FFR2 Gm 60: CBJ 1, PHI 5 - Oh, G
Elvis has left the building!
Biggest game, biggest win! The Philadelphia Flyers WIN, 5-1, over the Columbus Blue Jackets, leapfrogging CBJ and the New York Islanders to claim the 3rd spot in the Metropolitan Division.
This was kind of a weird game. The Flyers winning on home ice with Carter Hart sparkling between the pipes is as normal as this team gets. But when you dig deeper, you see the Flyers generated just 15 shots on goal, their lowest total of the season. Columbus goalie Elvis Merzlikins, who has had a rookie season to remember, had a rare night to forget, allowing four goals on just twelve shots before being pulled for a backup goalie with a last name somehow even harder to pronounce than his.
Overall, it was a total team effort for the Flyers, from start to finish. Emphasis on the start part, because the Flyers have generally been bad in the first period this season. Philly's 63 goals against in the first period are the second most in the NHL (trailing only Vegas - 65), and in two of their last three games, they fell behind 3-0 within the first 25 minutes. On Tuesday, they were ahead 2-0 less than five minutes in, and their lead never dipped below two the rest of the way.
The goals themselves were more flukes than fancy, but they don't ask how, just how many. Kevin Hayes called bank below the goal-line (ok, he was actually trying to pass, but still), sending the puck off Merzlikins' back and into the net. It was just confirmation that oh yeah, this was gonna be a good night. Just 62 seconds later, Sean Couturier burst through the neutral zone on a breakaway. He was checked from behind as he went to deke, causing the puck to slide off his stick... right under the lunging Merzlikins and into the net!
Their were only a total of nine shots on goal in the first period - the second fewest in any period of Flyers hockey this season (there were five in the first period in Pittsburgh following a 10-day break for both teams). The action was bound to pick up in the second period, and considering they were trailing 2-0, it wasn't a surprise the Blue Jackets controlled the second period, outshooting the Flyers 12-5.
Thanks to Carter Hart's efforts and a committed defensive effort to blocking shots and keeping Columbus to the outside, the Flyers went to the locker room with their two-goal lead still intact. In fact, they briefly stretched their edge out to three when a Phil Myers centering pass caromed off Andrew Peeke's leg to the back of the net. Columbus cashed in on a late power-play, as a beautiful fake shot-pass from Emil Bemstrom found Oliver Bjorkstrand for the shutout breaking goal from the slot.
It would also be the only shot that would beat Carter Hart all evening, as Hart has now won twelve of his last thirteen home decisions. The Flyers would make his life a lot easier by adding to the lead early and often. Travis Konecny re-directed the puck slow-motion style, as it trickled through Merzlikins with the speed of a snail (or Jori Lehtera, if you want to have some fun/trigger PTSD).
After some more great saves from Hart (and a little help from Mr. G. Post), the Flyers headed to an abbreviated power-play. Claude Giroux found himself with the puck on both knees, which usually isn't the best position. But someone forgot to tell G Star Wars night isn't for another month, because the only way Giroux could've kept the puck alive was by using the force. He did, working it to TK, who threaded a beautiful cross-crease pass, setting up Voracek for a tap-in one-timer. Just that kind of night, folks!
Last week, the Flyers defeated the Florida Panthers two times in four days, both times in convincing fashion. Carter Hart was great in both games, and the Flyers came away with a combined 4-1 edge in the first period, which, as I mentioned, doesn't usually happen. As a result, Florida is now five points behind the Flyers (albeit with a game in hand), and are actually would pass Toronto for 3rd in the Atlantic before they could catch the Flyers.
This week, the Orange and Black have the opportunity to deal a similar blow to Columbus. The Blue Jackets have been an amazing story; almost no one gave them a shot after losing three all-star caliber players to free agency. And yet, behind great play from unproven goaltenders, great coaching from John Tortorella, and fantastic depth, the Jackets have more than held their own this season.
However, they're starting to fade. The Blue Jackets have also suffered more than their fair share of injuries. Among the fallen are sniper Cam Atkinson (one of their best forwards) and Norris dark-horse Seth Jones (neck-and-neck with Zach Werenski as their best defensemen). Even with the goaltending they've gotten from unproven names, it's hard to tread water, let alone swim upstream in the standings with guys of that caliber on the shelf. Columbus has now lost six straight, including back-to-back decisions to the Rangers, a fringe bubble team, and the Devils, who are outright bad.
With Atkinson and Jones out long-term, it's tough to see the Jackets staying in the thick of the hunt. But that's what everybody said at the beginning of the season, and look at where they are now - still in a playoff spot. The Flyers created a little separation Tuesday night, but they need to build on it in Columbus tomorrow. Gaining ground doesn't do much good if you give it back in 48 hours. The only way to the playoffs is to keep winning. Thankfully, the Flyers have enough talent and resilience to keep doing so for months to come.
In fourteen fewer games, the Flyers have already passed their home win total from the 2018-19 season. Philadelphia won their 20th home game of the season Tuesday, tying Tampa Bay for the third most in the NHL.
Per NHL Public Relations, the Flyers are also tied with Vancouver for the fourth-most home goals per game (3.55).
Travis Konecny's third-period tally made him the first Flyer to crack the 20-goal mark. TK also passed Ron Sutter for the seventh-most regular-season points (with 175) by a Flyer 22 or younger (per NHL PR).
With the victory, the Flyers have also now won more games than they've lost all-time against Columbus. Philly sports a 16-12-3-8 (W/L/OTL/Ties) record against the Jackets.
History in the making, part one of two: according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Flyers are only the second team to score at least five goals on fewer than fifteen shots across the entire NHL over the last three seasons. Anaheim was the other; they also scored 5 goals on 15 shots on October 3, 2018, against San Jose. It's also the first time in Flyers history the team has scored five goals on 15 or fewer shots.
History in the making, part two of two: MILESTONE ALERT! Giroux's beautiful PP assist was his 235th career power-play assist, passing Bobby Clarke for the most ever by a Flyer. Congrats, captain!
Staying with Giroux, POG Helmet Standings Update!
Moose - 4
Raff, Da Snake, Gobs, Teeks - 3
Steady Eddie, Coots, Laughts, Pitsy - 2
Starter, #OskarStrong, Phil, Snowman, Timon, Hayeser, Lyon King, Hagger, G (with support from Jake, as shown above) - 1
The Flyers held their annual season ticket holders town hall on Monday. @ronlextall on Twitter recapped some of the key points from the Q&A portion of the event, but there was one piece of news that stood out.
Great news to hear, no doubt about it.
1st - Travis Konecny (PHI) -
2nd - Claude Giroux (PHI) - 2 Assists (29, 30)
3rd - Carter Hart (PHI) - .966 SV% (28 Saves/29 Shots)
PHI - 2/20 @ CBJ (Long time, no see! 30-19-12, L1)
CBJ - 2/20 vs. PHI (That's us! 33-20-7, W1)