Flyers Observations: November to Remember
You could consider the Flyers last three games in four days a microcosm of the November schedule, a grueling run from start to finish that featured multiple back-to-backs and very few days off. Just like at the start of the month, the Flyers handled the schedule in front of them and just kept coming away with points.
When the dust settled at the end of the weekend and the 16-game schedule with Ivan Provorov finishing a highlight-reel goal in overtime to give the Flyers a fourth straight win, it momentarily vaulted the Flyers into second place in the Metropolitan Division.
If Thanksgiving is the marker for being in a playoff position, the Flyers did more than just settle for being among the contenders at the holiday. They padded the margin and made a move further up the standings to cap off a historic month.
With the Thanksgiving holiday and back-to-back afternoon games planted in the middle of a busy weekend, this edition of observations will involve the last three games -- the Flyers 3-2 win in Columbus, their 6-1 win at home against Detroit and their 4-3 overtime win in Montreal.
In all three games the Flyers won this weekend, goaltending was a big part of the story. Both goalies played in the three games and were certainly heroic in their efforts to deliver the team six points over the three-game span.
Let's start with Carter Hart, who played in Friday's game against Detroit. The Red Wings came out firing, taking 13 of the first 15 shots in the game. Hart did allow a goal to Robby Fabbri, but made difficult saves with regularity. He helped the Flyers weather the storm. Somehow, they exited the first period with the lead. After a close second period, the Flyers got a late goal to make it 3-1 and then scored two more goals in the first minute of the third. Game over. But that wouldn't have been the case if not for Hart and his sharp play.
Now let's turn to Brian Elliott. Elliott has to be one of the most under-appreciated players on this roster from an outside perspective. Fans are quick to point out when he allows a soft goal. Even in games where the fan base is raving over his regular solid saves -- see Wednesday and Saturday -- he's not getting the recognition he deserves.
Start with Wednesday's game. Elliott finished with 28 saves -- which will look like nothing compared to Saturday -- but stood on his head in the third period. Columbus threw 15 shots his way. There was the cross-ice pass to Josh Anderson that slightly leaked under his pad and was kicked back out into the slot where he had defensive help for a clear. There was his best of the night, a save with the skate blade on Sonny Milano on a rebound at the side of the net. Elliott was only the third star in the game, one he single-handedly preserved for the Flyers.
Then there was Saturday. Elliott gave up a goal on the first shot he faced just 19 seconds in. It was not a good goal to allow and he knew that, but from there, he was stellar. Elliott allowed one goal on a rebound in a second period where Montreal had 20 shots. He allowed another in the third that was virtually unstoppable amid contact in a period where he faced 13 shots and constant waves of pressure from the Canadiens. He finished the game with 39 saves after essentially stealing the Flyers the point they got for just reaching overtime. He was absent from the 3 Stars selections.
What is impressive to this point is how consistent Elliott has been this season. He has played in 14 games, including 11 starts, and has a 7-2-2 record with 2.70 GAA and .916 save percentage. The 2.70 GAA is better than Matt Murray (2.84), Pekka Rinne (2.84), Braden Holtby (2.86), Andrei Vasilevskiy (2.96), Martin Jones (3.03), Henrik Lundqvist (3.16), Carey Price (3.19), and Sergei Bobrovsky (3.48). The .916 save percentage ranks 18th in the league and ahead of all of the above netminders.
The Flyers are finishing up a great month because they got great goaltending as a constant throughout.
Busting Up Slumps
Don't look now, but several Flyers are finding ways to break out of scoring droughts.
Kevin Hayes scored for the first time in 12 games against the Hurricanes into an empty net on Nov. 21. He now has four goals in the last six games, including another on Saturday in Montreal.
Jake Voracek also went 12 games without a goal and had just four assists in that time. He has just two goals in the five games, but added five assists in that time.
James van Riemsdyk snapped a 10-game goalless streak on Friday against Detroit. Shayne Gostisbehere got back into the lineup on Friday and scored just his second goal of the season. Travis Konecny snapped a nine-game goalless drought with a goal on Saturday.
Suddenly, the Flyers are getting contributions from across the lineup. Just look at the six goal scorers on Friday -- Scott Laughton, Gostisbehere, Sean Couturier, Hayes, Oskar Lindblom, van Riemsdyk. That's two third-line goals, a fourth-line goal and a pair of goals from two of the most consistent players on the team this season in the Top 6. Hayes may have said it best after Friday's game.
"No matter who you play with in this team, I think we have some elite players on every line," Hayes said. "I think that’s why we are hard to match up with."
In each of the last three games, there was a point where the Flyers scored a goal at a time when it could change the course of a game.
On Wednesday, it was Claude Giroux's goal on the power play. Late in the second period, the Flyers went to their fifth power play on the game. To that point, the power play was dismal and ineffective. But locked in a 2-2 game, you really needed to make a team that was parading to the penalty box pay for the constant opportunities. Giroux delivered what proved to be the game-winning goal.
In Friday's game, it was Couturier's goal at the end of the second. The Flyers were really clinging to a lead in a tight game where they weren't the better team for upwards of 40 minutes. With under 20 seconds to play in the period, the Flyers had time to get a rush going. As they started up-ice, you could hear Alain Vigneault yelling from the bench as he does throughout the game to add "speed" to the play. Voracek found Matt Niskanen with an outlet pass that opened up a lot of ice. Couturier went to the net, Niskanen fed him with the pass and Couturier buried his own rebound to make it 3-1 with 11.9 seconds left. That's a killer goal for the opposition.
In Saturday's game, it was the quick response to Tomas Tatar's first goal by Hayes. When the Flyers were finally able to tie the game only to relinquish the lead seconds later, it was deflating and frustrating. The Flyers could not be in a position to chase this game and expect to get points. The quick response put everything in front of them again. Limit the mistakes in the defensive zone and you have a shot to win a game with one opportune play the other way. The Flyers got a third-period goal off the rush and Provorov's heroics in overtime.
Provorov's goal is going to be tough to beat on the Flyers for goal of the year. It's worthy of discussion for goal of the year across the league.
The move is excellent as Provorov puts the puck between his legs, gets around Max Domi, cuts in on goal and finishes for the game-winner. But beyond the move, it's Provorov's consistent workload that makes this goal special.
Provorov played 25:39 in Friday's game against Detroit, and that's only because a four-goal margin for most of the third period allowed the Flyers to limit his ice time. He had been at 17:57 of ice time through two periods. Saturday's game was less than 24 hours after Friday's 4 p.m. start. Provorov's ice time reached 27:41 when he scored the game-winning goal. That's 53:18 of ice time in about 27 hours. That's machine-like.
Provorov ranks 10th in the NHL in time on ice for the season. Six of the players in front of him have played at least one more game. One has played two more games. Provorov also has the second-most shifts in the league and most average shifts per game, averaging 30.6 per game. Workhorse, warrior, machine.
Speaking of warriors, just look at Matt Niskanen in Friday's game to see a player that embodies the term.
Niskanen had quite the game on Friday. He started by setting up Laughton for a breakaway and the first goal of the game. Just short of eight minutes into the game, Niskanen took a puck to the face and left the game and headed right up the tunnel. At the start of the second period, he returned with a full cage and finished the game with 17:11 of ice time. He also made a perfect lead pass to Couturier on his goal for his second assist of the game.
Perhaps the only thing better than the on-ice performance was the post-game interview. "It’s not as bad as it looks," Niskanen said. "I’m assuming it looks pretty bad, but it was just a slice. Nothing major."
Hockey players, man.
Laughton returned to the Flyers lineup last Saturday against the Flames and since he return scored two goals in Wednesday's game in Columbus and again on Friday against Detroit. But what stands out more about Laughton's presence is the little things he is able to do that help the rest of the rest of his teammates. It's eating a shift during the penalty kill. It's winning a puck battle that sets up a clear. It's a shot block in a 6-on-5 situation at the end of a game. So much of his game is the things that don't get any praise.
Voracek talked about Laughton after Friday's game.
"He's a hell of a player. He's been like that for the last two or three years," Voracek said. "Usually, the coaches, media and people try to box him into the fourth-line player, but he was a first-round pick with a lot of skills and he's a great skater. He's a smart player and the more he's going to use his skill and his speed, he's going to be more effective. He's obviously grown into that role and he's not only a fourth-line player and a PKer but he's much more than that which is great to see."
Hayes has played with Laughton for the last several games and the two have connected on goals. Laughton set up Hayes for his goal on Friday. Hayes offered similar praise for Laughton's game.
"He’s a hard-working guy. He’s no fun to play against," Hayes said. "When you play with a guy like that you kind of keep the motor going and, for me, I enjoy playing with him, making some good plays."
Alain Vigneault added that the little things he does don't go unappreciated by him or his teammates.
"I appreciate him and I know his teammates appreciate him," Vigneault said. "The minutes that he plays are always tough minutes, important minutes. Happy to have him back and hopefully he can continue to contribute the way he has."
Behind the Numbers
Some numbers on a month of November to remember:
- The Flyers had a 10-2-4 record in November to put up 24 points in the standings. It's just the fourth time the Flyers have reached 24 points in November in franchise history. The others were the 1990-91 season, the 1985-86 season and the 1979-80 season.
- The Flyers 24 points in the standings were the most in the NHL this month.
- The 10 victories in November were just the fourth time the Flyers have won 10 games in a month since 2011 -- February 2018, March 2012, January 2011.
- The last time the Flyers won 10 or more games in a month this early in the season was in November of 2003 when they went 10-0-2 in a 12-game schedule.