If you took a quick glance at the box score, you’d assume the Flyers ran into a hot goalie on Saturday.
No disrespect to Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk intended but, aside from a few quality chances from the top line, the Flyers didn’t exactly make things difficult for the Wild.
Sure, they put 32 shots on target in the 1-0 loss. Then again, a large majority of them came from the perimeter or with a clear lane in front of Dubnyk.
Be honest, how many times did you feel the Flyers were actually threatening to score?
It wasn’t the most fun hockey to watch. Both goalies played well, for sure, but what about the rest of the team? Let’s break it all down:
For a guy who has been rocky at best, Elliott has put together two excellent starts in a row. The veteran netminder deserved a much better fate on Saturday. He was excellent against the Wild. You knew he was going to have a sound outing right away. With the Flyers on an early power play, Mikko Koivu broke loose in open space and turned the jets on. Elliott did a great job to come out and challenge the Minnesota captain and stuck with him when he attempted to deke to the far side on his forehand. It was a huge shorthanded stop that kept the game knotted at 0-0 early in the first period. Elliott made another tough save on Koivu in the second period when he got his left arm out on a blast from the circle. The most important part? Elliott simply wasn’t allowing any rebounds all night long. It’s weird because, fundamentally, he looks terrible at times but still manages to turn the puck aside. I guess whatever works, right? When you’re smothering everything thrown your way and giving up very few second chances, you’re going to give your team a chance to win the game. Elliot’s best stop came in the second period when he sprawled across the crease during a penalty kill and got his left pad out to turn away a Marcus Foligno attempt. By the end of the night, he wound up with 26 saves on 27 shots. If he continues to play like he did against Minnesota, you won’t find many more losses next to his name.
Provorov is a joy to watch when the game is close and an emphasis is put on shutdown defense. There is absolutely no panic in his game. In the first period, the young Russian made an amazing diving poke check to break up a pass in a dangerous area in front for Nino Niederreiter. It looked like he had no chance to make a play on the puck, but he smartly made the quick decision to leave his feet and disrupt the pass. Later on, the Wild had a 3-on-1 developing but it dissipated because of Provorov. With three forwards baring down on him, Provorov stayed in the middle of the ice and took away every passing lane. That’s going to be used in the film review, as it was about as well as you can play on a 3-on-1 rush. The shot came from outside of the circle and Elliott grabbed it with his glove. It never felt like Minnesota was going get a quality chance off. In the third period, Provorov again showed off his incredible poise by alertly pinching and fighting for a puck along the boards with the Flyers down 1-0. He knew he had to take a chance on the 50-50 puck with his team trailing. He actually kept the play alive, allowing Jakub Voracek to draw a holding penalty in the corner after getting the puck in deep. These are the things that don’t show up on the scoresheet. Provorov excels at the little things.
Hagg is such a bruiser. If you’re going to park yourself in front of the net or battle for a loose puck along the wall, good luck getting back to your bench unpunished if Hagg is on the ice. It’s no surprise he’s among the league leaders in hits. He finishes every shift with at least one crunching check. Hagg caught Mikael Granlund in the corner during a penalty kill that led to a turnover and a Flyers clear. He made a similar play later in the game when he sent Koivu into the wall and then jumped on the loose puck to start a breakout. It was actually Hagg’s most active game in the offensive zone since his NHL debut last season. The young Swede, on multiple occasions, jumped up on the rush and continually put pucks on net. He finished the night with four shots, six hits and one blocked shot in 18:28 TOI. The thing I liked the most? Hagg was calm and collected with the puck on his stick blade. He had one shift where he skated from his blue line, deked past two Wild forecheckers in the neutral zone and cleanly entered the offensive zone before making a nice drop pass to start an attack. For a second, I thought he was Shayne Gostisbehere before I did a double take. Hagg’s just getting more and more comfortable as an NHLer each game.
Right now, it seems like Filppula is going through the motions. On many shifts, he’s difficult to find. On other shifts, he’s there but doesn’t do anything of importance. With the Flyers down a tally in the third, Filppula did put himself in an excellent position in the slot with his linemates pressing. It was probably the first time Minnesota left a forward unmarked in front in over 20 minutes but Filppula never got a shot off. He never really shows any urgency to get a shot off. It’s almost like he doesn’t want the puck at this point. The veteran center’s worst mistake, however, came on the Wild’s lone score. Filppula, flat-footed, allowed Jason Zucker to sneak to the back door and bank one off Elliott’s back for his ninth goal of the season. Filppula attempted to lift Zucker’s stick but failed to break up the shot attempt. He’s got to do a better job marking his man and being stronger on the puck carrier on plays like that.
It’s impossible to know if whatever was ailing Simmonds a few weeks ago is still an issue. Simmonds won’t admit if he’s ailing. The Flyers won’t say anything other than “upper” or “lower” body injury in their reports. But it’s clear something is bothering Simmonds. It could be an injury. It could be frustration. Whatever it is, the Flyers need him to figure it out. The usually hard-working and physical forward has just two assists in his last nine games and hasn’t scored since Oct. 21. I didn’t even realize he was playing on Saturday until he made a critical mistake late in the game. With his team on a penalty kill, Simmonds badly missed a shot attempt off a rush high and the puck rolled all the way out to the neutral zone to create an odd-man rush the other way for the Wild. That’s a big no-no while shorthanded. You have to make sure you hit the net there. The Flyers were lucky nothing came of it. Simmonds has Elliott to thank for that.
Voracek was fine offensively on Saturday night. He was his usual playmaking self, several times setting up Claude Giroux or Sean Couturier, and even managed to put some good shots on net in an early power play. That was fine. What the team can’t afford, however, is for Voracek to be in the box multiple times for lazy penalties. They need him on the ice creating offense. Voracek was whistled for two holding penalties – one on Granlund and one on Jonas Brodin – against Minnesota. The latter call was with just 3:49 remaining in the game with the Flyers down 1-0. You can’t clutch and grab anymore. You’re going to get called. Keep your hands and stick down. Instead of putting all their efforts towards the tying goal, the Flyers were forced to kill two minutes of precious time late in the game because of Voracek. Then, when he exited the box, they had just 1:49 left to try to get the equalizer. It wasn’t enough.