Not as Bad as It Looked: Thoughts on the Flyers’ Loss to the Oilers

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In the moment, it looked bad.

Here were the Flyers, wrapping up their fifth game of the season by getting their doors blown off by the Edmonton Oilers.

Carter Hart, the supposed savior at just 21 years old, had a bad night in net in front of tons of friends and family in his hometown.

Brian Elliott relieved him and promptly gave up one goal, and then another. The Flyers trailed by five goals until two late tallies in garbage time made the final score a more respectable 6-3 loss to the red hot Oilers.

Here were the Flyers, coming off two really dominant wins to start the season, losing their third straight game, and finally coming home from their whirlwind adventure that, if you include the end of the preseason, took them from Philly to Boston, to New York, to Lausanne, Switzerland, to Prague, back to Philly, to Vancouver, to Calgary and finally to Edmonton in a span of 24 days.

An optimist looks at their 2-2-1 record and says, “Hey, not bad considering the crazy travel.” A pessimist says, “Inconsistency on the Flyers? Why am I not surprised.”

I was more in the pessimist camp watching the game against Edmonton. I mean, Connor McDavid is the best player in the league and all, but did they really need to allow him to have a five-point night?

And how do you get behind by five goals one night after sleepwalking through an entire game in Calgary?

It was typical Flyers frustration for sure.

But then I woke up at the crack of dawn, sucked down a cup of joe, and after reviewing my notes, came to the realization that this wasn’t all that bad after all.

Now, I’m not going to sugar coat it. A loss is a loss. You can throw all kinds of crazy stats out there in an effort to justify an outcome, and the analytics sect will tell you that the Flyers had a great Corsi against Edmonton, and that their expected goals was over seven while Edmonton’s was less than two – which is supposed to measure luck.

All that crap is irrelevant. The Flyers lost. They left two points on the board. Who cares what the math says after the fact.

And yet, it’s not as bad as it seems.

1. Forechecking like the devil

The Flyers’ forecheck was awesome the first two games of the season. Frankly, it’s why they won those games. They were able to consistently force turnovers, pressure the puck and take away time and space and do so with regularity and with speed.

It was pretty textbook.

That started to get away from them in the Vancouver game because the Canucks are an inherently quick team. It was completely gone in Calgary where the Flyers simply didn’t show up.

But it was back in a big way against Edmonton. The Flyers were swarming Edmonton for most of the game. The Flyers were the better team in the first period, despite trailing by a goal at the end of it. They had a brief collapse in the second period, which Edmonton took full advantage of, but even still, it wasn’t a terrible period for the Flyers, and then in the third period they were all over the Oilers, who admittedly were sitting back protecting their well-cushioned lead. Still, the Flyers posted 25 shots on goal in the third period, just the fourth time they’ve ever done that and tied for the second most shots in a period by any Flyers team, ever.

I mentioned the forecheck being a key part of the Flyers success this season following the opening win over Chicago in Prague, and I will reiterate it again now.

If the Flyers forwards are able to play at this level most nights, buzzing around the zones, hunting pucks and winning 50/50 battles, they will win most nights. Plain and simple.

The Edmonton game came down to a few individual mistakes that hurt the Flyers, but as far as they way the team played, it was a complete 180 from Calgary the night before, and looked a lot more like the opening two games of the season than it did the previous two in Western Canada.

The Flyers might not have been able to stop the losing streak, but they definitely took a step back in the right direction with this forecheck.

2. The Power Play

2a. Jake the Snake

These two go hand-in-hand for this game.

First, I want to talk about the power play. There seems to be a growing narrative that the Flyers are taking a bad approach with the power play by switching Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek onto their stronger-hand sides of the ice rather than on their off-wing.

The notion is that by doing this, the Flyers are limiting the creativity of their two most skilled passers by taking away some options.

But, what if the design is not to have them pass the puck more, but to shoot it more? And by shooting it more, it forces the opposing penalty kill to collapse a little more and create more space for big shots to come toward the net from the outside?

And that’s exactly what is happening.

Through five games, the Flyers power play is a lethal 6-for-20, (30 percent) which currently ranks sixth-best in the NHL.

Now, granted, three of those six goals have come from the surprising second power play unit, and coach Alain Vigneault and his power play assistant Michel Therrien did change the personnel on the top unit entering the Edmonton game because they weren’t getting as much as they wanted from the group that was out there through the first four games. But the one thing that didn’t change was where Giroux and Voracek are positioned on the ice.

The Flyers first goal against Edmonton came on the power play and look at who made it happen and how:

Yeah, that’s Giroux firing from the right dot. He keeps the shot low and the rebound comes out to Voracek on his forehand in scoring position and he’s able to fire it into the net before Edmonton goalie Mikko Koskinen could react.

Now, let’s say the roles are reversed.

If Voracek takes a shot from the right dot as a lefty, the shot probably doesn’t carom to that open spot of the ice. The puck would have a little different spin on it and a rebound would likely be more to the center of the ice than low in the left circle. As such, It’s likely more in front of Koskinen that far to his right.

But, just for giggles, let’s say it does take that path into the left circle. If Giroux is there, the puck is now on his backhand and he likely would need to alter his positioning to get a rebound shot on net and by the time he does, Koskinen has time to get into position.

In other words, this goal was far more likely this season, with Voracek and Giroux positioned where they are, then it would have been a season ago before they traded places.

Now, to be fair, Voracek’s second power play goal did come from the right wing as he fired a laser top shelf from the right circle, but that came off a faceoff win, and not a set play with the unit set up in the zone.

Ultimately, the power play finding success, like it has early this season, is a positive. It allows the Flyers to throw a variety of looks at teams in-game. We know Giroux can operate on either half wall. Ditto Voracek.

The coaches replaced Kevin Hayes and James van Riemsdyk on the top unit with Travis Konecny and Sean Couturier against Edmonton. Couturier is great at hunting down loose pucks, and he set up the first goal with the pass to Giroux from behind the net.And although Konecny doesn’t have the physical size of either van Riemsdyk or Hayes, he’s willing to get to the net and make something happen.

That’s not to say Hayes and van Riemsdyk are banished forever to the second unit, but it does show you that the Flyers have a plethora of combinations and systems that they can utilize on the power play, which is hard for teams to prepare for and subsequently makes them harder to defend. I’ll go out on a limb and say this power play will be a strength of this team going forward.

3. Just keep shooting

There’s no doubt that shooting the puck is the best way to eventually score goals. Well, the Flyers have that one figured out this season.

Take away the Calgary anomaly, and the Flyers are peppering the net. They had 52 shots on goal against Edmonton. Van Riemsdyk led the way with nine. He has 15 shots on goal in his last two games – and hasn’t scored. It’s only a matter of time though when you shoot this much.

Shayne Gostisbehere had six shots on goal. That’s a good thing. He needs to keep shooting. The problem with Ghost is, he needs to get more shots on net or to the traffic in front of the net. Far too often he is missing the net entirely. He officially had three shots that missed the net entirely (I counted four, but whatever) and he had three more that were blocked. That’s a 50 percent on net rate. That needs to be better.

Still, the more you shoot, the more you’ll score. It’ll all even out. Koskinen had a really good game for the Oilers. Sometimes you tip your cap in that regard. Things would have been different if he let one or two more get past him or….

4. If Carter Hart had a Better Game… 

Yeah, this one won’t be all that memorable for Hart. The kid had been great through his first three starts, stopping 75 of the 80 shots he faced and earning his first NHL shutout.

But then came his forgetful homecoming.

Playing in front of a lot of family and friends since he was from an Edmonton suburb, Hart looked shaky and was yanked in the second period after allowing four goals on just 14 shots.

It started with this:

Yeah, that’s Oskar Lindblom with an uncharacteristically bad turnover. (Notice how the defenseman pinches to pressure him though. Calgary did a lot of that to the Flyers too. It’s likely something teams are seeing on film. Let’s see if that continues with Dallas on Saturday).

However, this isn’t an unstoppable shot. It’s not a bad goal, per se, but one where you hope your goalie can bail his teammate out, and Hart didn’t.

Speaking of goals you wish your goalie could have helped the team on:

Again, there’s other issues on this goal. Ivan Provorov gets caught in no man’s land and there’s not a forward coming back hard to take away Ethan Bear from getting into that soft spot in the Flyers defense.

But the shot is another that wasn’t unstoppable. Yeah, it might have ticked off of Provorov’s glove on the way to the net, but it was still one where you go, “Damn, wish Carter would have had that one.”

Then came this:

Now, Justin Braun needs to be aware who the hell is breathing down his neck. Against most players in the league, Braun can get away with playing this the way he played it. But this is Connor Freaking McDavid. That puck needs to go the corner. Period.

But it wasn’t played that way.

Still, Hart made a bad decision here too.

If he stands square to the shooter rather than try and poke check the puck, it’s likely a save. Instead, his gamble costs the Flyers a goal. Again, probably something you can do against most other players. Just not Connor McDavid (who has 17 points in seven games now. That’s sick.)

And finally, for Hart, this was the back breaker:

There’s not much Hart could have done here. This was a power play for the Oilers, and the Flyers penalty kill got a bit scrambly. The only criticism, and it’s not a major one, is that with Niskanen going down to block the shot, you have to assume Nugent-Hopkins is going to elevate the puck, so maybe be a little more patient before dropping to your knees, but really, this one isn’t on Hart.

Vigneault pulled the goalie after that and Brian Elliot came in relief allowing two more goals. One to Leon Draisaitl, who is a stud, and one to Brandon Manning (Yes, that Brandon Manning) who isn’t.

That pretty much was how it crumbled for the Flyers.

They now come home, but not necessarily licking their wounds. Play like this Saturday against a surprisingly struggling Dallas team, and you probably win the game.

That’s not optimism. That’s just being practical.


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