By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor
In the moments following the Flyers 6-2 win over Vegas and again the next day at practice, Alain Vigneault showed how things are certainly going to be different. Despite a four-goal second period and a 6-2 final, Vigneault indicated that the period was the Flyers least effective out of the last eight. At practice the next day, Vigneault called upon his top line to start producing.
It wasn’t done maliciously by any stretch, but it still spoke volumes. The other three forward lines had all contributed in the win. Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk were both held without a goal for the seventh straight game.
In Game No. 8 in Chicago, both players finally got on the board, Giroux scoring on a deflection early and van Riemsdyk beating Robin Lehner off a turnover late in the third to seal the Flyers 4-1 win over the Blackhawks.
Here are some observations from the Flyers win over Chicago.
The “Top” Line
On paper, the Giroux line is listed as the top line, but from a production standpoint, it hasn’t been close. When the Flyers first (allowed) goal came from the familiar duo of Travis Konecny and Oskar Lindblom, who now leads the team with five goals, it wasn’t shocking. Playing alongside Sean Couturier, it is a trio that has shined all season.
That is what the Flyers are looking for from Giroux, JVR and Jake Voracek. It is a line with flaws. They spent a couple of shifts hemmed into the own zone because the defensive ability is not elite by any stretch. But you also got the opportune side of the line as well. A turnover to van Riemsdyk in the Chicago zone left him time and space to make a great move and finish. Giroux was in front of the net in position to pick up a deflection for his first goal of the season.
The Flyers have gotten great production lately from the Couturier line and the Kevin Hayes line — more on that in a moment — and if they can get this trio going too, the Flyers depth at forward will be on full display.
It was an interesting night for Joel Farabee to say the least. He had his first NHL point at 6:07 of the first period on an assist to Hayes…only to have the call reversed for offside. He finally did pick up his first NHL point assisting on Hayes breakaway goal in the third. Two minutes after that, Farabee stole the puck at the opposing blue line, went in on goal and picked up his own rebound for his first NHL goal…only to have that taken away on another offside challenge.
Hayes joked after the game that Farabee was too slow on the entry on the first disallowed goal and too fast on the second one.
In all seriousness, the first point was just a matter of time and now the first goal is too. What was more impressive than Farabee’s abilities to make plays with the puck — he made a great pass to Hayes on the first disallowed goal and stayed with the rebound on his own disallowed goal — is his play without it. He made several great reads on the puck to create turnovers. He never stops moving his feet and that motor allows him to constantly be active in the play.
Vigneault said after the game that Farabee has been dependable in all phases of the game, impressive for a 19-year-old with just two games of NHL experience. Even after just two games, you have seen the potential from Farabee. It doesn’t always translate to production early, but it sure seems like Farabee is going to start contributing in that way before too long as well.
For the second straight game, Brian Elliott got the start. His first period featured a few impressive saves among the seven shots stopped, but through 40 minutes, his action was very limited. The Flyers played a dominant second period and Elliott faced just one shot as a result.
But early in the third, the Flyers were sloppy and needed Elliott. While he did allow a goal, he was again on point and very sharp and came up with the timely saves as needed. Elliott went from having eight saves through two periods to finishing the game with 23. Talk about a third period workload.
Elliott was not the first choice of a lot of people when the Flyers were looking to re-sign a goalie to be the other half of the tandem with Carter Hart, but when fully healthy, this is the capability that Elliott has to offer. He certainly has the ability to steal a game and can be the biggest contributor, especially in games like this where the third period could have easily unraveled.
This was Kevin Hayes best game so far as a Flyer. Hayes is not the fastest skater, but his speed looks much better alongside Farabee.
Hayes did finally score his third goal of the season, and it came at a most opportune time. The Flyers were struggling to start the third and had already allowed a goal that cut the lead to one. Hayes won a puck battle in the neutral zone, poking the puck past Brent Seabrook and racing in on a breakaway. There have been partial breaks in the past where Hayes has pulled up and looked for help. With no one in front of him, Hayes fired the shot and scored.
The production hasn’t been through the roof, but his presence is helping the Flyers depth up the middle. Consider that with the move to put Giroux back at center for the last couple of games that Hayes is also centering the third line and getting better matchups. It showed on Thursday.
Despite getting outshot heavily in the third, the Flyers were under a minute away from closing out an effective 4-1 win when Michael Raffl took a shot off his right leg and could not put any weight on it as he was helped off the ice.
Raffl has been an effective player on the fourth line, and was fresh off a three-point game on Monday, showing he can still contribute in that way too. While the Flyers do have Tyler Pitlick serving as a healthy scratch, they wouldn’t want to lose any player to injury long-term, even a depth player like Raffl.
There was no immediate update after the game, and things certainly don’t look good for Raffl to play this weekend, but the hope is that the injury is not serious and that Raffl can be back on the ice soon enough.