Sometimes, a goalie just can’t be beaten.
That was the case on Wednesday night. The Flyers outplayed the Chicago Blackhawks for a good portion of the game but could not solve Corey Crawford in a 3-0 defeat on the road.
Crawford was tremendous, turning aside all 35 of the Flyers’ shots on target. Maybe he was a little lucky on a few but there’s no arguing that he put up a performance deserving of two points in the standings.
The Flyers suffered yet another injury when Radko Gudas sustained an upper-body ailment towards the end of the first period. Already without Andrew MacDonald, Shayne Gostisbehere and Sam Morin, the team relied heavily on Ivan Provorov, Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim and the youngsters put forth a valiant effort.
Still, there were some hiccups. Let’s break it all down:
Konecny is seemingly always moving in overdrive. He creates so much with his speed and vision. If any Flyer were to score on Wednesday, it probably would’ve come off a feed from Konecny. He was seeing the ice extraordinarily well. Early in the first, the second-year NHLer redirected an Ivan Provorov breakout pass from in front of the Flyers’ bench to spring Valtteri Filppula on a breakaway. Later on, after a clean offensive zone entry, he sent a beautiful pass down low to set up a Filppula wraparound opportunity. He crashed the net hard, too, and likely would’ve buried the rebound if Crawford didn’t smother it. Konecny made the most of his hard-earned promotion to the second line with Filppula and Wayne Simmonds. Now it’s only a matter of time before the points pile up.
It is so easy to forget this kid is just 20 years old, most likely because he plays the game with the poise of a 15-year veteran. Another injury on the back end? No problem for Provorov. The young Russian logged 8:15 of ice time in the first, 10:49 in the second after Gudas went down and 10:47 in the third for a grand total of 29:51, a career-high. Midway through the opening frame, Provorov was patrolling the slot when a blocked shot bounced toward Jonathan Toews. Provorov, channeling his inner Superman, calmly extended forward and knocked the puck into the corner from his belly to disrupt a potential high-quality scoring chance. He was also credited with three hits, one block and a takeaway on the night. I didn’t even get to his special-teams efforts yet. He played 3:40 on the power play, filling in for Gostisbehere on the point with the top unit, and 4:16 while shorthanded. Provorov has future Norris Trophy winner written all over him.
One mistake doesn’t mean Hagg played poorly. Quite the opposite. The young Swede was sound defensively all evening. Don’t believe me? Ask Brian Elliott. With just 59 seconds remaining in the first period, Artem Anisimov, who was jostling for position in front with Hagg, got a piece of a point offering that would’ve trickled through Elliott’s five hole if it weren’t for Hagg. Hagg quickly reacted, pushing the puck out of danger for a clear. He’s done that time and time again in the early going. Hagg’s been practically impenetrable off the rush, too. On a 2-on-1 midway through the third period, Hagg broke up a pass attempt by simply sticking with the puck carrier and positioning his body directly in the passing lane. Almost effortlessly, he knocked the cross-ice pass out of mid-air and sent the Flyers back the other way. Hagg certainly isn’t flashy but he makes the defensive game look so easy sometimes.
It was not a good outing for the veteran forward. And we knew that was going to be the case from the get-go. Just minutes into the first period, Lehtera and Dale Weise were front and center on a 3-on-1 charge but fumbled the puck around and failed to even get a shot on goal. ON A 3-ON-1! The combination of Lehtera and Weise were too slow to make any impactful moves and showed absolutely no desperation on the play. It worked out about as well as expected. There were other moments in the game when Lehtera looked utterly lost, too. He trailed many plays and got caught flat-footed on more than one occasion. Then, late in the third period, he left his feet to sprawl out in open ice in the defensive zone while a Blackhawk curled from the corner and easily skated by him to center the puck. You can’t leave your feet to defend like that. Skate with your opponent and get your stick in a passing lane. Heck, throw a body into him. Anything is better than flopping around like a fish out of water. That’s not defense. And I don’t care if he was at the end of a shift. It looked lazy.
Yes, I know. You can’t win if you don’t score goals. Am I being a little hard on Elliott? Maybe. But I’m still not pleased with what I’ve seen from the 11th-year vet. He’s not tracking the puck well and is often out of position. I’ve lost count at how many times I’ve watched him slide either into the back of the net or to the outside perimeter of the crease when trying to make a play on the puck. He’s not recovering well and his lateral movement has been painful to observe. Elliott made a nice save early on when Richard Panik blew by Brandon Manning (we’ll get to that) but even then he didn’t seem square to the shooter. Maybe he just has an awkward stance. I’m not sure but he doesn’t ever seem comfortable. My biggest gripe? I would’ve liked to have seen Elliott bail out Robert Hagg on Chicago’s second goal. Hagg was to blame for his rookie mistake fumbling the puck at the blue line but that was a big play in the game. If Elliott could’ve came up with a big save, it’s still just a one-goal game. He also bit pretty hard on Jonathan Toews’ move to the backhand and left his five hole wide open. No doubt it was a great deke but that could’ve been a momentum-changing stop.
Oh, Brandon. Let’s talk about that badly-judged defensive play on Panik. First of all, you weren’t even moving your feet. Second of all, you allowed Panik to chip the puck past you and pick it up off the boards unscathed. Third of all, you’re probably not even reading this. Why I am talking directly to you? Whatever. It’s difficult to be this critical of Manning because he is what he is: a sixth/seventh guy in the rotation. With all the injuries, however, he’s been tasked with a bigger role. He logged 20:18 of ice time against Chicago but that doesn’t mean it was all productive. On two breakouts, Manning carelessly attempted to move the puck up ice with his head down. You’re probably shocked to learn both plays ended up as turnovers. He also got caught taking a dumb holding penalty that resulted in the Blackhawks’ first goal. He didn’t even try to disguise what he was trying to do. Manning stopped moving his feet, extended his arm and latched on to Ryan Hartman’s shoulder while pulling him backwards. That’s a penalty every time and an easy call for the refs to make. It cost the Flyers, too, as Artem Anisimov scored with Manning in the box.