made it to town before game time – or even at all – despite Hextall saying he was on his way.
Goulbourne was considered a healthy scratch and there was no sign of him in the press box during the game or in or around the locker room after the game.
Frankly, with the way the Flyers played last night, it wouldn’t surprise if Goulbourne was immediately loaned back to the Phantoms.
Because the Flyers played with an energy, and a physicality they have not shown very often this season – and certainly not in the last few weeks.
And guess what, it made a difference.
That’s not to say they need to go all old school hockey and have multiple fights every night – after all there were three glove droppings last night – by guys you really would expect: Travis Konecny, Sean Couturier and Scott Laughton.
No. The Flyers can play the way they played for 40 minutes last night and never get into another fight again, and it would be a successful brand of hockey.
It was a game filled with aggressive physical play between the whistles – big hits, stronger play along the walls and with the puck, a greater physical desire to win those 50/50 plays that make up a hockey game.
Oh… and almost every forward – and even a defenseman or two – found a way to get to a specific area of the ice – between the circles in the offensive zone – and would you believe it, they scored five of their six goals from there?
Now, this really only lasted 40 minutes. The third period was not good and the Flyers almost let an Islanders team that has played pretty dreadful hockey for an extended period of time (they’ve lost eight of 11 and allowed at least four goals in all eight losses) force overtime, which would have been really deflating for the Flyers considering how good the first two periods were, but they ultimately hung on for a much needed victory.
Let’s look at how it happened:
1) Yes, they went there
You might recall from my last post where I shared frustrations from Flyers Twitter, this tweet:
— Jake (@J_Fahringer) January 3, 2018
Jake’s self-proclaimed “rudimentary iPad skills” brought him enough notoriety on Flyers Twitter, that he changed his profile picture to his “Go Here” directive.
Then he followed up with a couple more beauties last night.
THIS is what a heat map should look like.
— Jake (@J_Fahringer) January 5, 2018
— Jake (@J_Fahringer) January 5, 2018
Five of the six goals the Flyers scored last night came from that area. So, I asked Hakstol if there was a concerted effort to make that happen last night after what seemed like zero effort to do that against Pittsburgh.
“Well that’s the area you have to get to score, if you want to score consistently,” he said. “We haven’t done it. We haven’t been as good in that area consistently over the last half dozen games. We have had a couple of games where we have been pretty good. Two nights ago against Pittsburgh we didn’t get there at all.
“I thought tonight there was a real mindset to get to that hard area. To do that first you have to win pucks down low. You have to come up with possession in the zone. That was the first part that I thought our guys did a real good job in that area. Getting guys around the puck, finding possession and then getting to the hard scoring area.”
Well done, coach.
I know I am one of Hakstol’s harshest critics, but when the guy does something right, he deserves credit for it, even if it’s subtle.
And there were enough subtle changes between Tuesday’s performance and last night’s to show that it wasn’t just the players playing angry, but the coach spending a lot of waking hours figuring out what the hell was wrong and fixing it.
- He once again got dead weight Jori Lehtera out of the lineup and put Taylor Leier back in. I’m not sure if this was the planned move – that might have been where Goulbourne was going to play – but any forward in the organization will give you more than Lehtera will right now.
- He lit a fire under his team to have them play with a noticeable identity last night. For a team that does not have an identity – at least not a positive one – to play like a skill game with an edge and a fearlessness that they played for the first 40 minutes last night will lead to more success.
- He allowed Nolan Patrick’s line to play with more regularity. Patrick played a career high in minutes against Pittsburgh Tuesday – mostly because he picked up a lot of empty minutes at the end of the game – but Patrick played more than 15 minutes again against the Islanders and his line – along with Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds was very noticeable. Simmonds scored a goal assisted by Weal, Patrick set up Provorov for a goal. It was easily the trio’s best game together.
- He made changes on the power play – I know Kris Knoblauch gets all the credit (or criticism) for the power play, but I have to think Hakstol has a lot of input on personnel. The No. 1 unit showed a new look last night – one with Giroux working from behind the net instead of on the half wall. But more impressively, the second unit scored a goal for the first time this season without a point scored by someone who is usually on the first unit. It’s crazy bad that it took 40 games, but it’s definitely a positive. I don’t understand Brandon Manning being on that unit when they never gave Travis Sanheim a shot there, but hey, he got an assist – and it worked. Not sure it works long-term, but for now – Success!
It was a good game for the coach. He needed one. It would be good if he could start putting a few of these together in a row.
2) Scoring Depth! Go figure.
The Flyers had 12 different players register a point. That might sound like a lot but it’s not really all that difficult a thing to do in a game. Score four or five goals and have three different lines get at least one and it’s pretty likely.
That said… the Flyers didn’t have one game this year where they did that. Not one. Even when they scored eight goals against Washington. (The last time it happened was 4/8/17 vs. Columbus)
That’s how lopsided the Flyers scoring has been this season. It’s mostly been because at 5-on-5, the Flyers don’t score enough because they have guys providing serious drag on the offense.
Visual of @NHLFlyers players at 5v5 after 40 games.
— Alexander Appleyard (@avappleyard) January 5, 2018
Filppula is a guy that isn’t really looked at enough. I threw out a jokey stat last game about the Flyers’ record when he registers a point (9-2-3) vs. when he doesn’t (8-13-5), but the fact of the matter is maybe that stat is more indicative of something than we thought.
Not that the Flyers need Filppula to score to find success, nor is it an indicator of secondary scoring, but rather that he’s being used in a role that he shouldn’t be.
I know, I just spent about 400 words giving the coach credit for a good game, but Filppula has proven he’s not a second line center and isn’t helping Jake Voracek or Michael Raffl (although Raffl is scoring more, his possession numbers have dropped off playing with Filppula).
I know the Flyers don’t have a lot of options here, and Scott Laughton had a forgettable game last night (his line with Leier and Dale Weise was the only Flyers line no clicking last night). But for the Flyers to get more consistent performances throughout the lineup like they got last night, maybe a change needs to be made with Filppula.
“Our top three scorers have been very productive,” Hextall said before last night’s game. “But our four through nine forwards haven’t been productive enough, it’s pretty blatant.”
Shift Filppula down. Let Patrick get a shot playing with Voracek. You can keep Raffl there too. I bet you see an uptick in Patrick’s game when he plays with another playmaker like Voracek. Filppula can play with Simmonds and Weal – they’ve been together before – on a third line, or try Laughton there and slide Filppula down to the fourth line.
Either way, less Val should lead to more nights like last night.
3) Provy love
When we last left Ivan Provorov he was in immense pain after taking a slap shot off his left foot. Two days later, not only was he still playing hockey, but he was posting his third career three-point game and his second career two-goal game.
Actually, he was a Raffl deflection away from his first hat trick.
So this was unsurprising:
Provy wearing the Wooo! pic.twitter.com/mZ4k8MKRla
— AntSanPhilly (@AntSanPhilly) January 5, 2018
He was definitely the game’s best player. And the cool thing was, he did it in front of his parents and siblings.
They took a four-hour drive to Moscow, a nine-hour flight to New York and a two-hour drive to Philly to see Ivan play.
Provorov said it’s the first time he’s scored in front of them in the NHL.
The family is in town through the weekend and will be at both games against St. Louis Saturday and Buffalo Sunday.
“Maybe I’ll be able to score a little more for them before they head back,” Provorov said.
If he does, he might want to consider getting them season tickets.
4) Elliott starting to show fatigue
Brian Elliott was pulled after two terrible periods against Pittsburgh Tuesday. He made it through the entire game last night, but he had a couple goals that he should have stopped.
“We needed all of it [because] It probably wasn’t my best game,” Elliott said. “You try and get out there and just, like I always say, be the best for the guys in front of you and give them a chance. I didn’t feel like I had my best effort, it’s nights like that when other guys pick up the slack, that’s huge for me. Next game is next game, you kind of erase this one from the records and start all over again.”
The difference between Tuesday and last night was Elliott came up with a few big saves to preserve the lead last night which he didn’t do at all against the Pens.
He had a huge stop on Josh Bailey late in the second period when the team had a three-goal lead. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but turned out to be much needed as the Isles cut the Flyers lead to one in the third period.
Big save by Brian Elliott on Josh Bailey! pic.twitter.com/Kl1hHw1lOu
— Sons of Penn (@SonsofPenn) January 5, 2018
Then in the third period he stopped Jordan Eberle:
Elliott stops Eberle who had a man wide-open in front. pic.twitter.com/mk8RSmXjRH
— Sons of Penn (@SonsofPenn) January 5, 2018
There was even another stop in the third period (which I couldn’t find a .gif of) with the Islanders really pressuring for the tying goal where he flashed a left pad to keep the Flyers ahead.
That said… he does need a break.
He’s started 15 straight games. He’s starting to show it. I thing he plays against St. Louis Saturday because it’s his former team, but really, Hakstol should give him a breather Sunday against Buffalo so he is refreshed when the team comes back form their bye week.
Speaking of those next two games:
5) The halfway point
Saturday’s game is the official middle of the season. The Flyers will still be in last place and that’s certainly not where they wanted to be, but the Atlantic Division is so top-heavy that being in last place in the Metropolitan keeps you in the Wild Card race.
So these two games against the Blues and Sabres are critical games, even if they aren’t division games.
The Flyers would benefit from going into the break on a little 3-game winning streak. But even if they can get three points out of the weekend, they should be happy with the close to this homestand.
The dangerous game is Sunday, believe it or not.
They’ll be up to play the Blues – who are a good team and there’ll be a little bit of an emotional homecoming of sorts for Brayden Schenn. So, I expect a solid effort there.
But Sunday is Buffalo. A bad team. Sometimes it’s easy to look past a team. But it’s really easy to look past a team when you are on the second day of a back-to-back with a vacation hours away.
I’m betting many of the guys have flights booked to some resort as early as Sunday night. The Sabres game is very dangerous. The Flyers can’t look past them this weekend. They can’t afford it.