Flyers 5: Takeaways from Thursday’s Flyers-Penguins Game
It wouldn’t be shocking if a lot of Flyers fans watched the first five minutes of Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, saw the early results, and tuned out for the night. It was that bad a start for the Orange and Black. But if you hung in there and watched to its conclusion, you were in for a treat.
The Flyers were disastrous in the opening moments of the game. There were multiple odd-man rushes, and seemingly every single one ended up in the back of the net. And for the first time in his tenure as Flyers head coach, Alain Vigneault pulled out his timeout early.
That timeout was one of the many moments that changed the course of the game and the end result. The Flyers didn’t come back in waves. They had their chances and sustained times of pressure, but trimmed away on the scoreboard. There was a goal in the first. There was another midway through the second. And it took until the later stages of the third to find the equalizer.
Then, the Flyers did what teams need to do in this unusual season. They found a way to take care of business in regulation.
It resulted in what is arguably the Flyers most impressive win of the season, on that shows this team’s character, coming back from a huge hole early in the game to claim a critical two points in the standings.
Here are five takeaways from Thursday’s 4-3 win over the Penguins.
1. Pre-game COVID News
Before the game even started, there was plenty of buzz. The NHL’s latest COVID update featured the subtraction of one headlining player and a surprising addition.
Sidney Crosby was off of the COVID list. That really wasn’t much of a surprise necessarily, since Crosby could have been cleared in a couple of days beyond his addition to the list, but his inclusion in the lineup after not skating since Sunday was, especially when Mike Sullivan had announced he would be out earlier in the day.
The surprise addition was to one of the Flyers hottest scorers of late. Joel Farabee was suddenly on the list. That raised eyebrows for a number of reasons.
First, it’s awful timing. Farabee was on a hot streak, scoring twice in the game on Tuesday. But it also brought on a new concern for the Flyers.
The Flyers went all of four days without a player on the COVID list, after having up to seven on the list, shared over time among eight players – Travis Sanheim was on the list for a week, though he never tested positive, as was the injured Morgan Frost. Now, there was a new entry to the list for the Flyers, and the wonder is if they could ultimately be back in a quarantine situation again.
As of now, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Vigneault said that Farabee was on the ice briefly this morning before they learned of his unavailability for that night’s game and entry into the league’s protocol. The team also followed all other protocols required by the league, so they are cleared to have practice on Friday.
Despite that, it was no welcome sight to see Farabee, or any Flyer for that matter, on the COVID list. It seems unlikely that Farabee will be able to return in two days like Crosby did, even if he is cleared, simply because it is an afternoon game on Saturday and time might not allow for him to get testing results back. The bigger concern for right now is that the list doesn’t expand any in the coming days.
2. The Start
To put it lightly, the Flyers start to this game was brutal. There was a total lack of preparation, total lack of compete, and a lot of bad habits creeping into their game.
The Penguins got on the board at 2:46 of the first, and Kasperi Kapanen takes a heavy hit in the corner as he is sandwiched by Phil Myers and Michael Raffl. Kapanen stays on the ice as the puck goes along the wall, a battle lost despite the numbers advantage, and goes back to Kris Letang. At this point, three Flyers are caught on the wall and Travis Sanheim is playing several feet off of the crease, so Evgeni Malkin is able to sneak in behind him. Letang flutters a shot on goal that hits Sanheim’s glove and deflects in.
The Penguins got back on the board 34 seconds later. This time, it’s an ill-advised pinch by Myers that allows the Penguins to break out quickly with Crosby leading the rush with Bryan Rust. Sanheim is the lone defenseman back and Claude Giroux is racing to catch up. The Flyers actually play the odd-man rush well. Sanheim seals off the passing lane, Crosby takes the shot and Brian Elliott is able to square up and make the save. But the rebound goes in the air and both Giroux and Sanheim take big swings at it. Giroux bats it with his arm right back into the slot. Mark Friedman comes in as the trailer, and Myers is late getting back, allowing him to score.
Just 35 seconds after that, another odd-man rush and another goal. Sean Couturier simply gives the puck away on the far wall. That starts Malkin, Kapanen and Jared McCann the other way. Shayne Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg were the two defensemen back and keep their positioning sound until shortly after entry. That’s when a quick criss-cross by Malkin and McCann gets Gostisbehere out of position. Hagg tries to recover as well to pick up Kapanen on the right wing, only to leave a passing lane to the net for McCann. The pass gets there and McCann is able to tip it into the net. Couturier is also late getting back on the play, and smashes his stick in disgust over the crossbar after the Penguins third goal.
This prompted Vigneault to take his timeout, just 3:57 into the game. Vigneault seemed to make a gesture to the scoreboard and the clock, showing how there was still 16 minutes left in the period to turn the tide and carve into the lead. The Flyers were able to do just that.
3. Special Teams Comes Through
If there was an area that probably cost the Flyers the game on Tuesday, it was special teams. From the jump, two power plays went by the wayside. Then a third one fizzled out after the Penguins had gone ahead 3-1. In the final minute of the second and early minutes of the third, the Flyers failed to score on two more power plays. Those missed opportunities proved to be very costly.
On their first power play of the game on Thursday, the Flyers didn’t miss. And it was Couturier, who had turned the puck over leading to the third Pittsburgh goal, who redeemed himself with a bullet to the top corner of the net.
That power-play goal signaled that it was at least possible the Flyers could still be in the game. It definitely gave them a sense of urgency for the rest of the period, as they heavily limited the Penguins from there.
In addition to the power play coming through, credit the penalty kill as well. Right after the Penguins made it 3-0, the Flyers were on the penalty kill. They managed to successfully keep the game at the 3-0 margin. They didn’t go back on the penalty kill until early in the third, now down by a goal. They managed to kill that one off too.
Sure, the power-play goal was the first of four in the game, but on the special teams scoreboard, it was the difference.
4. Captain Comes Up Clutch
One of the common misconceptions about the captaincy in hockey is that it is assumed that this is a team’s best player. Sometimes, it is simply a player who is well-liked and well-respected by his teammates, a player that teammates can count on to motivate, instruct, and get a team to respond. Claude Giroux is not the best player on the Flyers anymore, but on this night, he was.
Giroux was back at center in the wake of Farabee’s absence. Vigneault even admitted that the line combinations we saw in this game were completely different from the lines he had constructed the night before leading into a gameday. Giroux’s line partners in this game were Oskar Lindblom and Nicolas Aube-Kubel. They proved to be the most effective line for the Flyers.
Giroux’s first goal of the game got the Flyers one step closer to a comeback. In the second period, Giroux was robbed by Tristan Jarry just seconds before getting the goal. Justin Braun makes a nice pinch on the boards to keep the play alive. Aube-Kubel gets to the puck and finds Lindblom standing all alone in front of the net. Lindblom’s chance was also stopped by Jarry, but Giroux was also there to put home the rebound.
As the game carried over to the third and got to the final seven minutes, Giroux was at the center of another goal. Travis Konecny made a play in the corner and centered to Giroux. Giroux’s shot hit Scott Laughton in the pants and deflected in. Tie game, 3-3, back from down three goals.
With 6:23 to play in regulation, there wouldn’t have been anything wrong with playing for overtime. Yes, you don’t want to give a point to the opposition within the division, but you would also take that if you find a way to pull it out in overtime and get the extra point in the standings. Of course, if the opportunity presents itself, take it to the opponent and get it done in regulation.
That’s exactly what Giroux’s line did. Lindblom puts the puck on net and it hits a Penguins defender. The puck happened to settle perfectly for Aube-Kubel, who turns a backhand pass to the front of the net where Giroux had inside positioning and his stick on the ice. He got just enough of it to tip the puck inside the right post. Comeback complete.
5. Brotherly Glove
The game-tying goal by Laughton and the game-winning goal by Giroux would not have been possible if not for Brian Elliott. Obviously, this was a rough start for Elliott too. There wasn’t much he could do on any of the three goals, but it’s a 3-0 hole and it very well could have marked the end of his night.
Instead, Elliott stayed in and stood tall, especially in the third period. At the time the Penguins took a 3-0 lead in the first, they had the game’s first six shots on goal. The Penguins had five more shots in the remainder of the first period. They had 10 in the second. They were limited to eight in the third.
But the one that stands out is the glove save on Malkin from the slot with just under 10 minutes to play. At that point, it’s still a one-goal game. Another goal from the Penguins, especially at that stage of the game, is a dagger. Elliott ensured that the Penguins were not going to put the game away. Just over three minutes later, the Flyers tied the game. They won it four minutes after that.
Elliott finished the game with 26 saves and improved to 6-1-0 on the season. He’s off to a great start and is a dependable backup that will only keep getting used going forward, maybe as soon as the next game on Saturday.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.