Roller Coaster Ride: Thoughts from Lightning 4, Flyers 3 (SO)

Photo credit: © Mitchell Leff-USA TODAY Sports

Thursday night’s game between the Flyers and Lightning held a special significance as it was Hockey Fights Cancer Night, including a pregame ceremony and multiple moving tributes throughout the night. What ensued what a roller coaster ride of a game that featured highlight goals, incredible saves, a breakneck OT, and ultimately ended with a Flyers loss in a skills competition. Let’s take a look at what went down.

A Hot Start

On his first shift of the game, captain Claude Giroux took a sensational feed from Derick Brassard head-on toward Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy in what amounted to a tight-window breakaway opportunity. The captain made one heck of a move to put the Orange and Black up 1-0 in the early going:

This was not the last time Giroux would factor into the game’s outcome.

Slump Buster

For a team that entered their game against Tampa Bay struggling to score goals in all situations, Travis Konecny couldn’t have picked a better time to light the lamp:

It’s a confident finish that broke a five-game goalless drought for Konecny. If the Flyers are to maintain their standing in the Metropolitan Division, they’ll need more of this from Konecny. Given the team’s comments on the status of Kevin Hayes after the game (more on that later) Thursday night’s effort wasn’t a bad place to start.

Escaping the First

Hockey is weird. It’s arguably the sport where the eye test people and the analytics people are the most polarized. Some coaches write off any form of analytics as a nonsensical set of spreadsheets that belong in the trash. Some Twitter analytics folks bury their heads in an Excel file when their models are questioned in a way that reminds one of an ostrich to sand, coming up for air to momentarily shriek about goaltending being an impossible variable to account for in their “objective” assessments.

The first period represented one of the rare opportunities in which the eye test and the underlying numbers told a similar story. The Lightning generated more chances from a variety of areas:

Yet the Flyers were able to escape the first period with a 2-0 lead. Now, were the numbers something that would likely hold up over a 20-game stretch for a team with playoff aspirations? Probably not. But this is where numbers alone don’t tell the full story:

This is why many people, including myself, question the folks who would rather track the most minute detail or hold the basis for their belief on micro stats. In fairness, xG isn’t a micro stat. It’s just a somewhat misguided one that’s often presented on its own as an attempted indicator of shot quality. Generating chances does not universally equate to a team holding an exponentially greater likelihood of scoring, as evidenced by the fact that the Flyers held an actual 2-0 lead, despite losing the xG battle 0.77-0.33. It’s also a stat that doesn’t take the human element of the game or factor in the momentum swings and associated variables into account.

It would be akin to something like this:

Russ had tracked his calories for the day and was trending in a positive direction. Knowing that he’d eaten 86% of his daily calories, while accounting for the presence of treats in the press box, Russ’ xPC (expected popcorn consumption) was 1 box.

What this fails to include is that Russ had gone for a run and eaten no dinner before the Flyers game. The unpredictable variables of hunger, lack of will power to avoid empty calories, and an unexpected vessel change from box-to-cup, resulted in Russ eating 3 cups of popcorn. In the end, did the xPC matter? No. The quantifiable metric that mattered was the final PC count.

Simply put, an overabundance of numbers and data can occasionally serve as nothing more than unnecessary noise, especially if the numbers are the only thing being assessed independent of real-world human behavior.

Captain Clutch

After a Steven Stamkos shot squeaked through the pads of Carter Hart, the Flyers appeared to be on their way to a disappointing 3-2 regulation loss. That was until, however, Claude Giroux fired a shot into the net with just 8.1 seconds remaining:

Electric Overtime

The overtime period of an NHL game can go one of two ways. Teams who are content to take things to a shootout engage in a lengthy possession game where little effort is placed in scoring, rather running out the clock. Then there’s what happened between the Flyers and Lightning.

This is what 3-on-3 overtime periods should look like. Extend it to 10 minutes. Abolish the shootout.

Shootouts Are Bad

In what should not come as a surprise, the Flyers ultimately lost in a shootout.

The numbers are horrific. The team practices shootouts. The results have not changed, regardless of coaches and personnel. It’s inexplicable.

Hart = Good, Equipment = Bad

Carter Hart was once again on his game against Tampa Bay, going save-for-save with Vezina winner and two-time Stanley Cup champion Andrei Vasilevskiy. This was arguably his best save of the night:

Though this one wasn’t far off:

For as good of a night as Hart had, his equipment apparently did not. When asked about the Steven Stamkos goal that gave Tampa Bay a 3-2 lead, Hart claimed he’d suffered an “equipment malfunction”.

Look closely enough and you can see where the puck squeaked between Hart’s shin and toe.

Oskar Lindblom

In the buildup to Thursday night’s game, the team released a fantastic video about forward Oskar Lindblom’s battle against Ewing Sarcoma. It was expected that he would be involved in some of the goings-on on Hockey Fights Cancer Night, which happened pregame when he participated in the ceremonial puck drop:

And during a first period stoppage:

Lindblom hasn’t lit the lamp this season and has recorded just one assist thus far, however his game is far from poor. At some point he’ll break out of this funk. Physically he looks very close to what he was prior to his diagnosis. One has to think the game will start to  come to him again. When it does, he’ll start racking up points again.

Injury Update?

Once the puck dropped, all eyes were on head coach Alain Vigneault’s lines, as center Kevin Hayes was out of action. Unfortunately for the Flyers, Vigneault’s postgame comments appeared to indicate Hayes could be out for some time, stating that he would have a better idea as it relates to Hayes’ status in the next 48-72 hours. Pair this with Ryan Ellis being moved to LTIR and it’s safe to say that the Flyers will have to band together to remain afloat in a tough Metropolitan Division during arguably one of their toughest stretches of the season.

Powerless Play

The team’s alarming issues on the power play were a point of emphasis in the last game recap I wrote. Midway through the third period, the Flyers fell even further down the well of ineptitude with the man advantage:

Vigneault ducked out of his press conference with the excitement of a kid being told it was time for dessert on Thanksgiving. I asked Travis Konecny about the struggles with the man advantage after the game:

Not exactly the same, and  that was a result of chasing a point, as opposed to extending a lead or putting the game out of reach.

Moose

Though he didn’t factor into the contest, former Flyers goaltender Brian Elliott was back in town, receiving a warm reception during a first period stoppage in play:

He didn’t get a tribute video, nor should he have necessarily, but he was an absolute class act in his time as a Flyer. Win or lose, and there were plenty of stretches of losing in his time as a player in Philadelphia, Elliott was always willing to answer tough questions postgame and was an important vet on the team while he was here.

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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