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Flyers-Canadiens Observations: Just Rewards

By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor 

The Flyers nearly got a taste of their own medicine. On Tuesday, Carter Hart bailed out the Flyers for a slow start against a speedy and tenacious Carolina Hurricanes team, setting the stage for a three-goal third period and a 4-1 win. On Thursday, Carey Price did his best to upstage that performance.

Price allowed just two goals on 42 shots through 60 minutes. The Flyers watched a 2-0 lead slip away on two opportune chances and there was more than a fair chance that the Flyers could lose a valuable second point in the standings.

Sean Couturier had the heroics, scoring the game-winning goal on a shot that leaked through Price in the Flyers 3-2 win over the Canadiens on Thursday night, a just reward for the team that had dominated for most of regulation.

Here are some observations from the Flyers overtime win.

Forechecking

Montreal finished the first period with 12 shots on goal, in large part due to a quick start that featured several scoring chances. They managed to hold a 6-1 lead in shots within the first seven minutes of the game.

From there, the Flyers completely turned things around and for most of the remainder of the game, the ice was tilted. The Flyers kept firing on Price and opened up an 18-12 lead in shots in the opening period. In the second, they dominated to the tune of a 15-1 lead in shots in the period in just over 10 minutes. By the end of regulation, shots were 42-24. There was only one shot in overtime, Couturier’s game-winner.

A big part of the Flyers lead in shots was the amount of time the Flyers had the puck. Their forecheck was tenacious. They forced the Canadiens into errors, turnovers and bad exits from their own zone. They crashed the net. They kept coming in waves.

Forechecking is such a big part of the process Alain Vigneault wants the Flyers to follow. I asked the head coach if this was the best he had seen the forechecking this season.

“It was a good night there’s no doubt. We created a lot of turnovers. We put them in situations where they didn’t have a lot of options and we were able to create those turnovers,” Vigneault said. “Part of chipping pucks behind is big first on that puck and you’re not really in the forecheck, you’re into offensive zone possession. So, our guys are understanding the difference and slowly but surely, we’re getting better at those important issues.”

After looking a little overmatched by Carolina, the Flyers really took it to Montreal, and that’s encouraging to see against a team that entered having won four of their last five games.

Phil Myers

It’s been an up-and-down year for Phil Myers so far. He entered camp with high expectations and fell short of making the roster out of camp. He played well in the minors and earned the call-up, but his first few games at the NHL showed some shortcomings and inconsistencies.

On Thursday, this was the steady Phil Myers that people want to see, very poised with the puck, solid skating without it, and even rewarded with a goal.

Myers took a Montreal turnover and threw a shot on net that hit Shea Weber and went in.

“I just was trying to keep it simple, just trying to do my job I guess and being aggressive on them, not giving them any time and space and it worked out for us tonight,” Myers said. “I thought we played a real solid 60 minutes and we got the 2 points so it was a big game.”

The Flyers have had some defensive issues this season and are still trying to find that consistency among all pairs. That has already started with the duo of Ivan Provorov and Matt Niskanen. It’s starting to come together for Myers and Travis Sanheim as well.

The Power Play

This was perhaps the biggest reason the Flyers were locked in a 2-2 game and needed overtime to get the win. For all of the shots and chances they had, the Flyers struggled to generate much on the power play against the NHL’s 30th ranked penalty kill.

In reality, the power play wasn’t really a problem in the early part of the game. The Flyers got their first power play with 1:17 left in the first period and scored six seconds after the penalty expired early in the second with power play personnel on the ice. But from there, the Flyers had multiple opportunities to take a 2-0 game and bury Montreal for their mistakes.

The Flyers had 3:48 of consecutive power play time including a brief 5-on-3. They had a late power play in the second with a chance to restore a two-goal lead. They had two power plays in the third period on avoidable penalties to Montreal -- a too-man-men bench minor and a delay of game bench minor -- and failed to score on all of them.

If this game had gone in favor of Montreal, this would be the first area to point to as the reason.

Carsen Twarynski

Vigneault made a change after Tuesday’s game to move Carsen Twarynski up to the third line and move Michael Raffl down to the fourth line. He noted then that this was not a demotion for Raffl, but a way to try to balance out the bottom six. The fourth line in particular looked very overmatched against Carolina with Twarynski, German Rubtsov and Tyler Pitlick on the bottom line. With Raffl on the line, there was more defensive stability.

Back to Twarynski, who received praise from Vigneault for his play on that line. 

“I like [Twarynski] on that line. I thought he was skating, I thought he was physical,” Vigneault said. “The fourth line played 7-8 minutes, their important minutes. I thought that line tried to get pucks deep and tried to spend some time in the other end.”

Vigneault also mentioned that Twarynski’s linemates, Jake Voracek and Kevin Hayes, “have more to give” to the group.

Twarynski was definitely using his speed, up on the forecheck and was a central figure on Myers’ goal, getting the puck in front and providing a screen. He also got behind the defense in the third period and was awarded a penalty shot after being hooked by Weber. He did not score, but it was another part of his strong game in a promoted role.

Good Test Ahead

Since dropping back-to-back games on Long Island and in Pittsburgh, the Flyers are on a four-game points streak. It certainly cannot be overlooked who they have played on that streak. 

The shootout win against New Jersey was your typical tight-checking affair. They played a solid game against Toronto, who was much more rested and energized, and held their own despite a shootout loss. They got the goaltending and used a big third period to beat Carolina. And now they held their own and dominated Montreal for the better part of 50 minutes. To get seven out of eight points against that list of opponents is excellent.

But there is an even tougher road ahead, a great test to see where this team is. They had a weekend back-to-back against Toronto and Boston, both on the road, both highly skilled teams. They come home next Wednesday to face Washington, a team currently on a five-game winning streak. After facing Ottawa on the road next Friday night, they return home again to face the New York Islanders, who just had a 10-game winning streak snapped in an overtime loss to Pittsburgh.

In the next five games, the Flyers will play each of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference at the moment.

Sam Morin

While the Flyers did postgame media availability, the news broke that defenseman Sam Morin had suffered another torn ACL on the same knee as before. 

It’s hard to say if Morin was really going to be in the Flyers plans this year. He was down on a conditioning assignment with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms to try to get some game action in with the goal of returning to the NHL lineup soon. But with Myers starting to solidify a role and Robert Hagg taking up a roster spot as a healthy scratch, it was hard to see Morin entering the lineup any time soon.

That said, you have to feel for Morin. He worked incredibly hard to come back from the first ACL tear, taking almost an entire season off from the Phantoms playoff run two seasons ago to the final game of the Flyers season in April, when he finally was able to play in an NHL game again. He got one NHL game in with the Flyers this season too, but had entered training camp in better health and ready to take on the challenge of trying to find a place in the lineup. He would have to go through another year-long recovery just to try to have a chance again. The reality of the situation is that his playing career is certainly in jeopardy.

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