Nothin’ Bruin: Thoughts on Continued Struggles with Boston After Bruins 2, Flyers 1

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PHOTO CREDIT: ERIC HARTLINE-USA TODAY SPORTS

The Flyers have lost five games this season – four to the Boston Bruins.

The most recent, a 2-1 loss on Friday, was yet another new way to lose a game to the team that currently sits in first place in the East Division.

It’s been a frustrating run against Boston for sure this season – and there are four more games to come against them before the season comes to an end.

First, there was the 5-4 shootout loss in Boston. It was the first blown lead for the Flyers this season – something that would become a chronic ailment, especially in third periods. The Flyers had a 2-0 lead, allowed Boston – who hadn’t scored at 5-on-5 to that point in the season – to score four goals in less than 15 minutes, three of them at 5-on-5. The Flyers rallied themselves, tying the game late on a power play deflection by James van Riemsdyk, and then they dominated an exciting overtime period, only to be stoned repeatedly by Tuukka Rask, before meekly falling in the shootout, something that has been the bane of the Flyers existence since it was instituted in 2005-06.

Then there was the embarrassing 6-1 loss where the Flyers were never in the game and the Bruins controlled play from start to finish.

Then there was Wednesday, where the Flyers built a 3-1 lead in the third period and looked poised to finally beat the Bruins until they lost control of discipline, took three penalties in the final nine minutes of the game and then couldn’t stop the Bruins power play as they scored twice in the third period and once at the start of overtime to beat the Flyers 4-3 in what was certainly the most disappointing loss of the season, despite earning the loser point.

And then there was Friday, a game which was easily the Flyers best effort this season – certainly against the Bruins, and at 5-on-5 probably their best game period – only to blow another third period lead (only one-goal this time) with the game-winner from Boston coming on a weak shot that goalie Brian Elliott simply whiffed on, and the Flyers couldn’t find a way to tie this one and force a fourth straight overtime game, resulting in the loss.

You could sense the frustration after the game. Players didn’t really want to talk about it. Other than JVR, who is always loquacious, the players were giving short answers. This includes guys who normally like to talk like Elliott and Kevin Hayes.

That’s because they knew they have played better at 5-on-5 against a very good team like Boston for two straight games and had very little to show for it.

That’s because they knew they were the better team on Friday, and still came up short.

Elliott took the blame, but the reality is, as good as he’s been this season, and as good as he was prior to the Sean Kuraly goal that he wishes he had another stab at, it’s hard to pin this on the goalie. Sometimes goalies let in goals they probably shouldn’t. It happens to the best goalies in the game. And for all the times the goalie picks up for the mistakes of his teammates in front of him in games (and Elliott did that a few times for sure on Friday) sometimes the skaters have to pick up their goalie, and this time, they just weren’t able to do it.

Rask was solid in net for Boston. He moved to 17-2-4 lifetime against the Flyers in the regular season. That’s pretty remarkable. That’s better than goalies who were repeated thorns in the Flyers side in their careers – like Martin Brodeur, Henrik Lundqvist and Dominik Hasek.

There’s not much else to say about this game other than a few little observations that I’m going to share with you shortly.

Thankfully for the Flyers, they don’t have to worry about the Bruins much for awhile.

Yes, they have to play them in the outdoor game at Lake Tahoe in two weeks, but beyond that they have one game in Boston in March and then the Bruins come back to Philly for a pair of games in back-to-back nights in April to finish the season series.

But the thing is for the Flyers, if they are to get where they really want to go this season, it’s very likely that the path will go through Boston in the postseason, and the Flyers will have to figure out how to beat this team by then.

Now, some observations:

1. JVR continues to be the best story in hockey this year

It’s starting to become clear that this just isn’t one of JVR’s well-known hot streaks. This isn’t just a situation where goals are going to come in bunches and then we aren’t going to hear from him for awhile.

No, JVR, in his 12th NHL season, is playing the best hockey of his career.

It’s not just goal scoring. It’s not just being a power play specialist where he is so adept at redirecting shots, although that’s how the Flyers scored their lone goal against the Bruins:

It’s so much more than that. There’s the great passes, there’s the consistent winning of puck battles, there’s the smart play in his own end and in the neutral zone.

There’s no doubt, that through 12 games he is the Flyers MVP, but when you look at the NHL leaderboard and see his name near the top, that also has to come as a surprise.

You don’t get to be in the top five in scoring in the league by accident. You actually have to be playing your game at a very high level. And when you see the names around him – Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Mitch Marner, Brad Marchand, Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin, Patrice Bergeron – his name doesn’t seem to fit with all that skill.

That’s even more evidence of how hard he is working to be one of the top scorers in the league. He has carried every line he has been on – currently it’s making a line with Scott Laughton and Joel Farabee dangerous every game.

And he remains a power play rock star – his five power play goals this year is tied with Joe Pavelski for tops in the NHL.

The beauty of all of this is at age 31, and with all his experience, JVR knows how to keep it rolling and how to sustain it. He may not get a point in every game, although he is on a six-game point streak, but I think you’ll find that he’ll be a top producer for this team all season because he has bought in to what Alain Vigneault has been preaching, and it’s really working for him on a game-in, game-out basis.

2. The Defense was especially good Friday

I criticized the defense for how it played Wednesday against the Bruins, but I have to be fair to them when they play well too – and they did Friday. They were blocking shots. They were getting sticks in lanes, or on pucks. They were forcing giveaways. They were much better on breakouts. And they did all this with a late scratch of Phil Myers with an upper body injury.

Robert Hagg jumped into the lineup to replace Myers, and played a solid, physical game on the third pair with Erik Gustafsson (more on him in a minute). Justin Braun took on the task of playing in Myers spot alongside Travis Sanheim and the duo were really good together.

Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere had a bounce back game as well and were very good on Friday. Although they were on the ice for Boston’s tying goal, and a critic would argue that Provorov lost a puck battle to Marchand and then Gostisbehere was beat to the front of the net by Marchand who scored the goal, but I will argue that Provy loses that battle to Marchand because it was off a faceoff and the puck went to Marchand’s side of the play making it harder for Provorov to make a difference, and as for Ghost, it’s not like he abandoned Marchand. He rides him all the way to the net. It was a scramble after Elliott made the initial save and there were bodies everywhere. Ghost did what he could, Marchand just makes a great play to poke the loose puck into the net. Here – see for yourself:

On the whole, this was one of the better defensive outings of the season. The Flyers can take that positive from the game.

3. Injuries, injuries, injuries

The Flyers are a little snakebitten here. Myers has an upper body injury. There, is no timetable yet announced for him. Could he possibly have re-aggravated his rib injury? Is it something new that happened at yesterday’s morning skate? The fact that the Flyers didn’t give a timetable designation, but did for Carter Hart (he’s next), tells me this is something they are either completely unsure of and are holding their breath, or they know it’s likely not just a day-to-day thing and just don’t want to announce that yet until they have a better timetable after he can see the docs today.

Hart left the skate a little early with back spasms. This is a common injury for goalies and isn’t something to worry about. Elliott was the planned starter anyway. All that this did was force the Flyers to call up Alex Lyon from the Taxi Squad to serve as Elliott’s backup for the game Friday. Hart was listed as day-to-day and coach Alain Vigneault said they kept him out last night just as a precaution. I’m betting he’s available for Sunday’s game in Washington.

Then there’s Oskar Lindblom. There’s no official injury designation here yet and Vigneault dodged a question about it after the game, but there’s no doubt there’s some concern for Lindblom after this hit from Connor Clifton:

If the Flyers announce today that Lindblom may miss some time, don’t be surprised if the NHL doesn’t review this hit. Hell, they may review it anyway, even if Lindblom is OK. Suspensions usually only come if the injured player has to miss time, otherwise fines are in order. But, this is definitely a hit to the head and Clifton is lining him up for the hit, which, in my mind, makes it premeditated and deserving of a suspension – but what do I know?

4. New power play quarterback?

In a sneaky little move in the third period, Vigneault replaced Provorov on the top power play unit with Gustafsson.

If you are a Snow the Goalie listener, it’s a role I felt Gustafsson would take coming into the season, however it took 12 games for the Flyers to try it.

Gustafsson is better than Provorov at both keeping the puck in at the blue line and at getting shots through to the net. Provorov isn’t bad at the latter – as evidenced by the fact he led all defensemen in the NHL in power play goals a season ago – it’s just that Gus does it with more frequency.

The Flyers likely didn’t want to bestow this responsibility on Gus right away as he definitely struggled to get acclimated to a new system and was also a healthy scratch a couple times. But, if he’s going to stay in the lineup, getting him up there firing away at the net, especially with JVR’s ability to redirect pucks is a dangerous combination that could bode well for the Flyers power play.

Vigneault didn’t want to say much about it after the game when I asked him about it, but it’s definitely been something that’s been brewing in the coaching staff’s mind for some time now:

“Sometimes you make subtle moves that pay off and that one did there,” Vigneault said. “I just thought that Gus seemed to be feeling it and made some passes. He has that shoot first mentality and it paid off for us on the power play.”

I’d expect to see more of him there in the coming games.

5. A little nugget from down on the farm

This didn’t get much play, but it’s definitely something worth noting – while playing with the Phantoms on Thursday, Sam Morin continued to work on his role as a depth forward. But, interestingly enough, Phantoms coach Scott Gordon had Morin take a few shifts as a defenseman on the penalty kill.

This should not be overlooked.

With the Flyers penalty kill showing some inconsistencies, if Morin makes it back to the big club, this could be in their plans.

It was especially interesting to hear Gordon talk about it after the game, because that was most telling and why it made it into this post:

“For Sam it’s an adjustment moving to forward, but he did a good job,” Gordon said. “I don’t know how long he’ll be here for, but should he leave, I wanted to make sure we added the penalty kill and he killed two penalties for us, and maybe three and then we had him out there on D at the end there during the 6-on-5. I wanted to get him some reps on D.”

The whole part about “I don’t know how long he’ll be here for” and then following that up with wanting to get him reps on D, especially on the penalty kill and when the other team pulls the goalie tells me the organization thinks he can serve a dual role and be a big-bodied porch clearer at times when the team is really in need of a stop defensively and the other team has a man advantage.

Let’s just leave it there and file it to the “Hmmm, interesting” folder for now.

For more Flyers coverage, follow Snow The Goalie on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Also be sure to tune into The Press Row Show as Anthony SanFilippo and Russ Joy provide pregame and intermission coverage of every Flyers home game from press row of the Wells Fargo Center via the Crossing Broad Facebook page, YouTube Live, and Twitter, and their Twitter accounts   

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