Flyers-Lightning Observations: One Strike All It Takes
About a month ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning wouldn’t have classified as one of the NHL’s top teams. This was a slumping favorite among the hockey community, a team that has posted a near record number of points in the 2018-19 regular season only to be swept in the first round of the playoffs and the carryover effect seemed very real.
That narrative is gone. The Lightning entered Philadelphia on Saturday with a nine-game winning streak and were one of the NHL’s top six teams in standings points. This was surely another test for the Flyers.
To their credit, they held a team that had scored at will on other opponents -- three were just three games on the nine-game streak where the Lightning had not reached four goals scored -- and held them to one goal. It turns out one strike was all they needed.
Andrei Vasilevskiy posted a shutout for the second straight game and the Lightning showed a real commitment to defensive play and taking away virtually everything the Flyers could have brought to the table. There was simply no room to operate, no room to execute and when the Flyers were able to pump the puck deep, they could not win the races because the Lightning were perfectly placed.
Here are some observations from a 1-0 shutout loss.
This was a sore spot in the Flyers locker room after the game. The Flyers late-game chance on the power play wasn’t quite the debacle it was in Vegas when the team had nearly two minutes of 6-on-3 time and couldn’t score, but it was pretty close.
The entire game was either scoreless or a one-goal game. So one power-play goal could make a huge difference. Think about the Flyers first meeting with Washington this season on Nov. 13. The Flyers trailed most of the way in a 1-0 game. When they got a power play six minutes into the third period, it seemed like their best chance to get the game tied. They took advantage as Jake Voracek set up Claude Giroux for the tying goal and they were able to get a point out of the game in a shootout loss against one of the NHL’s top teams.
In this game, the Flyers were 0-for-3 on the power play, and while that may seem like limited chances, the power play is a team’s opportunity to throw out a scoring group. It is a way for the Flyers to get their top line and a mix of others who could provide a boost in the offense. Voracek in particular didn’t want to even talk about the power play’s struggles.
“We don’t score much. We have to start scoring,” Voracek said before stating he wasn’t going to stay anymore about the power play.
In Voracek’s case, he has been moved around the power play quite a bit. He started in his familiar spot at the right circle, then moved to the left circle on his off-wing. At times, he wasn’t even on the top unit. He’s also been given time at netfront lately.
That lack of consistency can have an effect, though Alain Vigneault didn’t seem to think so.
“We’ve been pretty consistent at keeping G, [Sean Couturier], [Travis Konecny] and [Ivan Provorov] on it that’s had one other piece, sometimes it’s in and out,” Vigneault said. “Obviously tonight it could have made a difference, it didn’t. Hopefully it does the next game.”
Couturier was a little more detailed on the power play struggles.
“We’re not finishing. I think we’re one and done a lot of times,” Couturier said. “We’re getting a little more control in the zone and that’s something to build on. We got to find a way to score some goals.”
Couturier was certainly right about one-and-done chances in this game, but that seemed to be the case at even strength too. But lately, the power play has not been effective, really from the start of the man-advantage. The entries are poor and lead to multiple clears in a two-minute span. It can cost you games quickly when you can’t bury teams because of their lack of discipline.
Vigneault said that he thought the power play was doing well and that at one point recently, they had scored in four or five straight games. The four-game streak he’s thinking of goes back to the week before the holiday break, when the Flyers scored two power-play goals against Buffalo, one early in the game against Ottawa, one garbage-time power-play tally against the Rangers and Provorov’s power-play marker against San Jose to turn a 3-0 deficit into a 3-1 game. Aside from the goal that opens the scoring, none of those is really all that much of a game-changer.
That’s where the Flyers need to have success. There have been many times where Vigneault has mentioned timely saves, that it’s not how many but when you get them that counts. He’s not wrong that a timely save or a timely goal can be the difference-maker and lead to a win.
But the Flyers power-play isn’t scoring, period. Even a few timely goals could make some of the struggles bearable. If the Flyers had scored in the final minute in Vegas to pull out a tie or found a way to get that one goal on Saturday, you could be talking about three or four more points in the standings.
Just One Bounce
If you would have said that the Flyers were going to allow just one goal to the Lightning and it wasn’t going to be from an obvious source, but from Patrick Maroon, you probably would have thought you were being lied to. But that was indeed the case.
Maroon scored the only goal and it was the result of a fortunate bounce and quick reaction from Maroon.
The puck is dumped into the Flyers zone and Matt Niskanen goes to play the puck with his glove. Instead of batting the puck away, he botches the attempt and the puck lands at his feet and goes right to the stick of Maroon.
It’s a play that probably doesn’t happen most times, but in this case, turns out to be the one bounce Tampa Bay needed.
“It's a high flip. I'm trying to glove it to my partner and it got caught in my glove,” Niskanen said. “That happens 50 times a year where I just bat it out of danger, and that one happened to get caught in my glove. It's my fault. But, tough play. Next time I will probably try to do the same thing and I will probably execute it.”
“I should have stopped that one,” Carter Hart said. “It was a weird bounce, and sometimes it just happens.”
The Flyers did hold the Lightning to a goal, but it certainly could have been a lot worse. The Flyers were still sloppy with the puck in certain situations and Tampa Bay missed the net quite a bit.
Perhaps the biggest area the Flyers need to clean up is their overall movement of the puck. From the defensive zone to the neutral zone, there are several times the puck gets knocked off a stick into an area where players can’t recover or an errant pass is made. The Flyers have been able to score on transitional rushes that are well-executed. Their play with the puck simply has to improve.
It directly affected their ability to generate offense in the game. To finish with just 23 shots shows just how stymied they were in this game. In particular, the second period was one that they really didn't seem to control the puck much at all because they were either forced to dump and change or every possession or would give the puck away on the attempt to enter the zone.
Penalty Kill and Defensive Zone Play
Perhaps the bright spot of the game was that the Flyers penalty kill was very good, going 4-for-4 on the night, and their defensive coverage was improved.
Over the last two games, the Flyers structure within the zone appears to be better and there is definitely an emphasis on blocking shots and doing whatever it takes to disrupt a play. But in general, players are not getting as wide open for chances as they were during the road trip.
If the Flyers defensive play can stay at this level, the wins and standings points will come back soon enough. The Flyers just allowed three goals in two games against two high-powered opponents. There is a capability that this team can play solid defense and hang around with any team.
An Oskar Strong Moment
During the first period, there was a great and noteworthy moment during a TV timeout. On Arenavision, it was shown to the Flyers faithful that Oskar Lindblom was in attendance. That drew a standing ovation for about a minute until the puck was ready to be dropped again and the game resumed.
Lindblom definitely looked to be in good spirits, smiling and applauding the crowd. The Flyers have tried to use Lindblom as an inspiration on the ice. Their first period in particular was pretty good.
Lindblom had also seen his teammates on Friday at practice, but for the rest of the fans that have been supporting Lindblom for the last month, it was great to see him at Wells Fargo Center taking in a game as he undergoes treatments for Ewing’s sarcoma. He started treatments within the last two weeks and all indications are that things have been going well.