FFR2 Gm 63: SJ 2, PHI 4 - A Wish Granted
Oh, what a difference 3,000 miles makes!
The Philadelphia Flyers WIN the first game of the Derek Grant/Nate Thompson era, 4-2, over the San Jose Sharks. What a difference those trades made. Three days ago, the Flyers beat a Western Conference team not in a playoff spot 4-2, and now here, they are 72 hours later, doing (checks notes) the exact same thing.
Granted (no pun intended), it's not like that's a bad trend to continue. With a massive home-and-home against the Rangers looming, it was paramount for the Flyers to pick up two points in what, on paper, should have been an easy game against a Sharks team decimated by injury and father time.
If only it were that simple. Easy games on paper are only easy in practicality if you make them easy. The Flyers thought about actually controlling play in the first period for once, drawing a penalty 90 seconds in and cashing in, with a patient JVR finding NAK at the netmouth for a one-timer. But then they shrugged their shoulders and said, "nah," and proceeded to surrender the final THIRTEEN shots of the period. Naturally, one of them went in - a big rebound in the slot that Joel Kellman buried for his second career NHL goal. Hey, let's play some trivia. Joel Kellman has played in 24 NHL games. That's a lot of teams he's faced. A lot of teams he could've scored against.
Does anyone want to guess what team he scored his first NHL goal against?
That first NHL goal of his two months ago turned out to be the game-winner in a 6-1 drubbing by the Sharks against the Flyers, beginning another nightmare post-holiday road-trip. Heading into the second period, it seemed like the Flyers might be leaning towards an encore. But then the Flyers remembered that the Sharks don't have Tomas Hertl or Erik Karlsson healthy, Logan Couture literally just returned from injury, and Patrick Marleau was traded to Pittsburgh. Translation: the Flyers are better than San Jose, and over the final 40 minutes, they finally started to act like it.
No one thinks that Scott Laughton is a true-talent second-line forward, but it's hard to deny that he has great chemistry with Kevin Hayes. Put them with a speedy sniper in Travis Konecny, and you have a darn good line - one that was good enough to put up three consecutive goals that left the Flyers in the driver's seat. Hayes started the barrage early in the 2nd, as TK chipped a loose puck down low to Laughton, creating a 2-on-1. Laughton found Hayes on his off wing, who promptly whipped the puck past a diving Aaron Dell to restore the Flyers one-goal lead.
It wouldn't take long for them to add another. Barely six minutes later, the same line would find themselves in the same spot. Timo Meier wiped out at the Flyers blue-line with the puck, causing Brent Burns to stumble to avoid him, leading to a 2-on-1 the other way. Hayes quickly passed the puck to Konecny the instant he was open, and TK rewarded his teammates' generosity with a 5-hole goal, opening up Dell's legs and the game itself in one fluid motion (and with one heck of a celly, as shown above).
The line would finish off their hat-trick of goals with arguably the weirdest goal of the Flyers season. After a failed clear by San Jose early in the 3rd, Laughton's high-slot shot deflected to the right hash marks. Hayes, with his momentum taking him away from the net, took a wild chop at the puck and somehow squeaked it through Dell and barely across the goal-line. After all, goaltending is 70% of hockey, unless you don't have it (spoiler alert: the Sharks don't); then it becomes 100% of the game.
San Jose cut the lead to two immediately after a Giroux turnover, with Noah Gregor beating Hart on a one-timer from the right circle. However, the Flyers were able to not only hang with the Sharks but actually drive play in the 3rd, which the leading team rarely does (the Flyers highest Corsi and xGF% rates were in the 3rd period). Hart wasn't spectacular, but he mostly didn't have to be, and made a few big saves (a two-on-one five-hole save in the first on Couture especially stands out) when called upon.
The Flyers have almost felt like they've been in the twilight zone. They've pulled out some massive victories as of late. Ever since that disappointing 5-0 loss at home to the Devils (reminder: the Flyers outshot NJ 46-19), they're 7-2-0. In most of their wins, they've haven't been sharp from start to finish - there's usually a least one hiccup in there that makes you question whether they'll prevail. And then they right the ship in exciting fashion, ending the game on a positive note, and, most importantly, with two points.
Each of the last three weeks have given the Flyers a chance to bury an Eastern Conference opponent they're fighting with for a playoff spot. Two weeks ago, it was Florida - the Flyers absolutely dominated the final five periods of the two games, outscoring Florida 10-3 overall. Last week, it was Columbus - the Flyers earned an offensively efficient and epic comeback OT victory.
This week, the Flyers have another home-and-home, this time with the upstart Rangers. NY looked to be out of the playoff race a few weeks ago, but they've pulled within four points of a spot thanks to a timely 8-2-0 run. They were able to retain Chris Kreider at the deadline but lost some blue-line depth in trading Brady Skjei to Carolina, and forward Pavel Buchnevich and budding goalie Igor Shesterkin were both involved in a car crash Sunday (thankfully, both are ok - Buchnevich is day-to-day, Shesterkin will be re-evaluated in two weeks for a rib injury).
The Rangers will come into this stretch with confidence and momentum, but so will the Flyers, who are definitely the better true talent team. They were able to bury the dagger in Florida and Columbus. Starting that process with the Rags Friday night would be a huge step forward for a Flyers team that seems determined to take one. They're certainly on their way.
Neither of the new guys looked very impressive in their Flyers debuts. I'd say Thompson was the better of the two, as he received the second most PK time of any forward and had a decent scoring chance snuffed out on his backhand. Grant was less effective, looking pretty slow and taking a bad penalty milliseconds before the end of the 1st period. But the jury's still out - let's see where they are in a couple of games.
Alain Vigneault earned career victory 684 Tuesday, tying Pat Quinn for the 10th most all-time victories by a head coach.
A couple Flyers hit scoring milestones on Hayes' goal. Travis Konecny recored the primary assist, his 100th NHL assist; Scott Laughton had the secondary assist, his 100th NHL point.
Kevin Hayes had just 19 goals last season; he's already surpassed that mark by two goals this year. His career high is 25 in the 17-18 season.
Per the Inquirer's Sam Carchidi, this was just the Flyers second win in their last 12 games at home. I remember that one win well - sitting directly behind future Flyer Justin Braun's wife, I watched Wayne Simmonds scored in overtime to give the Flyers a 2-1 win.
After Aube-Kubel's early PPG gave the Flyers the lead, the Sharks absolutely dominated the rest of the first period. In addition to surrendering thirteen consecutive shots, the Flyers had just 14.34% of the Expected Goals at 5-on-5 in period one. In other words, they were expected to be outscored 1-0.17 at even strength. I'm confident in saying that mark is their lowest of the period.
The Flyers are 17-0-1 this season when Kevin Hayes scores a goal, courtesy of the same Flyers Twitter account that brings you another POG Helmet Standings Update!
Moose - 4
Raff, Da Snake, Gobs, Teeks - 3
Steady Eddie, Coots, Laughts, Pitsy, #OskarStrong, Hollywood (Last Win: 12/23) - 2
Starter, Phil, Snowman, Timon, Lyon King, Hagger, G, Unknown - 1
1st - Kevin Hayes (PHI) - 2 Goals (20, 21), Assist (17)
2nd - Travis Konecny (PHI) - Goal (22), 2 Assists (34, 35)
3rd - Matt Niskanen (PHI) - Assist (25)
SJ (sadly including Joe Thornton) - 2/27 vs. NJ (25-27-10, W3)
PHI - 2/25 vs. NYR (34-24-4, W4)
*Advanced Stats from Naturalstattrick.com
*Thumbnail Photo from Matt Slocum (AP)