FFR2 Gm 56: FLA 1, PHI 4 - "D"lightful
They'll meet again in Sunrise on Thursday, but we all know it's always sunny in Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia Flyers WIN the front half of a critical back-to-back, 4-1, over the Florida Panthers, creating a five-point gap between the two teams in the standings and vaulting back into a playoff spot.
Overall, this game was the typical 2019-20 Flyers experience. A slow start to the game that the Flyers managed to avoid being buried by, some big saves by Carter Hart, a toothless power play but a potent penalty kill, and timely offensive contributions from up and down the lineup, especially from the backend, that all added up to an important victory.
Oh, you didn't know Carter Hart is back? For the first time since January 13, Starter Hart returned to the pipes for the Flyers after battling through an abdominal injury. The rust was definitely real early - Hart struggled with his rebound control and wasn't his smooth, technical self in the 1st period. It didn't help that the first Florida shot was a rocket from MacKenzie Weegar that found the back of the net, putting the Flyers in an early hole.
But the first time the Flyers and Panthers played, it was Philly that took the early lead on the road, only for the Panthers to take control of the game soon after. The Flyers would heed their example, tying the game later in the period. Anton Stralman broke his stick blocking a shot, leading to a scramble situation for Florida in their own zone. Ivan Provorov proved calm in the chaos, dragging and delivering a perfectly placed wrister that beat our old friend Sergei Bobrovsky high glove.
After losing the shot attempts battle heavily in the first period (35.9% 5-on-5 Score/Venue Adjusted Corsi - aka shot differential % with a slight bonus to the road/leading teams, who are less likely to be driving play), the Flyers would drive the majority of play the rest of the game. Hart settled in just in time, as the Panthers tested him on several quality chances the rest of the way. But Hart was rock solid, stopping multiple two-on-ones and partial-breakaways, saving each of the last thirty shots he faced.
In between all of those big saves, the Flyers made sure to give their netminder some goal support in the second. Jake Voracek found himself in the right place at the right time when he hopped over the bench and found the puck right at his feet. Jake tipped the puck past an overly aggressive Aaron Ekblad, creating a 2-on-1, where Voracek shot the-ah who am I kidding, it's Jake, OF COURSE he passed... right on to the tape of JVR for a goal, nice call, Jake! James van Riemsdyk buried the goal, his second in as many games, and the Flyers went on top, 2-1.
With Florida starting to push towards the end of the second, the Flyers would deliver a brutal blow to their comeback chances in the final sixty seconds. A little bit of puck luck, hard work, and good positioning lead to Travis Sanheim's eighth goal of the season, a backhander out of a netmouth scramble started by a Scott Laughton centering pass. JVR jabbed the rebound on goal, Bobrovsky couldn't squeeze it, so Sanheim scored it, doubling up the Flyers lead.
All of Florida's pushback in the third period was mitigated by Carter Hart. The Flyers power play still gave up some of the better chances the Panthers had, but they did look much better, as moving Claude Giroux back to the left has the Flyers power play looking their best since last season (you know, the last time Claude Giroux was on the left). The penalty kill remained great, but the Flyers found themselves on it more than they should have thanks to some questionable calls (being pushed into the opposing goalie is apparently a penalty now, in case you were wondering).
Even a penalty kill as good as the Flyers can't hold out forever. And so with less than two minutes to go, Hart fought off a Keith Yandle point shot, only for the puck to kick to Jonathan Huberdeau with a wide-open net. And so the Panthers all-time leading scorer did what any Panther of the last two decades would do in this scenario:
A. Tuck the puck into the empty net and start a furious comeback.
B. Selflessly pass it to an open teammate and let them take the glory.
C. Hit the post with your stick, flub the shot, and watch the opposing team bury a 180-foot goal into your empty net.
I'll take "Not Top 10" for $600, Alex. Huberdeau not only failed to score but put the puck right into Claude Giroux's feet, and G lobbed a backhander that skipped into the empty net to seal the deal shorthanded. Giroux finished the job with just 69 seconds to play, and when the final horn sounded, the Flyers had pushed into a wild-card spot with 69 points in the standings. Nice!
With how competitive the Metro is and where the Flyers are in the standings, every game is a big game. That being said, the Flyers began arguably their biggest stretch of the season Monday with five of six games against teams they are directly competing with for the final playoff spots in the East. They will be in Brooklyn against the Isles tomorrow, face the Panthers on the road on Thursday, then play a home-and-home next Tuesday and Thursday against Columbus. Oh, and they also face arguably the best team in the league, Tampa Bay, on the road Saturday.
But you didn't need me to tell you how big these games are. And the Flyers sure didn't either. Their start could have been better, but that's hardly a revelation. This team is finding a way to win more often than not, and they can beat teams in a variety of ways. As they start to get healthier down the stretch, with young players gaining more experience and confidence and the vets continuing to build chemistry, the Flyers should only be getting stronger. There's still a long way to go, but for now, the beat goes on as the Flyers keep beating the teams that stand in their way of success.
For the first time all season, the Flyers (31 wins, 25 losses - 7 in OT/SO) have six more wins than losses! 19 of those wins have come on home ice, tied with Boston and Pittsburgh for the most in the NHL. For reference, the Flyers had 19 home wins ALL of last season.
The emphasis on this piece was the Flyers defense, and for good reason. Per The Athletic's Charlie O'Connor, only the Bruins have averaged fewer expected goals allowed per game than the Flyers since January 16th. Additionally, Ivan Provorov and Matt Niskanen (who both played 80+ games last season) have both already topped their 18-19 point totals.
Per Jordan Hall, the Flyers lead the NHL in goals (40) since January 13th. No surprise that they have the fourth best record in the NHL (8-2-1) in that span.
For whatever reason, Travis Sanheim just loves facing Sergei Bobrovsky. Six of Sanheim's nineteen career goals have come against the former Flyer, with Sanny lighting the lamp in both games against the Panthers this season.
Per Adam Kimelman of NHL.com, Ivan Provorov's goal was his 40th in the NHL, tying Kim Johnsson for the 8th most by a Flyers defenseman. The Inquirer's Sam Carchidi noted it broke an 18-game goal-less drought for Provy.
The Flyers remain undefeated when leading after 40 minutes, sporting a 21-0-2 record. Meanwhile, Florida suffered just their third regulation loss when scoring first; they are 24-3-2 when lighting the lamp first (per Carchidi).
Joel Farabee appears to finally be getting over his illness, which is good news for the Flyers. The 19-year old actually lost 10 pounds over the last week, but said that was "mostly water weight" and that he's already put 5 of those pounds back on. It remains to be seen if he'll be ready for tomorrow's game.
If Farabee is ready, who do you take out? The Flyers fourth line has been absolutely dynamite each of the last two games. They scored twice on Saturday and caved the Panthers in Monday, posting a gaudy 86.67% Corsi and 81.75% Expected Goals For at 5-on-5, the best figures of any Flyers forward line.
Speaking of injuries, Shayne Gostisbehere may need some more time before he's 100%. AV said in hindsight, it would have been a good idea to give Ghost a rehab game with the Phantoms (which the Flyers can still do if Gostisbehere agrees to it).
I didn't forget about the POG Helmet Standings, but the Flyers didn't tweet out anything about it. Hopefully we'll get some clarity Tuesday. Likely candidates include Hart, Sanheim, and TK, who blocked five shots in a gutsy effort.
Finally, check out Carter Hart's sweet new mask, which pays tribute to former Flyers goalie Ray Emery (including recalling his legendary fight with Caps goalie Braden Holtby) and salutes Oskar Lindblom (pictures from NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jordan Hall).
1st - James van Riemsdyk (PHI) - Goal (16), Assist (17)
2nd - Carter Hart (PHI) - .968 SV% (30/31), 1 GA on 2.6 xGA
3rd - Travis Sanheim (PHI) - Goal (8)
FLA - 2/11 @ NJ (20-24-10, W2)
PHI - 2/11 @ NYI (32-16-6, W1)
*Advanced Stats from Naturalstattrick.com