FFR2 Gm 51: PHI 3, PIT 4 (OT) - Rusty
You know it's going to be a deep article when the first letter's font size is three times bigger than the rest of them.
The Philadelphia Flyers lose, 4-3, in OT, in their first game back from the All Star break/bye week extravaganza, to the Pittsburgh Penguins. In a rare twist, this game played out about how I was expecting it.
Neither team looked great in the 1st period. There were just five shots on goal COMBINED between the two clubs - only the last one went in, as Jake Voracek slammed the puck on the PP in a net-front scramble. The Penguins dominated most of the second, scoring three consecutive goals to take the lead. The Flyers responded however, with depth goals from Pitlick and Laughton late in the 2nd and early in the 3rd, respectively, tying the game. Philly was dominant in the final frame, outshooting Pittsburgh 14-3, but couldn't solve Jarry, and Sidney Crosby buried a snipe in OT past an inconsistent Brian Elliott to end the game in the home team's favor.
I could just end the recap portion of the article here, but there's no fun in that. This game fit under a select category of games that I've been mentally noting for a while now. At this point, there's just too many, not necessarily this year but over the last few years, for me not to release this theory. I'm not the biggest psychology person out there by far, but I, and from what I read and hear, most of the fanbase, have been grappling with these types of game. It's time to give them a name, and I couldn't think of a better one if I tried.
This is the Hakstolian Conundrum.
I don't know much more about physics than I do about psychology, but I do know that whenever two objects interact, both exert a force on each other in the opposite direction. The Hakstolian Conundrum is based off this, but from an emotional standpoint instead. It all comes down to good and bad, positive and negative, happy and sad. The Flyers often make their fans feel both during their games, which isn't unique except for perhaps how often they tip the scales. The question that the Hakstolian Conundrum attempts to answer, not just for this game, but in general, which do the Flyers, or any team, deserve more of - credit for their triumphing in the face of adversity, or blame for even having to deal with adversity in the first place?
You can probably already figure out why this game is such a perfect one to analyze under this lens. After a fairly even first period, the Penguins ran the show during the middle period. It's not that they just outscored the Flyers 3-1 either; they were legitimately the better team, scoring on both of their power play attempts (the Flyers went 0-2 in the 2nd), and produced 58.3% of the expected goals at 5-on-5. Yes, there were some lucky bounces and a goal or two Brian Elliott would like back, but it felt like a case of the Penguins making their own luck.
But then the Flyers came out guns blazing in the third. You can cite score effects for the red-hot start, and the Flyers stole the Penguins "make your own luck" strategy to a tee on the Laughton goal. That doesn't explain why the final 17:40 were just as much tilted in the Flyers favor as the 2:20 prior to the tying goal. The Flyers had a whopping 83.33% Corsi at 5-on-5, and a somehow even more impressive 96.28% of the expected goals for. You could make the argument it was the Flyers best period of the season. And yet, they couldn't solve Tristan Jarry, and had to play another period where one mistake can cost you. The Flyers made one mistake. Spoiler alert! It cost them.
So when thinking about this game, where do you even start? It's great that the Flyers were amazing in the 3rd period, but it's also frustrating they couldn't finish on Tristan Jarry, even if he is playing like an All Star this season. Of course, one 3rd period goal would have been enough if the Flyers hadn't been so terrible. But it would have been worse if they had laid down and let the bad breaks snowball like they have so often on the road this season. The Penguins are a good team, yes, but the Flyers just shut them down in their last game. And now they've got to play the second half of a back-to-back against a good Colorado team with their 3rd string goalie in net. Could be better. But it also could be worse!
A lot of fans tend to sway towards whatever direction the scoreboard points, but there are also plenty like myself who want to dig a little deeper. Unfortunately, there's (probably) no way to create a mathematical formula that tells fans how they should be feeling after every close game; if I every figure one out, you can find it on here as the last thing I ever write before I cash out big time (did you know L'Hopital is French for billionaire?), but that day isn't coming any time soon.
Ultimately, the answer to the Hakstolian Conundrum varies game-by-game and fan-by-fan. But here's the best answer I can come up with. The second the game ends, try to capture what you are thinking. There's the "hell yes!," the facepalm, the sigh of relief, the biting of the lip, the frustrating sigh, and so many others. Whatever side that instant reaction is leaning toward is probably the most accurate pulse of the game.
Dealing with the Hakstolian Conundrum every couple of games is fine. What isn't is when they manifest into month long stretches. That's why I named this idea after Dave Hakstol (the Flyers head coach from 2015-2018, in case you've successfully blacked that out of your memory). Hak's teams were known for their roller coaster like stretches - in fact, it's nearly the two-year anniversary of one of his brightest stretches, which is another reason why now seemed like the time to analyze this idea.
But when you really dig into those slumps and surges, you'll find out the Flyers often didn't play significantly better or worse in one or the other. It was the Hakstolian Conundrum at its largest scale. One moment, everyone would be call for his head because the roster was being mismanaged and the team appeared to be in shambles. The next, the Flyers "actually good all along" play was finally rewarded, and the adversity had been put in the rearview mirror...until it inevitably crept back to the forefront. Every single time.
The goal for the Flyers this season is not, and never was, to win the Stanley Cup. Oh, they'll tell you it was - what are else are they going to do, say they're content with coming up short? Everyone in the organization wants to win, but recognizes that leaping over the hurdles in their way takes time. Whereas under Hakstolian Conundrum, good and bad seemed to mush together until they became the same thing, this year's Flyers feel different, and in a good way. Will it amount to hockey in late April, or May, or even June? Who knows. But it IS the start to a better future.
Here are injury updates for the Flyers. Shayne Gostisbehere made the trip to Pittsburgh but did not play. Ghost said he could play if the Flyers need him to Saturday, but feels it's best he waits a few extra days until he's 100%. Carter Hart is also progressing, but it was announced Thursday he would not play for at least another week.
As for roster moves, Connor Bunnaman, Alex Lyon, and German Rubtsov were sent down after last Tuesday's game to play for the Phantoms. Only the first two were re-called for Friday, with Michael Raffl returning from an upper-body injury.
Scott Laughton was drafted in PPG Paints Arena (then called Consol Energy Center) back in 2012, but this was the first time he scored in a goal in the building. It's actually his first regular season goal against the Pens, though he does have one in the playoffs against them.
After being shutout for the first two games of the season series, both power plays capitalized on their first attempt. The Flyers PP still didn't look great, and the PK was unusually sharp, but we'll chalk that up to the long rest, for now.
Per The Athletic's Alex Appleyard, Jake Voracek has now tied Brayden Schenn for the 19th most power play goals in franchise (45), passing Gary Dornhoeffer. It also keeps Voracek at a career point-per-game pace against the Penguins (43 points in 43 games).
Joel Farabee played his 45th game of the season tonight - 41 in the NHL, 5 in the AHL, which is more than he played all of last year (37 in the NCAA, 7 in World Juniors), according to @futureofphilly. By playing in his 40th game before the break, Farabee burns a year of RFA status - he'll now be an unrestricted free agent in 2025, rather than 2026.
Speaking of the kids, I almost considered moving Wade Allison down in the prospect pyramid due to his injury history and a little bit of uncertainty. I'm happy I didn't, because the ginger winger scored twice last nice for Western Michigan, extending his goal streak to 5.
Even with the defeat, the Flyers still hold a .733 points percentage against the Metro (entering the night it was .750, the highest in the NHL). It's always important to take care of business against teams you're fighting with, and the Flyers have done that this season. Right now, they're tied with Carolina and Toronto for the final spot, one point behind Columbus. The Flyers combined record against those three teams? 7-0-1.
We might hate Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and the rest of the Penguins on the ice, but you have to respect them for their support of Oskar Lindblom. Some things are just bigger than hockey. All love to the Penguins, just this once, for this great gesture.
1st - Sidney Crosby (PIT) - OT Winner (9), 2 Assists (18, 19)
2nd - Evgeni Malkin (PIT) - Goal (16), 2 Assists (36, 37)
3rd - Jakub Voracek (PHI) - PP Goal (11)
PHI - 2/1 vs. COL (28-15-6, W3)
PIT - 2/2 @ WSH (35-12-5, W1)
*Advanced Stats from Naturalstattrick.com
*Thumbnail Photo by Keith Srakocic (AP)