Quick Hits: March 26, 2023
1) Wrap: The Flyers skated to a 3-0 shutout victory over the Detroit Red Wings at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday afternoon. Philly was led by a 29-save performance by Carter Hart, a 7-for-7 performance on the penalty kill and a two-point day (four-on-four goal, one assist) by Scott Laughton.
Hart was not tested all that often for the first two periods but stepped up big several times. In the third period, he had to make a slew of saves as he faced both a high quantity (16) and high quality (14 scoring chances for Detroit, eight high-danger chances) of shots.
In three starts against the Red Wings this season, Hart stopped a combined 83 of 85 shots (.976 save percentage). He carried a shutout for 59-plus minutes in his first start (a 2-1 win in Detroit), stopped 24 of 25 at home against the Red Wings on March 5 and then stopped all 29 shots he saw in yesterday's 3-1 win.
I did the official three-star selection for yesterday's game. After two periods, I had Laughton as first star and Hart second but the third period swung the top choice to Hart in my judgment. Even so, Laughton was outstanding in his own right and his 2-on-1 goal (with Joel Farabee joining him on the rush) was a vital play in the game that established a 2-0 lead for Philadelphia that truly put them in the driver's seat.
Taking seven penalties in a game is far from ideal, especially when you have to kill off six minutes worth of penalties in the game's first 11 minutes. However, the Flyers actually managed to out-chance the Red Wings (by a significant margin) in the first period. Ultimately, the Red Wings were arguably more fortunate than the Flyers that the game got to the first intermission in a scoreless deadlock.
In the second period, following yet another Flyers penalty kill right off the hop (Noah Cates was called for holding at the 42-second mark), Philadelphia built a 2-0 edge. Kieffer Bellows (3rd goal of the season) knocked home an Owen Tippett rebound at 10:10 before Laughton, during a 10-second 4-on-4 before Philly had to kill another penalty, roofed a shot over Alex Nedeljkovic to make it 2-0 at 19:24. The goal was Laughton's 18th of the season and marked the first time in his NHL career that Laughton has achieved 40 points in a season.
Laughton has now scored goals in each of his last seven games against Detroit. He posted three goals, four points and nine shots on goal in the three games the Flyers played against Detroit this season.
"ry and set some personal goals for yourself at the start of the year, but at the end of the day, it’s about the team and us doing well. Once that falls into place, it probably feels a little bit better if you’re in that situation. It’s always nice to contribute and have that role. Yeah, trying to make the most of the opportunities when they’re there," Laughton said.
While Laughton downplayed his own importance in the season series sweep of Detroit and his new career-high in points, goaltender Hart stressed Laughton's central on-ice and dressing room role in keeping the team unified amid what has been another tough season.
"he’s been unreal this year. He’s got a lot of skill. He’s an underrated player. He plays both ends of the ice tremendously well. Probably the biggest leader on our team. For a guy that is willing to block shots, step up for guys, scrap if he needs to, say the right things around the room and just carries himself around our locker room very professionally. Gets the guys pretty pumped up and likes to have fun. So, a huge part of our team," Hart said.
The third period was the "Carter Hart Show". With Nedeljkovic pulled for an extra attacker, Owen Tippett (blocked), Morgan Frost (blocked) and Farabee (missed) all had cracks at an empty net goal. Finally, rookie recall Tyson Foerster (3rd) scored into the yawning cage to seal the 3-0 win.
After the game, the Flyers sent Foerster and defenseman Egor Zamula back to the AHL's Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The Phantoms, who would hold down a spot in the Calder Cup playoffs if the season ended today but are still far from assured of a spot, have a road game on Sunday against the Hershey Bears.
Head coach John Tortorella continued his late-season penalty killing personnel experimentation on Saturday. This included using Tippett and Frost as a penalty killing duo. After the game, Tortorella praised the 200-foot performance of Frost in Saturday's game (which included a defensive zone takeaway and semi-breakaway chance in the first period, two blocked shots, a 7-for-10 day on faceoffs, two blocked shots and 2:17 of penalty killing time). Frost also came into Saturday's game tied with Laughton for second on the team in scoring over the previous 45 games (30 points apiece). Laughton forged two points ahead.
However, Tortorella once again stopped short of saying that Frost has earned the right to be considered a lock for the Flyers' roster beyond this season. The coach's apparent motivation method with Frost at this point is to continually move the bar higher and higher and say he's uncertain if the player has come close enough to clearing it yet.
"I thought he played a good game today. He's played more of a 200-foot game, and he's going to have to do that. If he wants to be in the mix, he needs to play a 200-foot game. I don't think asking him to play 200-feet should affect his offense. A lot of [media] questions on Frosty here, but he continues to grow and we're going to keep on watching," Tortorella said.
For his part, Frost admitted that he wasn't expecting to get another opportunity this season to kill penalties. It is something he's said for years that he'd like to be another part of his NHL repertoire to help diversify the things he can contribute apart from solely creating offensive chances. However, after getting a look on the PK in the early part of the 2022-23 season, Frost was removed from the PK rotation and hadn't been back since the last two games.
"It’s a little surprising, to be honest. If you can get on the ice whenever you can, I obviously would like to do that. For the few times I was out there today, I was just trying to learn. I think every time I got off, I was just asking questions after. Other guys were helping me through it. Everyone else did a good job, and I was OK out there on the PK," Frost said.
For a more in-depth period-by-period synopsis of Saturday's game, analysis, highlights and more, see the Postgame 5
The Flyers (28-32-12) have won each of their last three games. They are 4-1-1 on the current seven-game homestand, which will conclude on Tuesday against the Montreal Canadiens (29-38-6).
2) The Flyers Charities Carnival returns today at the Wells Fargo Center. The organization's traditional signature fundraising event, which was founded by the Flyers wives in 1977 and was taken over in more recent years by Flyers Charities, was on hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic but is now back in full force.
3) Phantoms Win in Wilkes-Barre: Locked in an increasingly tight race for a Calder Cup playoff spot after losing three straight games and then sitting through a five-night break in the game schedule, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms gutted out a 3-2 overtime road win against a pesky Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins team on Saturday. Last Sunday, the Pens came to Allentown and embarrassed the Phantoms, 5-2, in a game that meant more to Lehigh Valley than to a last-place W-B/S club that was playing its third game in less than three nights.
Yesterday, the Penguins once again gave the Phantoms all they could handle. Lehigh Valley had to battle back from deficits of 1-0 and 2-1 to get the game to overtime. Although Samuel Ersson didn't have a high volume of shots (21 for the game), he had to make several clutch saves on tough chances in situations where the Phantoms absolutely could not afford to get scored upon. It was a vital win for the goalie and the team in a high-pressure situation.
The Phantoms were missing some important pieces from their lineup. Cooper Marody, the team's best offensive player over the last month, was out due to an upper-body injury suffered last weekend in a collision with the Pens' Jonathan Gruden. Foerster and Zamula, meanwhile, were still with the Flyers.
Well-regarded prospect Emil Andrae made his AHL debut for the Phantoms on Saturday. He took a couple of penalties in the game -- one of which resulted in a Josh Maniscalco power play goal that gave W-B/S a 2-1 lead at 5:44 of the second period -- but later assisted on an Artem Anisimov power play goal (17th) that tied the game at 2:52 of the third period. Bobby Brink earned the primary helper on the tying goal.
Overall, though, it was the veterans who led the way offensively for the Phantoms in a game where they mustered 24 shots on goal. Veteran power forward Garrett Wilson (16th goal of the season) tied the game, 1-1, at 7:07 of the first period after Drake Caggiula gave Wilkes-Barrre/Scranton a quick 1-0 edge. Wilson was actually attempting a pass but it went off a defender and re-directed past Taylor Gauthier. The primary assist went to 26-year-old veteran AHL/NHL player Adam Brooks.
In overtime, at the 37-second mark, Brooks (9th goal of the season) converted a chance created by Anisimov to end the game.
The Phantoms now face a tall order on Sunday, as they have a road game against the Hershey Bears. Hershey has dominated the 14-game season series to date, with the Phantoms holding just two wins in the first 12 games between the teams.
Most recently, the Bears came away victorious in both ends of a home-and-home set. The Phantoms lost at the PPL Center, 6-3, in a nationally televised game on March 16. Lehigh Valley had been on a five-game winning streak heading into that tilt. Two nights later at the Giant Center in Hershey, the Bears beat the Phantoms, 2-1.
Entering play today, the Phantoms remain in fifth place in the Atlantic Division with nine games left on Lehigh Valley's schedule. The top six teams will get into the Calder Cup playoffs. The Phantoms, at present, are two points ahead of the sixth-place Bridgeport Islanders and now five points in front of the seventh-place Hartford Wolf Pack. Hartford drew within three points the Phantoms on Friday with a 6-5 home win over Springfield. However, the Thunderbirds defeated the Wolf Pack, 4-0, on Saturday. Paired with the Phantoms' win over the Penguins, Lehigh Valley moved ahead of Hartford again by five points.
On Sunday, if the Phantoms are unable to take care of business in Hershey, the Wolf Pack could again cut the gap to three or four points when they play W-B/S on the road. Meanwhile, Bridgeport is idle today. This coming Wednesday, the Islanders and Wolf Pack play each other head-to-head. After today, the Phantoms are idle until Friday.