The Flyers did what they could with what they had to work with. In their first game back after a 10-day pause from game-play due to a COVID outbreak among the team, the Flyers had a majority of their usual lineup on the ice, but were also trying to fill the vacancies of six regular players.
Somehow, they managed to get the game to overtime and earn a point. They’ll take it.
While the Rangers snapped a four-game losing streak and earned just their fifth win of the season against the Flyers on Thursday night, the circumstances the Flyers were in made this an uphill battle from the start. The Flyers got off to a good one at that, but ultimately had to overcome too much to secure that second point.
Here are five takeaways from Thursday’s shootout loss.
1. Making the Most of Extra Minutes
Alain Vigneault said before the game that players who wanted a greater opportunity or extra minutes were going to get it, simply because the circumstances required it. It took 59 seconds for two of those players in an increased role to take advantage.
Michael Raffl and Nicolas Aube-Kubel were playing on the second line with Kevin Hayes, and the trio was dominant in the first period. Raffl did a ton of the hard work to get the puck to the net and behind Alexandar Georgiev, and Aube-Kubel cleaned it up for the opening goal.
As the game wore on, several of these top players got much more significant minutes, and it seemed to take its toll on a team that hadn’t played in so long and only got one or two full practices in along with Thursday’s morning skate. Raffl finished with a career-high 20:33. Joel Farabee, who scored the game-tying goal with 1:14 to play in the third, had 21:18 of ice time, also a career high. Sean Couturier played 23:39 and Hayes played 22:05.
It was a grueling game for these players, who had to shoulder a lot of ice time to even give the Flyers a chance. They will certainly take the point and the shootout loss result under these circumstances.
2. Hart Looks Sharp
Even with a shorthanded lineup, the Flyers had a shot to win this game because they did have their usual goaltending duo available. With Carter Hart in goal, he showed early why that is possible.
Hart was very sharp from the start. Through two periods, the Rangers had 23 shots and just one goal on a power-play deflection. A great pass by Artemi Panarin to Brendan Smith got Hart down and out on the second goal.
But the Rangers had many more opportunities to put this game away and take advantage. One was a penalty shot late in the second, that shouldn’t have been a penalty shot because Pavel Buchnevich did get off an initial shot attempt. Hart stopped that, then stopped the penalty shot as well.
Hart did allow the two goals in the shootout, but that was two excellent shots that just beat him. Not much you can do in the skills competition.
3. The New Guys
If a lot of the regulars in increased roles were setting career highs in ice time, some of the new faces trying to fill in were seeing more limited ice time.
Maksim Sushko made his NHL debut in Thursday’s game. He looked alright in this one, recording one hit and playing 5:55 of ice time. He had a turnover in his own zone early that showed the adjustment process it would likely take for him to play at the NHL level.
Sam Morin played his second game at left wing, and while he was only on the ice for 6:32, he continued to show that he does have some natural instincts that at least make him serviceable in this area. He doesn’t do anything to overly stand out, other than using his size and physicality, but he’s not as much of a liability as he could be.
David Kase was also in the lineup for the first time this season. His speed is always evident and his motor never stops. Again, his ice time was somewhat limited, getting 10:58 of ice time, but he did see the ice during the power play at times.
4. Special Teams
Special teams were especially prominent in this one. There were 10 penalties called in the first 40 minutes of the game, which really didn’t allow for much game flow at all. Both teams had five power plays in the game. The Rangers had the only tally.
It’s not necessarily fair to criticize the Flyers power play when they are working with a shorthanded lineup, one goal could have been the difference-maker in this one. There were far too many opportunities that went by the wayside.
That said, credit to the Flyers penalty kill. Again, a shorthanded group held the Rangers to one goal on five opportunities, and that one goal came with four seconds left on a penalty to Hayes, one of the team’s top penalty killers. This was especially evident on the penalty kill in overtime with Nolan Patrick in the box.
5. On to the Next One
Things don’t get any easier or any better for the Flyers when it comes to the lineup. The six regulars out for Thursday’s game are not going to Lake Tahoe, and that means this shorthanded lineup will have to face a much tougher task in the Boston Bruins.
The good news is that the Flyers appear to have the COVID situation in check. They are back on the ice, they are getting regular work in, and they have six players on the COVID list. By taking those players out of the equation for Sunday’s game, the Flyers have five days until their next game on home ice against the Rangers again to try to get some of those players back.
For now, it’s simply on to the next one.