5 Takeaways from Flyers-Capitals
Perhaps the biggest question facing the Flyers coming into Toronto was how quickly they could find the chemistry and level of efficiency they were at when the pause started. This was a team that had won nine of 10 games heading into March 12 and was about to face a red-hot Tampa Bay Lightning team to really see where they stood with another of the best teams in the conference.
Time hasn’t changed much. The Flyers started Round Robin by facing the team that snapped their nine-game winning streak. This time, they won. Now they will end the Round Robin on Saturday with a winner-take-all game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team they were supposed to face on the day the NHL paused its season, to claim the top seed in the Eastern Conference for the playoffs.
That opportunity is there thanks to a 3-1 win over the Washington Capitals that featured total dominance from the second line that had another level to reach and another suppressing defensive showing.
Here are 5 takeaways from the Flyers win over the Capitals.
1. The Hayes Line
On Friday morning, Alain Vigneault noted how well Scott Laughton had played since the Flyers arrived in Toronto. But he also had some thoughts on the other two members of that line.
“I still think both Haysey and TK have got another level to reach there, but Scott on that group has been real committed on both ends of the rink,” Vigneault said.
Consider this game hitting the next level for both Kevin Hayes and Travis Konecny.
This line was flat-out dominant. Hayes was an immovable force on the puck and finished the game with assists on every goal in the game. Konecny also had a pair of assists in the game. And Laughton just picked up where he left off, scoring twice and bringing his goal total in the bubble to four in three games.
This wasn’t just a great performance on the stat sheet. These were goals that were pretty. On Laughton’s first goal, Konecny made a great no-look pass to Laughton in the slot and that came after a turnover was forced by Hayes. Hayes was at it again on Travis Sanheim’s goal, controlling the puck, letting the play develop and feeding Sanheim down low for the nice finish. Finally, there was Laughton’s second goal, where again Hayes makes a great feed across the crease for the tip.
An aggressive forecheck, tremendous puck control and finishing ability has made this line such a threat.
2. Shutting It Down
While the Flyers got the offensive production in Sunday’s game, the thing that was more impressive was the way they shut down a top line in Boston’s Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand. On Thursday, they did it again.
Washington was missing a key piece in John Carlson, but the lethal power play that featured Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov got multiple opportunities. Once again, the Flyers defense was solid and their special teams took care of the man-advantage opportunities.
How does six shots against in the first period, seven in the second and four in the third period sound? Limiting an offense with that talent to just 17 shots on goal speaks to the smothering nature that this Flyers defense has.
Once again, the third period effort really stands out. While the Capitals did get on the board in the third -- with their first of four shots in the period -- the chances were few and far between. Even once the Capitals got Braden Holtby out of the net, they still struggled to generate. The space just disappears as the Flyers close off gaps and leave little time for operation. Even in moments where the puck appears to be entering a dangerous area, another defender isn’t far away and usually has the positioning to make a play.
The Flyers defense operates with speed and precision, and it’s working against the top offenses in the league.
3. The New-Look 3rd Line
Joel Farabee got into the lineup in place of the injured Michael Raffl and Nicolas Aube-Kubel played his second game since getting promoted to the third line. There was an instant chemistry between both.
Farabee and Aube-Kubel had several odd-man rushes -- one that was blown dead because Farabee was offside -- and if not for some brilliant saves by Holtby, would have cashed in.
Aube-Kubel brings the physical edge to the line. He’s a human wrecking ball along the boards and doesn’t let an opportunity to throw his weight around pass by. Farabee has so much of the smarts in his game that make him a dangerous player. His youth and lack of size and strength is still evident, but the potential is through the roof. He doesn’t look out of place now, but imagine what he could be in a few years.
Derek Grant was a solid complement between them. He does a lot of the little things that can make him effective from the forecheck to the face-off circle.
With the way they collectively played in this game, it could be a hard trio to break up in the next game.
4. Elliott Stays Sharp
Brian Elliott made his Round Robin debut and very nearly had a perfect showing. A deflection goal by Travis Boyd that somehow leaked through his pads was the only tally for the Capitals in the game.
With only 17 shots against, it appears on paper that this was a walk in the park for Elliott. Not so much.
The Capitals had four power-plays and while they didn’t get terribly close to the net, they did get the puck to some of their heavy shooters with the man-advantage.
Perhaps the biggest turning point in the game came late in the second period. The Flyers allowed a breakaway to Jakub Vrana with two minutes left in the period with a 2-0 lead. A late goal there could have completely shifted momentum, but Elliott made the save to preserve the lead.
Elliott was especially sharp and remained calm on the final power play for the Capitals in the third. Washington had just gotten on the board and could have quickly cut the lead to one with a lot of time left to find the equalizer. Instead, Elliott shut down two attempts from the Capitals to keep the two-goal lead intact and the Flyers took care of the rest down the stretch.
5. JVR’s Absence Speaks Volumes
We knew Farabee was playing, but Vigneault said he wanted to get another forward into the lineup as well. When the Flyers took the ice for warmups, it was revealed how he found a way to do it. James van Riemsdyk was out. Connor Bunnaman was in.
It wasn’t a huge surprise that van Riemsdyk was the forward to come out. Vigneault had said already he expected more from van Riemsdyk, indicating that there was more to be desired from the forward.
The absence from the lineup still spoke volumes. For one, it shows Vigneault’s willingness to use other players if someone isn’t living up to his expectations. But the mixing of lineups during Round Robin speaks volumes in another way.
On paper, a lineup with this bottom six doesn’t look overly appealing. There are certainly parts that could be interchangeable. That said, Vigneault said he wanted to get as many looks at different lineups as possible. That included inserting Bunnaman and Farabee into the lineup and starting Elliott in goal.
What this does is it shows that the Flyers have the capability to play the less-than-ideal lineup, insert a few players that wouldn’t typically be in the top 12, and still be successful. It’s a testament to Vigneault’s system and the way the players have bought into his coaching style. He wants the players to go to work. And they do.
That’s what has the Flyers one win away from claiming the top seed in the playoffs. That’s what, to this point, has the Flyers locked into a top-two seed when they had nothing to lose as the fourth seed just a few weeks ago.