Jackpot! Thoughts on the Flyers Finishing a Perfect Philadelphia Sports Week by Beating the Knights 4-1

Photo Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Eagles mojo must be rubbing off on the rest of the city’s sports teams.

If you count the Super Bowl, in one week, Philadelphia teams went 8-0.

We all know how great the Super Bowl was, but the Sixers have manhandled opponents and the Flyers are beating the teams they should beat – and even the ones they weren’t expected to beat – and suddenly have created separation between themselves and the teams behind them.

Oh, and believe it or not, they’re now challenging for the Division.

This is an alternate universe. Or, as Doug Pederson said, this is the “new normal.”

There is a playwright named David Ives who writes mostly comedies. He once wrote a play called “The Philadelphia.” In this play, anyone who was experiencing a “Philadelphia” was experiencing the opposite of what they usually experience. It made for some great farcical moments on stage, even if it was a subtle jab at our fair city and surrounding suburbs.

But, if the Philadelphia sports teams are experiencing a “Philadelphia” right now, then it’s a good bet most fans don’t want it to stop.

It’s like suddenly being flush with an unlimited roll of twenties and being able to keep peeling one off to keep the champagne room dance going for another song… and another… and another.

Focusing solely on the Flyers here, how else do you explain this past week?

First you have an absolutely crucial game last Tuesday in Carolina against a Hurricanes team that is, in many ways, a mirror image of the Flyers and is battling them for a playoff spot. The game is nip and tuck the entire way, with neither side yielding much in the way of time and space.

The game then drifts into overtime where the ‘Canes absolutely dominate for more than four minutes and would have won were it not for a couple miraculous saves from Brian Elliott and his teammates (namely Claude Giroux) and ends before slinking into the dreaded shootout with three seconds to go when a Jordan Weal shot beats a veteran goalie like Cam Ward in the softest of ways:

 

Hey, they’ll take it.

Then Thursday, while more than a million people (and maybe more than two million – screw those asinine estimates) celebrated the Eagles on the streets of Philadelphia, the Flyers disposed of a terrible Montreal Canadians team. The most impressive bits in this game was that each time the Flyers had a mistake that led to a Habs goal, they answered in rapid succession, not letting a error fester, as they have so many times previously this season.

On Saturday, they made their way to the desert to face the worst team in hockey, and again the Arizona Coyotes gave them fits as they did earlier this season. This time it did reach the shootout – and the Flyers hadn’t won a shootout since last March.

But of course, in this charmed week, not only did the Flyers win this one, they won it after Michal Neuvirth had to replace Elliott mid-shootout because Elliott suffered a lower body injury trying to make a save. Not only did Neuvirth become the first goalie in NHL history to win a game without actually playing in it (goalie statistics only count in regulation and overtime, because that’s the timed portion of the game – although there are goalie shootout statistics that are kept separately), but the Flyers got the winning shootout goal – in round seven (snore) – from rookie Nolan Patrick – who is finally showing the promise associated with being drafted second overall on a consistent basis:

https://twitter.com/FlyersNation/status/962544458679042048

But we all had to figure this run of good fortune would come to an end last night, right? I mean, the Flyers were making their first trip to Vegas. The Knights are the best home team in the NHL.

And when Vegas scored first, it looked even worse, since they were 22-2-0 when scoring the first goal.

Not to mention, the wins in Carolina and Arizona were definitely on the more fortunate side – so it’s not like the Flyers were playing great hockey. They were playing OK hockey, good-enough-to-beat-mediocre-or-bad-teams-hockey. But not the kind of hockey it takes to topple the game’s best teams.

Then the mojo kicked in one more time. Maybe it was the fact that, for the first time all season, the Vegas Knights didn’t have a home ice advantage because the Flyers fans took over the damn arena. Seriously, there is no fan base that travels like Philadelphia. None. All the crap you hear about Red Sox nation and any other supposedly incredible fan base that shows up in different cities is misleading.

Those teams just happen to have national followings and have fans in each city.

Philadelphia people actually travel. They pay to go places to root on their teams. Like A LOT of them.

And they had a great weekend in Vegas and turned it into Philly West for this game.

And things started going the Flyers way at right about this time:

Of course it was the top line. Of course it was pretty passing from Giroux and Travis Konecny setting up Sean Couturier in front and giving Marc-Andre Fleury nightmare flashbacks to when Couturier was burning him for a hat trick in the playoffs during Coots’ rookie season.

These guys were on fire last night. The more Konecny plays with top-end skill players the more the Flyers are turning him into a Danny Briere-type player offensively. TK may have a bit more of an edge than Danny (although Danny was a sneaky, sometimes dirty player who quietly pissed off the opposition nightly), but he’s consistently playing the game at a high level now and is one of the main reasons the Flyers have had this dramatic turnaround.

This tied the game, but it didn’t change things for Vegas, who kept coming and coming and showing they aren’t a fluke. Were it not for Neuvirth (Yes, the Flyers had good Neuvirth last night – which, like Two Face in the Batman series, is always a coin flip), the Flyers would have been behind again quickly.

But then the Flyers got the go-ahead (and eventual game-winning goal) from one of the more unlikely of sources:

Yes, that’s Andrew MacDonald in front of the net scoring a goal for the Flyers. Now, he didn’t really shoot the puck – Couturier banked it in off of AMac’s skate. And really, the whole play was again beautiful passing by the guys on the top line, but give MacDonald credit for going to the net. It’s not his usual positioning when the Flyers are in the offensive zone, and it isn’t likely to suddenly become part of his repertoire, but it shows when you drive the net, good things happen.

And good things continued to happen whenever the Flyers top line was on the ice:

This made it 3-1. Couturier with a real power move picked up his third point of the game and Giroux out-skated former teammate Pierre-Edouard Bellemare to get to the loose puck.

The Flyers now have three of the top 20 scorers in the NHL with Giroux and Voracek tied for fourth (64 points) and Couturier not too far behind with 57 points (17th in the NHL).

Only Pittsburgh’s trio of Phil Kessel (65 points), Evgeni Malkin (63) and Sidney Crosby (62) have more combined points as teammates this season.

And yet, despite the first line’s dominant play, Vegas still didn’t fold. They kept coming and coming. They kept firing shot after shot.

And Neuvirth was equal to the task:

Neuvy finished with 38 saves. Despite the great offense from the top line, he was the star of the game, hands down.

I mean look at the gameflow chart and heat map:

If you listen to the analytics people I fight with on Twitter all the time, the Flyers should have lost this game 4-1, not won it 4-1.

But alas, numbers don’t always tell the story. Those who don’t believe it are doomed to see it happen again and again and again.

Anyway, the Flyers now have the best record in the Metropolitan Division since December 4th (20-8-2).

They’ve climbed to third place in the division and are now just as close to the first place Washington Capitals as they are to missing the playoffs (five points).

Again, is this sustainable?

I keep saying no, and they keep proving me wrong. There are 26 games to play, and five of the next seven are divisional games, so those points can really swing things one way or another. The Flyers need to really focus on these next seven games, because even though five of them are in the division, all five are teams currently behind the Flyers.

But after the March 1 game against Carolina, the Flyers will play nine games in 16 days. And those nine games are a real minefield:

  • Back-to-back at Tampa (best team in the NHL) and Florida.
  • Back-to-back vs. Pittsburgh and at Boston (both teams with better records).
  • A three game home stand against Western Conference stalwarts Winnipeg and Vegas and a visit from Columbus.
  • Back-to-back in Carolina and then home against Washington.

It’s not going to be easy folks. And the Flyers need whatever happened in Vegas to not stay in Vegas because that mojo is going to be needed moving forward big time.

But if they keep it, and if they embrace the underdog mentality like the Eagles did, proving all of us “experts” (and I use that term very loosely) wrong, then all bets are off come April.

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4 Responses

      1. I did a quick survey of the Crossing Broad writers, and I’d guess they were 100% white, 0% black and the rest Hispanic and Asian.

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