FFR2 Gm 49: LA 1, PHI 4 - Eye of the Flyer
Never gonna give you up as long as you wanna score on somebody!
The Philadelphia Flyers throw back the clocks to the 80s and throw down the Los Angeles Kings by a 4-1 final tally in their penultimate game before the All Star Break. Just 48 hours after losing 4-1 to the flailing Canadiens, the Flyers were able to flip the script and send almost the same exact loss the LA Kings way.
This was a game the Flyers absolutely had to win. The playoff race in the Eastern Conference is tighter than rush hour traffic on I-95, with the Flyers currently just two points behind the Islanders for third in the Metro (the Isles do have 2 games in hand) and 1 point ahead of Toronto, who ranks 10th in the conference. There are six teams right on the cusp of four playoff spots (the third spot in each division plus the two Wild Cards), and with the parity that the NHL was become known for, it will likely be an intense, nail-biting fight to the finish line.
So if you are a team in that position, whenever you have an "easy" opportunity to get two points, you really need to take advantage. It's impossible to win all of those games, of course. But after losing to the struggling Montreal Canadiens Thursday night, the Flyers really couldn't afford a second straight loss to a team more than half a dozen points out of a playoff spot, let alone the worst team in the Western Conference, which LA is.
Of course, that was all true the last time the teams played, when the Kings thumped the Flyers on New Year's Eve to the tune of a 4-0 lead after 20 minutes and a 5-3 victory that wasn't nearly as close as the scoreboard suggested. However, after a concerning first five minutes, the Flyers settled down. Analytically, they weren't great, with a 46.15% Corsi at 5-on-5 through forty minutes. But Brian Elliott was great between the pipes, and the Flyers capitalized on the chances they did generate. Even though the Flyers bent heavily early in the 3rd, when the Kings would score their only goal, they took advantage of a timely power-play chance to prevent the Kings from ever making the fans seriously break a sweat.
Just like he has all season, no Flyer was better at finishing on said chances than Travis Konecny. The 22-year old sniper was named an All-Star for a reason (no, not for his chirps, although those are ASG worthy, too), and he showed why Saturday night. Konecny would finish with precision on a great chance set up by JVR less than 4 minutes, rocketing a one-timer through Jack Campbell's legs. With almost the exact same time (just four seconds fewer) elapsed in the 2nd period, TK again beat Campbell with a perfectly placed shot, burying another feed from van Riemsdyk.
While the Flyers main theme for even strength offense was "get the puck to number 11," their power play had a clear cut objective as well - get to the net. The Flyers power play, usually a source of bother this season, cashed in on both opportunities LA gave them tonight. Joel Farabee and JVR deflected in slap-shots from Niskanen and Giroux, respectively. Both goals gave the Flyers a 3-goal lead at the time they were scored, as a Dustin Brown power-move sandwiched in between them would be the only blemish on the Flyers night.
That's because every other time the Kings were able to generate a chance, Brian Elliott had the answer. Playing in two games out of three for the first time since Dec. 29-31, Moose brought his A game Saturday, allowing just one goal on 2.26 expected goals at all situations by Los Angeles. The Flyers defense helped out with some key blocks, including a great play by Matt Niskanen to swoop away a rolling puck that seemed destined for a wide-open net, but Elliott was a huge reason for the Flyers victory.
And so the Flyers seesaw back to the right side of the playoff bubble and to the side where their full potential lies, far away from the laughingstock side they tilted to the first time they played LA. Odds are, there will be plenty of flip-flopping between both sides, for the Flyers remain a decent but inconsistent team, a fact that no one win or loss can change. Alain Vigneault and his club need to take advantage of their stays on the bright side of that preverbal seesaw and bounce back quickly whenever they drift astray on the weak side if the Flyers are going to have any chance of doing what these Kings did in 2012 and 2014.
The biggest lineup change AV made for this game was shifting Claude Giroux back to center, in between JVR and TK. G has been much better on the wing than down the middle the last two seasons, but with his offense leaving something to be desired even on the wing, I actually liked the move to the middle (though I wouldn't recommend keeping it long-term). This new line led the Flyers in Expected Goals For% at 5-on-5 (51.16%), and only the Raffl-Couturier-Voracek line generated a higher 5-on-5 Corsi.
As expected, Justin Braun returned to the Flyers lineup from his groin injury Saturday night. Mark Friemdan was sent down to the Phantoms as a result.
Some bad news for the Flyers in this game - two shifts after taking a big hit from Dustin Brown with 11:13 left in the 3rd, Michael Raffl left the bench and did not return. AV did not go into specifics, citing it as an "upper-body injury."
Good to see number 49 scoring in game number 49. After scoring two goals on a tended net in two months, Farabee has just that many in the last two games. His tally Saturday was also the first power play goal of his career.
Travis Konecny has been a beast when it comes to scoring in all situations, but he's been especially great at setting the tone for the Flyers. Seven of his seventeen goals have been the first of the game for Philadelphia.
Saturday was also TK's seventh career two-goal game, his first since the October 4th season opener in Prague against the Blackhawks.
Somehow, Dustin Brown's tally tonight was first his first ever in 21 games against the Flyers (and his first in 18 games overall against Brian Elliott). Brown has now scored a goal against every team in the NHL (except for the Kings, who he's played his entire career with).
James van Riemsdyk's goal was a long time coming. Despite leading all Flyers in Expected Goals For% at over 55%, and posting a strong 52.50% Corsi (5th among forwards), JVR's tally Saturday was his first in 12 games. He's such a key cog in the Flyers offense - when he scores a point, the Flyers are 15-3-0 (per Jordan Hall).
Speaking of JVR - POG Helmet Standings Update!
Moose, Raff, Da Snake, Gobs (JVR) - 3
Steady Eddie, Tiki Bar (TK's nickname, per Hayes), Coots - 2
Starter, #OskarStrong, Phil, Snowman, Pitsy, Laughts, Timon, Hayeser - 1
Shoutout to the LA Kings for being the latest team to show support to Oskar Lindblom.
3 Stars (Analytics are 5-on-5)
1st - James van Riemsdyk (PHI) - Goal (13), 52% Corsi, 52.18% xGF
2nd - Travis Konecny (PHI) - 2 Goals (16, 17), Positive Corsi & xGF Rel
3rd - Dustin Brown (LA) - Goal (10), 51.85% Corsi
LA - 1/29 vs. TB (29-15-4, W1)
PHI - 1/21 vs. PIT (30-13-5, W1)
*Advanced Stats from Naturalstattrick.com