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There was a lesson learned in the Flyers’ 6-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres Thursday:
Buffalo stinks without early season MVP candidate Jack Eichel.
Sure, they lost a couple other players during the game who are centers, and it really left them shorthanded forward-wise and the Flyers took full advantage.
They played a pretty complete game. The power play was really good – the best it’s been in a game probably all season. They controlled puck possession. They broke any spirit Buffalo had early with a strong first period (for once) and an even better second period (as per usual).
And the Flyers continued to dominate on home ice, improving to 12-2-4 in home games this season.
It was an easy win. A really easy win. Carter Hart only had to make 16 saves. There’s not a lot to say about the win otherwise.
That said, there were a few players who stood out, so let’s get to them before I talk about something completely different afterwards:
1. JVR – Scoring Machine
James van Riemsdyk was certainly in coach Alain Vigneault’s doghouse for much of the first two months of the season. He had been relegated to fourth line duty and was even moved around a little bit at times on the Flyers power play unit.
Needless to say, that’s not what you want to see happen to a $7 million-a-year player.
However, since Nov. 27 (11 games), JVR is tied with Washington’s Alex Ovechkin for most goals in the NHL with six.
Yes, goal scorers, by nature, are streaky players. We know that already. But, there is more to this story than just van Riemsdyk starting to find the net.
With Oskar Lindblom sidelined for the season while fighting a rare cancer (Ewing sarcoma), van Riemsdyk is going to be the guy who has to step into Lindblom’s role and make up for what the Flyers are losing, and maybe more.
And so far, he’s done that.
“I think he is skating much better or it looks that way to me and the coaches,” Vigneault said. “We feel that he has good pace and good stride and is playing hard both ways and all of his goals are scored from the same area – they are scored right by the net. Some of those that might not have been going in at the beginning are going in now.
“We need him to continue. I need him to play well with the loss of Oskar as we all know on the left side. We need him to step up and play important minutes and do what he is doing for us right now.”
JVR scored two of the six goals against the Sabres, but the funny thing is both were kind of fluky. But, when you are going well and get to the net, and shots get through, sometimes, that’s all it takes for you to be rewarded with unorthodox goals.
The first one, for example, never touched his stick:
— Hockey Daily 365 (@HockeyDaily365) December 20, 2019
That was a nice pass from Hayes – we’ll get to him shortly – but as you can see, the puck was guided into the net by JVR’s skates. This goal was reviewed on a coach’s challenge – not for kicking the puck, but rather goaltender interference. It wasn’t the latter. It probably wasn’t the former either.
What it was though, was good positioning by JVR to get to a place where his chances of scoring a goal drastically increase.
His second goal was an attempted pass:
— Hockey Daily 365 (@HockeyDaily365) December 20, 2019
Once again, good things are happening when guys go to the net, as Sean Couturier was here. JVR was simply trying to connect with him and got a fortunate bounce off Rasmus Ristolainen’s skate and into the net.
Vigneault talked about that concept too – getting to the net:
“We got some bounces because one of the things we have been talking about is getting more pucks into that blue paint and if you look at where the goals came from, they all came from that area,” he said. “That is one of the areas we have been talking about focusing on. We know we need to get better. We did it tonight and we did get the bounces.”
JVR wasn’t alone. His whole line played well. Let’s look at those guys next.
2. Kevin Hayes – Producer
This is the kind of game the Flyers are paying Hayes big money to have. You already saw the one play to set up JVR’s first goal. It was really good work behind the net to win a battle on the wall and then smartly getting the puck to the crease to create the chaos necessary for the goal to occur.
But the other set up he had on Thursday was simply next level excellence:
— Hockey Daily 365 (@HockeyDaily365) December 20, 2019
Hayes could have shot the puck multiple times. Each time though, his patience improved the odds of scoring a goal. Each fake shot, or side step, or drifting left, ran those numbers higher and higher. Maybe you couldn’t see it in real time, but Hayes created the space that was necessary for Matt Niskanen to get to a space that would provide a wide open net for a scoring chance.
The game really slowed down for Hayes in that moment and he was sure to make all the right moves to get the Flyers on the scoreboard again in the first period.
In his last 15 games, Hayes has 12 points (four goals, eight assists). While those numbers are good, but not great, considering he had just four goals and three assists in his first 20 games, it’s a big increase in production.
He’s on a 19-26-45 pace, which is still below what was expected, but if he keeps playing as he has the past 15 games, he’ll have a shot at reaching 60 points, which would be much more in line of expectations for Hayes.
3. Nicolas Aube-Kubel – making a case to stay
The fans refer to him by his initials – NAK. The coach calls him Cube. Whatever moniker you choose, the guy has made an impression in his brief time with the Flyers since being recalled.
Vigneault was asked about the young players in the lineup after the game, and response was quite telling.
“If I start with Mikhail (Vorobyev), Mikhail every time he has come here he has gotten a little bit more confident,” Vigneault said. “I thought tonight he wanted the puck, he made some plays. “Cube, I didn’t know much more of what I saw or what I remembered in training camp. I like his game – it’s physical and there is definitely room for that. (David) Kase, I like his energy. He skates well, he gets on the forecheck, there is good chemistry there with him and Jake, so I like what he brings.”
All complimentary stuff, but for two guys, there was mostly lip-service.
He didn’t even mention Andy Andreoff, who will likely be sent back to the Phantoms once Joel Farabee finishes his three game suspension this weekend. Vorobyev is only here until Michael Raffl returns from his broken finger, which could be right after the holiday. Kase was actually loaned back to the Phantoms Friday, but mostly that’s just a paper move, and he stays for a little longer, maybe until Scott Laughton is healthy.
But the interesting line was what Vigneault said about Aube-Kubel – “There is definitely room for that.”
His style of play fits nicely in Vigneault’s system that allows for puck-hunting forecheckers to thrive. He was a favorite of the Ron Hextall regime. He was a guy they felt could be a regular in the bottom six. Chuck Fletcher and his brass haven’t been as high on Aube-Kubel. In fact, Aube-Kubel was a healthy scratch just a couple of weeks ago for the Phantoms, who were growing weary of his inconsistent effort.
But as soon as he got the call to the NHL – because the Flyers were desperate for bodies, he showed a new life.
Maybe that benching was just what he needed to wake up his game, because he looks good. And yes, his style plays very nicely for the Flyers and he could be an intriguing option to stick around in this lineup.
4. Ivan Provorov scores on the power play again
Just a reminder here about the argument I have with the mathematically inclined hockey nerds on Twitter who buy into the fact that Provorov is not a top-pair defenseman and that he hurts the Flyers power play:
"Ivan Provorov is a non-elite second pairing defenceman who hurts his team on the power-play"
Ahahaha ok https://t.co/HBCsxPfGK4
— x – Go buy Doom Eternal (@ericswavely) December 20, 2019
That’s his eighth goal this year in just 35 games. He had seven all of last season. Oh, and five of them have come on the power play.
But that’s alright, those of us who WATCH hockey are far inferior to those who crunch numbers with some silly statistical model.
5. Kim Parent is Awesome. The Flyers Business Operations are not.
I was on the phone with Kim Parent – yes, Bernie’s daughter – and she was laughing during an interview.
“Sorry, my phone is buzzing non-stop. It’s just crazy right now,” she said.
That’s because Parent and her company Biscuit Tees, created the OSKAR STRONG t-shirts that the Flyers players wore underneath their uniforms Thursday.
The boys look great in our tees!! Let’s keep raising money and fighting with Oskar!! We have hit $50,000 to donate to #hockeyfightscancer @NHLFlyers #OskarStrong https://t.co/4IftTyFnWw pic.twitter.com/QAJLhNF2Yr
— Biscuit Tees (@BiscuitTees) December 19, 2019
Parent was thinking of a way to pay tribute to Oskar Lindblom and be respectful – so as not to try to cash in on his illness.
So, when she got a text message from Flyers equipment manager Derek Settlemyre asking how quickly she could put something together for the guys to wear in the locker room, the idea came to her.
“We decided to make the design and then forward 100 percent of the proceeds to Hockey Fights Cancer,” Parent said. “I knew the people of Philadelphia would get behind this, but I never expected it to take off like it did.”
NBC Sports Philly’s Taryn Hatcher showed the t-shirt on the TV broadcast during the game and told fans where they could buy the shirt.
Once she did, Parent’s phone went haywire.
“We sold $25,000 worth in about 12 hours,” she said. “We thought we’d be lucky to raise $5,000, and that would be a nice donation. We never expected this.”
So far Parent has raised $91,000 for Hockey Fights Cancer in just four days. She expects to eclipse $100,000 before the weekend.
And it’s not just here in Philly.
She has had orders to ship to Australia, Great Britain, Canada, and many places she never thought would be interested.
And in a really cool request, she got a call from the New York Rangers.
“Apparently Mika Zibanijad and five of his teammates want them so they can wear them when they come to Philly to play the Flyers Monday,” Parent said. “Luckily I had some left over from the original order for the Flyers players that I can drop them off at the team hotel in time for them to have them.”
This is all a wonderful story, and yet, it makes me wonder how the Flyers themselves dropped this ball?
I mean, this was a perfect opportunity for Flyers Charities to use their extensive outreach capabilities to really get the whole city behind the notion of being #OskarStrong.
They knew of the diagnosis before they announced it publicly. One would think there would have been a meeting on the business side before the news went public to determine the best way to get the city to rally behind the team and their effort to fight cancer with one of their own.
I’m 100 percent certain that would have happened in previous years.
But with the new leadership in place, it’s yet another misread of the city and the fan base.
Even the media has gotten in on the act:
A big thanks to @sportsology and @flyersgirl38 for the #OskarStrong bracelet! If you're heading to Monday's game against the Rangers, look for Russ Cohen at Xfinity Live around 5. He'll be handing them out. pic.twitter.com/5llcSx48Fz
— Russ Joy (@JoyOnBroad) December 19, 2019
Awareness bracelets. Being handed out for free by two media members who cover the Flyers. Keep the conversation going. Fight with the player. Rally behind a cause with an athlete and his teammates.
These are things the team should be spearheading – not folks who are tangentially connected to the organization.
Video tributes are nice. Placards taped to the seats at the first home game after the announcement are fine too.
But how about engaging the public? How about connecting with the fans? How about bringing the whole city together to rally against a dreaded disease and help make a difference?
Sad. This franchise always “got it.” No more.
For more Flyers coverage, check out Snow The Goalie. Follow Snow The Goalie on Facebook and Twitter. Also be sure to tune into The Press Row Show as Anthony SanFilippo and Russ Joy preview every Flyers home game pregame and recap the first and second period action during intermission breaks from press row of the Wells Fargo Center via the Crossing Broad Facebook page, YouTube Live, and Twitter, and their Twitter accounts (@AntSanPhilly @JoyOnBroad).