By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor
The opening 20 minutes couldn’t have gone any better for the Flyers. Then they got away from their game and let the Ottawa Senators take control.
A 2-0 lead vanished within the first four minutes of the second period. The Senators continued to push, and got their first lead with under seven minutes to play in the third. It was shaping up to be another disappointing and frustrating loss for the Flyers.
A fortunate bounce got the game tied and to overtime, allowing the Flyers to keep their points streak going. Then they finished the job in overtime this time around, with Travis Sanheim closing out the win.
It wasn’t pretty, and against another of the NHL’s bottom-feeder teams, the mistakes being made and the habits continuing to take center-stage are still troubling. But the Flyers also have strung together wins and points, and that’s what was needed against these teams. Now they need to continue to form better habits and apply it, perhaps as soon as next week against some tough Metro Division competition, if the schedule allows.
Here are five takeaways from the Flyers 4-3 overtime win over the Senators.
1. Oskar’s Strong Start
The Flyers got off to a fast start and Oskar Lindblom was right in the center of it.
The scoring opened at 4:19 with Claude Giroux scoring the goal off a blind, backhand pass from Lindblom behind the net. Just 3:13 later, Lindblom was on the ice for about five seconds, as the Flyers started a line change while maintaining possession on a dominant offensive-zone shift, and scored on a one-timer from distance that deflected off the stick of Thomas Chabot.
The two points were Lindblom’s third goal and third assist of the season. In the last seven games, he has five of his six points. In the last three games, he has two multi-point games. Those last seven games happen to be the entire tenure of Mike Yeo as interim head coach, and during that time, Lindblom has played in a variety of roles, but more consistently at the top of the lineup and around talent that can lead to more production.
“It’s always easier when you play more and get some PP time and all that, so get some confidence back,” Lindblom said. “I felt good before too, but I couldn’t really get the puck in, so it’s a lot of luck and also a lot of more work behind.”
2. Giroux Ties Barber
Back to the first goal of the night, scored by Giroux. It was Giroux’s 883rd career point. That tied him with Bill Barber for second all-time in Flyers history.
Giroux is another player who has been heating up of late. In the month of December, a total of nine games now, Giroux has four goals and four assists for eight points. Additionally, Giroux has continued to make Flyers history throughout the course of the month.
Just last Friday in a 4-3 win over Vegas, Giroux set the franchise record for power-play points with 334. Once he does surpass Barber with his next point, he’ll have two more feats within reach – his 900th career point and becoming the second Flyers player in franchise history to reach 1,000 games played. Giroux currently sits 17 points and 29 games shy of those feats.
Obviously, in a season like this and how it has progressed so far, there’s a lot of discussion about Giroux’s future and just how many of these feats he will accomplish. The ones listed above are definitely in sight, but how much more of a future is there. It depends on the results and the level of play the Flyers deliver in the next few games they play.
For now, the Flyers have points in five straight games and a 4-0-1 record in that time. That’s a step in the right direction, and going into last Friday’s game in Vegas, if you would have said this would be the end result, everyone would have taken it. But is it enough? Can this team match the compete and skill levels of the others they will face? Giroux seems to think so.
“I think that not just because we’re winning but because we’re helping each other, working as a team, and things are kind of clicking right now,” Giroux said. “We started the game playing very well, and they took over. We took our foot off the gas and they came back. But in general, offense, defense, we’re still trying to work on our game and we know we can play better. We just got to keep communicating and keep working together and hopefully wins are going to come with that.”
3. Season of Giving
With a week until Christmas, the Flyers had their annual Holiday Spectacular on Saturday night. The team also seemed to be in the giving spirit of the holiday during Saturday’s game.
After a dominant first period, the Flyers looked flat and lacked energy in the second period. The Ottawa Senators, who went the first 13:40 without a shot on goal in the opening period, returned the favor to the Flyers by striking for two goals in 1:13 during the first four minutes of the second period.
On the first goal by Tim Stützle, Martin Jones didn’t play the angle properly. Yes, Stützle came in with a lot of speed and made quite the shot, but Jones was very out of position.
On Alex Formenton’s game-tying shorthanded goal, well, the Senators can thank Keith Yandle for that one. Yandle and Travis Konecny crossed signals on a zone entry on the power play. As Yandle went back to play the puck in the neutral zone, Formenton stepped up and lifted his stick to take the puck and get the breakaway chance. He beat Jones through the five-hole.
Even beyond the second period, the Flyers couldn’t get the puck deep in the latter stages of the third period, allowing the Senators to come back, get a clean zone entry, and work the puck back to Artem Zub with traffic in front as he took the shot that gave Ottawa their first lead.
These are the little mistakes that can oftentimes go unnoticed, especially when they don’t result in goals. These issues are still in the Flyers game, and it shows just how much work there is to be done with this team.
4. A Favorable Bounce and Sanheim’s Heroics
Turns out, some luck was on the Flyers side as the Ottawa lead lasted for just 52 seconds. The reason was a fortunate bounce as Joel Farabee centered the puck and it hit Chabot and bounced in on goal and past Anton Forsberg.
To that point, who knows how the final few minutes would have played out without that luck. The Flyers had very few quality chances during the second period, outside of a late-period surge, and had just six shots on goal in the third period.
That goal for Farabee, who also was making his return from injury after missing seven games, set up overtime. The Flyers dominated once again at 3-on-3, taking possession early and never giving it back. Another generous bounce out of the corner allowed Cam Atkinson to get control again in the offensive zone with a mini 2-on-0 down low. Travis Sanheim was going to the net and ready for Atkinson’s pass, lifting his shot over Forsberg for the game-winner.
5. Uncertain Future
The overtime win and the five-game points streak the Flyers are on is all well and good for a team that needed to pick up as many points as possible in a short timeframe – I would say nine out of 10 points in eight days is amassing points in a hurry.
That said, it’s also impossible to ignore the uncertainty that the Flyers and the rest of the NHL face over the next few days. COVID cases and illness continued to be a problem.
The Flyers-Senators game on Saturday night was one of five that were played on a night when 10 games were originally scheduled. Another eight were scheduled for Sunday, but now only four of those will be played, barring any other postponements.
In the Flyers case, things are relatively mild compared to other teams in the league. Morgan Frost entered COVID protocol during Tuesday’s game against the Devils. Prior to Saturday’s game, Max Willman also entered protocol and Carter Hart was unavailable due to an undetermined illness.
The immediate goal for the NHL at the moment seems to be getting to the league’s regularly-scheduled break over Christmas – no games are played and team facilities are closed from Dec. 24 through Dec. 26. Prior to that, the Flyers have two games remaining – Tuesday night at home against the Washington Capitals and Thursday night on the road against the Pittsburgh Penguins. At the moment, three Capitals players are in COVID protocol and no Penguins players are on the list. Obviously, that can change quickly.
Elsewhere around the league, five teams have already ceased operations through the Christmas pause and more postponements are happening by the hour. There are over 100 players in COVID protocol, but many more unavailable as well. There are multiple coaches not available to their teams, and there are even numerous league officials that are also in protocol.
While the NHL is making an overall pause of the entire league a last resort, there’s an inevitable nature to what is coming. Don’t assume those two games for the Flyers will go on as planned.