(Photo: Kate Frese)
By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor
Save the heroics and the drama. This was just a quality win for the Flyers.
The top line took care of the offense, with Sean Couturier scoring twice and Claude Giroux scoring a goal and adding two assists, and Brian Elliott had his best game in net this season. That led the Flyers to a third straight win and fifth in the last six games, continuing their recent surge.
Let's break it down in our Postgame Review.
Couturier was a driving force in this game, and the play that really defined it was his breakaway goal in the second. It's the tail-end of a penalty kill and Couturier forces the puck free and starts the other way. He's got Chris Kunitz trying to get positioning to disrupt. Couturier dropped the shoulder and used his size to muscle in front of the Chicago forward and cut to the net. The move he made to finish off the goal was a goal-scorer's move too.
That's the Sean Couturier that scored 31 goals last season. That's the Sean Couturier that posted career highs across the board. And he's starting to resurface for the Flyers.
Just look at the path of Couturier's numbers. Before the four-game road trip, Couturier had three goals and no assists on the season. In the six games since, he has four goals and three assists for seven points. Makes a big difference when your top line center is firing on all cylinders.
Elliott kept the Flyers in the game in the first 10 minutes. Chicago had the better of the chances and was poised to score first. Elliott was giving up a few rebounds, but stayed square to shooters, and credit to the Flyers defense, there wasn't a lot of traffic in front.
As the game wore on, the shots got a little easier for Elliott as the Flyers kept Chicago to the outside. There were a few dicey moments in the slot where Elliott had to be sharp, and he was.
Elliott entered in relief in Thursday's game and stopped 16 shots in the win that night. He stopped 33 shots in the win on Saturday. Perhaps this is the start of one of those hot streaks for Elliott. And when he's on his game, the results tend to be very good for the Flyers.
What did his most recent performance do for his numbers? Elliott's GAA dropped from 2.93 to 2.67 and his save percentage went up 10 points to reach .909.
Quietly, Giroux is having another one of those years. He's up to 22 points in 17 games, including seven goals. The 22 points was good for a tie for third in the league in point production.
If the thought was that Giroux's 102-point season a year ago was a fluke, it's not. Giroux makes things happen when he's on the ice. And while there are games where the frustration gets the better of even the Flyers captain, as he goes, the team goes sometimes.
Giroux has been one of the team's best players throughout this recent stretch of success, with four goals and seven assists in the last six games. In one of those games, a week ago in San Jose, Giroux was held pointless and played his worst game during the six-game stretch. He's made up for it substantially in the three games since.
What it did was snap a nine-game streak of allowing a power-play goal. The Flyers will gladly take it.
What was impressive about the Flyers penalty kill was that, for a change, they started to have a more aggressive look on the final two kills. It was working too, as shots from Chicago were fairly limited or suppressed. Perhaps the Flyers found something that works there, but one game with only two full penalty kills is too soon to say they are anything close to turning it around.
That stretch has sent the Flyers from a dismal 4-7-0 record and barely staying afloat above the cellar of the Metropolitan Division to, at least temporarily on Saturday, a tie for the Metropolitan Division lead.
In Saturday's body of work alone, what the Flyers did was react well to the ebb and flow of a game. There were moments where Chicago pushed the play. There was chances the Blackhawks could have capitalized on and scored. There were mistakes made by Chicago that the Flyers used to get on the board and extend the lead. No matter how it happens, you take the game as it comes to you. And what the Flyers did was slowly go to work on a team that is very vulnerable.
The Blackhawks had lost six games in a row entering Saturday's game, only one coming in overtime. Their long-time head coach, Joel Quenneville, had been fired earlier in the week. Mistakes are leading to goals against. The frustration only mounts from there.
Take Giroux's first-period goal that got the Flyers on the board. The Blackhawks were outplaying the Flyers to that point, opening up a 12-3 lead in shots at one point. Giroux scored off a turnover on the Flyers next shot. After that, it took until the third period for Chicago to really get shot volume on the Flyers goal.
Sound familiar? It's what the Flyers would have done earlier in the season when adversity struck. They would have gone into their shells, hung their heads and virtually given up on the result. The Flyers didn't do that on Thursday and rallied to get a win. On Saturday, they didn't need to.
"Whenever you put a donut up on the scoreboard you feel good, but I felt ‘on’, I felt like I was seeing pucks and stuff was hitting me. That’s all you can ask for as a goalie." – Flyers goalie Brian Elliott
"I think we’re confident in the way we’re playing. We’re playing really good team game, defense, the goalie to the forwards — I think our chemistry is a lot better. When you have a little confidence everything goes pretty well." – Flyers forward Claude Giroux
By the Numbers
Shot quality comes into play here. The Flyers were outshot by the Blackhawks, 33-25 in the game and the Blackhawks had a 58.33 CF% at 5-on-5 for the game, including an 85.71 CF% in the third period. What the Flyers had was quality scoring chances, with eight high-danger chances in the first 40 minutes to five for the Blackhawks. The heat map below shows where the Flyers were shooting from at 5-on-5 and where the Blackhawks were getting a majority of their shot chances.
Stat of the Game
Sean Couturier had a do-it-all type game on Saturday. In addition to the two goals and assist for three points, he was a plus-4, tied for the team lead in shots with four and had three blocked shots.