Flyers 5: Takeaways from Sunday’s Flyers-Sabres Game
Sunday’s game may have felt like another case of deja vu or Groundhog Day, but it was indeed a different game for the Flyers, even if they did defeat the Buffalo Sabres for the second straight day and third straight meeting by the same score.
This time, it was Carter Hart’s turn in goal to have an excellent outing in goal to help the Flyers get another two points in the standings. It just happened to involve a three-goal second period that produced another 3-0 victory.
Here are five takeaways from Sunday’s win over the Sabres.
1. A Mended Hart
For everyone worried about Carter Hart, that performance was for you. This is the Carter Hart that fans got to see in the playoffs at times, the one that somewhere in the middle of the game shows you that nothing’s getting by.
There’s nothing like getting thrown right into the fire, and in a matter of seconds, the Flyers were on the penalty kill in this game. Hart was sharp during the penalty kill and quickly had four saves. That carried over into the next few minutes, and the Sabres had seven of the game’s first eight shots. Then they didn’t get a shot for several minutes, as the Flyers closed the period with the next 12 shots and took the first five of the second period in no time.
But it was during the second period that Hart showed signs of how his day was going to be. Shortly after the Flyers went ahead 2-0 and had another glorious chance miss, the Sabres swarmed the net and got three great chances. Hart made two saves in tight, the puck came out into the slot and Brandon Montour fired right back into Hart’s chest with plenty of net to shoot at. Somehow, it remained a 2-0 score.
With the game still at 2-0, the Sabres got a two-on-one with Taylor Hall carrying the puck. Hall placed a perfect pass across to Kyle Okposo, and while Okposo wasn’t able to elevate, Hart managed to slide across and get his pad on the offering. Shortly after that save, the Flyers had increased the lead to three.
Even in the third, as play got more dicey and there were more power-play opportunities, Hart stood tall, putting the finishing touches on his second career regular-season shutout. It hopefully puts last Sunday’s game in Lake Tahoe far in the rear-view mirror for him, especially as the Flyers continue a challenging week on the road with three games in Pittsburgh.
2. The Couturier Effect
It’s safe to say the Flyers missed Sean Couturier’s presence in the lineup. While they were a successful 6-3-2 without him in the lineup, it’s been clear what he brings to the lineup when he plays.
First off, the Flyers are 4-1-1 in the six games since he returned on Feb. 7. In those six games, Couturier has at least one point in each, and 10 total. For the second straight game, he struck first to give the Flyers the only goal they needed.
It wasn’t just your average play though. Couturier outmuscled Jack Eichel into the zone, got the puck to open space for Joel Farabee, and was right there on the doorstep for the rebound. When Couturier is in a zone, he’s on another level compared to some of the top players in the game.
As much as we like to look at one player and think that his absence is no excuse when it comes to team success, Couturier plays such a crucial role and plays so many important minutes, that when you see plays like that and his overall effort and effectiveness against top players, you can’t help but marvel at it and see how it rubs off on the rest of the team.
3. A Dominant Second
The second period started and the Flyers were on the board just 22 seconds in thanks to Couturier. It took another 1:15 for the Flyers to get back on the board with the fourth line and third pairing on the ice, as Michael Raffl won a face-off back to Phil Myers, who quickly moved the puck over to Robert Hagg for the one-timer that was deflected by Raffl and in.
But if you really want to know how this period went for the Flyers, it was the prolonged shift that led to the third and final goal that really says it all.
This wasn’t your average shift. This was a clinic. It featured Couturier, Farabee, James van Riemsdyk, Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere, and each player had a role in the shift, touching the puck or winning a battle to keep the play alive. It lasted so long that Buffalo was hemmed in the zone and barely moving, just hoping to survive. There are many shifts like this that don’t end with a goal and you almost don’t know how it’s possible. When you are moving the puck like that, you almost won’t settle for anything less than a goal.
The Flyers were rewarded, as countless retrievals and pucks to the net finally culminated in a brilliant effort from Provorov, who quite possibly covered every inch of the zone on this shift, back out at the top of the point. He slid a pass over to Farabee, and he alertly put a pass several feet wide of the net in the deflection zone for van Riemsdyk.
It marked the 10th goal for van Riemsdyk this season, but ultimately capped off a period of three goals and 21 shots on goal – nearly the Flyers average for a game entering Sunday’s matinee – and put the game on lock.
4. Activating Defense
One of the keys to the Flyers last few games and their ability to generate more shots and offense has been the activation of the defensemen. This isn’t something that is happening with extreme regularity, but it seemed that in both weekend games against Buffalo, the timing was perfect.
Gostisbehere scored a goal on Saturday. Provorov went around the world on the extended shift in the offensive zone that led to van Riemsdyk’s goal on Sunday. Travis Sanheim noticeably stepped up and into the play often. Myers returned to the lineup on Sunday and played with confidence.
These are the types of plays that keep you going offensively. Sometimes, it’s the defenseman actually making the play and taking the shot, but sometimes it is as simple as knowing when to effectively pinch in the offensive zone to keep a play alive. The Flyers did that was such efficiency this weekend, and lo and behold, it had them looking more like the team we saw last season than any other time this season to date.
5. The Final Piece
It was merely a footnote, but during the Flyers win on Sunday, some good news emerged. The latest COVID list update was released right at the end of the second period. The Flyers were clean.
Travis Konecny was removed from the list, becoming the final Flyer to leave the COVID list. Monday is a complete off day for the Flyers, but Konecny could get some ice time locally and attempt to join the team in time for Tuesday’s game in Pittsburgh. If not Tuesday, it’s pretty likely that Konecny will be back by Thursday’s game, giving the Flyers a full lineup for the first time since the season opener.
It took three weeks – Feb. 7 was the day Travis Sanheim was placed on the COVID list and the start of a lengthy pause for the Flyers – but they are now out of this situation and able to move forward.
Assuming Konecny returns as soon as Tuesday, the Flyers would have also made it through this COVID situation with some solid success on the ice. Without their full lineup, they won in Washington on Feb. 7, took a week off from games, then returned with a shootout loss to the Rangers and the Lake Tahoe loss to the Bruins before taking the next three games as more pieces slowly but surely returned.
What does that equate to? The Flyers are still in fourth place in the East Division by point total, but by points percentage, they are in first place. Pretty impressive for a team that went six games and three weeks without a full lineup.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.