FFR2 Gm 29: ARI 3, PHI 1 - Kursed
The Philadelphia Flyers 5-game win streak comes to an end at the hands of the Arizona Coyotes, who handed the Flyers just their second regulation loss at home all season, 3-1 on Thursday night. In fact, it's the Flyers first regulation loss period since November 19th.
This one especially stings because it's not a game the Flyers deserved to lose. They were clearly the better team in this game overall, posting a stellar 60.98% of the 5-on-5 shot attempts, and generated more expected goals than the Coyotes overall (2.27-2.13).
Tonight, as they have so many times in the past half decade, they just ran into a hot goalie. Darcy Kuemper is one of the most underrated goalies in the NHL, going from a decent backup with Minnesota (and briefly LA) to one of the best starters in the league in the blink of an eye. His .937 save percentage leads all goalies with at least 15 games played.
But the Coyotes 2nd best in the league 2.31 goals against per game goes beyond Kuemper (and Antti Raanta's) stellar play. Rick Tochett has built the Coyotes into a combination of the mid-90's Devils and the 02-03 Minnesota Wild. They simply do not give up the middle of the ice easily, and their penalty kill is a solid 81.4%. Sure, they're offensively challenged; no one on the team has more than 20 points. But when you're that sharp defensively, you can get away with that.
Case in point, this game. Claude Giroux takes an early penalty, and Phil Kessel cashes in the back-half of a give-and-go with Clayton Keller just 2:25 in. It was just Kessel's 2nd goal in his last 17 games, and of course it came against the Flyers, because these are still the Flyers, the team cursed to give up slump busting goals and lose to backup goalies. Conor Garland scored a bit of a fluky goal on a rebound with 7:03 remaining in the 3rd. Between that? Not much! The Coyotes kept this game very low event, tight checking, and when things got dicey, they relied on Kuemper to bail them out, which he did repeatedly.
The Flyers played well in this game, but they just couldn't finish. They did get a little bit pass happy at times, but this wasn't a bad game by any stretch. The only area they'll look back on with regret is their power play, which had three chances and generated just one high-danger chance. It's been one of their few true weaknesses lately, and in a game where offense came at a premium, they really needed more out of both units.
At least the Flyers didn't die quietly. Alain Vigneault made a bold decision to pull Brian Elliott with about 5 minutes remaining, a decision that stats actually back up but most coaches wouldn't dare to do. His decision was rewarded with a goal from Matt Niskanen, a point shot that glanced off Garland's skate on its way to the net. However, a bad penalty (and a bit of a bad call) on Kevin Hayes was the final nail in the coffin. The Flyers did get Elliott to the bench for some late 5-on-5, but the Coyotes prevented them from scoring, and Kessel found the empty net with 1:02 left.
The Flyers shouldn't get themselves down about this loss. It's a long season - there are always going to be games where you outplay the opponent and lose, just like there will always be games where you get outplayed and still win. Their process was sound, and that's what matters most. They've got a chance to make this a good homestand with a win over Ottawa, one of the worst teams in the NHL on paper and losers of five of their last six.
Of course, the Sens actually beat the Flyers in their first meeting of the season, but that should only make this game matter more. The Flyers overlooked the Senators last time, and goalie Anders Nilsson made them pay a steep price. Saturday will be a chance to take care of business, a chance to continue their strong play, and most importantly, a chance to get revenge for not just themselves, but their anxious fanbase as well.
Mikhail Vorobyev was recalled on Wednesday after the Flyers put Michael Raffl on Long-Term Injured Reserve (LTIR), temporarily saving them $1.6 million in cap space. However, Vorobyev, who has failed to stick in each of his first six NHL stints, didn't play against Arizona, with AV opting to dress all seven defensemen as the Flyers continue to try and nail down their third pair.
The two power plays of these teams are trending in opposite directions. Arizona's is red hot, scoring in 8 of their last 20 contests. On the other hand, the Flyers have only tallied in 3 of their last 24 tries and are under 14% on the man advantage since November 1.
While the Flyers have been one of the best teams in the NHL at home this season, Arizona's 10-3-3 road record is tied for second best in the NHL, trailing only Washington (13-2-1).
Per Adam Kimmelman, this is the first time Claude Giroux took two minor penalties in the 1st period of a game since October 21, 2015 at Boston.
Even though the Flyers are tied for 2nd in the NHL with 37 third period goals, they are just 1-8-2 when trailing after two periods (that one win was on October 27th against Columbus).
Travis Sanheim hasn't put up a ton of points this season, but he stood out in a positive way Thursday. He wasn't afraid to jump in the play, not just on the rush, but crashing the crease on multiple occasions. He had a great chance to tie the game in the final 90 seconds, but his wrist shot was blocked by a well-positioned Jacob Chychrun.
Jake Voracek was at peak performance against the Coyotes as well, looking dynamic with the puck and setting up several scoring chances. He was around 70% in both Corsi and Expected Goals For% at 5-on-5.
1st - Darcy Kuemper (ARI) - .966 SV% (28/29), 1 GA on 2.27 xGA
2nd - Conor Garland (ARI) - Goal, 80.95% Corsi, 81% xGF
3rd - Sean Couturier (PHI) - Assist, 69.57% Corsi, 69.87% xGF
ARI - 12/6 @ PIT (15-9-4, W1)
PHI - 12/7 vs. OTT (12-16-1, W1)