How do we know it’s been too long since the NHL hit pause on the season? When writers like me begin reviewing exhibition games. That’s when. What were the top takeaways? Who were the three stars of the game?
If you tuned in to Tuesday’s afternoon affair between the rival Penguins and Flyers, it looked nothing like a normal exhibition game. Even without fans in the stands, both teams found a way to play a fast-paced, highly physical game considering. The Flyers had a lot of positives to take away from this exhibition. Here is some analysis of the Flyers’ overall performance.
What the Flyers Did Well
1) Neutralize the neutral zone
The Penguins had a few odd-man rushes, but for the most part, the Flyers were able to shut them down in the neutral zone. Kevin Hayes and Sean Couturier were able to provide a solid defensive one-two punch to limit the Pens from making stretch passes and utilizing the neutral zone to make an offensive zone entry. The Flyers’ defense frequently applied pressure at the blue-line as well, forcing the Pens to dump in the puck and frequently turn it over to the Flyers’ defense. The Flyers’ strategy worked well and stifled many fast-break type plays attempted by the Penguins.
2) Apply deep high-pressure in the offensive zone
The Flyers were relentless in the offensive zone, attacking opposing defenders and causing turnovers as the Penguins attempted to transition the puck up the ice. All four Flyers lines were firing on all cylinders and it showed.
3) Using puck possession as a penalty-killing tactic
This strategy may even be considered somewhat progressive in coaching circles. A more traditional tactical approach on the penalty kill involves the forwards taking away space at the points in the defensive zone in either a diamond or square formation, and all players on the ice dumping the puck out of the defensive zone as quickly as possible. In contrast, the Flyers’ appeared to be utilizing the strengths of their players in penalty killing roles.
Kevin Hayes and his ability to use his size and reach to maintain puck possession in all zones was utilized well on the penalty kill. The Flyers chose to pass the puck around while even creating short-handed opportunities on the penalty kill rather than just dump the puck down the ice. It’s a strategy that worked, as the Pens did not convert on the power play and their shot attempts were vastly limited.
4) Push attacking forwards to the outside
Carter Hart is a technically sound goalie and excels when facing down shooters using angles to his advantage. Hart was able to stop 11 of 12 shots in large part due to the quality of shots the Penguins had against him. The Flyers’ defenders and centers in particular helped forced shooters to the outside and took away opportunities. If they are able to do this regularly when the playoffs officially start, the Flyers will be a defensive force to be reckoned with.
Flyers’ Three Stars
1) Kevin Hayes
Hayes had a monster game, dominating offensively and defensively in all three periods and overtime. Hayes did what he does best: utilizing his size, great hands, and reach to create turnovers and provide offensive opportunities. He was the Flyers’ best player tonight.
2) Sean Couturier
Couts had a stand-out first period and a bit of a quiet second and third. However, for the NHL’s best two-way center, “quiet” isn’t necessarily a negative descriptor. Couturier had some killer passes to set up his teammates throughout the game and frequently took away time and space from the Penguins’ top line, forcing turnovers and taking away scoring opportunities. Couturier looked like he was in midseason form, a rarity considering the 4.5-month layoff.
3) Scott Laughton
Laughton employed the old Datsyukian deke late in three-on-three overtime to score the game-winner. Overall, Laughton had a solid game playing on the second line, forechecking strongly and setting up his teammates well.
Overall, the Flyers had an excellent first game back after a long hiatus. Fans can hope that the coaching tactics and strategies employed will continue to have a lasting influence on the Flyers’ ability to stifle offenses, create turnovers, and capitalize on offensive opportunities.