Sunday marked the return of the Flyers’ to meaningful hockey. Or, at least semi-meaningful hockey. With the Flyers participating in a round-robin format of the NHL’s return to play, only seeding, not qualification is at stake.
However, after a four and a half month hiatus, every game matters for helping the Flyers prepare for a long post-season run. The round-robin is no exception. The Flyers faced off against the President Trophy-winning Boston Bruins. The Bruins boast one of the best lines in hockey, consisting of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak. Despite this, the Flyers found a way to shut them down and successfully pull of a dominant 4-1 victory.
What Went Well
1) The Sanheim-Myers pairing
Is there a more fun pairing to watch on the Flyers than this one? Both Sanheim and Myers have huge wingspans and have an offensive slant in their play. I personally loved watching both players consistently jump into the play with regularity. Both players have also grown in confidence in their overall game and are not afraid of making mistakes or taking chances. They were the most dominant pair on both teams yesterday.
2) Taking Away High Danger Scoring Chances
The Flyers were able to stifle the Bruins offense and took away many high danger scoring chances. The majority of Bruins shots came from the right side of the blue-line. Even with attempts at screens, the Flyers were able to support Carter Hart well. The Bruins have a solid top-two lines and are an excellent offensive team that frequently creates scoring chances in high-danger areas. The Flyers’ system stifled this yesterday and it’s a positive sign going forward.
3) The Fourth-Line
The Flyers’ fourth line provided two goals yesterday. They were also relentless on the forecheck, creating scoring opportunities and turn-overs in the offensive zone. Vigneault played the fourth line almost as much as his third, a testament to the Flyers’ depth and to their performance last night. The play of the fourth-line helped the Flyers’ top forwards settle into their game a bit and took the pressure off of them immediately. They led the way yesterday.
What Could Be Improved
1) The Hagg-Braun Pairing
Hagg and Braun struggled at times last night, both from the vantage of the eye test and from an analytical standpoint. Hagg is far from an analytics darling in general, but Braun had a decent season as it concerned advanced statistics. Yesterday afternoon didn’t look great for the pair. Hagg and Braun are not known for their skating in particular, and it showed at times last night. Hagg chased the puck with regularity and was frequently caught flat-footed at the blue-line. Vigneault played this pair almost as frequently as Sanheim-Myers. If the Flyers are going to use this pairing with any sort of regularity, they need stronger transitional play and less puck-chasing from this slower, more defensive-minded pairing. Gostisbehere is likely a better option than Hagg on the third pairing, but he seems to still be in Vigneault’s doghouse at the moment.
2) The Forecheck
The Flyers employ a relentless forecheck in their system. They have players on all four lines that attack opposing defenders constantly and provide high pressure at all times. While the Flyers’ did this at times yesterday, it wasn’t nearly as relentless as normal. The fourth-line did this with regularity. But players like Laughton and Konency who usually thrive in this style of play looked more comfortable pressuring from the perimeter and trying to take away space versus directly attacking. The Flyers forecheck will need to be systemically aggressive with regularity to succeed.
3) Utilization of Short Passing Through the Neutral Zone
When the Flyers offense is firing on all cylinders, they utilize a wave of aggressive attack and forechecking through the neutral zone. It often involves successful zone entries through utilizing short passes through the neutral zone, forcing defenders to constantly transition. The Flyers did this at times last night, but nowhere near as successful as they did last week against the Penguins. Going forward, the Flyers will need to successfully utilize this with regularity as an attack strategy.
1) Carter Hart
Hart stopped 34 of 35 shots and was on all night long. He is at his best when he plays deep in the net and tracks pucks successfully. Hart did this exceptionally well all afternoon long and showed why scouts have been high on him for so long.
2) Michael Raffl
Raffl was dominant in all zones, scoring a goal but also shutting down the Bruins defensively. Hopefully, his injury isn’t serious, as he is a solid bottom-six player with great underlying numbers.
3) Phil Myers
Everything came together for Myers yesterday. In all zones, Myers looked like a dominant player and showed an increase in confidence. His goal was the back-breaker for the Bruins and a momentum changer in the game.
Other Important Notes
-Michael Raffl left the game late with what looked like an ankle injury. If he isn’t able to go, Joel Farabee will slot in. Raffl was one of the best Flyers’ forwards on Sunday night, and even with the Flyers’ depth, would be missed in a bottom-six role.
-Shayne Gostisbehere was as healthy scratch yesterday. He has been recovering from a long-term injury, but its a bit troubling that the once-promising blue-liner has found himself as the odd man out. There’s a chance he could replace Hagg on the third pairing on Thursday, but don’t count on it.
-The Flyers have a few days off before taking on the Washington Capitals in round-robin action on Thursday. This will be another great test heading into official playoff games with an anticipated start date of late next week.