Wild and Crazy: Thoughts on Flyers 6, Panthers 5 (SO)

Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

You may have heard, the Flyers gave out a Jake Voracek Chia Pet to fans at the game Tuesday. They smartly handed them out to fans on the way out the door rather than as they entered the Wells Fargo Center.

That’s because there’s a good chance that midway through the third period they would have become instant hand grenades.

Blow a three-goal lead to a winless Florida Panthers team, and who knows what lengths the fans might go to.

However, some of the business and marketing smarts of the organization must have rubbed off on the players during a well-used timeout by Dave Hakstol after the Panthers tied it, because the Flyers were able to get themselves righted, remain tied through overtime and win the game in a shootout 6-5 to even their record this season at 3-3-0.

Jordan Weal had the game-winner in the shootout. He also had a goal and an assist in regulation and played a pretty solid all-around game. Claude Giroux was the Flyers’ best player with a pair of goals and Wayne Simmonds continued his torrid start with two goals as well in what amounted to a wild game from start the finish between two teams who threw out the playbook when it came to defense and instead played a sometimes entertaining, sometimes frustrating game of shinny that ended with a Flyers win.

At the end of the season, when the regulation and overtime win (ROW) tiebreaker comes into play, Flyers fans might look back at this early season circus on ice and shake an angry fist, but a win is a win, and the Flyers will take it.

Weal is a great story. He’s been through the ringer confidence-wise in the past month. He went from entering camp as the leader in the clubhouse to earn the No. 3 center’s job to being the Flyers’ extra forward and a healthy scratch three times, to filling in for an injured Nolan Patrick on the second line and having two successive well-played games in a row, including netting the game winner.

Russ spent some time talking to Weal after the game and has a nice piece on his sudden emergence as a contributing player to the Flyers.

As such, I’ll leave that to him, but there are plenty of other observations from this game. Most aren’t great… but I’ll do my best to find some positives – heck they did win the game!

1. Snooze Button

No one really has an explanation for why the Flyers continue to struggle to score the first goal. They gave up the first goal for the sixth consecutive game to start the season.

Here it is:

Yeah, that’s a bad angle shot that made it through the Michael Leighton hole on Brian Elliott, who wasn’t very good in net last night, but the fact of the matter is the Flyers were out-shot 12-5 in the first period and really looked a hell of a lot slower than Florida.

I asked a few players after the game why this keeps happening, and they all gave the same shrug of their shoulders and promised to clean it up, whatever the mysterious reason…. except one.

“We sat back too much I think,” said Scott Laughton, who keeps looking better and better with each game, and was moved to third line center in the middle of the game (more on that in a bit). “It’s tough when they’re setting up behind their own net and we’re just sitting back and letting them come at us with speed right through the neutral zone.

“We have to do a better job of getting two guys down there creating pressure and turnovers and have the third guy in the slot ready for a shot. Good teams are really good at that.”

It begs the question – are they being told to sit back? Or, are they being told to pressure the puck and they’re not doing it?

The first would be negligence on the part of the coaches. The second would be negligence on the part of the players.

Either way, it’s a conundrum the Flyers can’t seem to solve.

Look, you can’t keep playing from behind. You have to start making teams chase you, and not the other way around. The Flyers, for whatever reason, can’t seem to conquer this with any consistency.

I can see why, when they are defensively deficient, that you would want to stay back a bit, but at the same time you don’t want to make life easier on the opposition either.

“It makes more sense to pressure and have that third guy kind of angling so he can get back if he has to,” Laughton said. “That’s better than letting them come at you with speed and getting caught flat-footed. We’ll definitely take a look at it.”

It may not be the Flyers biggest problem, but it is a contributing factor to the angst that crops up with this team from one game to the next.

2. ALARM

As in something you wake up to, not that there is something to worry about. The Flyers definitely woke up in the second period.

They scored five goals in the period. That’s a lot in 20 minutes. Actually, they did it in less than 16 minutes, so it seemed like a flurry.

The Flyers haven’t scored five goals in a period since March 30, 2017 against the New York Islanders and, to show you how rare it is to score at least five goals in a period, this was only the 62nd time it’s happened in franchise history. The Flyers have played 11,910 periods of hockey. That means it’s happened in 0.5% of the periods they’ve played.

It went like this:

Wayne Simmonds, as he is wont to do, beats his man to the front of the net and tips in Travis Sanheim’s shot to tie the score 1-1. The coaching staff wants Sanheim to shoot more. He passed up a good shot in the first period, but didn’t think twice here and good things happened:

Robert Hagg continues to play good hockey. He’s been the Flyers’ most consistent defenseman this season thus far.

Aaron Ekblad was quite mad at himself for this turnover. Giroux made him pay for it with his second goal of the season:

We’ll get to Christian Folin, who actually was decent in this game. But Laughton had the nice pass to Simmonds, who made a deft move to score the goal. He’s been red hot this season and that’s great. He looks healthy, he’s playing healthy and he’s been one of the Flyers’ best players so far. He has five goals in six games. That’s pretty damn good:

I used this link because the goal is a pretty one by Giroux and worth watching, but Gostisbehere made a great play to block an outlet pass in the neutral zone, and then carried the puck into the zone before setting up Giroux.

Giroux is off to a fine start as well. He has eight points already – and the top line hasn’t really taken off yet at 5-on-5. The guy’s pretty damn good.

What I’m not showing you is Florida scoring two goals in this wild period as well, but the Flyers had a two-goal lead heading into the third period, when things started to get ugly before Hakstol fixed things.

Speaking of Hakstol….

3. Two good ones in a row

Hakstol has been pushing some good buttons lately. He had a great game plan for Vegas. Maybe the game plan wasn’t as solid for this one, but rather than just sit back and hope his decisions would come to fruition, as he has in the past, Hakstol has been willing to make changes.

First, he benched Andrew MacDonald in favor of Christian Folin, who was pretty good in this one. Folin was a plus-four, had an assist, had three hits, two blocks, and, for the analytics guys, he had a Corsi For percentage of 70.83.

Not too shabby.

Hakstol also made an in-game swap of Michael Raffl and Mikhail Vorobyev to give life to the Flyers’ third line. Actually, Raffl went to the wing and Laughton moved into the middle, but it was a smart change.

We’ll get into Vorobyev in a minute, but this in-game change was something Hakstol was seemingly never too keen on doing before. Now, he’s not waiting. If he doesn’t like what he sees, he’s going to change it.

And so he did…

And so he did with his goalie as well. Once Evgeni Dadonov scored to cut it to 5-4, Hakstol pulled Elliott, who wasn’t having a good game, and put in backup Calvin Pickard.

It seemed like an odd time for a goalie switch – putting in a cold goalie to protect a one-goal lead in the third period. This isn’t baseball. The goalie isn’t controlling the object in play like a relief pitcher does.

The first shot Pickard saw rang off the crossbar. The second one he saw was this:

Well, that decision didn’t work… or did it?

It showed Hakstol that something wasn’t right with the team at this moment, and he decided to utilize his timeout.

It was a great use of the timeout and a calming moment for a team on the verge of an ugly collapse.

Here’s Hak explaining his thinking:

“We gave up the good chance that went off the cross bar and then another breakaway right away. And that’s our top two guys on the back end and not being critical necessarily of them, but that tells me that the line of thinking is not the right way. You can go back and take a look at all three of those plays and we didn’t make it real hard to come up with those opportunities, so at that point in time, you gotta get it turned around…”

He’s spot on with this.

Ivan Provorov has had a dreadful start to the season. Gostisbehere has been better, but he’s had inconsistent moments as well, and these two goals were on both of these guys.

So, what he’s saying, if your best defensemen are screwing up, something’s wrong.

And he had the ability to recognize it and fix it in game. That’s good coaching.

4. Vorobyev plummeting

Vorobyev played well in his first two NHL games, but has been invisible since. The Flyers need more from him than he’s giving, and Hakstol needed to make a change to get him off the third line mid-game if the Flyers were to win this game.

As soon as he did, the third line scored a goal. This was not a coincidence.

Here’s what Hakstol had to say about Vorobyev:

“I thought we needed a little bit more from Misha. You can’t wait and hope, so we talked about it, we thought there was a legitimate switch there to be made that could give us a boost and those three guys went out and did a good job. Misha is a young guy, he’s got a lot of things to learn and it takes a little bit of pressure off of him to go and play on the left wing, lesser minutes, but still allows him to keep learning and pushing forward.”

I can’t reiterate how important it is to hear him say, “You can’t wait and hope.” I think there’s been a little too much of that in the past – more so with veteran players than young guys, but still. I’m starting to see Hakstol show more willingness to stray from a preconceived plan.

As for Vorobyev… If he doesn’t get himself course corrected, he could find himself out of the lineup, or on his way back to Lehigh Valley once Nolan Patrick and/or Corban Knight is ready to return to the ice.

5. Miscellaneous

I’ve written too long already, so here are some other quick tidbits:

  • Andrew MacDonald’s benching was a coaching decision, but there’s no doubt his sub par play has been the result of coming back too soon. He’s hinted at it himself, but Hakstol all but confirmed it with this: “There’s good reasons (for this switch)… Don’t make too much of it. It was the right thing for our team tonight. When you miss training camp, it’s tough. I’ll say that. It’s hard to catch up in a hurry and for me that’s a big part of it.”
  • Pickard made the final save of the shootout on Frank Vatrano to secure the win. Afterwards, he was asked if in the shootout he was a guesser, or if his moves were based on instinct. He said, “No, you can’t guess or else these guys will make you pay. Anytime you guess, you’re going to get burned. You’ve got to be patient.” As soon as he said that, Giroux, who overheard, shouted into the scrum, “Bullshit, you guessed.” Giroux and Pickard have a great relationship for a pair of guys who’ve been teammates for two weeks. They’re constantly cracking each other up. Giroux called Pickard a “clown” after the game. That’s good stuff.
  • Wayne Simmonds and Alex Petrovic got into a little scrum in the second period that went a little too far. It didn’t end up in fighting majors, but both guys got 10-minute misconducts. That was a good trade as far as the Panthers were concerned, but Hakstol defended Simmonds’ actions – and was right: “I mean, it’s great. I’m okay with that. That’s hockey. That’s team building. We’ve had a little bit of it here and there over the last two-three games and that was a situation of our own building. We will take the extra two minutes, we should kill that, but we didn’t, but we’ll take that situation every time. Simmer did the right thing.”
  • I picked the official three stars for the game. I went with 1. Giroux, 2. Barkov, 3. Simmonds. In retrospect, I wish I would have put Weal ahead of Simmonds. My bad Jordan. I owe you some fish and chips.

 

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5 Comments

  • 4 for 4 guy October 17, 2018 at 9:24 am

    Fultz and elliott stink

    Reply
  • Aaron October 17, 2018 at 9:27 am

    Awesome analysis as always Anthony. Really love the Flyers recaps especially if I miss seeing the game. You help by keeping a familiar set of expectations for the team in each post and a logical assessment of players/coaches. For not watching the game, I can always get a true vibe of it from your posts.

    Thanks and keep on keeping on!

    Reply
    • bob October 17, 2018 at 1:39 pm

      I agree …

      Reply
  • Dr. Lowell Meyerson -- The Fanny Doctor October 17, 2018 at 10:04 am

    Carter Hart, please.

    Reply
    • Hartsy October 17, 2018 at 11:13 am

      Bruh, he got smoked in his last game. Get used to average veterans in net for the foreseeable future.

      Reply

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