FFR2 Gm 58: PHI 6, FLA 2 - Pitlick Party
They took my advice, huh?
The Philadelphia Flyers WIN, 6-2, over the Florida Panthers, following their most heartbreaking loss of the season with a heart soothing opening 40 minutes and two points in the standings despite a mostly petrifying third period.
All season long, the Flyers have done a much better job of handling adversity. Under Dave Hakstol, the Flyers were either one extreme or the other - they'd let their adversity build up to peak potential, then burst through it with a massive winning streak, only to regress once that high subsided. Alain Vigneault has done a better job of keeping the Flyers grounded. He and his players had me about as confident about this game as you can be coming off a last-minute loss.
First periods have been a major problem for the Flyers all season. Philadelphia has given up 43 first period goals, nine more than New Jersey, who's allowed the second most. After finding themselves down 3-0 less than 15 minutes into Tuesday's contest, AV had his boys ready from puck drop. The Flyers earned an early power play, moved the puck around pretty well (and gave up a A+ chance, as is par for the course). But the good outweighed the bad, and just after it expired, JVR chipped in a Matt Niskanen rebound to start the scoring.
That early goal developed into strong play the rest of the period (53.85% Corsi, 1.04-0.59 Expected Goals For edge at 5-on-5), culminated by a late surge of lamp lightning. Tyler Pitlick turned into Pavel Bure with an absolute dart over Bob's shoulder. The former Flyer net-minder would allow another tally 55 seconds later, surrendering a juicy rebound into the slot that was banged home by Nicolas Aube-Kubel. It would eventually become the game-winning goal, but in the moment, it boosted the Flyers confidence and boosted their lead to three-zip.
It was inevitable that the Panthers would push back at some point. Florida defenseman MacKenzie Weegar said the Panthers "would take back the two points (the Flyers) took from us" on Monday night; you can't talk that much smack and then not back it up at all. However, that resistance never showed up in the second period. Bobrovsky was pulled at intermission, but that failed to ignite a spark in the home team. The Flyers once again drove play and kept the Panthers off the board. Scott Laughton extended the lead on a beautiful pass from JVR late in the frame; 4-0 Flyers after 40!
And then the third period happened. Specifically, the first five minutes of the third period (or 4:56, if you want to get all technical). The push back we were all expecting in the second came out in full force. Florida has one of the best, if not the most underrated first lines in the league, with Aleksander Barkov centering Jonathan Huberdeau and Evgenii Dadonov. The first two players on that line both scored early in the 3rd period. And not just in a "hey, they were do for a bounce" way. Florida straight up dominated the first eight minutes of the period, and after the voodoo ending to Tuesday, there wasn't a Flyers fan out there biting their fingernails.
The other guy on Florida's first line (Dadonov) should have scored as well, as Huberdeau set him up for a glorious chance that would have made it a one-goal game with over half a period to go. But break out the Kevin Hayes clip, because there he is, going once, going twice, going all the way across the crease to make an incredible sliding save - Carter Hart! It was one of two massive, momentum swinging saves Hart made Thursday (stopping a short-handed breakaway less than 90 seconds before JVR's goal was the first). And with the way the Panthers were playing before and after that shot, it may very well have been a game-saving stop.
Florida was definitely the better team the rest of the way, but the Flyers tightened up and returned to the elite defensive form they had been in for the first two periods. Finally, Sean Couturier stuck the dagger in the Panthers' hearts with a breakaway goal through enough clutching-and-grabbing by Vincent Trocheck that even a mid-90s NHL ref would've had to call a penalty. But Coots didn't need the call - he still muscled the puck to the back of the net, allowing the City of Brotherly love to take a sigh of relief.
Robert Hagg would cap off another good performance in a surprising string of them lately, chipping home a later power-play goal with under 30 seconds left (hence, the reason Hagg was on the power play in the first place). It was the least important goal of the night, but it some ways, it was the most deserved. Hagg has been scratched multiple times this year, been criticized by many (including me) often, and the Flyers themselves, well, you know what happened last game. To weather Florida's furious storm and emerge with consecutive victories against the Panthers, a team the Flyers are battling with for a playoff spot... man, that feels good!
Saturday will no doubt be a difficult game, as the Flyers stay on the road to face the league's hottest team, the Tampa Bay Lightning. That's not even an opinion; the Bolts are 21-2-1 since Dec. 23 and are looking for their second 10-game winning streak of 2020. You might remember win number 10 in the first streak coming against the Flyers; Philly played them fairly well, but couldn't be Vasilevskiy, falling 1-0. The Flyers won't be favored Saturday, and it'll be hard to blame them if the result isn't optimal. But the Flyers often thrive the most when they're counted out; who's to say they can't get the job done? Finding consistency is paramount, because when this team is firing like they were for the first 40 minutes Thursday, they are a tough beast to contain.
Robert Hagg has been playing some of his best hockey ever since sitting against the Devils last week when Shayne Gostisbehere briefly returned. He's scored in consecutive games for the first time in his career, and his 82.63% Expected Goals For lead all Flyers Thursday.
Speaking of injured defensemen, Travis Sanheim was tangled up in a collision with Barkov late in the second period and never fully recovered. He skated just one shift in the 3rd period, though he was seen skating around the ice testing out his leg. AV confirmed it's a lower-body injury, but the extent of it is unknown. Fingers crossed that the Flyers dodge this bullet.
Somehow, tonight was Carter Hart's first regulation win on the road ALL SEASON. His last road win of any kind was November 1st. Goaltending has let the Flyers down away from the WFC; Philly's .878 SV% on the road entering the night ranked dead last in the league. Safe to say that number went up after Hart's outstanding performance.
The Flyers don't have anyone at the top of the stats page, but their depth has been huge all season long. Per @bobbysanalysis on Twitter, the Flyers are tied for the league-lead for most players with ten or more goals with nine (Konecny - 19, Coots - 17, JVR - 17, Hayes - 17, Giroux - 15, Jake - 11, Lindy - 11, Provy - 10, Laughts - 10).
When James van Riemsdyk is on, it is a treat to watch. JVR now has 5 goals in his last 10 games, and posted his third three-point game of the season Thursday (and second in the last month). After being unable to block Pulock's game-winning bomb Tuesday, van Riemsdyk had the perfect bounce-back game against Florida.
Just how important is JVR to the Flyers offense? NBC Sports Philly's Jordan Hall noted the Flyers are an incredible 19-4-0 when van Riemsdyk (who has the most goals of any Flyer since December 1) scores at least one point.
POG Helmet Standings Update!
Moose - 4
Raff, Da Snake, Gobs, TK (2/10 Winner; Last Win - 12/3) - 3
Steady Eddie, Coots, Laughts, Pitsy (Last Win - 11/27) - 2
Starter, #OskarStrong, Phil, Snowman, Timon, Hollywood, Lyon King, Hagger - 1
1st - James van Riemsdyk (PHI) - Goal (17), 2 Assists (19, 20)
2nd - Matt Niskanen (PHI) - 2 Assists (20, 21)
3rd - Sean Couturier (PHI) - Goal (17)
PHI - 2/15 @ TB (38-15-5, W9)
FLA - 2/15 vs. EDM (30-20-6, L1)