In Flyers’ Successes, Defense Creates Offense
Jesper Fast raced up the left wing and appeared to have a step on Phil Myers. Myers raced back, caught the speedy winger and executed a perfectly timed poke check to thwart another scoring chance for the Rangers.
In the middle of a game where the scoreboard showed 4-1 and 5-1 for most of the third period, it is a play that will quickly be forgotten, but it is those little plays that have the Flyers where they are.
Where they are, after a 5-2 win over the Rangers on Friday night, is in second place in the Metropolitan Division and on a five-game winning streak, continuing their run as one of hockey’s hottest teams.
“We definitely had a couple of real good defensive plays from our group tonight,” Alain Vigneault said. “To stop that skill, I watched their game last night against Montreal, they were down by two, they came back hard and they scored five quick ones in the second half of the game. You know they’ve got that fire power, and you need your whole group to defend the right way and we were able to do that.”
By the time the Flyers were closing out the game in the third, they had already staked to a 4-1 lead. Claude Giroux had two of those goals to bring his season total to 19. James van Riemsdyk scored his 19th of the season to break a 1-1 tie in the second. Sean Couturier opened the scoring in the first by reaching the 20-goal mark for the third straight season. Kevin Hayes capped the scoring with his 22nd goal of the season.
There is a lot of scoring balance, but it is that dedication to defense that has really made a difference in how the Flyers are able to produce.
“We have a lot of guys playing great defense right now and because of that we’re getting offense,” Giroux said. “I always thought that your best offense is your defense and we’re showing it out there.”
The Flyers also had a strong special teams game, getting one power-play goal from Giroux early in the third and scoring just second after completing one of their three successful kills.
“A lot of the little things, whether it’s blocking shots, chipping pucks out, chipping pucks in, just doing the little things right consistently, it puts the odds in our favor,” Couturier said. “Tonight, I think special teams were huge. We did a good job killing penalties and we got a big goal on the power play there early in the third. That’s a big part of the game and can make a difference here in a lot of games.”
What has made the Flyers such a dangerous team is the wave of successes they are able to have offensively from various lines, but also the overall defensive commitment. While the Rangers looked dangerous at times in the game, bounces that could have favored the Rangers and may have left an opportunity to score into an open net were quickly cleared away and out of danger to the corner or out of the done.
In the previous game on Tuesday against San Jose, the new-look second line of Hayes, Travis Konecny and Scott Laughton was the focus, getting three of the four goals in the game. In this game, it was the team’s top line and top players stepping up. In addition to Giroux’s two goals, Couturier had a goal and an assist and Jake Voracek had four assists.
“Our top boys were top performers tonight,” Vigneault said. “They showed up, they played big, they made some plays, they capitalized on a couple of the other teams mistakes. I’ve said this a couple times there, you need your top players to lead the way and I thought Coots’s line tonight with G and Jake certainly did that. Nisky I thought was a force on defense. Carter Hart made some big saves tonight, the ones you want your goaltender to make.”
Hart was overshadowed in this game as well. After giving up a goal just over two minutes into the game, Hart shut the door, silencing a powerful and streaking offense with several difficult saves on his way to finishing with 26 on the night.
“I think we responded the right way, came out hard and just continued to pressure,” Hart said. “Then we tied it in the first but continued that pressure for the rest of the game and rewarded on a lot of nice plays.”
The Flyers have been able to follow a similar formula in a lot of games lately. The starts have not always been crisp, but they get things back on track and take control of the game over the remaining two periods. In recent weeks, they have played home-and-home series against Florida and Columbus and swept both, taking two bubble teams and putting them on the edge of the playoff line. They have an opportunity to do the same with the Rangers.
“We were able to score two and get that power play going in the third period, which sort of put the game out of reach for them,” Vigneault said. “They’ve been the best team in the league on the road here for quite some time. I think they’ve won 9 in a row [on the road]. It was a big challenge and now we’ve got another one coming up Sunday at noon."