Hockey is finally back and the Philadelphia Flyers have picked up right where they left off. Before the pause in the season that happened as a result of COVID-19, the Flyers had won nine out of their last 10 games. Through one exhibition game and two round-robin games, the Flyers are 3-0 against three quality opponents. Here are some things that I have noticed since the season resumed about a week ago.
The Flyers are winning despite getting very little scoring from their Top Line.
So far since the resumption of play, the Flyers top line of Claude Giroux, Sean Courtier, and Jake Voracek has been virtually non-existent. Amongst the three of them, they only have one assist from Jake Voracek so far this postseason. The fact that the Flyers have beaten three quality opponents despite this fact shows just how deep they are.
The bulk of the Flyers scoring has come from their second line of Scott Laughton, (3 goals 1 assist) Kevin Hayes, (0 goals 4 assists), and Travis Konecny (0 goals two assists). They have also gotten contributions from their backline. Travis Sanheim has two points and Phil Myers scored a goal against the Bruins. If the Flyers top line starts playing the way they’re capable of, the Flyers will be an extremely dangerous team come playoff time.
Travis Sanheim/Phil Meyers has a chance to be one of the most dynamic defense pairs in the league.
Back when they were both with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, I had always hoped that at some point the Phantoms and then later on the Flyers would pair Travis Sanheim and Phil Meyers together. It just seemed to be a pairing that made sense in so many ways.
They are a lefty/righty combo. Both are big guys that can skate. Sanheim is 6’4 205 and Meyers is 6’5 220, and both can shoot the puck. Both are guys who despite their talent have struggled to find their games at times. But, both players seemed to come into their own when coach Alain Vigneault made them a pairing this year.
Both players have improved immensely in their own end. As a result of that part of their game having stabilized, they have become more confident players. And as a result of the rise in confidence, both players have started to blossom offensively. Both are a lot more comfortable with the puck on their sticks. And both have shown a willingness to jump up into the offense.
We saw this with Meyers on Sunday against the Bruins. Right after the Bruins had cut the Flyers lead to one, Meyers jumped into the play creating a 2 on 1 and scored a beautiful top-shelf goal to restore the Flyers two-goal lead.
We saw this with Sanheim last night. With the Capitals forechecking aggressively in the first period, Sanheim had the confidence to stickhandle around one of the Washington forwards and skate the puck out of the Flyers zone. We saw this on the goal he scored in the second period. Not only was he confident enough to jump deep into the offensive zone, but he also had the confidence to make a beautiful backhand to forehand move that beat goalie Braden Holtby.
Sanheim didn’t stop there though. On the shift right after scoring the goal, he again jumped up into the play and had a quality scoring chance.
Sanheim and Meyers have a chance to be a defense pairing that teams won’t know exactly sure how to match up against. With both players being over 6 4 and 200 pounds, they can match up with any line size-wise. And with the way both players can skate, they will have no problems staying with smaller faster lines. Sanheim was also paired with Ivan Provorov killing penalties last night. So that will just add another element to his game and make him an even more effective all-around player. With both players being in their early twenties, they should be an effective defense pairing for years to come.
Nic Aube-Kubel is one of the Flyers most effective players.
It’s very rare that Nicholas Aube-Kubel has a bad shift. Every time he is on the ice he makes something happen. Whether it be delivering a big hit, winning a battle along the boards, making a nice pass to create a scoring chance for a teammate, or using his high-end speed to create a scoring chance for himself.
When you look at his game last night, he won a board battle behind the Flyers net in the first period and then took two quick strides and had the puck out of the Flyers zone. He set up a scoring chance of his own where he deked around a Washington Defender and delivered a hard shot on net that almost handcuffed Braden Holtby. He was involved in two 2 on 1’s with Joel Farabee and he had a shift in the second period where he delivered two big hits.
These are all things that don’t show up on the scoresheet but, these are all things that help your team win games. And he has the ability to get even better. He is one of the fastest skaters on the team. And it only takes him two or three strides to get up to full speed. He also has a very good shot. He has the ability to score 20 or 25 goals in the NHL. Whether or not that happens will depend on how he is used. But, even if he is a guy who only scores 10 or 15 goals a year, he is still a guy who can help your team in a lot of ways and he is the type of player that winning teams need.
Nic Aube-Kubel and Joel Farabee seem to have good chemistry.
When Michael Rafl went down with an injury against the Bruins, Joel Farabee was inserted into the lineup against Washington. He played on a line with Derek Grant and Nic Aube-Kubel. Farabee and Aube-Kubel seemed to mesh well together. Twice they had two on one’s against Braden Holtby and came close to scoring.
The first 2 on 1 was particularly impressive because both players were on their backhands yet Aube-Kubel managed to make a nice backhand pass over to Farabee who almost managed to slide the puck past Holtby despite the fact that he was on his backhand as well.
Which brings me to one minor gripe I had about last night’s lineup. I was kind of puzzled when I saw both Aube-Kubel and Farabee playing on the same line and both playing on their off-wing. Farabee a left-hand shot playing the right-wing and Aube-Kubel, a right-hand shot playing the left side. Aube-Kubel played all year at right-wing and was very effective. Except for during a short stint at the very beginning of the year, Farabee had played the left side.
So it would seem to make sense to flip flop the two and have Farabee play left-wing Aube-Kubel play right. The first 2 on 1 these two players had further illustrates why it would make sense to flip flop their positions. Since both players were on their off wings, they were both on their backhands which makes it more difficult to make a play. If they were playing their normal positions, they both would have been on their forehands and might have been able to score against Holtby.
Coach Vigneault sees both players in practice every day though. So I’m sure he saw something that caused him to play them both on their off wings.
So far the Flyers are off to a very good start this postseason. They haven’t missed a beat during the four-month layoff and have picked up right where they left off. When you also consider the fact that their defense has been stifling, giving up only one goal to both Washington and Boston, their penalty killing is a perfect 6 for 6 and both Carter Hart and Brian Elliot have been effective in net, there’s every reason to believe the Flyers can go on a deep playoff run this year.