James van Riemsdyk stuck around after his media scrum on Saturday night to talk to Russ and me about the importance of patience.
Here was a guy who had just fired nine shots on goal for the second consecutive night without actually scoring. As a matter of fact, JVR has not scored a goal for the Flyers yet this season. Oh, and his team had just lost for the fourth straight time to boot.
And yet here he was, calm, cool and collected, talking hockey with the perspective that only comes from experience.
I remember once, back in JVR’s rookie year, where he was being benched for a game in New York against the Islanders. I was the only reporter who made it up to Long Island for the morning skate, so I waited around for him to come off the ice last after a morning practice in which he was the last person off the ice. We then walked back to the hotel together across the parking lot and he was not happy.
He expressed frustration with then-coach Peter Laviolette and the decision to bench him. He felt like he was playing well and just wasn’t getting credit for it. It was certainly the most vocal he had ever been publicly.
Fast forward nearly 11 years and you find a different person – a person that can see things differently and understands nuance a lot more than when he was 20-years-old.
“In all sports as things have become more numbers-driven, guys realize more that if you are on a winning streak and the underlying numbers aren’t as good as they should be that it may not last but if you are on a losing streak and the underlying numbers are pretty good – especially in hockey where you are driving and controlling the play a lot, you are bound to break out of it,” van Riemsdyk said. “Some things about our process are really good. We’re controlling a lot of the play. We’re getting a lot of shots. It’s only a matter of time.”
Fast forward to Monday night.
The Vegas Golden Knights came into town. Many experts look at Vegas and see a team who is in a great position to make a serious run at Lord Stanley’s Cup this year. It certainly didn’t seem like a team that a Flyers squad coming off four straight losses would want to face.
Especially not with wholesale changes to the lineup – two new players, all four lines switched, and starting backup goalie Brian Elliott because Carter Hart has not looked like himself in his last two games.
But one thing didn’t change – the style. The approach. The “process.”
Now that the Sixers are poised to be a Championship contender in town, the Flyers are starting to borrow the word. Coach Alain Vigneault has used it considerably. JVR used it in the quote above.
And although the Flyers’ definition of process is not anywhere close to how the Sixers defined it, it is certainly a palpable concept when it comes to hockey design.
And although to a man the Flyers felt their game against Vegas wasn’t as crisp or effective as it had been against Edmonton and Dallas, the outcome still belied the process.
That’s because the Flyers finally scored. And scored. And scored.
The end result was a 6-2 drubbing of the Knights. A game in which the Flyers played a strong first period, were way too loosey-goosey in the second period, despite scoring four goal, and then just played defense in the third period to secure an unexpected win.
Well, unexpected to most, the process though, has the Flyers humming.
The Flyers have been getting solid play from their depth lines to this point in the season, but nothing like Monday.
While the new top unit of JVR, Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek didn’t produce a goal (Voracek did have an assist), the Flyers got help from everywhere else.
The second line of Oskar Lindblom, Sean Couturier and Travis Konecny were red hot to start the season, but were split up to try and jump start other players, were reunited, and oh it felt so good.
They combined for five points including these two goals:
— x-Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) October 21, 2019
And the Oskar goes to…
— Flyers Mil Grau #OskarStrong (@FlyersMilGrau) October 22, 2019
They also were on the ice for this goal by Matt Niskanen on a sweet pass from Couturier:
Sean Couturier with the beauty pass.
Travis Konecny with a sneaky stick lift.
Matt Niskanen with the finish.
— NHL (@NHL) October 22, 2019
This line should not be broken up again unless things sour. Konecny has been the Flyers best offensive player this season with points in six of the Flyers seven games. Frankly, they are logging the most minutes, driving the play more than any other line and scoring their most goals.
Dare I say this is the Flyers No. 1 line at this point?
Farabee, Vorobyev debut
Everyone was clamoring for Joel Farabee to be in the lineup. Well, you got your wish Flyers fans. He skated and played 14:35 and took three shots on goal. It’s not going to go down as a memorable debut in hockey lore, but the 19-year-old certainly didn’t look out of place on the ice.
Yes, he was protected some, but when he was out there, he was noticeable. He even took Couturier’s spot on the Flyers top power play unit.
As for Vorobyev, He only played 9:36 in a fourth line role, but the fourth line was oh-so-good in the game that he picked up an assist on one of Michael Raffl’s goals and was a plus-3. That’s hard to do in such a short period of playing time, so kudos to him.
If there was one knock, Vorobyev has worked hard at being a good faceoff guy, really making it a staple of his game in AHL. However, in his first game back in the NHL, he lost seven of 10 draws. That needs to improve.
I feel like it’s too much to constantly sing the praises of Michael Raffl, but I do it anyway. Usually I’m pointing out something small in a game by him that goes unnoticed. However, every once in a while he plays the kind of game that doesn’t require any additional input from me.
This was one of those games.
Two goals and an assist in just 11:23 of ice time is quite efficient work by the versatile Flyers forward.
It’s why he was bestowed this gift by his teammates after the game:
— x-Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) October 22, 2019
Those of you familiar with the story of Don Quixote know that when he starts to have his delusions, he mistakes a shaving basin for the legendary Golden Helmet of Mambrino, and proceeds to wear it on his head in his faux battles against giants (windmills).
I’m not sure what that helmet is that the Flyers are rewarding their player of the game after wins, and it’s a far cry from the Ric Flair robe from last season, but I’m always going to think of the Cervantes story every time I see it.
Moose chips in
Raffl got the helmet for his three-point night, but Brian Elliott was the real star of this game. He made 33 saves, and many were on high-percentage shots by the Knights. In the second period alone he had to stop 18 Vegas shots on goal.
According to NaturalStatTrick.com, the Knights had 27 scoring chances on their 35 shots and eight of those 27 came from high danger areas. And yell Elliott was up to the task.
When healthy, Elliott is a very good goalie. This may have quietly been the best move of the offseason by GM Chuck Fletcher, bringing back a reliable veteran who could spell Hart when he needed it.
Don’t be surprised to see Elliott a little more frequently in the next two weeks. The Flyers have two sets of games on back-to-back nights plus single games all on the road in Chicago, Pittsburgh and New Jersey.
It’s a definite that Elliott will start two of those six games, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say he’ll start three of them and really, I would not be surprised at all if he starts four of them.
No, he’s not supplanting Hart as the starter. Sometimes young goalies just need time to work on their game in practice – and if Elliott is going good, there’s no reason not to entrust him with games against tougher opponents in tougher environments.