Subject: Flyers vs. Penguins recap: You’ve got to be kidding me
The Flyers blasted 42 shots and 92 overall attempts at Marc-Andre Fleury, but still fell to their rivals by a 5-4 final score.
Generally, when a team outshoots the opposition 42-27, they come away with the victory. But on the night that served as the Wells Fargo Center’s Halloween party, the hockey gods were at their most mischievous towards the Philadelphia Flyers, just a calendar day early.
The Flyers stormed back from a 4-2 second period deficit to tie the game, but could not keep the Penguins off the scoreboard in the third period, as Evgeni Malkin scored the game-winner with 11:27 left. Philadelphia carried the play at even strength, finishing with a 60.32% score-adjusted Corsi, but that wasn’t enough to earn the victory as they fell by a final score of 5-2. Jakub Voracek scored two goals for the Flyers, Wayne Simmonds chipped in with a goal and an assist, and Radko Gudas also finished with two points on the night. But Pittsburgh’s stars buried Philadelphia — both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin scored two goals to lead their team to a win.
It’s easy to forget, but the Flyers got off to a fantastic start in this one. Slick passing allowed Philadelphia to generate entry after entry, while active sticks in neutral zone lanes were preventing the Penguins from getting anything started offensively. The result was a deluge of shots in the direction of Marc-Andre Fleury, and midway through the period, it finally paid off. A Jakub Voracek blast from the point eluded Fleury, and the Flyers had jumped out to a first-period lead.
The pressure continued. Just three minutes later, Shayne Gostisbehere prevented a potential Penguins’ clear and dumped the puck back down low, where Brayden Schenn retrieved it and sent a perfect backhand pass to Wayne Simmonds, who sent the puck into the wide open net that Fleury had abandoned. With the Pens’ goalie clearly not at his best early and the Flyers dominating in terms of puck possession, it was looking like a great night at the Wells Fargo Center.
Enter Sidney Crosby. On a rush with four minutes remaining in the period, Crosby finished off a slick passing play by roofing the puck short side past a surprised Steve Mason. But Crosby wasn’t done. With Ivan Provorov off the ice for a hooking minor, the Pittsburgh captain struck again, this time blasting a one-time past Mason for a power play goal, and tying the game at two.
At this point, the Flyers just wanted to regroup and go into the locker room with a tie score so that they could rehash the positives of the period and clean up the defensive issues. Unfortunately, the Penguins were not about to let that happen. Matt Cullen scored just 12 seconds after Provorov exited the box due to Crosby’s goal, getting to a loose puck behind the Flyers’ net and beating Mason to the far post for a wraparound goal. Just like that, Philadelphia’s strong start was a distant memory and the Flyers hit the intermission knowing that they would have to chase the game.
Dave Hakstol immediately changed things up to start the second period, swapping Michal Neuvirth in for Steve Mason. But the start of the period was all Pittsburgh, as Neuvirth was immediately forced to make a few tough stops. The Flyers slowly played themselves back into the game, however. They almost tied things up five minutes in, but a stellar backcheck from Chris Kunitz prevented Travis Konecny from scoring his second NHL goal. Still, the Flyers earned a power play on the sequence, and appeared poised to even the contest.
Instead, Marc-Andre Fleury held down the fort, making a number of tough saves on the man advantage, including one left-handed larceny of Jakub Voracek. The Penguins survived, and minutes later, they would take advantage of yet another Philadelphia defensive zone miscue to extend their lead to two goals. Sean Couturier made a rare poor breakout pass, leading to a tic-tac-toe Penguins passing sequence that ended with Evgeni Malkin ripping a shot past Neuvirth. That made the score 4-2, and the Wells Fargo crowd was getting obviously restless.
Leave to Radko Gudas to spark a comeback. After Voracek drew his second penalty of the game, the Flyers went back to the power play but struggled to create much of anything. That was until Gudas made three straight blocks of Pittsburgh clear attempts in the span of a few seconds, catching the entire Penguins’ squad up ice and leaving Giroux all alone in the slot to blast a slapshot by Fleury. It was the captain’s first goal of the season, but Gudas’ hard-earned secondary assist was the key to the tally.
Following Giroux’s goal, the Flyers took full control at 5v5. But the game-tying goal would not be scored at even strength — it would instead come via a rare penalty shot opportunity. Brandon Manning’s on-point stretch pass sent Voracek on a breakaway, forcing Brian Dumoulin to obstruct Philadelphia’s star winger. Voracek would not waste the ensuing penalty shot, totally fooling Fleury with a beautiful deke before flipping the puck over the prone Pittsburgh goalie. The Flyers had made it all the way back.
Philadelphia nearly re-took the lead at the end of the period, following a Scott Wilson trip of Mark Streit with just 50 seconds left in the second. With time running down, Giroux found himself open in the slot but instead blasted his one-timer wide, setting up a key PP opportunity to start the third period.
The third period-opening power play proved fruitless, however, with only a decent chance from Voracek with traffic in front to show for it. The Flyers kept plugging at even strength, however, peppering Fleury with shots. Ivan Provorov even rang one off the post, but no one could beat the Pittsburgh netminder. All it took was one bad shift and one bad bounce to render all of their hard work pointless. Malkin collected a loose puck in front to beat Neuvirth, as the Penguins received the good break that the Flyers had been praying they would get. Philadelphia continued to carry play through the remainder of the period, but simply could not get that equalizing goal, leading to a deflating loss.
Subject: Penguins 5, Flyers 4: 10 things we learned from dominance wasted
The Flyers did so much right offensively last night, but defensive zone play, goaltending, and bad bounces sent them to yet another loss.
Morning Observations is a feature where we break down the previous night's game with an analytical eye.
#1: Defensive breakdowns, high-danger chances
Despite their early 3-5-1 record, the Philadelphia Flyers have few issues in terms of offense. They’re tied for the league-lead in goals scored at 32, have three players with on a point-per-game pace, and rank in the NHL top-six in 5v5 shot attempts created per 60 minutes. The problem thus far has instead been goal prevention. Some of this is bad luck — after all, the Flyers are not going to hold an 0.862 all-situations save percentage for the entire season, simply because no team has goaltending that performs that poorly over 82 games. But this isn’t just a case of unimpressive netminding, as Philadelphia is allowing far too much high-danger scoring chances.
Take last night’s game, for example. The Flyers absolutely throttled the Penguins in terms of pushing the play at 5v5, winning the shot attempts battle by an insane 75-45 margin. But even though they had a 30-shot edge, Pittsburgh still found a way to generate more high-danger chances at 5-on-5, finishing with 16 to the Flyers’ nine. This has been an issue all year, as the Flyers currently rank 27th in 5v5 high-danger chance prevention this year, averaging 12.49 allowed per 60.
Is this a systems issue? I lean towards no, because it’s not as if Philadelphia’s forwards leave the zone early to cherry-pick in the middle of the ice, like the Penguins often did last night. To me, it’s primarily on the defensemen, who too often are blowing assignments and confusing their coverages, particularly when they are expected to “switch” roles mid-cycle defense. My expectation is that this aspect of their game will be cleaned up eventually, and I’d rather the Flyers be driving play and dealing with poorly-timed breakdowns than the other way around. You’d think these issues would be easier to fix than an inherent flaw in the Flyers’ 5v5 tactical focus. Still, that doesn’t mean they aren’t issues, and Hakstol and the defense need to address them.
#2: The Flyers did dominate this game, however
I don’t want to focus too much on the high-danger chance disparity, however, because in every other statistical category, Philadelphia blew the Penguins away last night. Under Mike Sullivan, Pittsburgh was one of the league’s best play-driving teams last season, and it was that factor more than anything that allowed them to win the Stanley Cup. The competition the Flyers faced to tonight makes their utter territorial dominance that much more impressive.
Philadelphia finished with a stellar 60.23% score-adjusted Corsi, won the 5v5 xG battle with a 53.09% mark, and blasted 92 overall shot attempts at Marc-Andre Fleury in all situations. And when Corey Sznajder’s neutral zone data is released for this game, I expect that it will show that the Flyers also generated far more offensive zone entries than the Penguins, and likely had a higher controlled entry rate as well. They simply owned the neutral and offensive zones in this one. Arguably, that makes this loss even tougher to swallow, because the team did so many things right on the whole. But for the future, this performance does bode well, as the Flyers took the game to the Penguins in a way that they couldn’t even dream of doing last season, when Pittsburgh made Philadelphia look silly in every meaningful game they played against their in-state rivals.
#3: Finally a strong start
It will be brushed aside due to the 56-second defensive collapse that occurred at the end of the opening stanza, but the Flyers did finally break out to a fantastic start. As I noted on Thursday, Philadelphia’s first period struggles haven’t just been caused by bad goaltending or bad luck — they had a 43.06% Corsi in the eight opening stanzas heading into last night’s game. The Flyers reversed that trend against the Penguins, coming out strong from the opening whistle.
The first few shifts were spent almost entirely in the Pittsburgh zone, and they eventually scored the game’s first goal basically due to pure volume, as Jakub Voracek’s shot from the point was more or less just misplayed by Fleury. But all coaches will say that good luck often springs from hard work, and that was the case last night. Unfortunately, the collapse at the end of the period erased all the good that the Flyers did in the first 75% of the period, but a 61.54% first period Corsi definitely bodes well for their opening stanza process.
#4: Philadelphia’s vaunted forecheck made its first appearance of the year
An underrated issue for the Flyers during the first eight games of the season was the overall ineffectiveness of the team’s forecheck. As noted last year, Philadelphia under Dave Hakstol is a particularly aggressive team in the offensive zone, regularly employing a 2-1-2 forecheck with multiple forwards down low and defensemen eager to activate in order to prevent zone exit attempts and keep pucks moving.
But that forecheck had not resulted in Philadelphia generating extra shots per offensive zone entry in the early season — the main goal of an aggressive forecheck. Using Corey’s neutral zone data, I was able to determine that the Flyers had a -4.92% Offensive Zone Score heading into last night’s game, meaning that they had generated almost 5% less unblocked shot attempts than would be expected (by league-average results) considering the amount of zone entries and offensive zone draws that they created.
I imagine they improved their OZS dramatically after last night’s game, however. Constantly the Flyers were harassing Pittsburgh’s defense as they tried to break out of their own zone, stopping clear attempts and winning 50/50 puck battles. On paper, this did seem to be the weakness of the Penguins’ roster, especially with Kris Letang still out due to an upper-body injury. But the back-end appeared to be Pittsburgh’s weakness during the postseason last year as well, and no team was able to exploit them to the point that they got the better of 5v5 play. Last night, led by their forecheck, Philadelphia was able to do just that.
#5: Goaltending, defense, or bad luck?
It’s undeniable that the Flyers’ biggest issue thus far in 2016-17 has been goal prevention. Opponents have lit up Philadelphia for a ridiculous 35 goals in nine games, and no team has allowed more. It’s especially bizarre because goaltending was viewed as a strength for the Flyers entering the season — they had two above-average goaltenders who both performed admirably in 2015-16. So have the goalies regressed? Is the defense simply putting them in impossible situations? Or is Philadelphia just facing the full fury of the hockey gods right now?
The stats pin the bulk of the blame on the netminding. Philadelphia’s Expected Goals Against total is 25.20, implying that Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth have allowed 10 extra goals past what the top shot quality models would project. But the models aren’t perfect, as they can’t account for every aspect of a scoring chance’s difficulty level. The Flyers’ defensive zone play has been poor so far, and it seems like at least twice a night, the team is giving up one or two goals that Mason or Neuvirth legitimately have no chance to stop.
By the same token, if your starting goalie is getting pulled in 33% of your games, it’s pretty clear that the netminders are not playing particularly good hockey. Truthfully, it’s been something of a perfect storm that’s caused the goals against deluge. Sometimes, the shots are unstoppable, like Crosby’s one-timer from the slot last night. Other times, the shots are difficult but possible to save with better positioning (like Crosby’s short-side snipe). And there’s just pure bad luck at play here too, perfectly exemplified by Malkin’s game-winner that was caused by a bounce off the shin pads of Brandon Manning. Usually, teams only face one or two of these issues at once. The Flyers are somehow dealing with all three right now, and the result has been 35 goals against.
#6: Gudas’ strong start to season continues
Midway through the second period, the Penguins had extended their lead to a 4-2 margin due to a rare defensive zone turnover by Sean Couturier. With Marc-Andre Fleury settling in after a rough start, it was beginning to look like the Penguins would roll to an easy win. Then, Radko Gudas did this.
Right before Claude Giroux goal, Radko Gudas with an incredible effort to keep the puck in at the blueline. Insane. pic.twitter.com/SSj49KQZmP— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) October 30, 2016
With a power play winding down and the Penguins about to clear the puck out of their own zone, Gudas made not one, not two, but three keeps at the point. Unsurprisingly, the entire Pittsburgh team was caught up ice as a result, and can you blame them? There was no reason to expect Gudas would be able to keep the puck in the zone, but somehow he did.
Gudas has responded to his six-game suspension to start the year by playing not just great hockey, but maybe the best hockey of his career. The numbers are mind-boggling, even for a three-game sample. Gudas has a 70.25% Corsi For percentage, which is +16.2% relative to his teammates. With the bruising defenseman on the ice so far, the Flyers have been a powerhouse, and to my eyes it’s a result of unmatched neutral zone play on the part of Gudas.
Through two games, Gudas had been directly challenged on the rush 11 times. Out of those 11 rushes, he allowed controlled entries on just two of them, and broke up three entirely. The numbers aren’t out yet for last night’s game, but I imagine they’ll be impressive yet again. He’s a classic example of why hockey instincts are far more important than raw physical tools, as Gudas is a merely-decent skater and not a particularly good passer. But he plays without fear of being burned in the neutral zone, and he has the instincts to back up his mentality.
#7: Top two lines drove play to a ridiculous degree
After experimenting with Travis Konecny and Jakub Voracek on the wings of Claude Giroux on Thursday, Hakstol went back to the 10-28-17/11-14-93 top line combinations against Pittsburgh. The results were stunning. Both units easily finished over 60% Corsi For, with Sean Couturier bringing up the rear while posting a still-stellar 63.16%. The lines used a combination of controlled entries to get in the zone and aggressive forechecking to retrieve missed shots and rebounds to spend shift after shift on the attack.
It wasn’t as if Giroux and Couturier were getting sheltered, either. The captain matched up with Sidney Crosby for 9:52 minutes, posting a Corsi For of 64.29% against the best player in the world. Couturier got Malkin for 13:12 of his 15:57 minutes at 5v5, and he drove play as well, finishing with a 56.25% Corsi against him. You can’t erase the goals against (and Couturier had a particularly ugly turnover to cause Malkin’s first), but it’s not easy to drive play against both Pittsburgh top lines. The Flyers’ stars deserve a ton of credit for pulling off that difficult task.
#8: Mason with his second straight poor game
I was a bit surprised to see Steve Mason back in goal last night after allowing five goals to the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday, especially since the eventual game-winner by Ryan White was such an ugly tally allowed. But Hakstol went back to his presumptive #1, and his confidence was unfortunately not rewarded. It’s tough to blame Mason for the second goal — a perfectly placed one-timer from the slot delivered by a superstar — but the other two tallies he allowed were more egregious mistakes. Crosby’s short-side snipe was obviously a difficult shot, but you do expect your goalie to seal off that post. On the third goal, it was Mason’s poor attempt at playing the puck that kicked off the sequence, and then he was slow to recognize Cullen’s wrap-around attempt.
Dave Hakstol was uncharacteristically blunt regarding Mason’s play in his post-game press conference. When asked if he felt like his team was getting the stops it needed, he curtly responded, “I thought we needed one more tonight in the first period,” a clear reference to Mason since he only played in the first period. I was particularly intrigued by Crosby’s first goal, because it appeared that Mason was starting to go down into the Reverse-VH on the play, which is generally a poor decision when facing a rush since the technique leaves the top corner open. I asked Mason after the game if that was the case and he neither confirmed nor denied it, stating that he would have to look at the tape. It stuck out to me because Mason appears to be trapped in his own head right now, and with a goalie coach (Kim Dillabaugh) who helped popularize the Reverse-VH technique with Jonathan Quick, I wonder if he’s overthinking his positioning due to the instruction that he’s receiving.
#9: Provorov very effective
The Corsi numbers may not show it (-5.22% Corsi Rel), but I thought Ivan Provorov was perfectly effective last night. Prior to last night, Provorov had played a relatively conservative style in the NHL, especially while on the attack. Against Pittsburgh, however, he was far more aggressive, generating nine individual shot attempts and being very active on the forecheck.
His overall aggressiveness did burn him on Malkin’s first goal, as he was already racing up ice prior to Couturier’s defensive zone turnover. At the same time, it wasn’t wrong for him to assume that the rock-solid Couturier would engineer a clean breakout on the play. After all, assertiveness is a huge part of Provorov’s game, as proven when he challenged Sidney Crosby on an offensive zone entry attempt in the third period and forced an offside call. Most veteran defensemen wouldn’t even try to challenge Crosby one-on-one in the neutral zone, and this 19-year old not only had the confidence to try it, but the skills to pull it off.
#10: Fourth line only one that struggled
In a surprise pre-game lineup move, Hakstol benched Nick Cousins (who scored a goal on Thursday) for Boyd Gordon and moved Pierre-Edouard Bellemare back up to the 3C role. Surprisingly, the new look third line of Bellemare, Roman Lyubimov and Matt Read was effective in driving play, but Gordon’s unit was less successful. Gordon and VandeVelde were the only Flyers players who finished in the red from a Corsi standpoint, and that was despite receiving five offensive zone draws to just one in the defensive zone, and mostly facing off against Pittsburgh’s fourth line. My guess was that Gordon checked in the lineup for Cousins due to his superior defensive skills, but those did not show themselves last night.
Subject: Flyers vs. Hurricanes: Preview, lineups, how to watch and discussion thread
It’s a quick turnaround for the Flyers today after last night’s frustrating loss to the Penguins. They’re down in Carolina taking on another Metropolitan Division foe, the Hurricanes.
It’s a 5 p.m. start, and it’ll be shown on The Comcast Network locally. We don’t known if there will be lineup changes since there was no morning skate today, but we’ll have a better idea after warmups.
- Brayden Schenn - Claude Giroux - Wayne Simmonds
- Travis Konecny - Sean Couturier - Jakub Voracek
- Matt Read - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - Roman Lyubimov
- Chris VandeVelde - Boyd Gordon - Dale Weise
- Nick Schultz - Shayne Gostisbehere
- Ivan Provorov - Brandon Manning
- Radko Gudas - Mark Streit
- Steve Mason
- Michal Neuvirth
Scratches: Andrew MacDonald, Nick Cousins
Injured: Michael Del Zotto, Scott Laughton, Michael Raffl
- Jeff Skinner - Victor Rask - Lee Stempniak
- Joakim Nordstrom - Jordan Staal - Sebastian Aho
- Teuvo Teravainen - Elias Lindholm - Phil Di Giuseppe
- Bryan Bickell - Jay McClement - Viktor Stalberg
- Ron Hainsey - Justin Faulk
- Jaccob Slavin - Brett Pesce
- Noah Hanifin - Klas Dahlbeck
- Cam Ward
- Eddie Lack
Subject: Flyers at Hurricanes recap: Shorthanded goal from Brandon Manning halts Flyers’ losing streak at two
A back-and-forth game saw the Flyers get the last goal and skate away with a win.
In some ways, today’s game was a lot like a number of other Flyers games so far this year — lots of goals for both teams (thanks in no small part to questionable goaltending), crazy second periods, and a comeback of sorts for the team wearing orange.
In other ways, today’s game was almost nothing like most of the Flyers’ games to date this season. A fairly strong start (and an early lead!), success on the penalty kill, and the team in orange actually finding itself with a lead instead of chasing one in the game’s final minutes.
But however they would get there, the Flyers were able to snap their two-game skid and bounce back from a tough loss on Saturday night with a 4-3 win over the division rival Carolina Hurricanes, thanks to a third-period short-handed goal and some scoring from unlikely (and likely) sources.
Outside of a few scattered but strong shifts from Carolina (including one in which the Flyers’ fourth line was hemmed in for what appeared to be more than a full minute), the Flyers did a solid job in the first period managing the game and getting chances. They’d finally cash in on a chance late in the frame, as a Shayne Gostisbehere wrister on the power play would find its way past Cam Ward, who very much would probably like another chance at stopping that shot.
That was the only score of the period, as the Flyers would go to the first intermission up 1-0. In a reversal from how things have gone so far this year, it was the first game of the season for the Flyers in which they held a lead at the end of the first period.
Of course, as has been a trend in games this year, the second period was where things started to get particularly exciting. While the Flyers would control the general flow of the period (they nearly doubled the ‘Canes in 5-on-5 shot attempts in the period), that didn’t stop them from allowing the home team its fair share of offense.
The Flyers’ good vibes from leading after a period for the first time all year did not last particularly long, as Carolina needed just 61 seconds to tie things up once the second period began. Like Gostisbehere’s game-opening goal before it, Justin Faulk’s game-tying goal came on a shot from the point, one on which Michal Neuvirth appeared to be screened by both Lee Stempniak and, unfortunately, Ivan Provorov.
But the recurring trend of the night so far — goals scored on long point shots — would swing back in the Flyers’ favor, as Radko Gudas would let one go from just inside the blue line only to see it slip past Ward for a 2-1 lead. A bit of a screen in front of Ward, but again, a goal he’d probably like to have back.
Carolina, though, would not only knot things up but take the lead quickly in a pretty short timeframe later in the period. Carolina would score two goals in 1:45, and both of them — a Jeff Skinner shot from just outside the blue paint on a delayed penalty, and a Viktor Stalberg partial breakaway that came after Provorov mishandled the puck in the neutral zone — were ones that slipped through the five-hole on Neuvirth and are ones that you admittedly would like to see him stop.
However, the last big swing of the period would go the Flyers’ way. An incredible no-look pass from Simmonds, who won the race to the puck on the forecheck and made said pass inches away from the boards, went right onto the stick of Claude Giroux, who would one-time it home for his second goal of the season. The goal extended his ongoing point streak to nine games, because he is good at hockey. (People forget this.)
The third period was a bit of a bumpy ride, with some good pressure from Carolina forcing Neuvirth to make a few of his better saves of the evening. And after a good shift from the home team forced the Flyers to the penalty kill after a hook by Provorov, things looked dire for the Flyers as they hoped to avoid falling behind and staring their third straight loss in the face.
Instead, they’d flip that penalty on its head and take the lead themselves. Some great play by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare in the defensive zone got the puck out, and from the neutral zone he’d find Brandon Manning streaking up the center of the ice. Manning would let a shot rip from the top of the left circle, from which it was ticketed for the top-right corner where Ward couldn’t quite reach it.
The Flyers, who have clearly grown a bit too accustomed to playing from behind in the third period instead of with a lead, continued to play perhaps a bit too defensively, as Carolina had almost all of the pressure the rest of the way (the Flyers didn’t register a shot on goal in the 12 minutes after the go-ahead goal, which is, arguably, bad, and not good).
But a few stoppages in the final minute gave Philadelphia a chance to reset, and they’d close the door and pick up a key divisional win.
Comment of the Evening:
Maybe he stole ghost’s powers like those aliens in spacejam… except he tricked him into touching his puck
Back at it on Wednesday at home against Detroit. We’ve got some things to talk about between now and then, but a win is a win. Go Eagles. And, also, go Flyers.
Subject: Monday Morning Fly By: Happy Halloween!
Today's open discussion thread, complete with your daily dose of Philadelphia Flyers news and notes...
*Charlie dives a little deeper into what went wrong Saturday night with 10 things. [BSH]
*The boys were back at it again Sunday evening and things went marginally better since they beat the Hurricanes. But they did it with AMac in the lineup so he'll probably stick around THE HORROR. Recap if you missed it!
*After NHL fans had something resembling "fun" with NHL All-Star voting last season, it was assumed that the league would shut down fan voting so no one ever had fun with a meaningless game ever again. Well, looks like we were wrong. [Puck Daddy]
*Hey, it's Halloween! Since it is, here are some hockey players if they were clowns. [TSN]
Subject: Flyers 4, Hurricanes 3: 10 things we learned from a tight win
Coming off an especially frustrating loss to the rival Penguins, the Flyers dug deep and came back from a 3-2 second period deficit to top Carolina.
Morning Observations is a feature where we break down the previous night's game with an analytical eye.
#1: On the whole a solid performance
It was obvious from the moment the schedule was released that Sunday night’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes was going to be a secretly-difficult contest for the Flyers. Coming at the end of a hellish five-games-in-seven-nights stretch, Philadelphia was already going to battling fatigue. Add in the fact that the previous night they faced the rival Penguins in what is always an emotional, exhausting game, and the fact that they had to travel to Carolina, and given that it was a 5 PM start following a 7 PM game the night before — the circumstances were against the Flyers in this one.
The Flyers persevered, though. They finished around break-even in key advanced metrics like score-adjusted Corsi and Fenwick (49.43% in the former, 51.71% the latter), and that was after a third period which saw the players clearly running on fumes. Carolina is actually a strong 5v5 play-driving team, so to control the game through two periods and still finish around 50% on the whole despite the circumstances of their schedule is pretty impressive. Most importantly, however, they earned a much needed win after giving away two straight games in which they dominated the underlying metrics.
#2: Goal luck lands in Flyers’ favor this time
Philadelphia’s losses this week to the Arizona Coyotes and the Pittsburgh Penguins were caused by a number of issues, but first and foremost was underwhelming goaltending. In both nights, Steve Mason allowed a few tallies that he is fully capable of stopping, and as a result, the Flyers’ territorial dominance was wasted. Last night, the goaltending luck swung in the other direction.
Michal Neuvirth was passable on the whole, but it was the play of Cam Ward that really swung this one. Philadelphia lost the all-situations “Expected Goals” battle 2.89 - 2.21, but they were able to outperform that projection by two scores while Carolina came in right at their mark. It’s easy to remember the two goals that Ward “should have” stopped — Shayne Gostisbehere and Radko Gudas both were able to slip point shots by the Carolina goalie. In both cases, Ward may have been dealing with screens, so it’s debatable how much blame he should shoulder, but what’s undeniable is that the Flyers finally got a little luck when it came to goal outcomes, scoring on two relatively harmless shots. It was a long time coming.
#3: Strong first period, two bad shifts
The Flyers may have been outscored 3-2 in the first period of Saturday night’s loss to the Penguins, but the ratio of good-to-bad shifts was heavily in their favor — the bad shifts just always seemed to result in a goal against. The first period against the Hurricanes was similar, except that in this case, their opponent could not capitalize on the scoreboard.
Yet again, the Flyers controlled the bulk of play in the period, looking effective on the forecheck and tight in the neutral zone. But the Hurricanes actually finished ahead on the score-adjusted Corsi charts when the period concluded. How did they pull that off? In fact, Carolina did the bulk of their damage on just two shifts. In both cases, the Flyers were scrambling in the defensive zone and unable to clear the puck successfully. The Hurricanes racked up an incredible 14 of their 22 shot attempts of the period on just those two shifts.
It was a classic example of why Corsi does not equal possession, as surely the Flyers would have won a clock-based puck control stat in the first period. But useful possession (ie. when it actually creates tangible offense) is far more important in driving positive results, and yet again, poor defensive zone play allowed the Flyers’ opponent to make up for the mistakes of the rest of their period.
#4: Neuvirth started and finished great, struggled in second period
Early on, it appeared that Michal Neuvirth was going to be the salve to the Flyers’ recent goal prevention woes. His performance in the first period was nothing short of stellar, as he made numerous tough saves, none more impressive than an early robbery of Jeff Skinner right in front. Over the game’s first twenty minutes, Neuvirth was one of Philadelphia’s better players.
He fell back into bad habits in the second period, however. Two goals in particular could be categorized as weak — a Skinner revenge tally midway through the stanza, and a Stalberg breakaway goal that saw the Carolina forward beat Neuvirth through the five-hole. Breakaways are always tough so it’s easier to forgive the Flyers’ netminder there, but the Skinner goal was a classic case of poor positioning, an issue that has plagued Philadelphia goalies this season.
But to Neuvirth’s credit, he rebounded in the third when the Flyers truly needed him. With his teammates clearly showing signs of fatigue, Neuvirth was peppered with shots, especially over the game’s final ten minutes after Philadelphia had taken the lead. He made 12 saves in the period, locking down the win. Considering Hakstol’s obvious frustration with Mason in his post-game press conference on Saturday, I wouldn’t be surprised if Neuvirth earned himself the start on Wednesday with this game, even if it was more of a 40-minute performance than a full 60-minute one.
#5: If you’re still complaining about Giroux, stop talking
There remains a section of the Flyers’ fanbase that seems to believe that if the team is struggling to win games, then Claude Giroux must be to blame, or at least is not doing his job as captain. Prior to this weekend, the faction’s main talking point was that Giroux had yet to score a goal, even if he was leading the entire league in assists. After scoring two goals this weekend, that weapon is now removed from their arsenal. Truthfully, the idea that Giroux was off to an underwhelming start was always ridiculous, but it looks especially dumb now.
Following the conclusion of last night’s game, Giroux was tied for the league lead in scoring with 12 points (2 goals, 10 assists). But it’s not just the counting stats that make Giroux look good. He’s at a 53.30% score-adjusted Corsi, +2.85% relative to his teammates. He’s quarterbacking a power play that is averaging 131.92 shot attempts per 60 while he is on the ice, up from last year’s (still great) 125.89 rate. He’s even one of the few Flyers forwards who isn’t getting totally buried in terms of on-ice high danger chances, as he’s right around break-even (48.89%) there. Regardless of the team’s record, Giroux is doing about all he can to help the Flyers win, and fans would do well to remember that the next time he misses a shot or gets charged with a minus.
#6: Provorov not a great game
It won’t get the same press than his performance against the Chicago Blackhawks did two weeks ago, but Ivan Provorov definitely struggled in this one. While his final on-ice attempt differentials actually didn’t look too bad (he finished with a +1.77% score-adjusted Corsi Rel), this was not the confident Provorov that we’ve watched over the past few games, at least defensively. He directly contributed to two Hurricanes goals, first on Faulk’s tally by knocking into Neuvirth as he set up to make the save, and second by getting stripped of the puck while retreating through the neutral zone to allow Viktor Stalberg a breakaway opportunity.
It wasn’t all bad for Provorov, as he continues to look more comfortable offensively with each passing game. He’s rushing the puck up ice more, and has noticeably increased his willingness to activate in the offensive zone on the cycle. But defensively, this was not one of Provorov’s better performances.
#7: No way Manning leaves the lineup when Del Zotto returns
With Michael Del Zotto set to return later this week, the Flyers will have to make the decisions regarding their defense that they originally expected to make at the end of training camp. At the time, Manning was the most likely candidate to be sent down to the Phantoms, as Andrew MacDonald was being praised up and down by coaches and Nick Schultz was a lineup lock. But after three weeks of meaningful hockey, it’s impossible to imagine Brandon Manning getting sent or even being benched at all.
Last night, given increased PK responsibilities in the third period due to an Ivan Provorov penalty, Manning turned the entire game. He charged up ice when a Pierre-Edouard Bellemare rush stalled, collected a pass through the neutral zone and then sniped one past Ward for the game-winning goal. Manning’s offensive development has been one of the early season’s biggest surprises for the Flyers, and it’s turned him into a lineup staple. His play really should make this an easy decision for the Flyers when Del Zotto returns — MacDonald gets sent down to the Phantoms because he won’t be claimed, and Schultz becomes the 7th defenseman. We’ll soon see if they make that seemingly-obvious call.
#8: MacDonald was not an obvious weak link
About an hour before game time, news broke that beleaguered defenseman Andrew MacDonald would be returning to the lineup in favor of Nick Schultz. It wasn’t a massive shock — after all, the Flyers lost on Saturday night, which usually sparks lineup changes, and Hakstol does seem to appreciate what MacDonald brings to the table. His performance on Thursday was so bad that the only rational response was to sit him down, but you didn’t get the feeling he would be a permanent exile from the lineup.
Fans were ready to jump on every mistake MacDonald made, and it’s a testament to his generally-solid game that social media was mostly silent regarding the 30-year old vet. It wasn’t that MacDonald was especially impressive — his 44.61% Corsi For percentage speaks to that — but more that he avoided the mind-numbing mistakes that plagued him against the Coyotes. Most likely, this performance will keep him in the lineup for this week, at least until Michael Del Zotto returns and a new round of decisions will have to be made.
#9: Bottom-six actually not that far from optimal
Dave Hakstol has received a fair amount of criticism so far this season for his lineup decisions as they pertain to the third and fourth lines. And at first glance, last night seemed to be no exception, as many of the biggest “issues” still seemed in place -- Bellemare was still functioning as the nominal 3C, Chris VandeVelde was still in the lineup. But taking a closer look, these lines were really just one tweak away from being optimal from a statistical standpoint.
Everything makes more sense if you approach the Read-Bellemare-Lyubimov as the fourth line rather than the third, and the ice time split between the two lines was pretty close against Carolina. In that case, the only issue with the Cousins unit is the presence of Chris VandeVelde, who (in theory) could be easily replaced with Michael Raffl once he is healthy. That gives us a bottom-six of 12-25-22 and 24-78-13, which certainly looks like passable depth scoring at first glance. But would Hakstol actually bench VandeVelde? That remains the biggest question.
#10: Flyers might really have something in Lyubimov
He hasn’t shown up on the scoresheet as of yet, but Philadelphia may have dug up a legitimate play-driver in Roman Lyubimov. He led the Flyers in Corsi For percentage on the night with a 60.23% score-adjusted mark, and that’s been par for the course thus far this season. In seven games, Lyubimov has a 60.19% Corsi, which is +8.07% relative to his teammates during those contests.
Most impressive is that he’s doing this with his two most common linemates being Bellemare and VandeVelde, far from play-driving stalwarts. In fact, Bellemare has a 61.02% Corsi with Lyubimov and a 36.92% away from him, while VandeVelde is 58.18% with and 27.08% without the Russian forward. I’m not seeing a ton of offensive creativity from Lyubimov, but he’s resembled a lesser Michael Raffl so far — physical, smart, and constantly pushing play in the right direction. Even if he doesn’t score often, that’s a great asset for the bottom-six. It will be interesting to see if he can keep this up.
Subject: For Halloween, the Philadelphia Flyers share their fears
Poor Voracek. Poor anyone who’s afraid of ghosts, too.
Hockey players: they’re just like us! There are things they’re afraid of, too.
To that end, the Philadelphia Flyers went and found out just what, exactly, freaks their players out.
Claude Giroux truly is a man of the people, just jumping in and listing off a series of animals. I’m sure we all hope he doesn’t run into any alligators, too - but does this mean he has run into sharks before? And not of the San Jose variety? Questions.
Meanwhile, you’ve gotta feel for Jakub Voracek. Although considering just how many creepy clowns have been running around this year, the fact that they may be the one thing he isn’t scared of should count as a victory for him.
The dark is a pretty common fear among these guys, too, though (even though Wayne Simmonds wants to act like he’s totally over it).
But man, being afraid of ghosts with Shayne Gostisbehere on your team has to suck.
The good news is, almost none of these things are anything you’ll find at a hockey rink! So the Flyers can continue to go about their business, totally safe.
Except for the sharks. Those’ll pop up twice a year or so.
And Ghost, but he’s harmless, unless you’re the opposition.
Subject: Week 8 Monday Night Football: Vikings at Bears
Sammy Sleeves, y’all!
Sammy Sleeves in prime time again!
Bradford and the Vikings will be looking for a bounce-back effort after their Week 7 loss to the Eagles. Minnesota is still 5-1 and in the driver’s seat in the NFC North, but after looking far more fallible against Philadelphia than in previous weeks, the Vikings have a little bit to prove on Monday night.
Playing against a pretty woeful Bears team should provide them with such a spark. Chicago is 1-6 this season, which, yeah, that’s bad. Jay Cutler is coming back into the starting lineup, but that doesn’t change the team’s porous defense, or general lack of offensive direction.
Here’s what you need to know if you want to watch this sports contest:
How to watch
Date: Monday, October 31, 2016
Time: 8:30 PM ET
Location: Soldier Field, Chicago, Illinois
Per Bovada, the Vikings are heavy favorites to win this game.
Minnesota Vikings -6 (-110)
Chicago Bears +6 (-110)
Note: This is an open thread for the Sunday Night Football game. Feel free to discuss the game in the comment thread!
Subject: Doug Pederson defends third down call, talks Nelson Agholor comments
A long day-after presser from Doug Pederson.
Doug Pederson gave a winding, 26-minute day-after press conference on Monday afternoon following the Eagles’ overtime loss to the Cowboys on Sunday night. He touched on a lot of stuff.
First, injury updates:
Pederson said left guard Allen Barbre is “week-to-week” after he left the game on Sunday with a hamstring injury. The last time Pederson called a player “week-to-week” was Bennie Logan, who has missed the last two games.
Speaking of Logan, Pederson said he expects Bennie back at practice this week. He didn’t commit to whether Logan would be available for Sunday’s game against the Giants, but that’s certainly an encouraging step for the defensive tackle.
On Stefen Wisniewski, who stepped in for Barbre
“Wiz did well. He’s such a competitor, and he’s a pro. He focuses in on his assignments, his job, and he’s itching to play. He got an opportunity, and he played well.”
On the 3rd & 8 play call that pushed the Eagles “out” of field goal range in the fourth quarter
“I looked at that again this morning, I looked at it on the plane last night, and I would have called the same thing again. It’s assignment football. It’s one of our basic, fundamental plays that we’ve repped the entire season, in a man situation, which we got. It just comes down to assignments, and we busted one assignment, and the negative play happened. We have to look at it, we have to own up to those — it starts with me, obviously. And each man on the team has to own up to their responsibility, and make sure that the negative plays don’t happen again.”
On whether he second-guessed not going for the field goal after that play
“No, I did not. That was another one where, I felt, too, where we were in the game, defense was beginning to kind of catch their legs. We had some momentum, and we were stopping their run game. ... I was trusting my defense, in that situation, to pin them back at the 15 and the 10 and stop them.”
On why the Eagles weren’t able to throw the ball down field much
“When you come in on a Monday and you look at the tape, and you look at it with a different set of eyes, yeah, you can always make a determination on certain things down the field. But, you know, Dallas, too, played a little more two-deep than we’d seen in previous weeks.
“I thought Carson was very efficient with the throws he did make. He made some tough throws at the end of the half. There were some situations there. But overall, I thought we came away in the passing game pretty well in this game. We’ll evaluate it some more, but at the same time, I thought the decisions he made, and the down-the-field throws we did have were good, and led to a field goal before half.”
On his wide receivers dropping catchable passes
“Any time you drop the ball it’s a problem. Everyone has to do their job; I talk about it every week with the team, you have to do your job and do your assignment, no excuses. And you have to own up to them. Were there some drops in the game last night that were crucial? Yeah. That’s part of it. We’ve just got to continue to work, to get better, and keep putting our players in situations to make those plays.
On a possible trade for a wide receiver
“As far as I know, we’re not making any moves. The guys we have are the guys we have. We’re going to continue to work and get better at that position.”
On whether a team can win without deep passes and plays
“Yeah, we went 9-0 in Kansas City and didn’t do it. I’ve seen it done. You can do that. It’s just, we have to figure out and find ways to get the ball down field. You have to trust protection, you have to trust reads and progressions, and you have to trust the guys to get down the field. So there’s a lot involved in that kind of stuff. We just have to evaluate it. But yeah, I think you can win.”
On Nelson Agholor’s comments about drops being blown out of proportion
“I’m disappointed in the type of comments. Each individual has to be responsible for their own job, obviously. We’ve got to make good, smart choices. Everybody’s mad and disappointed and angry after the tough losses we just came through, and cooler heads prevail. We just have to bite our lip sometimes, just suck it up, and get to work.”
Subject: Eagles Week 8 snap counts
Darren Sproles: feature back for a day
The Eagles fell to the Cowboys in OT on Sunday night, and as usual the snap counts tell a part of the story.
Bennie Logan, Taylor Hart and Kamu Grugier-Hill were out with injuries. Bryce Treggs, Dillon Gordon, Isaac Semualo, Josh Andrews were healthy scratches.
Allen Barbre left the game in the first quarter with a hamstring injury and was replaced by Stefen Wisniewski.
This was the season high in plays for the Eagles, which you would expect with the game going to overtime.
Darren Sproles played a season high amount of snaps as he was the team's leading running back.
Wendell Smallwood got just one snap.
Marcus Smith played just 19 snaps but recorded a sack.
Nelson Agholor played more snaps than any other WR for some reason.
Jaylen Watkins saw less playing time than expected as Jalen Mills filled the majority of the playing time void left by Ron Brook's injury.
Connor Barwin played nearly twice as much as Vinny Curry.
Subject: Eagles morning-after notes: Kick the field goal, Doug
A bad call.
Last night’s game ended very late. Publishing things at 2:00 A.M. doesn’t make much sense, and also I was tired. So here’s a handful of spare observations from last night’s game:
1. A bad decision
Doug Pederson’s explanation for punting the ball away from the Dallas 36-yard line with 7:17 to play, up seven points, is excruciating:
Pederson cites field position for why he punted in instead of kicking a 53yard field goal in the fourth. #Eagles— Dave Zangaro (@DZangaroCSN) October 31, 2016
I think that’s a pretty bad explanation, no matter who your kicker is. If you hit that field goal, you get to pin the team behind the 25-yard line on the ensuing kickoff. That’s good field position. If you miss the field goal, the opposing team gets the ball on the 36-yard line. Not ideal, but it certainly isn’t midfield. Trust your defense.
However, the Eagles don’t have just any old kicker. They have Caleb Sturgis. It sounds funny to phrase it like that, but Sturgis has made 17 of 18 field goals this season, including three of three from 50+ yards. He’d made a 55-yarder just a couple hours earlier, on the same field, in the same arena, at the end of the first half. I’m not sure what magic is happening in Sturgis’s leg, but he’s basically automatic right now.
In that scenario, Pederson absolutely has to trust his players: trust Sturgis to make the kick, or trust the defense to hold up if Sturgis misses.
But don’t play field position when a 10-point lead changes the dynamic of the game entirely.
2. Marcus Smith, super hero
On last week’s post-victory BGN Radio, I said Marcus Smith was starting to really impress me, and John Barchard and James Seltzer laughed at me. Ha! Smith looked very good again on Sunday night. He picked up a sack on Prescott, made a handful of very solid plays against the run, and generally flashed on a good number of his 15 snaps. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m surprised he didn’t see the field more often.
He’s no Brandon Graham, but considering the way his first two seasons played out, Smith’s growth is definitely encouraging.
3. Just catch the dang ball
In 2015, according to Sporting Charts, the Eagles led the league (if you can call it that) in drop rate, dropping 6 percent of targets from Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez. The second-closest team had a drop rate of 5.2 percent. Through seven weeks, the Eagles ranked seventh in the league at 4.4 percent, which feels conservative.
In Sunday night’s game, Carson Wentz had 11 incompletions on 43 attempts, at least six of which were drops. A friend texted me last night after Dorial Green-Beckham’s egregious drop on a slant route and basically asked how it’s possible that professional wide receivers are dropping this many passes. It’s reached the point where it’s hard to believe. It almost feels like a prank.
Carson Wentz’s most ardent critics want him to take more shots down the field, which is a flawed criticism for more than one reason, but since we’re talking about drops — why? So his receivers can just drop the ball further down the field? So his contributions can be wasted in a more spectacular manner? Wentz wasn’t perfect last night. At least a half-dozen passes needed to be placed much better.
But when his wideouts and tight ends are flat-out dropping passes at a mind-boggling rate, it sure is hard to blame the rookie.
4. DGB looks better
All that said, Sunday showed a legitimate step forward from Dorial Green-Beckham. He had a few bad drops of his own, as he has all season long. But on the plays in which the ball was actually caught, Green-Beckham showed a level of production we hadn’t seen this season. Wentz was clearly looking for him early on, and it showed in the five catches for 55 yards he finished with.
The Eagles still need more wide receiver talent, but if Green-Beckham can become even a semi-reliable playmaker for Wentz to trust, that changes the dynamic of the Eagles’ offense immensely.
5. Keeping Zeke contained
The Eagles held Ezekiel Elliot to 17 carries for 78 yards in regulation on Sunday night. He finished with 22 carries for 94 yards because Jim Schwartz’s unit couldn’t hold up against a Cowboys offense which found a rhythm at the worst time for the Birds.
But, overall, keeping Elliot in check like that is quite a feat. He came into the game averaging over 140 yards per game — ONE HUNDRED FORTY — in his last four outings. That’s an insane number. To go to overtime and still keep him under 100 yards, without Bennie Logan in the lineup? I was very impressed.
Subject: 10 Things We Learned in the Eagles loss to the Cowboys
Pointing blame where it’s due, and credit where it is
1 The Eagles offense is a one man army
On Saturday afternoon I had the Sixers-Hawks game on when my wife came home and asked me why I was watching basketball, a sport I normally care very little about. “I’m not watching basketball” I replied, “I’m watching Joel Embiid.” With Embiid on the court, the Sixers are competitive and entertaining. Without him, they’re unwatchable and I flipped back to college football.
The Eagles offense is in a similar boat. Outside of watching Carson Wentz pull plays out of his ass and some nifty running by Darren Sproles, it’s unwatchably bad because there is absolutely no help for Wentz. His receivers get no separation down field, his tight ends are unproductive, his starting running back barely played and no one complained. The replication of the start of the Andy Reid era means we have to take the good of a QB to build around and the bad of having crap for him to throw to to start his career.
2 Doug Pederson is still on the bye
The Eagles are 1-3 after their Week 4 bye, and each of the losses was a winnable game for different reasons. On Sunday night, Doug Pederson, and the lack of offensive talent, was the reason. The WR screens were ill timed and easily defended because Pederson has gone to them too much recently. Between Pederson, Frank Reich and John DeFilippo, the Eagles have three former offensive coordinators. They’ve got to come up with a better game plan.
3 There were actually a couple of positives
Pederson wasn’t completely flawed though. He rode the hot hand at running back, giving Darren Sproles 15 carries, his most since last year’s Patriots game and the third most of his career. And when the Eagles went no huddle, it gave the offense an advantage over a Cowboys defense that couldn’t adjust.
4 Carson Wentz is better than Dak Prescott
This was billed as a show down between the two rookie QBs, and so the aftermath will be billed as one being better than the other, based entirely on the outcome of the game. Which is bull. Dak Prescott was awful for almost the entire game, completing less than half his passes and was flustered when the Eagles pass rush got to him. His end zone interception to Jordan Hicks was simply horrible. As a runner Prescott was lethal, but as a passer he hamstrung the Cowboys, save for two good drives at the end. Wentz didn’t have his greatest game, but he was clearly the better QB for the whole game.
5 Ezekiel Elliott is really good
The Eagles stuffed Elliott at the line of scrimmage for most of the night but still had an overall good game, particularly effective as a receiver. And this was one of his less effective games. He’s going to be a nightmare. The one upside is that the Cowboys seem intent to run him into the ground, which will blunt his long term danger to the Eagles. But for now, he’s the best player on the Cowboys.
6 Zach Ertz is not good
The Eagles gave Ertz a 5 year, $42.5M contract extension, and he hasn’t remotely lived up to it. His 10.0 yards per reception is a career low, his three catches a game average is nearly a career low, and in five games he doesn’t have a TD catch. A good tight end can be a valuable resource for a rookie QB, and that’s what the Eagles paid for. They haven’t come close to getting that in return. Ertz can’t get himself open, can’t evade defenders, can’t break tackles, and has inconsistent hands.
7 Marcus Smith might be
Good being a relative term, but Marcus Smith had himself a good game. He’s been an effective run defender this season, and on Sunday he had a nice sack of the Dak Prescott, who spent most of the game successfully evading the Eagles pass rush. He’s not starter worthy, but he’s showing he deserves some playing time.
8 Caleb Sturgis: actually good!
Admit it, when Sturgis’ first attempt from 55, which he nailed, was called off after a timeout by Jason Garrett (who once iced his own kicker), you thought he was going to miss the follow up. But he absolutely nailed that one too, going 3 for 3 from 50+ this season. The Eagles look like they’ve finally found their David Akers replacement.
9 Dave Fipp: also good!
Eagles special teams once again played their butts off. Josh Huff nearly broke one on a 53 yard kick return and the punt team trapped the Cowboys deep inside their own territory all game long.
Which only heightens the woes of the Eagles offense on Sunday night: they’re got a lot of help from their counterparts, the struggles are all on the offense.
10 This week is a must win
The Giants are coming off a bye, and they’ll be at home, which sounds a little familiar. Winner will be alone in 2nd place, loser in 4th. It’s likely the easiest game they’ll have for weeks. If there is a must win in early November, this is it.
Subject: Eagles News: Goodness, the Eagles need wide receivers
Please, Howie. Please.
Eagles news and notes for 10/31 (Happy Halloween!)
Fear not, Eagles fans. The news here is actually quite good. Yes, your boys in green snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, and, yes, that hissing sound you heard was their playoff aspirations deflating into the soft Lone Star night.
But at some point this offseason, the coaches who keep telling you that their pass-catchers are good enough are going to gather in a conference room with the personnel men responsible for improving the roster, and unspoken among them will be the memory of what they witnessed in Sunday night's 29-23 stinker in Big D.
That, right there, is the silver lining. While Dez Bryant almost single-handedly kept his team within striking distance, his counterparts on the opposite sideline turned the game into a clinic on why their bosses need to make finding a legitimate No. 1 receiver a priority in order to maximize the talent they have in their fireballing rookie quarterback.
Dez Bryant’s 53-yard reception against Leodis McKelvin set up the Cowboys’ first-quarter touchdown as Bryant beat McKelvin by a few steps and Dak Prescott delivered a beautiful deep ball. Jim Schwartz dialed up a blitz, so the Eagles were in cover-1 and McKelvin was without much help over the top.
However, McKelvin had a good pass break-up in the red zone against Bryant on a fade near the end of the second quarter on the play before Hicks’ interception. McKelvin also made a great play to break up a pass on third down in the fourth quarter against Bryant. McKelvin rebounded very nicely after the big early completion he allowed.
Nolan Carroll gave up Bryant’s 22-yard touchdown catch, but Carroll’s coverage wasn’t bad. Bryant made a great play, and he showed how helpful it can be for a rookie quarterback to have dangerous weapons at receiver.
Brandon Graham showed up to play in the first half in Arlington, particularly on his three-yard tackle-for-loss that helped force Dallas to settle for a field goal early in the second quarter. It appears Graham knew where the play was going before the snap as he jumped inside several seconds before the play.
The Eagles (4-3) had a 10-point lead and eyes on a back-breaking drive with about 13 minutes to play when Smallwood, a rookie, took his first handoff of the game. He coughed it up, the Cowboys (6-1) pounced on it and the game underwent a seismic shift.
Yet Philadelphia still could have seized on further chances to polish off their divisional rivals. The Eagles held a 23-16 lead when they controlled the ball at the Cowboys' 32-yard line with eight minutes to play.
But instead of using the running game to ensure a comfortable field goal try, the Eagles called a trick play that resulted in an incompletion on first down and a screen pass that lost six yards on third down. Philly punted. Suddenly, the Cowboys had possession and an avenue to tie the score.
Once more, however, the Eagles could've drained hope from the Cowboys and a lively Dallas crowd. A third-down stop in Dallas territory would've done the trick. Except when Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott slipped out of the pocket and hit Cole Beasley downfield with a dart of a throw, Philly let another game-defining play swing in the Cowboys' favor.
The shame of Sunday for Pederson is that, until that fateful final quarter, in the aggregate he had outcoached the Cowboys' Jason Garrett. In the starkest contrast from the Eagles' two losses this season, for once they weren't the ones damaging themselves with too many penalties. They committed just five, one week after committing seven against the Vikings - a gradual and necessary improvement after they'd been flagged 27 times against the Detroit Lions and the Redskins. Pederson had them buttoned up for the most part, and from allowing Carson Wentz the chance to move the offense into field-goal range late in the first half to using a no-huddle approach to get the Dallas defense off balance in the third quarter, he was doing some of his best button-pushing of his rookie season.
Nevertheless, for all those good things, Pederson was bound to learn a cruel lesson of coaching: that a single simple choice can change everything for the worse. That choice came midway through the fourth quarter, when he had Wentz dump the ball to Darren Sproles on third down in Dallas territory. The Cowboys knew what was coming. Hell, everyone in AT&T Stadium did. Sproles had nowhere to go, and the six-yard loss backed the Eagles far enough from the end zone that punting the ball became the prudent course of action.
Up 10 in Dallas in the 4th quarter. And then Dallas outscores you 19-3 to win the game in overtime. What a friggin’ nightmare.
Doug Pederson had his worst game of the year. Receivers dropped key passes. STs allowed a fake punt to go for a 30-yard game and kickstart a scoring drive. The defense played really well at times, but couldn’t get off the field on the game-tying drive or in OT.
What an absolutely frustrating loss.
Dallas now sits at 6-1 with a comfortable lead. The Eagles are tied with the Giants at 4-3.
I’m too pissed off to right any worthwhile analysis right now. That was such a winnable game and the Eagles blew it.
That’s the first time all year this team has built a 10-point lead and blown it.
Aside from the standings, the Dallas hype train and the Dak Prescott worshiping is going to make it brutal to watch/read/listen to football coverage for at least the next week.
Subject: Eagles at Cowboys Winners and Losers
Eagles drop a heart breaker in Dallas
The Eagles fell to the Cowboys 29-23 in OT.
After looking like the best running back on the team last week in extremely limited duty, Sproles looked like a starting running back on Sunday, gaining 86 yards on 15 carries, relegating Ryan Mathews to backup duty.
Eagles run defense
This was a big concern going into the game, especially with Bennie Logan out. After five straight games where Ezekiel Elliott had at least 134 yards and at least 4.7 yards per carry, the Eagles shut him down. Elliott finished with 96 yards on 22 carries for just 4.4 yards per carry. He broke out a few long runs, but mostly was stopped for short gains.
Dez Bryant beat Nolan Carroll for two big plays, but when he was up against McKelvin, he struggled. McKelvin’s importance to the secondary has been seen whenever he’s had to miss time, and on Sunday it showed with is play on the field.
The Birds lost a game they should have won through bad play calling and bad hands, handing Dallas a clear division lead. At the end of the season we may look back on this game and say it cost them the division or the playoffs.
This was Pederson’s worst game of his young career. He declined to kick a 53 yard field goal despite Sturgis hitting a 55 yarder with ease earlier in the game (twice if you consider the first attempt that didn’t count) to improve to 3 of 3 on the season from 50+ and 7 of 9 under Dave Fipp. Special teams have been really strong this year, Pederson should have had faith in them.
He also kept his timeouts in his pocket late in the fourth quarter that would have given the Eagles the ball back to end the game with a chance to win if he had used them. Maybe they would have still lost, but Pederson never tried to find out.
And his play calling was questionable at best. There were too many WR screens, by the third quarter the Cowboys knew they were coming and easily stopped them.
A bad game all around in a big game by Pederson, who put his team in position to win and then took it away, and could have done so again but never tried.
Eagles skill position players
Pederson’s struggles wouldn’t look so bad if he had anyone Carson Wentz could reliably go to. Nelson Agholor is beyond useless, Josh Huff might be better off as a running back, and for every good play Dorial Green-Beckham had, he had a bad play. The next defender Zach Ertz makes a move on will be the first. It’s hard to get an offense going when the skill position players keep failing.
Non-Carson Wentz Hands
Late game fumbles aren’t just Ryan Mathews’ problem. Wendell Smallwood fumbled in the fourth quarter, and four plays later the Cowboys kicked a field goal. Jordan Matthews dropped a gimmie. Nelson Agholor dropped a first down and possible touchdown on 3rd down. Dorial Green-Beckham dropped passes. The only saving grace in the hands department was Carson Wentz somehow holding onto the ball while being sacked from behind late in the game. Get the man some help, he’s earned it.
Subject: Grade the Eagles’ loss to the Cowboys
The Eagles lost on Sunday night. Here’s what we saw:
Pass offense: D
Carson Wentz made a lot of good decisions and throws, but there’s only so much you can do when your wide receivers are downright bad at their jobs. Jordan Matthews and Dorial Green-Beckham looked passable at times, but even Matthews dropped a sure catch tonight. The play calls themselves were pretty reserved, in large part because Wentz and Pederson can’t rely on the wideouts to do very much more than six or seven yards down the field.
Still, it was just effective enough — and Wentz was just efficient enough — that the lack of wide receiving weapons didn’t sink the Eagles on Sunday. But Howie Roseman should be calling up Trent Baalke tomorrow morning and upping his offer for Torrey Smith, because Wentz needs help, and soon.
Especially if Doug Pederson is insistent on calling swing passes behind the line of scrimmage until Wentz has a weapon.
Run offense: C+
Not a whole ton going on here. The fact that Pederson and Reich don’t trust Ryan Mathews enough to give him more than four handoffs in such a crucial game is concerning. Wendell Smallwood fumbling on his first touch of the game, which came in the fourth quarter, also isn’t great.
But when Darren Sproles is executing on the ground like he did on Sunday night, it’s basically the equivalent of what Carson Wentz does for the Eagles’ passing game: he brings just enough. The best part about Sproles is he seems to have a knack for making big plays in crucial spots. A big gain leading to a touchdown, or a big third-down pickup? Sproles is your man. Invaluable.
Pass defense: C-
Dak Prescott looked like a rookie for the majority of the game, and that’s the highest praise you can give Jim Schwartz’s secondary. Prescott had, through his first six games, been stoic and composed, made very few errors, and led the Cowboys to some impressive wins.
With Dez Bryant back against a suspect cornerback corps, and no Ron Brooks for the rest of the season, it seemed like a little bit of a recipe for disaster, but Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin made their fair share of good plays to keep Bryant and Prescott in check after a big gainer on the first drive of the game.
That is, until the fourth quarter, when Bryant reeled in the game-tying touchdown with three minutes left. The Eagles’ secondary couldn’t keep Prescott in check on a crucial, crucial drive.
And then, the final drive of the game, in overtime happened. A lot good work down the dang drain.
Run defense: B-
You can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him. Ezekiel Elliott truly is a magnificent running back. The Eagles can’t be excited about facing him twice a year for the next decade. Still, their first encounter with Zeke could have been much worse.
Keeping Elliot under 100 yards on the ground, and not allowing a big run in a key position, showed what the Eagles’ defensive line is capable of against even the best rushers in the league. Imagine how good the unit would have looked with Bennie Logan in the game.
And yet, a few big runs — including the crucial fourth down in overtime — felled the Eagles late in the game. It was a case of wearing down, I suppose. In any case, not great.
Subject: Tuesday Morning Fly By: Let's enjoy this rare day off.
Today's open discussion thread, complete with your daily dose of Philadelphia Flyers news and notes...
*It feels like we've had games every other day since the start of this season, doesn't it? There's no Flyers hockey today but you know what there is? NEW BSH RADIO! Look for it later this morning.
*Yesterday was Halloween and to get into the spirit your favorite Flyers shared their biggest fears. [BSH]
*And players from around the league dressed up, of course. The results were mostly awesome. [NHL.com]
*Speaking of, it's almost like Claude Giroux is a good hockey player. Shocking! [The Sports Daily]
*The Flyers are currently a sub-.500 team but we don't need to freak out just yet. Probably. [Inquirer]
*Yooooo Samuel Morin you cannot do that good lord. [Sons of Penn]
*Our pal Charlie O'Connor has partnered with the folks over at Hockey Graphs to start working on a pretty cool project you'll want to check out. [Hockey Graphs]
*Somehow not a single Flyer makes this ranking of most exciting players in the NHL right now. [Puck Daddy]
*And finally, did you know the NHL once fought against having to pay its players? Me neither. [National Post]
Subject: BSH Radio #82: So is it the defense or is it the goalies?
In which Charlie, Steph, Bill and Kelly spend an inordinate amount of time talking about the problems on the Flyers’ back end.
There isn’t any Flyers hockey for you to watch today, but we here at Broad Street Hockey know that a new episode of BSH Radio is just what you need to get you through to tomorrow night’s big RIVALRY NIGHT game against our noted rivals, the Detroit Red Wings.
Bill, Steph, Charlie, and Kelly use this episode to work out what exactly is the problem with the Flyers’ defense, ruminate on the Flyers’ goaltending situation, and sing the praises of Jakub Voracek. The gang also tries to figure out the bottom-six puzzle by trying again to get into the mind of Dave Hakstol.
Follow us on twitter @BSH_Radio so you don't miss any of the madness!
Subject: Boyd Gordon out at least a week with upper-body injury
Flyers forward Boyd Gordon, who has been a scratch in two of the team’s last three games, is injured. Ron Hextall announced Tuesday morning that he’ll be out for a “minimum of one week” due to an upper body injury.
In eight games played this season, Gordon has a goal and two penalty minutes. Brought in this offseason largely for his faceoff ability, Gordon has won 52.4 percent of the 63 faceoffs he’s taken thus far on the year.
Michael Raffl, who has been injured for all but three games so far this season, could return to the lineup on Wednesday night against the Detroit Red Wings. He’d slot into the bottom-six, and while we obviously hope Gordon gets well soon, Raffl’s addition and Gordon’s subtraction from the lineup is a plus move on the ice.
What the injury means for the rest of the bottom-six is a question. It’s been a bit of a revolving door thus far this season, so we’ll see if it leads to anything concrete as the Flyers prepare to play three games in four days between Wednesday and Saturday.
Subject: Flyers prospect report: Phantoms win 1, drop 2; Lindblom lights up Swedish league
Our new weekly look at Flyers prospects around the globe
Phantoms finish weekend with two losses, one win
- 5-1 WIN vs. Hartford Wolf Pack (10/28)
- 5-4 LOSS vs. Bridgeport Sound Tigers (10/29)
- 3-2 LOSS vs. Hershey Bears (10/30)
The Phantoms avenged their October 22 loss to Hartford with a statement win on Friday. Danick Martel got the scoring going with his 3rd goal of the season and was followed by Jordan Weal (1), Greg Carey (2 & 3) and T.J. Brennan (2) on the scoresheet. The lone goal that Anthony Stolarz gave up was a short-handed tally in the 2nd.
Alex Lyon got his second professional start on Saturday in relief of Stolarz and was hard-hit in the 5-4 loss, giving up 2 PP goals and 3 at even-strength. Weal (2 & 3) and Colin McDonald (2 & 3) provided the scoring in the game. McDonald’s 3rd period goal with a minute left in regulation brought the game within 1 goal before running out of time. Stolarz was back in net on Sunday, giving up all 3 goals in the loss. His PP behind him went 0 for 5 and included this hit from Morin, after which got things pretty dicey. I don’t think Morin escapes this without a suspension. Nicolas Aube-Kubel (1) and McDonald (4) scored in the game for the Phantoms.
The Phantoms next contests are Wednesday (Hartford), Friday (Providence) and Saturday (Springfield). Here are some of the notable performances from the weekend:
Danick Martel: 1 goal, 3 shots, 4 PIM
In perhaps the saddest news from the weekend, Martel took a knee-to-knee hit from Bridgeport Sound’s Kyle Borroughs on Saturday. Borroughs was ejected and Martel left the game (being helped off the ice by his teammates) and did not play on Sunday
Jordan Weal: 3 goals, 4 assists, 8 shots, 2 PIM
Let's hope this is the beginning of the hype-train for Weal to get a shot at the NHL level. After riding the bench after being acquired last season, he was sent to Lehigh Valley to get some consistent playing time. Though he may be at best a borderline NHL player, that already makes him decidedly better than Chris Vandevelde and Boyd Gordon.
Robert Hagg: 3 shots, 2 PIM
All’s quiet on the Hagg Front as he collected no points in this weekend’s games.
Travis Sanheim: 2 assists, 6 shots, 4 PIM
Sanheim picked up two assists, giving him 4 points (all assists) on the season. He has put 14 shots on net so far this year, which is good for 2nd among LHV defensemen and 5th overall on the team. It’s only a matter of time before we see him truly breakout.
Nicolas Aube-Kubel: 1 goal, 2 shots, 2 PIM
The skilled Aube-Kubel finally got on the board with his first goal (and point for that matter) of the 2016-17 season. He scored this one via a tipped shot from the point from defenseman Will O’Neill.
Notable Canadian junior performers this weekend
Connor Bunnaman, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
A quiet weekend for Bunnaman, who had 11 points in his 10 games prior. The Rangers will have games on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday for Connor to get back on track.
- 10/28 - 0 shots, 4 for 11 FOW
- 10/30 - 0 shots, 1 for 5 FOW
Anthony Salinitri, Sarnia Sting (OHL)
Salinitri extended his point streak to 8 games and now has goals in 4 of his last 6 games. His 7 goals and 17 points overall put him 2nd on the team for both marks.
- 10/28 - 1 goal, 5 shots, 3 for 11 FOW
- 10/29 - 1 assist, 2 for 10 FOW
- 10/30 - 1 goal, 1 assist, 5 shots, 9 for 12 FOW
Carter Hart, Everett Silvertips (WHL)
After a hiccup-game on October 19 (in which he gave up 2 goals on 5 shots), Hart has settled back in nicely for the Silvertips. He now leads the WHL in GAA (1.97) and is 6th in SV% (.923). The 18 year old is in his 4th season with Everett, but just his 2nd as a full-time starter.
- 10/27 - 2 GA, 21 saves
- 10/29 - 1 GA, 26 saves
Carsen Twarynski, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
The 2016 3rd round pick is finally ramping up his offensive production and has 3 goals in his past 3 games. He has also racked up 20 PIM in his 9 games this season with 8 of those minutes coming in his last 3 games.
- 10/28 - 2 goals, 2 PIM
- 10/29 - 2 PIM
Samuel Dove-McFalls, Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
Sam scores! Dove-McFalls goal on Friday was his 1st since a 2-goal effort way back on October 7th.
- 10/26 - 2 shots, 4 PIM, 5 for 8 FOW
- 10/28 - 1 goal, 1 assist, 6 shots, 6 for 8 FOW
- 10/30 - 3 shots, 1 for 3 FOW
Other CHL Notes: Phillippe Myers was selected as part of Team QMJHL to participate in the CHL/Russia Series in November. He did not participate in any of the Huskies games this past week ... Pascal Laberge remains out of the Victoriaville lineup since October 15 because of a concussion.
Notable European performances this week
Oskar Lindblom - Brynäs IF (SHL)
Lindblom’s 5 assist weekend gives him 15 points (5 goals, 10 assists) in 14 games. That is just 1 point off the SHL league-lead. I’ll mention this: the kid is only 20 years old playing at one of the highest professional levels.
- 10/25 - 2 assists, 2 shots
- 10/27 - 2 assists, 3 shots
- 10/29 - 1 assist, 1 shot
Felix Sandstrom, Brynäs IF (SHL)
Things don’t seem to be getting better for Sandstrom who saw his SV% and GAA drop to .882 and 2.69, respectively. He won’t be able to improve his playing time with better performances.
- 10/25 - DNP
- 10/27 - 3 GA, 20 saves
- 10/29 - DNP
Linus Hogberg, Växjö Lakers HC (SHL)
Not much to report on the 2016 5th round pick as Hodberg barely averages 5 minutes a game for Växjö. He has 1 assists in 13 games this season.
- 10/25 - 1 assist (5:41 TOI)
- 10/27 - 0 shots (3:32 TOI)
- 10/29 - 0 shots (5:15 TOI)
David Bernhardt, Djurgårdens IF (SHL)
With an increased role on the team, Bernhardt is seeing an uptick in offensive production tallying 3 points in 8 games.
- 10/25 - 1 assist, 1 shot
- 10/27 - 3 shots
German Rubtsov, Russkie Vityazi (MHL)
Rubtsov has 15 points (7 goals, 8 assists) in 14 games with Vityazi. His play has been quite good since joining his MHL team, which is the league below the KHL in Russia. He simply just did not get the ice-time to justify staying on his KHL squad. While this is great for Rubtsov’s playing time, he might not be getting a true challenge given his skills. Though as long as he keeps dominating the league, there shouldn’t be any worries yet.
- 10/25 - 1 goal
- 10/27 - 1 goal
- 10/30 - 2 assists
Mikhail Vorobyov, Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL)
Offensively, the 2015 4th round pick has had a slow go of it this season. He has just 9 points (3 goals, 6 assists) in 24 games while getting over 11 minutes a game. His assist on Wednesday was his first point since October 13th and hasn’t had a goal since October 4th.
- 10/26 - 1 assists, 1 shot, 2 PIM, 4 for 10 FOW
- 10/28 - 2 shots, 10 for 18 FOW
- 10/30 - 2 PIM, 7 for 16 FOW
Notable college performances this weekend
Mark Friedman, Bowling Green State University
Mark Friedman had a nice little weekend against Miami, giving him 5 points (3 goals, 2 assists) in 7 games this season. This is his 3rd season with Bowling Green and has seen his offensive production go up each year (19 points in 2014-15 and 23 pts in 2015-16).
- 10/28 - 1 goal
- 10/29 - 1 goal (PP)
Tanner Laczynski, Ohio State University
After picking up his his first collegiate goals last weekend, he scored his 3rd of the season on Saturday. Laczynski has 11 points in 7 games this season, which leads his team. Tanner was a 2016 6th round pick out of the USHL where he had 109 points in 111 games.
- 10/28 - 2 assists, 1 shot, 2 PIM
- 10/29 - 1 goal, 1 assist, 7 shots, 2 PIM
Merrick Madsen, Harvard University
Madsen kicked off his junior season with a shutout win, his 5th career shutout at the college level. He didn’t need much help as the offense spotted him 7 goals in the game. Madsen held his shutout streak into the early 3rd period in Friday’s match with Arizona State, but by that time he already had a 3-0 lead to hold onto.
- 10/28 - 0 GA, 23 saves
- 10/29 - 2 GA, 26 saves
NCAA Notes: Matej Tomek saw some time in the exhibition opener for UND, but has sat behind junior Cam Johnson in every regular season game this year. ... Terrance Amorosa is out with an undisclosed injury (as far as I can tell) ... Cooper Marody was deemed academically ineligible and won’t be able to play this fall, missing roughly half the season. Look for updates on Marody when he returns this spring.
Subject: Radko Gudas gives us the cutest Halloween picture
Can you imagine Radko Gudas being your dad? That would be the best.
This is probably one of the most precious pictures we’re going to get out of Halloween: Radko Gudas, awesome dad, taking a little lion out to get candy.
Lion is an awesome choice for a first costume, and there’s just something about Gudas carrying one around on his shoulders that’s the best.
My favorite thing about this? Gudas doesn’t even have to dress up to be scary. Look at that man. That’s a man who could kill you just by looking at you. He’s amazing.
For real though, this is so sweet and cute. The NHL having no games on Halloween was awesome for the players, and gives us moments like these. What’s not to love about that?