Welp. At least the Flyers scored a hockey goal, right?
After back-to-back shutouts to the Minnesota Wild, the Flyers did the impossible and actually scored two hockey goals in one period Thursday night in Winnipeg.
One big problem: It was the same old Flyers. You know, the top line carrying them. The fourth line buzzing, but not connecting. The middle-six looking like a bunch of misfit toys. And another awesome goaltending performance wasted.
Did you really think that 2-0 lead was going to hold? Don’t lie to yourself.
The Flyers shot themselves in the foot again. The Jets, predictably, scored in the final minute to force overtime and eventually stole a second point from the orange and black in a 3-2 shootout decision. Let’s take a look at the good and the bad:
Remember earlier in the season when Elliott was having a tough time tracking the puck and often looked out of position while fighting off shots? Well, the veteran is certainly justifying the Flyers’ decision to keep rolling with him through his struggles. He’s locked in now. Despite an 0-2-1 record in his last three starts, Elliott has allowed just four goals during that stretch — his finest as a Flyer. Against Winnipeg, he put on a clinic. In the first period, he made a save on sniper Patrik Laine look simple when the sequence leading up to the shot made it anything but. He smothered the rebound and even took a few jabs after the whistle but he refused to budge. Laine put a rocket on net during a power play that Elliott had no problem grabbing, too. It’s not often you see a Laine blast not lead to a rebound or goal. Elliott also stoned Bryan Little on a sprawling stop that hurt to watch. The 32-year-old is proving he is still agile with his lateral movements. And with the Flyers still holding a one-goal lead in the third, Elliott made a strong save on Mark Scheifele after a defensive breakdown. Scheifele got himself wide open in the slot but Elliott read the play well and anticipated the pass before the shot. Then, in overtime, Elliott came up with three big saves, none bigger than the one on Kyle Connor. It’s a shame the Flyers haven’t been able to take advantage of his hot streak. Forget that Elliott allowed three goals on four shootout attempts. The game should’ve never gotten to that point. Elliott, again, deserved better.
It’s safe to say Couturier is feeling it. The 24-year-old is oozing confidence. He made an excellent decision to get a quick shot on net early in the first period and it led to a slam dunk rebound goal for Jakub Voracek. It was nice to see a Flyers’ forward think shoot-first for a change. Couturier kept up his strong offensive play during an early power play, too. After some stellar puck movement by the entire top unit, Couturier got greasy and earned his 11th goal of the season. Make it 21 points in just 19 games. Couturier could’ve easily had another goal and assist in Winnipeg. He pulled two defenders his way before dishing an underrated pass to a breaking Travis Konecny but the Flyers couldn’t capitalize on the play. In the third period, Couturier snuck in back door but Josh Morrissey made a heads up play to lift Couturier’s stick before he was able to jam a loose puck home. Now if only the Flyers could get a forward not named Couturier, Voracek or Claude Giroux to produce.
The Flyers’ No. 1 defenseman is 20 years old. Deal with it. Provorov continued his fantastic sophomore campaign against the Jets. After losing Radko Gudas to a game misconduct (we’ll get to that), Provorov was forced to elevate his game and bring some stability to the back end. He finished the night with over 29 minutes of ice time, including 6:35 while shorthanded. Provorov was quite active, finishing his checks in the defensive zone and often joining the rush in the offensive zone. On one pinch, Dustin Byfuglien took a run at Provorov but the young Russian was smart enough to keep his head up as he skated behind the net and eluded the contact. His best defensive play came in the third period. Laine nonchalantly entered the Flyers’ zone and exposed the puck to Provorov, who made a simple poke check to disrupt the play. That’s a no-no by Laine. Provorov lives for moments like that. He makes it look so easy. He even got a piece on a pass attempt towards the middle of the ice in the same shift. Provorov nearly ended the game during 3-on-3 overtime, as well. He deked with a nifty nice toe drag in the opening seconds but couldn’t finish. Didn’t matter. He was again one of the better blueliners on the ice.
Overall, I don’t think Konecny had a terrible night. He’s playing well and, at times, looks like an elite forward. But at some point, the Flyers need him to start scoring. There’s nothing wrong with forechecking hard and creating chances. That’s a good thing. But he’s just not producing. Some of it is bad luck. Some of it is self-inflicted. Too often Konecny is thinking pass-first. When you’ve been playing with guys like Valtteri Filppula, Jori Lehtera and Dale Weise, you’ve got to be the one shooting the puck. Whenever Konecny gets the puck to one of his linemates, the play seems to die immediately. That’s not his fault, but you’d like to see him take control more often. Konecny’s speed is one of his greatest assets. He used it on more than one occasion to enter the zone and set up Filppula. He even drew a tripping penalty on Byfuglien by keeping his feet moving. But, ultimately, his efforts weren’t good enough. Twice by my count he sent a pass into the feet of a teammate or a foot off the ice that needed to be batted out of the air instead of using a clear shooting lane. Those are missed opportunities to add to a lead. And in OT, he sailed a wide-open shot high and wide after Shayne Gostisbehere and Giroux played catch and pulled all three Jets players their way to leave him alone in the first place. Konecny has to bury that.
Rookie mistakes happen. Sanheim made one that will surely haunt him Thursday. With the Flyers holding a two-goal lead, the 21-year-old turned the puck over at the blue line after a faceoff win in the offensive zone. The bigger problem was that the Flyers were also shorthanded and the miscue led to a 2-on-1 rush the other way. Joel Armia got Brandon Manning to bite on a fake shot and sent the puck over to Mathieu Perreault, who converted after a nice deke on Elliot. Sanheim skated hard on the backcheck but arrived just a second too late. That’s just part of the learning process though. He’ll get rid of the puck quicker next time.
We’ll talk about how the refs handled this situation in our Weekly Best and Worst column. That’s for another time. Let’s just look at what went down. Gudas was ejected after logging just two minutes and 33 seconds of ice time. He was assessed a five-minute major for slashing Perreault and a game misconduct. It was actually the correct call. Initially, it looked like Gudas was fighting off interference and trying to maintain his balance. Perreault did give Gudas a few cross-checks to the back and wound up knocking his helmet off. What came next was reckless. Gudas chopped his stick downwards after kicking out Perreault’s leg and the slash connected on Perreault’s neck. Now I don’t believe there was any intent by Gudas to whack Perreault on the head or neck. It doesn’t matter though. It was still illegal and he has to know that if he does something remotely stupid, he will get called for it. He has a reputation. I don’t care that Perreault jumped over him and ripped his helmet off. You can’t be that careless with your stick. It was wrong of him. Granted, he didn’t chase him down or truly attempt to injure him. Gudas got pissed and in the heat of the moment took a swing at him. It wound up hurting the Flyers greatly. Rotating a five-man unit with two rookies isn’t ideal. Gudas, ultimately, put his team in a bad spot and he’s going to pay for it.