Well, the Flyers at least proved they were good enough to overcome the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night.
Just one little thing.
They weren’t good enough to overcome the officiating, too.
The Flyers were on the wrong side of two egregious overturned goals and lost the services of defenseman Radko Gudas in the third period after a, we’ll call it questionable, charging major in a deflating 5-4 loss to the Senators at Canadian Tire Centre. Ultimately, the best way to avoid the anger over the outcome is to keep the puck out of the net (we’ll get to that). And if we’re being honest, it was nice to see them claw their way back but they’re overall play was far from being as good as what the final score indicates.
We’ll break down the controversial Brandon Manning and Sean Couturier disallowed goals at the end of the week in our best and worst column but, for now, we’re going to focus on three players who played well and three players who did not. Here we go!
What more can you say about the top-line center? You heard that right. He’s a top-line center and playing some of the best hockey of his career. The 24-year-old collected a goal and two assists against the Sens and should’ve been credited with a game-tying goal with less than a minute remaining. But I digress. Couturier had a nice give-and-go with Claude Giroux in the neutral zone before Jakub Voracek eventually earned his first goal of the season. Couturier also played a hand in Ivan Provorov’s second tally of the young season. He handed the puck off to Provorov after a clean offensive-zone entry but Provorov’s initial shot sailed over the net. Travis Konecny collected it and sent it back over to a waiting Provorov up high. The rest was history. Oh, and Couturier’s goal? It was a beauty. He parked himself in the high slot and showed some stellar hand/eye coordination on his deflection that fooled Craig Anderson. Couturier now has a team-high seven goals in 10 games. He’s also racked up five assists and 12 points to go along with a plus-10 rating. Who said this guy couldn’t contribute?
You just knew it was coming. Voracek has been playing with a purpose in the early going but just couldn’t get one to find twine. That changed on Thursday. And it just had to come from below the goal line, behind the net and from a terrible angle. Doesn’t matter. He’ll take it. He was smart to throw the puck on net towards Anderson, who was anticipating a pass, and he finally caught a break when it bounced in. Voracek, Giroux and Couturier were buzzing all game long really. Aside from the top line, only the trio of Taylor Leier, Scott Laughton and Raffl can say they had a strong outing. The fourth line was tenacious on the forecheck all night long and had some quality chances. The top line was no different. Voracek (7), Giroux (2) and Couturier (6) combined for 15 shots on goal. Voracek was also the one who set up Shayne Gostisbehere at the point on Couturier’s deflection goal. That gave Voracek his 13th assist in just his 10th game. His 14 points are a team-high. Keep feeding them, Jake.
This was a nice bounce back game for Konecny. He didn’t have Nolan Patrick but he still found ways to create chances for himself. Even with Jori Lehtera and Matt Read on his line. That’s no easy feat. Lehtera and Read aren’t exactly considered offensive dynamos. After a fantastic play by Gudas to break up an entry attempt that allowed a transition rush to even become possible, Konecny found himself 1-on-1 with Anderson. Gudas showed some serious composure before getting the puck up to Konecny. Most defensemen would have rushed the play but he saw it early and waited it out. And Konecny? He made sure not to miss. He fired an absolutely lethal snap shot from the slot past Anderson for his second goal in 2017-18. He put the Flyers back within reach at 3-2 at the time. Later on, he picked up a key assist on Provorov’s blast. It was a heads up play to track an errant shot off the boards and to quickly get it back to Provorov. It took some poise, something Konecny surely isn’t lacking.
This was a game in which the Flyers needed their goaltender to come up with a big save. They waited. And waited some more. It came way too late. It wasn’t until there was less than seven minutes remaining that Neuvirth made a crucial stop for his club. Even then, they were still down two goals. He needed to be better. Much better. You can give him a pass for the first goal. He had several bodies in front of him and it would’ve been impossible for him to track that floating shot through traffic. But Ottawa’s tally that made it 3-0 was a different story. Sure, Konecny turned the puck over in the neutral zone. On the ensuing rush, however, the Flyers’ forward played Erik Karlsson, who was leading the charge, pretty well and forced him to the left side of the ice to the top of the circle. Karlsson, the superstar that he is, was able to dish the puck back to the middle to an open Jean-Gabriel Pageau but he was still just a few inches above the circle. The Flyers played the 2-on-2 strongly but Pageau still found a way to beat Neuvirth from long distance. That can’t happen. Especially when your team is on the power play. Also, Tom Pyatt’s marker was probably one Neuvirth would want back. Gostisbehere did an admirable job on a 2-on-1 rush with no help but Pyatt still buried a pass attempt from the right faceoff dot. Neuvirth should’ve read it better or at the very least put himself in a position to make a save. That was essentially the story of the night.
I know I sung his praises just a day ago but Sanheim sure did look like a rookie on Thursday. The 21-year-old wasn’t making confident or smart decisions in his own zone and turned the puck over several times along the boards. His clear attempts didn’t have much on them and he actually fell to the ice on multiple occasions. #SanheimDown. In a stroke of bad luck, he accidentally got a piece of the puck on the Sens’ second goal, too. There was poor defensive zone positioning all around but Sanheim was left by himself to patrol the top of the crease, seemingly mesmerized by the puck. Robert Hagg was knocked off the puck behind the net only to fight back hard to catch up to his opponent and put him into the boards. Giroux then turned the puck over after a failed clear off the glass and Ottawa found a breaking Mark Borowiecki from the point on the other side of the ice. Then his offering went off Sanheim and trickled past the goal line. Sanheim made up for it a little bit later in the game. He’s still very much feeling his way out in the defensive zone but he’s making good plays pinching up and helping out in the offensive zone. He also made a dazzling cross-ice pass to Giroux in full flight that kickstarted a dangerous opportunity from Michael Raffl. Unfortunately, Raffl sent the puck way high. This is the type of film review that coaches need to go through with Sanheim. They’re called teaching moments. He’ll get there eventually.
Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds really should’ve been included with Filppula because the second line was non-existent in Ottawa. Can you remember a single play they made? Didn’t think so. They just couldn’t get anything going offensively and spent the majority of their shifts pinned in their own end while the Sens put on a shooting clinic. For the sake of argument, I’ll single out Filppula. The veteran center did a nice job getting his motor going on a backcheck in the second period but his man-to-man coverage on Mark Stone was somewhat of a backbreaker. Stone easily pulled a spin-o-rama deke and deposited a backhanded shot to give Ottawa a 4-2 lead after the Flyers reeled off two straight in less than a minute to make it a one-goal game. Filppula has to get a body on Stone. Or a stick even. Anything to disrupt the play. Stone went untouched and it was a goal that put an immediate halt on the Flyers’ momentum.