Flyers-Devils Observations: A Much-Needed Road Win
The term "must-win" gets overused in many ways in sports and it's certainly hard to quantify the first game of November as a must-win game for the Flyers. It did feel like a game the Flyers couldn't afford to lose though.
Following last Saturday's dramatic win over Columbus, the Flyers had finished up a busy stretch of three games in four days with a 5-3 loss against the Islanders that wasn't as close as the score indicated. The 7-1 loss in Pittsburgh spoke loud and clear. To follow up a three-game winning streak with another three-game losing streak would show a continued trend of inconsistency that has plagued the team for the better part of the decade -- look great for a brief stretch and then struggle to find a way to win and watch any momentum slip away. It's a vicious cycle for sure.
The Flyers 4-3 shootout win against the New Jersey Devils certainly was not pretty, but it was a much-needed road win to get things back on track.
Here are a few observations from the win over the Devils.
Given the way the last two starts went, Carter Hart needed this game and this result. The first two periods didn't test him much. He was left virtually helpless on Wayne Simmonds' power-play goal and Sami Vatanen was able to get a great scoring chance from a high-danger area while on the power play.
It was even hard to fault Hart on Taylor Hall's go-ahead goal in the third. More on the defense on that play later, but Hart was probably in position to make a well-timed poke check on Hall before he comes crashing into the crease, going down as Justin Braun throws a hit from behind on him.
Despite that, Hart had his moments that showed he was getting back to the level he could be. He made a few great saves from point-blank range, notably the stop on Blake Coleman on a rebound early in the third. The stat line may not look the best -- 23 saves on 26 shots in 65 minutes -- but getting the win in the shootout with a big stop on Hall put the spotlight on him in his favor.
It's certainly not expected that Hart will start on Saturday, but it would not be a surprise to see him get multiple starts in a row again starting next week.
Joel Farabee's First
Finally, Joel Farabee found the net on a goal that will count. And man, did it come at a time when the team needed it most.
Hall's goal to put the Devils in front wasn't some shocking development. The Devils were getting their opportunities in the period like the Flyers were, but for the goal to be like that -- a hit from behind that sends Hall flying and somehow the puck goes through the legs of Hart -- and possibly be the devastating blow to sink the Flyers.
Enter 19-year-old Farabee, who comes into the zone, takes the good bounce off of Michael Raffl's wraparound attempt as it shoots straight out into the slot and fires the rebound through Mackenzie Blackwood for his first NHL goal, one that will actually count.
Farabee is not piling up the points, the goal was just his second in six games, but he does so many little things well, you can almost ignore the fact that the points aren't there just yet. His speed is good. He's very hard on the puck and tough to move off it. He has a nose for the net.
Farabee nearly took his game-tying goal and added a winning goal. He seems to be finding new ways to have goals disallowed -- this time on a kicking motion in overtime, though completely justified -- but it's hard to not be impressed with his level of play so far.
Let's start with Sean Couturier's line. The trio of Couturier with Oskar Lindblom and Travis Konecny has been excellent this season, and they were on the ice for the first two goals for the Flyers.
The Flyers may explore a lot of changes, as indicated on Thursday when they made three roster call-ups. All of it is in an effort to find the right combinations that can have success. Nothing should change with that trio. They have consistently been productive and a force to be reckoned with at 5-on-5.
However, there was certainly an interesting development with Couturier over the last two games. Couturier has been the league leader in face-off percentage so far this season. Couturier took just five face-offs in Pittsburgh and in New Jersey on Friday took just three. He lost all three on Friday.
Couturier even admitted after the game that he is not 100 percent -- the belief is he is battling a sore left hand -- but has played through some of the discomfort to still remain an effective player, but it may help explain why he hasn't been the one involved in a lot of the point production and goal scoring for his line.
Still Looking for More from Vets
Alain Vigneault issued a challenge of sorts to his most veteran players saying they need to play like they are capable of and produce. The top veteran line of Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek and James van Riemsdyk left a lot to be desired in that area on Friday.
Simply put, this line looks like it is trying way too hard to create the perfect play instead of taking the simple approach. They can't match the speed of the Couturier line, so they have to try to be a little more creative to get the same kind of space. But so much of what they have done has been very predictable. As you watch a game unfold, a pass from Giroux can be seen coming from a mile away. Giroux and Voracek constantly look for the cross-ice pass on the power play when so often, it's not really available and forced.
The Flyers lineup is not optimal right now by any stretch, not with two centers on the shelf with injury. That can create some limitations in what you can do with line combinations. But if this continues for much longer, you may have to find a way to split up Giroux from Voracek and van Riemsdyk. It's difficult now because the Flyers would essentially be vaulting a rookie into the third-line center role. But once Scott Laughton or Nolan Patrick return, moving Giroux back to the wing and putting him with Kevin Hayes and Farabee could be an option.
The Flyers have been longing for the veterans to start producing the way they can. They will have to wait at least a night longer.
The New Guys
The Flyers had three players fresh into the lineup after call-ups.
It was a pretty solid debut for German Rubtsov. He definitely got lost in the shuffle as the game went on, which can happen to a fourth line, but Rubtsov made a couple of good plays on the forecheck and got into good scoring position a couple of times. He certainly didn't look like a liability when it came to two-way play.
Carsen Twarynski also got lost in the shuffle a bit as part of the fourth line, but certainly appeared to make that trio better than the fourth line that was dressed three nights earlier.
Phil Myers played 14:41 in the game and had a few rough moments. He completely abandons the front of the net on the penalty kill that allowed Wayne Simmonds to score. Outside of a few jittery moments with the puck and the missed coverage on the Devils first power-play goal, he had a pretty solid debut in the 2019-20 season with one hit and one blocked shot.
Continued Defensive Issues
At 5-on-5, the Flyers were much improved defensively from their last two games for sure. That said, there were still some defensive woes of note.
Everything you need to know about the Flyers defensive struggles in this game were exposed on Hall's go-ahead goal in the third. It starts as Hall is able to push the puck around Farabee and start toward the zone. He works his way around Justin Braun, turning the play into a two-on-one. Shayne Gostisbehere drops into the diving poke-check starfish formation, essentially taking him out of the play. Braun comes back into the picture and throws a hit on Hall from behind, knocking him down. Hall still manages to get a chance on goal and knocks it through the legs of Hart.
Braun has not had a good last few games, and with Gostisbehere's struggles defensively continuing as well, this was the team's weakest pairing. The Ivan Provorov-Matt Niskanen pairing was much better overall, though there were moments as well. Travis Sanheim had an unfortunate moment where he fell on the penalty kill, leading to Vatanen's tying goal in the second. But his pairing with Phil Myers played a decent game as well.
A Toronto team with a lot of fire power is coming in on Saturday and the Flyers will need all three pairings to play an aggressive style that can force some errors, but also a responsible defensive game prevents prime scoring chances. That's certainly going to be a tall order against a rested Toronto team.