Flyers 5: Takeaways from Thursday’s Flyers-Devils Game
There have been games where the Flyers couldn’t possibly look worse already this season. Then there was the first two periods of Thursday’s game.
If not for their goaltender, it could have been a different game entering the third. Instead, the Flyers had an opportunity in front of them: win a period, win a game. They won the third period with continued timely saves and timely goals to go with it.
While the process was once again nowhere near smooth enough for an entire game, the Flyers third period was encouraging, showing what this team can be when they do put it all together.
Here are five takeaways from Thursday’s 3-1 Flyers win over the Devils.
1. Hart Burn
If we’re going to talk about anything in this game, it has to start with Carter Hart. There wasn’t much the Flyers could do right in the first 40 minutes, evident by the shot total – more on that later – but they were getting what is expected out of Hart.
From the beginning, Hart faced a number of shots and got into a zone early, though he did allow a goal from a distance to Damon Severson. After the Flyers got the game tied, Hart faced shot after shot to close the first, with the Devils putting 14 chances on goal.
Hart finished the game with 33 saves in the game, including some incredible ones like his stacked-pad stop of Andreas Johnsson. After the frustration boiled over in Boston over the weekend, Hart delivered the type of game he has delivered many times already in his young career. His team needed it to come away with a win.
2. The Prossessor
The pre-game buzz surrounding the newest addition to the Flyers lineup was mostly negative. Here was Nate Prosser, a player signed as a free agent last season mostly for depth in the minor-league system, was playing in his first NHL game in two years over the likes of Robert Hagg and Mark Friedman.
Prosser had an excellent game though, playing 13:12, recording one hit and three blocked shots, and scoring just the 11th goal of his career. Four of his minutes came on the penalty kill.
Prosser is not known for that in his game. Alain Vigneault said pre-game that Prosser brought a responsible game and could make smart decisions in the defensive zone. He did that a lot in this game, but coming through in the goal column certainly drew quite the celebration among his teammates.
The guy Claude Giroux called “The Prossessor” clearly made an impression in this game. Will his place in the lineup last into the weekend? We’ll see.
3. Fourth Line Sparks the Third
Through two periods, the Flyers had done very little to get things going offensively and struggled in the defensive zone as well with turnovers and breakouts. It was a lot of the same things that plagued them in other games, losing battles, mismanaging the puck, and so on.
So Alain Vigneault started the third period with the fourth line on the ice. They were able to get some sustained pressure right away in the period. Two minutes later, they were back on the ice and scored the deciding goal, with Michael Raffl getting a tap-in on a rebound in front after some good forechecking by Nicolas Aube-Kubel and a heads-up play in front by Connor Bunnaman.
This didn’t just spark the start of the period, it lasted throughout. Even in the closing stages, this line was on the ice. Vigneault said after the game that he liked what this line and the Scott Laughton line – with Oskar Lindblom and Joel Farabee – brought to the game. He was disappointed with the other two lines, both of which feature top players on this roster.
Still, that makes for a quality win in many cases, when your top guys aren’t at their best and you can still score enough to get the two points.
4. Shot Struggles
It’s already been obvious that the Flyers have struggled in the shots department both ways. They are allowing too many on their goaltenders and not taking near enough.
A look at the scoreboard showed the severe damage done in this game through two periods. The score was 1-1, mainly because of Hart. The shots were 24-8 New Jersey.
Eight shots through two periods is inexcusable, and the Flyers passed up on their fair share as well during that time. So when the third period started and they came out firing with eight of the first 10 shots in the period, it was clear that the message was to shoot more.
While the Flyers did allow the Devils to reach 10 shots in the final period and finished with only nine of their own, they played most of the third period the way many expect this team to play. Space was limited, the Flyers were more dominant in the offensive zone and they suppressed the Devils. It’s what needs to be seen more often as they move forward with this season. That said, what they did in the first two periods can’t happen.
5. Sending a Message
It’s pretty clear early on this season that the Flyers level of play isn’t being tolerated. Alain Vigneault said as much with his lineup decisions, his playing decisions during the game, and his postgame comments.
Vigneault sat down Erik Gustafsson for a game on Tuesday. On Thursday, Friedman and Hagg were out of the lineup. During the game, players on the top two lines were getting equal playing time to the bottom six.
“It’s their responsibility to get themselves ready to be in a state of mind where they can compete and execute," Vigneault said. "I liked Scotty Laughton’s line with Oskar and Joel and I liked Bunnaman’s line. The other lines didn’t do much for me.”
It’s clear that Vigneault is expressing his disappointment with certain players as this string of struggles reaches the eighth game of the season. By now, the execution should start to be cleaned up. By now, the energy should be much better. There are many who need to be better and can be better than this. And it’s clear the coach sent the message that all of them will need to show it more.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.