Flyers-Stars Observations: What a Difference a Week Makes
To get an idea of where the Flyers are after six games of the season, you have to go back one week to Oct. 12 and the first game of a three-game Western Canada trip in Vancouver.
It was the Flyers first loss of the season, but it legitimately felt like a moral victory. The Flyers outplayed the Canucks for two periods, managed to get the game tied and force overtime and lost in a shootout. It was a good road point and marked the third straight game the Flyers had earned a point in the standings. Five points and a 2-0-1 record through three games was a good start.
But that was followed with two regulation losses in Calgary and Edmonton, very different losses at that. A return home and a game against a 1-7-1 Dallas Stars team seemed to be what the doctor ordered.
Instead, the result was something all too familiar from seasons' past. The Flyers did a lot right in the game -- control the puck, get a lot of shots, defended well and limited shots and chances -- but came out on the losing end, and the score wasn't really all that close. A 4-1 loss is now the Flyers' fourth straight and third straight in regulation.
"We’re doing a lot of the right things, traffic, jamming pucks, going hard to the net but we’re having a tough time making the other team pay for their mistakes but as far as our process and how were playing offensively and how we’re playing defensively, you got to like our game," head coach Alain Vigneault said.
If only those sentiments could be shared by the fan base, who are starting to turn on a team that they thought was different, that they saw a ton of potential in through the first three games.
Here are more observations from the Flyers loss to the Stars.
Shots: Totals and Selection
The Flyers absolutely have a point to talk about shot totals and how, eventually, the percentages have to change. In six games, the Flyers have the following shot totals in each game: 38 against Chicago, 34 against New Jersey, 32 against Vancouver, 22 against Calgary, 52 against Edmonton, 39 against Dallas. That's an average of 36.2 per game. Even if goalies are averaging a .910 save percentage, you still score three to four goals a game by those numbers. So taking shots is not the problem.
Where the Flyers are struggling is not just with finishing, but with shot selection. If you look at the third period in particular against Dallas, the Flyers allowed the first shot of the period, Corey Perry's backhand goal that made it 3-1. The Flyers outshot the Stars for the rest of the game 18-3. After the opening 20 minutes, the Flyers outshot the Stars, 27-5. But the underlying numbers are sobering.
The Flyers had a 58.33 CF% at 5-on-5 (64.29 CF% in all situations) in the second and a 75.76 CF% (73.68 CF% in all situations) in the third period at 5-on-5. But in that same time, they had just 15 scoring chances and four high-danger scoring chances. The Stars still managed five scoring chances of their own and two high-danger scoring chances with just five shots on goal in the same amount of time.
One of those scoring chances was no doubt when Ivan Provorov gained control in the neutral zone, picked up speed, worked around a defender and fired a shot from the far side of the left circle. It was an easy save for Ben Bishop, who had time to get square and swallow up the shot. The Flyers shot totals have been great, but unlike their game in Vancouver, where a great goaltending performance and inopportune posts were their demise, the shot selection is just not very effective here. Dallas figured out pretty early in the period that as long as the Flyers didn't get traffic to the net, didn't get to rebounds, didn't move the puck inside, they could lock down this game. And they did.
The challenge for the Flyers is not just finding a way to finish. It's getting to the scoring areas. Once Dallas got the lead, those chances were very limited.
Silencing the Big Guns
A lot of the finishing problem falls on the team's best players. It's been six games, and it's fair to ask where the likes of Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Sean Couturier, James van Riemsdyk, Kevin Hayes and Shayne Gostisbehere have been.
Of the five, only Couturier, Voracek and Hayes have scored goals. Couturier's tally just seconds into Saturday's game was his second of the season. Voracek notched both of his goals this season, and all three points, in Edmonton, with two points coming on late goals with the game well out of reach. Hayes scored in the home opener against the Devils, but has since been held off the scoresheet.
As for Giroux, van Riemsdyk and Gostisbehere, they have nothing to show for the first six games in terms of goals. Giroux is up to four assists, but both van Riemsdyk and Gostisbehere don't even have a point this season.
At some point, something's got to give, but it's fair to place your frustrations with the lack of offensive production from players who need to be producing more. If you feel like that is too much of a common thread, then call them the same old Flyers, but if you are point to defense and goaltending, you can't make that claim. Both areas have been better and every game the Flyers have played has been one goal from being tied for a majority -- even the 6-3 loss in Edmonton that was a 1-1 or 2-1 game for the first 32 minutes.
By the numbers, this game will look just as bad for Carter Hart as the game in Edmonton did. When you finish with just 12 saves on 15 shots, it's not good for your save percentage. But Hart was rather helpless on all three goals he allowed.
Roope Hintz made a ridiculous move on Matt Niskanen, and Hart actually made the save on the chance before Hintz was able to knock in the rebound. The deflection at the side of the net by Esa Lindell came on the power play when a player can easily get lost in coverage. Perry's backhander from the slot was elevated over Hart's glove and can be very deceptive. It's one that you'd like to see the goalie get to keeping the game one shot away from being tied, but it's not an easy save either.
If there was any cause for concern, it's that Hart never really seemed completely comfortable. That could be because of the very limited action through the final 40 minutes of the game. But there was something that was just off. Hart's puck-handling was indecisive. He just didn't seem comfortable and collected as usual. And that happens.
It may go down as a loss for Hart, but this was a game that was not really on him when you look at how the Stars were able to generate quality in their limited chances.
With only 12 forwards on the roster, Chris Stewart was back in the lineup and when the Stars went ahead 2-1, you saw one of the big reasons he was there. Stewart dropped the gloves with 6'7" Jamie Oleksiak and certainly got the better of him in a heavyweight bout.
Obviously, the intention there is to turn the game around. The Flyers had a very strong opening few minutes before Dallas tied the game. The idea is that maybe a fight wakes the team up and changes momentum. It actually boosted Dallas for the remainder of the period instead.
"You know they just scored, it was a 2-1 game, so try to spark the team get the fans into it," Stewart said, "but they outshot us 8-1 after so it kind of backfired a little, but you know it’s part of my job description. That’s what I gotta do."
Tough Road Ahead
Stewart was also asked about the quality of scoring chances that came throughout the game.
"They got an all-star goalie there, Vezina candidate, you’re not gonna beat him with many clean shots," Stewart said. "To score goals we got to get to the blue ice, we got to take away his eyes, and get a few ugly ones. I don’t think they’re going to keep our big guys off the score sheet every night, that’s impossible, just a matter of time before that they get going, but there’s no time like the present we got some ground to make up."
The last three games have been plenty of fuel to the fire for fans who thought this team didn't do enough to improve from one season to the next. It is the same old Flyers who can't finish, who lay down against teams that are somehow struggling worse than they are, who can't seem to ever get off to a good start.
With teams like Vegas, Chicago, Columbus and the New York Islanders on the schedule over the next week, it's not going to be easy to get back to the win column.
As Stewart said, there is no time like the present to change the tune. The results against Chicago and New Jersey to start the season were a team that was aggressive and hard on the forecheck, that created quality scoring chances as a result, that finished on enough opportunities to take control of a game. The last four have been too much of the same from the last five years. Even if the process is better, the results do the talking.