FFR2 Gm 68: BUF 1, PHI 3 - Hart an9 Soul
Oh, your favorite hockey team hasn't won nine straight? Can't relate.
For the first time since the 2016-17 season, the Philadelphia Flyers are on cloud nine! The Flyers WIN their ninth consecutive game, 3-1, over the bumbling Buffalo Sabres. The win keeps the pace with the Washington Capitals, who beat the Penguins today 5-2.
Bumbling is pretty much the perfect word to describe the Sabres. Last year, Buffalo joined the 16-17 Flyers as the only teams in NHL history to win 10 straight and miss the playoffs. This season, they faltered massively after a 9-2-2 start. Their league-leading playoff-less drought is all but a lock to extend to nine years. The most notable parts of their season were a fan name Duane trashing the organization on radio and the team handing Chinese knockoff jerseys during an alumni celebration. They bought Wayne Simmonds at the deadline on February 24; Wayne is still looking to celebrate his first win as a Sabre.
(I'm so sorry Wayne, you deserve better.)
You know who else deserved better? Carter Hart. The Flyers 21-year old net-minder has been sensational since returning from an injury a month ago. After earning a pretty easy win Thursday against the Canes, the Flyers hung the young goalie out to dry Saturday with a less than sparkling performance. Buffalo outshot the Flyers 39-24, drew four penalties to the Flyers' two, and generated 3.4 expected goals as a result of the quantity and quality of their chances.
That put the game largely on Hart's shoulders, and boy, did he ever deliver. There isn't one save that stands out above the rest, like in his home opener shutout, but that's more a testament to how many quality chances the Sabres generated, all but one of which Hart shut down. His positioning and technique were as perfect as ever. An early breakaway save on Sam Reinhart and a slot snatch on a great look from Jeff Skinner in the 2nd highlighted his performance. Hart looked very comfortable in his crease all evening (save for a 3rd period scrum that saw Hart's blocker knocked off his right hand, leaving it exposed for a few seconds). This was one of his best games of the season.
As for the eighteen skaters in front of him, their effort left more to be desired. The Flyers generated just four shots on goal in the first period despite spending a fifth of the period on the power-play. They weren't able to create much of anything until Voracek found Giroux backdoor with Hutton sliding the other way. The puck almost went through Giroux, but the captain was able to corral the puck with his skate, than flip a backhander past Hutton for the opening goal just four seconds past the halfway mark.
The Sabres would tie the game late in the second period on a shot that not even prime Dominik Hasek could have stopped. Buffalo took advantage of a Flyer turnover behind their own net, and Victor Olofsson passed up a great chance in the slot to find Dominik Kahun for a slam-dunk one-timer backdoor. Buffalo then opened the third by drawing two early penalties on the Flyers, threatening to not just take the lead, but take over the game entirely.
However, a combination of luck, two solid penalty kills, and most importantly, the aforementioned Hart kept the game tied. Having a goaltender like Hart and playing a team like the Sabres gives you the luxury of having plenty of time to find your game before it's too late. Finally, the Flyers broke through again near the mid-way point of the period. The red-hot playmaker Voracek found the red-hot sniper Giroux in the slot for a one-timer that G just kinda chopped at, but his quick shot banked off the far post and past Hutton for the eventual game-winning goal.
Buffalo would eventually Buffalo their way out of the game in the late-going. Feeling the pressure from a forechecking Joel Farabee, Rasmus Ristolainen threw the puck back to Hutton, hoping he could handle the puck for just a few seconds before he got open. That gamble did not pay off, as Hutton threw a backhand pass on the left leg of Farabee. In turn, Farabee threw the puck off the left leg of Hutton, then threw the puck between his legs for his goal since being re-called! After all those great chances that went unfinished Thursday (and all season), Farabee earned that bounce, which effectively sealed the game.
This obviously wasn't the Flyers best game. Anyone who watched this game would say as much, and the stats certainly back it up (36.5% Corsi at 5-on-5, score and venue adjusted). It was easily the worst game of the Flyers winning streak. You can afford that game against Buffalo, but if the Flyers play this way next against Boston, Tampa Bay, and even Minnesota, they will be shelled.
However, I'm not too worried about that happening. That speaks to how well the team has been playing at well, but more so to how well Alain Vigneault and the Flyers coaching staff have prepared their team this season. The Flyers have been firing on all cylinders lately; there's no reason to think they won't be whipped it to shape by Tuesday evening.
After proving they are up with the class of the Metro by beating Washington last week, the Flyers have a chance to do the same with the Atlantic this week. Consecutive games against the Bruins (who the Flyers have beaten in both meetings, albeit in a shootout) and the Lightning (who have beaten the Flyers in two close games) won't be easy. For as great as the winning streak has been, its end is probably in sight.
But that doesn't mean the Flyers aren't still a very good team when (and, I guess, if) it comes to an end. Losing to Boston or Tampa Bay doesn't offset any of the outstanding work the Flyers have done over the last few weeks. They've incredibly pulled themselves above the bubble and now have a five-point lead on Pittsburgh (who does have a game in hand) for home-ice in the first round.
In addition to suspect underlying metrics during the franchise's recent long winning streaks (eight in 18-19, ten in 16-17), the biggest thing that has sunk those teams is what they did before and after the streak ended. The 16-17 Flyers followed their streak by losing 7 of 8 and 9 of 11. The 18-19 Flyers streak began less than a week after concluding an eight-game losing streak.
This year's Flyers have been different. They were good before this streak began, and they'll be good after it ends. Whenever they've had a slump this season, they have responded well. The Flyers have 41 wins and 89 points. There are a lot of people who thought they wouldn't reach those numbers in 82 games; they've achieved them in only 68. This team has a long way to go, and I'm excited to see where this season goes. No matter how much attention you've paid attention to them over the last few years, you should be, too.
Some scary moments in this game for the Flyers. Phil Myers briefly went down the tunnel after blocking a shot, but quickly returned. Justin Braun took a shot up high (like Hagg Wednesday) and a nasty collision into the boards in a battle with Rasmus Ristolainen. And Carter Hart took a shot to the... where did he take that shot exactly?
"Right in the nuts" - Alain Vigneault
Hart did stay in the game and earned his 20th home win of the season, making 37 saves, his second-most this season. Hart's 20 home wins are tied with St. Louis' Jordan Binnington for the most in the NHL.
Per NHL PR, Carter Hart collected his 20th home victory of 2019-20 in only his 24th appearance. He matched the franchise mark for the fewest contests to achieve the feat, joining Bernie Parent (24 GP in 1976-77) and Wayne Stephenson (24 GP in 1975-76).
Carter Hart also improved to 7-0-0 dating to Feb. 18 and became the first goaltender in NHL history to record multiple win streaks of seven-plus game at age 21 or younger (also: 8-0-0 from Jan. 14 – Feb. 9, 2019), again from NHL PR.
Jake Voracek has been absolutely dominate lately. Voracek has always been a gifted playmaker, but his passing has been on another level lately. He has ten assists in his last five games.
G has also flourished ever since he was put back at left wing with Coots and Jake. Giroux joined Couturier, Hayes, and TK as the only Flyers with 20+ goals this season.
Congratulations to the Reading Royals, the Flyers ECHL affiliate. Reading's 5-2 win Saturday night clinched them a spot in the Kelly Cup Playoffs for the tenth time in eleven seasons. Hopefully their biggest brother follows suit soon.
POG Helmet Standings Update!
Moose, Da Snake - 4
Raff, Gobs, Teeks - 3
Steady Eddie, Coots, Laughts, Pitjet, #OskarStrong, Hollywood, Starter (Last Win: 10/9) - 2
Phil, Snowman, Timon, Lyon King, Hagger, G, Unknown, Grant, Thompson, Provy - 1
1st - Carter Hart (PHI) - .974 SV% (38/39), 1 GA on 3.4 xGA
2nd - Claude Giroux (PHI) - 2 Goals (20, 21)
3rd - Jakub Voracek (PHI) - 2 Assists (43, 44)
BUF - 3/9 vs. WSH (41-20-7, W1; please win this, Buffalo)
PHI - 3/10 vs. BOS (43-14-12, L1)
*Advanced Stats via Naturalstattrick.com