Flyers 5: Takeaways from Friday’s Flyers-Bruins Game
There is a lot of talk about the two-game series happening in the NHL this season and how there are players that like the idea of completing more games for less travels. For the most part this season, the Flyers have actually handled these back-to-backs pretty well – two wins over Pittsburgh, responding to a completely off night against Buffalo with a shutout win, two in a row over the Devils and Islanders. They’ve shown just how much you can build up your points total and standings position with a pair of wins.
On the other hand, this schedule means you are seeing teams with a lot of regularity. The season is just about the reach the quarter-mark, and the Flyers have now completed half of their games against the Boston Bruins. It’s a team I’m sure they’re sick of seeing right about now.
Friday marked another close competitive game between the two teams, a lot like two of the previous three meetings between the two. For the third time this season, the Flyers had a third-period lead. Unlike their previous two, this wasn’t a multi-goal variety. It probably needed to be.
A goal out of a netmouth scramble tied the game, then a distance shot that was misplayed by the goalie proved to be the deciding factor. The Flyers dropped yet another meeting against the Bruins, and while the process was better, and the execution was there, the result was once again the missing piece.
Here are five takeaways from Friday’s 2-1 loss.
1. Early Power Play Chances Wasted
When you’re playing a team like the Bruins, there is no goal total that should make you feel totally safe. So when you’re given opportunities early in the game to cash in, you have to take advantage.
Credit the Flyers on their process in this one. They had three power plays in the opening period, primarily due to their speed upon entry that forced the Bruins into some bad habits when it came to containing them.
But the Flyers squandered away the early power plays, including an extended 4-on-3, without generating many chances. This was their chance to establish their game on the scoresheet very early on. They couldn’t do it, and while it didn’t hurt them in the first 40 minutes of the game, once they trailed, those were costly opportunities by the wayside.
2. Commitment to Defense
In the opening period, the Bruins were held to five shots. In the second, they had eight shots, but four came in a wave of pressure in the opening 90 seconds of the period. In the third, they had 10 shots.
For the first time this season, the Flyers overall commitment to defense, to getting in the way of shots, to protecting the front of the net was present. They did it with consistency and that’s why scoring was just as hard to come by for the Bruins as it was the Flyers.
This is the style of hockey the Flyers need to play. Sure, they need to be more physical and willing to win the battles, but they made a lot more smarter plays with the puck, executed better, and contained the Bruins for much more of the game. It’s a huge step in the right direction for them after opening the season with 10 games where there was very little structure.
3. JVR Strikes Again
When the Flyers got their fourth power play in the dying seconds of the second period and opened the third on the man-advantage, they got the opening goal from a familiar source. James van Riemsdyk was in his office again.
It was a subtle change to the power play, moving Erik Gustafsson to the top unit, that probably aided in this goal. One thing Gustafsson does well on the power play is find a way to get shots through. His one-timer appeared to change direction on the way in, then hit the stick of van Riemsdyk.
For JVR, this is now six goals on the season and 16 points. He’s off to an incredible start, especially when you consider he couldn’t buy a goal a season ago. Now he’s got six in 12 games and would be on pace to score 28 in a 56-game season. Not bad.
4. Gone in 27 Seconds
It wasn’t a two-goal lead this time, and that probably hurt the Flyers more than anything. With Boston’s top line on the ice, they finally did what they set out to do every game and dominated a shift.
Off a face-off win, Charlie McAvoy worked the perimeter of the zone and got the puck toward the net, where the Bruins got a bounce back to the open point where David Pastrnak was ready to fire away. His shot got to the net, and two of the best in the league were there to start digging away. Brad Marchand was the one that knocked it home.
When the Flyers allowed the tying goal in Wednesday’s game with 14.9 seconds remaining, then took another penalty seven seconds later, you just knew that Boston was poised to win the game in overtime. The same feeling was there when Sean Kuraly scored just 27 seconds later. Not only was the lead gone, but the potential to win another game against the Bruins seemed to be too.
The shame of Kuraly’s goal is that it fell solely on Brian Elliott. When the Flyers have needed Elliott, he has been nearly perfect. He’s kept the Flyers in every game he’s played, given them stellar results, and was on his way to another one in this game too. He simply misplayed it, as Kuraly’s shot sailed past his glove hand and rang the post before going in.
5. Can’t Get ‘Em Back
The process was better, the result wasn’t. No matter how you look at this game, and it was certainly a more competitive and complete game than the Flyers have played earlier this season, it was yet another defeat to the Bruins. Just like in the first back-to-back, it was an overtime or shootout defeat followed by a regulation defeat.
The Flyers performance in the results and standings is so lopsided when it comes to facing Boston, so much so that the Flyers are 7-1-0 in the eight games that they have played against the rest of the division and 0-2-2 against the Bruins.
The problem with that is that the Bruins are regarded as one of the best teams in the division, a likely favorite to win it. They are showing why too. They lost two defensemen over the offseason. They started the season without their elite scorer. They are very difficult to play against because they bring a playoff brand of hockey. It’s physical, it’s demanding, and it takes a lot out of the opposition.
Don’t let the 0-2-2 record here fool you. The Flyers have come close to beating this team on multiple occasions already. They had a 2-0 and 3-2 lead in the first game in Boston. They had several chances in that overtime to win it too. They had a 3-1 lead in the final 10 minutes on Wednesday and a 1-0 lead as the game approached the final eight minutes in this game.
There can be a combination of things here. First, it could simply be that the Bruins have the Flyers number right now. That can certainly be in their heads.
It also shows that, on the surface, the Bruins remain the better team. They are taking command of the division for a reason early, with 18 points in their first 11 games. This could very well be the team the East Division runs through. And that means if you want to advance to the NHL’s final four this season, you’ll have to find a way to beat them.
It didn’t feel like a justified result on Friday night. The Flyers played better than a 2-1 defeat. Perhaps that’s part of the early-season script finding a way to even things out. The Flyers won two games over the Islanders that seemed to defy logic. The Flyers did plenty of things worthy of losing those games, but won anyway. They played two games against the Bruins where a lot of the early issues were starting to be resolved and didn’t win. It happens. Those are points you can’t get back.
For the Flyers, their focus now shifts to Sunday and their first meeting with another top East team, the Washington Capitals, another two-game test to see where they stand. Sunday also marks two weeks until the Flyers meet the Bruins again, in Lake Tahoe. Yes, these four games and six lost points in the standings are ones you can’t get back. But you can only be better and try to find a way in the next one. The Flyers need to hope that can happen both on Sunday and the next time they see the Bruins.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.