By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor
Through warmups, everything seemed to be business as usual. Jack Eichel was the last player off the ice and the Flyers were moments away from trying to stop the hottest player in the NHL, carrying a 17-game points streak at the time. About 10 minutes before the game, Eichel was suddenly scratched with an upper-body injury.
The Flyers took full advantage of a team without their top player and captain. In the first period, they scored three goals in a span of 4:01. In the second period, they added three more in a span of 4:07. That was more than enough in a 6-1 win on Thursday night that continued the team’s incredible run of success on home ice.
Observations from the Flyers rout of the Sabres.
There are some nights you get the bounces and some nights you don’t. The Flyers certainly got their share. In building up a 6-0 lead through two periods, the Flyers had three goals go in off of Sabres players.
The opening goal of the game was a turnaround shot/pass from Mikhail Vorobyev toward the net that was tipped in by Conor Sheary. Tyler Pitlick’s goal in the second came after the Flyers forward collected his own rebound and had the chance go off the stick of Marcus Johansson and in to make it 5-0. The next goal on the power play was another play toward the net, with James van Riemsdyk throwing the puck at the net, probably as more of a pass for Sean Couturier, only to have it hit off Rasmus Ristolainen and go in.
It was that kind of night for the Flyers, who caught a lot of breaks, from the moment Eichel was announced out of the lineup to the fortunate goals.
Benefitting from a Challenge
To this point in the season, the Flyers have not had this happen. Goals for the Flyers have been challenged by the opposition before, but with more than enough evidence to have them overturned. On van Riemsdyk’s first goal of the game, the Sabres challenged for goalie interference and there didn’t seem to be any evidence to overturn the call. When the call stood, the Flyers were rewarded a power play with the Sabres being assessed a delay of game penalty.
That turned out to be a big moment in the game for the Flyers. A 2-0 game is always dangerous because the opposition is one favorable bounce from being back in the game. With the Flyers getting an immediate power play after the second goal, this was a chance to really bury the Sabres early and put them in a difficult hole to climb out of in the remaining 40 minutes.
The Flyers got the goal they were looking for with the two newcomers — Kevin Hayes and Matt Niskanen — teaming up. It was the start of a big night for the power play.
In the previous eight games, the Flyers power play was 1-for-18. Dating back to the beginning of November, the Flyers were 10-for-70 on the power play, a 14.3 percent success rate. They had not scored more than one power-play goal in a game since Nov. 2.
Starting with the power-play goal off the lost challenge for Buffalo, the Flyers had a very successful night on the power play, going 3-for-5.
The thing about this night’s success is that they really didn’t do anything different. The set-up was similar. Shots got through. Bounces went their way.
“Our power play still has a ton of room to get better. Certainly again, it's funny because we are getting some goals on it too, off the rush and stuff like that,” van Riemsdyk said. “But obviously as the year goes on, we got to find ways to kind of score more within our setup, which we did tonight. The other goals, those tend to dry up as the year goes on. But again, we did a lot of good things. I think both units did a good job tonight and made some good plays and we were able to capitalize on some n-zone time, which is what you need to have success as the year goes on.”
The Flyers have missed some opportunities where they power play could change the course of a game and put it in their favor. It’s obvious that over the last nearly two months, it has been a weakness for the Flyers. Maybe a 3-for-5 night is what they need to break out and start having more success in waves.
Certainly last week’s road trip was a challenging one due to injuries and the news regarding Oskar Lindblom. In the middle of all that, the Flyers realistically had to fill the lineup with a number of replacements.
The same has been true for this week’s games. While the team got Travis Konecny back in the lineup on Tuesday and Tyler Pitlick back on Wednesday, they still needed to fill out the bottom of the lineup with young call-ups, among them Mikhail Vorobyev, Nicolas Aube-Kubel and David Kase. Alain Vigneault talked about each following Thursday’s game.
“Misha, every time he has come here he has gotten a little bit more confident. I thought tonight he wanted the puck, he made some plays,” Vigneault said. “[Aube-Kubel], I didn’t know much more than what I saw or what I remembered in training camp. I like his game — north-south, physical, there is definitely room for that. Kase, I like his energy. He skates well, he gets on the forecheck, there is good chemistry there with him and Jake, so I like what he brings.”
These three have been a solid fit in the bottom of the lineup and the Flyers haven’t missed a beat. It will likely be the same lineup in Ottawa on Saturday, but after that, more help is on the way. Joel Farabee’s three-game suspension will be over and he can return on Monday. Michael Raffl figures to return when the team hits the road on the West coast following the holiday break, perhaps as soon as the first game on Dec. 28. But each of the three has put in a good audition to remain in the lineup or to be at the top of the list of call-ups the next time a player is needed.
The Flyers now have a 12-2-4 record at home this season following Thursday’s win. Those totals include the team’s season-opening win in Czech Republic — technically considered a home game — but the point remains that this team has been very tough to play on home ice.
Consider this: in the two regulation loss — Oct. 19 to Dallas and Dec. 5 to Arizona — the Flyers massively out-shot the opponent, and did have chances to get the game in their favor. Ironically enough, the four shootout losses on home ice have all been bunched together. Three of them came consecutively from Dec. 13 to Dec. 23. The Flyers have won five out of the last six games on home ice since then.
For what it’s worth, the Flyers haven’t been as poor a road team as the record appears. At the start of the season, they struggled, posting a 1-4-1 record in six road games in October. In November, a month when the team did not lose in regulation at home, they actually had more wins on the road, posting a 6-2-0 record away from home as opposed to 4-0-4 in Philadelphia.
So far in December, the Flyers have not won a game on the road, but that 0-3-0 record. However, that was a three-game road trip where the team was clearly affected by the news of their teammate’s diagnosis with Ewing’s sarcoma. There are no excuses, but clearly the team getting to see Lindblom again on Monday and find a sense of normalcy made a huge difference.
That said, while the Flyers have been great at home, they have just one game on home ice remaining before they hit the road. Their next home game will be more than two weeks away and play six games on the road in that time. As the calendar turns from 2019 to 2020, the Flyers will be looking to do several things, to establish that they can be a successful road team and to solidify a playoff position as they head into the new year.