By now, we should be accustomed to the Flyers playing down to weaker opponents only to bounce back and outplay teams better than they are. Oh, and follow up a stolen victory with a loss to another inferior club on home ice.
It’s become a staple of Flyers hockey and it’s absolutely maddening.
That trend continued with a 5-4 shootout defeat (shocking, I know) to the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night in South Philadelphia.
The Flyers came out flat but looked spectacular in the second period, taking a firm grasp as the better team on this night. The third frame was a wacky one and a frenetic 3-on-3 overtime followed. You already know how the skills competition ended, too. It was predictable.
From an individual standpoint, several players had fantastic performances. Others did not. Who deserves some praise and who deserves some criticism? Let’s dissect:
The captain was fired up in this tilt. You had a feeling he was eventually going to break through, too. Giroux made a strong move to the front of the net early in the game, nearly stuffing the puck back door past Semyon Varlamov. He continued to make smart passes at both even-strength and on the power play while getting himself into open space for return feeds. It paid off in the second frame. After taking a pass from Jakub Voracek, Giroux made a quick dish to Shayne Gostisbehere at the point. Gostisbehere fired a laser on net and the rebound popped out to a waiting Giroux, who buried the puck for his eighth goal of the season. The top power-play unit looked strong the entire game. A lot of that can be credited to Gostisbehere’s return. They were moving the puck extraordinarily well and had quite a few high-quality scoring chances. Giroux was also a monster in overtime. He had two golden opportunities to end the game off of looks from Voracek but Varlamov flashed leather with two great glove stops. It just wasn’t meant to be.
As always, Konecny was absolutely buzzing. The kid’s motor never stops. He’s ferocious on the forecheck and is a threat to score every time he enters the offensive zone with the puck on his blade. Konecny’s assist on Valtteri Filppula’ second-period marker could not have been more perfect, either. He was all over the ice during his shift. He started it off by slowing down to wait for another attacker off the rush. His initial pass attempt got deflected but Konecny was the first player to retrieve the loose puck in the corner to maintain offensive-zone pressure. He looped back and somehow saw Filppula waiting back door. Konecny then threaded the needle on one of the nicest helpers you’ll see all season long. It was almost like none of the Colorado skaters on the ice saw it coming. Konecny also showed why he’s worthy of playing time in overtime. The second-year Flyer had one great individual effort to cut toward the middle of the ice past both defenders, only to have his shot on target turned away. Konecny also had a breakaway attempt during the 3-on-3 frame but couldn’t solve Varlamov, who made six saves total in OT.
Saturday night was more of the same from Voracek. The 28-year-old continues to find creative ways to set up his teammates. On the Flyers’ first power play, Voracek pulled two defenders his way by making it appear he was going to carry the puck into the corner. Not so fast. He made a nifty drop pass once the two Colorado players abandoned their positions. Sean Couturier had nothing but time and space in front of him and got a nice shot off on Varlamov. The Flyers didn’t score on the play but it shows how dangerous and deceptive their top unit can be. In the third period, Voracek had an amazing sequence that led to his third goal of the season. The Czech forward won a battle behind the net, got the puck to the point and crashed the net hard to pot his own rebound. With a goal and an assist, Voracek now has three markers and 15 helpers in 15 games this season. He nearly had another assist after setting up Giroux twice in overtime. It’s clear Voracek is playing pass-first hockey right now and is seeing the ice very well. There are times you’d wish he’d shoot more, but when Voracek is setting up these many goals, it’s hard to question his decision-making.
Neuvirth was good. Then he was not so good. Then he was good again. Then he was really bad. Then he was spectacular. And, finally, he was bleh. That’s the best way to sum it up. Neuvirth, fresh off a phenomenal shutout in St. Louis, made a few nice stops off of Erik Johnson and Nail Yakupov early in the first period. He seemed to be settling in but Colorado began pressing and even had three shots total ring off the post at one point. Neuvirth had some luck on his side. But, as we’ll explain below, two Flyers had pucks deflect off them for own-goals on their netminder. Just like that, lady luck left Neuvirth out in the cold. And, at a crucial time in the game, the 29-year-old couldn’t come up with a big save for his team. After a Gostisbehere turnover, Yakupov beat Neuvirth short side five-hole on a horrendous shot from a bad angle. It was a save he needed to make after the Flyers just rallied back to tie the game at 3-3. The orange and black bailed him out by forcing overtime. Neuvirth repaid the favor by making some of his best saves of the night in OT. He turned away all five offerings at 3-on-3 only to give up two goals on three attempts in the shootout. It was very much an up-and-down performance that lacked consistency. Neuvirth was a bit of an adventure away from the crease, as well. On multiple occasions, two by my count, he turned the puck over when he came out to try to play the puck. You can’t do that when you’re have a shaky night. Just stay in the net and bear down.
Did Weise score a big game-tying goal? Yes. Did he draw two penalties for the Flyers? Yes. Did he play well? I still don’t think so. It’s getting to the point where someone might need to put some weights on Weise’s stick so he keeps it on the ice. For the second game in a row, he was whistled early in the first period for slashing. By now, you know the refs are looking to call that. Stop whacking guys in the hand already. How many times is he going to wind up in the penalty box before he learns? It’s stubbornness at this point. He has to make adjustments to his game and stop hurting his teammates with dumb penalties. Weise also needs to be better in the neutral zone. In the second frame, Mark Alt dished a nice outlet pass off the boards that Weise failed to retrieve. The Avalanche immediately went the other way when the Flyers could have been entering the offensive zone instead of defending. It’s also worth noting only Alt (8:27) received less ice time than Weise (8:32) on Thursday. It appeared Weise was heading for the doghouse but he may have redeemed himself after a nice give-and-go with Jordan Weal that resulted in a one-time goal from the slot. We’ll see how Dave Hakstol decides to use him when they come back from the break.
Ivan Provorov/Robert Hagg
Don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not being negative. Overall, I thought Provorov and Hagg played well as a defensive pair against the Avs. In the first period, Provorov made three brilliant plays in a row. He blocked a big shot from Erik Johnson on the point during a penalty kill, made a nice subtle poke check in the neutral zone on Gabriel Landeskog to negate a rush and absolutely smothered Nathan MacKinnon behind the net, giving him no room to create any offense. The 20-year-old Russian finished the night with a shot on goal, five hits, three blocked shots and a giveaway in 28 minutes of ice time. Hagg got better as the night progressed. The 21-year-old Swede picked up an assist on Voracek’s third-period tally, leveled Landeskog in the corner and came up with a huge blocked shot that stunned him with less than three minutes to go in a tied game. In all, Hagg had the one helper, two shots, six hits, three blocks and a giveaway in 22:39 of ice time. So what’s the problem? Both Provorov and Hagg were victims of the dreaded own-goal. In the second period, Blake Comeau’s snap shot off the rush deflected off Provorov’s skate and over Neuvirth’s shoulder for a shorthanded marker. As for Hagg, he attempted to block a Mikko Rantanen cross-ice pass during an Avalanche power play and it wound up trickling past Neuvirth to make it a 3-2 lead for Colorado. That’s just some tough luck for both guys. They’re positioning on both plays wasn’t terrible but those sort of plays happen sometimes, especially for defensemen. It just wound up being a major factor in the outcome of the game.