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Flyers Gameday: 12/2/23 @ PIT; Six-Game Trends; Phantoms Update

December 2, 2023, 1:57 PM ET [186 Comments]
Bill Meltzer
Philadelphia Flyers Blogger •NHL.com • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Game 24 Preview: Flyers @ Penguins

The Philadelphia Flyers (11-10-2) are in western Pennsylvania on Saturday to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins (11-10-1). Game time at PPG Paints Arena is 7:00 p.m. ET.

The Flyers enter this game coming off a 4-3 overtime home loss on Thursday to the New Jersey Devils. They are 0-9-2 in games where they allow the first goal (11-1-0 when scoring first) but pulled off a third period comeback against the Devils to secure one point.

Philly trailed by scores of 2-0 and 3-1 before scoring twice in the latter portion of the third period to force overtime. Morgan Frost (PPG, 3rd goal of the season) scored in the second period before Tyson Foerster tallied an even strength deflection goal (2nd) at 15:00 and a 6-on-4 power play marker (3rd) at 19:09. In a losing cause, Carter Hart stopped 31 of 35 shots.

In Thursday's game, the Flyers played most of the night with just 10 forwards. Head coach John Tortorella benched the team's top five-on-five producer, Joel Farabee (eight goals, 17 points overall with 16 points at even strength), for the final 56:50 of the game. Farabee skated just 53 seconds over two shifts. Later in the first period, Garnet Hathaway was ejected from the game on a horridly botched sequence by the officials: a very late whistle on an icing and a subsequent boarding major assessed on Hathaway on a play where Luke Hughes did not go into the boards.

Farabee, who was unavailable for comment either in Thursday's postgame locker room or following practice on Friday, will resume his normal usage on Saturday per Tortorella. At Friday's practice, he skated once again on a line with Scott Laughton and Cam Atkinson.

Foerster's two-goal outburst in the third period -- the NHL changed the scoring on the Flyers' second goal of the period, crediting Foerster with a tip on a goal initially awarded to defenseman Sean Walker -- hopefully can be used as a springboard offensively. He entered Thursday's game with just one non-shootout goal on the season but has been racking up a high volume of scoring chances since his sixth game of the campaign.

For the rest of the team, which otherwise scored a combined four goals over the club's last four games, there are many players who have been struggling to produce of late. (See the next section, "Six-Game Trends", for more).

Based on Friday's practice lines, the Flyers are likely to start the same forward combinations in Pittsburgh that started against the Devils. There was one tweak on defense with Marc Staal stepping back into the projected starting six for Pittsburgh. Egor Zamula, who was paired at practice with Louie Belpedio, is a projected scratch for Saturday.

The Penguins enter this game coming off a 4-2 road win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday. Tristan Jarry became the first goaltender in Penguins' history to score a goal.

Prior to Jarry's empty net goalie goal at 18:52 of the third period, the Penguins held a 3-2 lead provided by veteran ex-Flyers forward Jeff Carter (1st goal of the season) earlier in the period. The Penguins trailed 2-0 at the first intermission but pushed back in the middle frame for goals by Sidney Crosby (14th) and Drew O'Connor (2nd).

For an in-depth preview of Saturday's game's matchups at even strength and special teams, see Saturday's "5 Things" on the Flyers' official website.

Projected Lineups (subject to change, will be updated)

FLYERS

71 Tyson Foerster - 14 Sean Couturier - 11 Travis Konecny
86 Joel Farabee - 21 Scott Laughton - 89 Cam Atkinson
74 Owen Tippett - 48 Morgan Frost - 10 Bobby Brink
44 Nic Deslauriers - 25 Ryan Poehling - 19 Garnet Hathaway

8 Cam York - 6 Travis Sanheim
24 Nick Seeler - 26 Sean Walker
18 Marc Staal - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen

33 Samuel Ersson
[79 Carter Hart]

PENGUINS

59 Jake Guentzel - 87 Sidney Crosby - 17 Bryan Rust
19 Reilly Smith - 71 Evgeni Malkin - 10 Drew O'Connor
43 Jansen Harkins - 20 Lars Eller - 63 Radim Zohorna
83 Matt Nieto - 55 Noel Acciari - 77 Jeff Carter

27 Ryan Graves - 58 Kris Letang
28 Marcus Pettersson - 65 Erik Karlsson
5 Ryan Shea - 7 John Ludvig

35 Tristan Jarry
[39 Alex Nedeljkovic]
*********

Six-Game Trends

Travis Konecny leads the Flyers with 17 points (12 goals, five assists) this season. He scored a breakaway goal (off a tremendous lead pass from Foerster) on Tuesday against the Carolina Hurricanes. Against the Devils, Konecny had the primary assist on Morgan Frost's power play goal.

However, over last couple weeks Konecny's had a harder time of late trying to finish off plays. Against the Devils, he had three scoring opportunities in which he missed the net from favorable shooting locations. Overall, TK has two points in his last five games and three points (2g, 1a) over the last seven. He's had 21 total scoring chances in the last six games, of which nine have been of the high-danger variety. It's only a matter of time until the next multi-goal surge as long as the chances keep coming.

As bumps in the road go over the course of an 82-game season, this is a minor one. Even so, the Flyers are so reliant on Konecny to be their primary goal scorer -- Farabee and Cam Atkinson are tied for second on the club with eight goals apiece -- that even a mini-spell in which Konecny isn't regularly burying his scoring chances is going to have an effect.

Atkinson is currently in a significant slump from an offensive production standpoint. His season totals (8g, 6a, 14 points) are still respectable in light of him missing all of last season due to neck surgery. But Atkinson has one point (0g, 1a) in his last five games and two points (0g, 2a) in the last eight. His most recent goal came nine games ago in Los Angeles on Nov. 11.

Owen Tippett rattled off a four-game scoring streak (5g, 2a) seven points from Nov. 10 in Anaheim to Nov. 18 at home against Vegas. He's cooled off since then with one point (0g, 1a) in the team's last six games. However, he's still getting scoring chances: 15 at 5-on-5 (second only to Sean Couturier's 17) and 16 overall in the last six matches.

Farabee led the Flyers in scoring in November with nine points (4g, 5a) in 14 games. His usage hasn't been especially favorable to him in terms of power play deployment or overall average ice time (15:28 if Thursday's game is tossed out, 14: 26 if it's included). He was 14th on the team in average ice time during November.

For the sake of fairness, the Devils game should be tossed out when looking at Farabee's recent offensive production but included when two-way attention to detail is considered. Although he did not have a point in his previous three games heading into the game against New Jersey, Farabee had three points (goal and assist against Columbus, goal against the Islanders) over the previous five. In terms of metrics, Farabee had 10 scoring chances (five high-danger) over the five games immediately preceding the New Jersey game. With Farabee on the ice, the Flyers have had a 51.26 percent expected goals share over the last six games.

Scott Laughton's center point shot, low and deflectable, drew the primary assist on Foerster's game-tying goal against the Devils. For "Sarge", the assist ended a six-game stretch without being awarded a point. Overall, Laughton has two points (0g, 2a) over the last nine games. The alternate captain had three points (1g, 2a) in four games over Philly's road trip through California and then back east to Raleigh.

In the six games since his overtime-winning goal against the Golden Knights, Sean Couturier has post two points (1g, 1a). However, Couturier's underlying metrics have been the best on the team. Over the last six games, Couturier's on-ice expected goals share (73.46 percent) and shot attempt differentials (66.33 percent Corsi) pace the club. He's also atop the team in terms of individual high-danger scoring chances (19) across all game situations.

Prior to his two back surgeries, Couturier was one of the NHL's elite faceoff men. Upon his return this season, Couturier is slightly below the break-even mark (203 wins, 210 losses, 49.2 percent). Over the last six games, he's at 48.6 percent (53 wins, 56 losses) on draws.

Ryan Poehling, who spent a couple weeks centering the Flyers' third and then second lines, returned to fourth-line duty last game against New Jersey. Tortorella said, however, that he'd like to get another look at the player higher in the lineup at some point and the move back to playing with Nic Deslauriers and Hathaway was largely done for forechecking/energy purposes.

Poehling scored a shorthanded goal and had two assists (the latter came on Cam York's ultra-long distance empty net goal scored from below the Philly goal line) in the Flyers' home win over Columbus. Since that game, he has recorded one point (assist at NYI). His six-game metrics: 12 individual scoring chances (six high-danger chances), 56.57 percent on-ice Corsi and 61.33 percent expected goals share. Bottom line: He's been playing well.

Over the last six games, Poehling's 48.1 percent faceoff percentage (37 wins, 40 losses) ranks second on the Flyers to Couturier. For the season, Poehling leads Flyers center with a 51.7 percent rate (104 wins, 97 losses) on draws.

Bobby Brink and Frost were taking unwanted turns exiting and going back into Tortorella's lineup prior to Noah Cates (1g, 3a in 21 games) suffering a broken foot that will keep the player out for six to eight weeks. At least while the club is carrying just 12 forwards, Frost and Brink have both been in the lineup -- as linemates over the latter half of Tuesday's game against Carolina and for most of the New Jersey game.

When players yo-yo in and out of the lineup, it's a bit unfair to assess them in the same way one would if they were playing regularly. Brink has dressed in five of the last six games (1g, 2a) while Frost has dressed in three (1g, 0a).

Specific to Frost, I think it's more telling to look at his 11 games played since he returned the first time from a six-game spell as a DND. Of the Flyers last 15 games -- in which Frost has dressed in 11 and been scratched in four, here are his basic stats: 3g, 2a, 5 points, +4, 46.6 percent on faceoffs. His underlying numbers: 51.66 percent on-ice Corsi at 5-on-5 (sixth among Flyers forwards), 54.81 percent on-ice expected goals at 5-on-5 (second only to Foerster among the forwards), 23 high-danger chances created for teammates or himself across all situations (highest by ratio, fourth highest by count), 17 individual scoring chances created by a linemate or self-created (eight high-danger).

Bottom line: There is not a justifiable reason for Frost not to be an every-game starter in the Philadelphia lineup. He has had the occasional dog of a game among his 13 outings -- at Columbus and Ottawa to start the season, at home versus Vegas on and the game against Carolina this week -- but he's also had his share of good ones, too. The fact that he's stuck on two assists for the season says MUCH more about the team's struggles to finish chances than any shortcomings as a playmaking center.

Brink, too, is more playmaker than goal scorer. He, too, has created a healthy volume of scoring chances although he hit a dry spell for a couple weeks. The Flyers aren't exactly swimming in playmaking forwards. I'd think there's room -- even when Cates is available -- to have one playmaking winger (Brink) and one playmaking center (Frost) in the same lineup of a generally low-scoring club.

From November 1 to Dec. 1, the Flyers scored a meager 2.64 goals per game. That ranks 29th in the NHL over the last month. Only the Canadiens (2.50 GPG), Ducks (2.43) and Sharks (2.20) have scored less.

*********

Phantoms Update: December 2, 2023

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms (9-7-3) saw their six-game point streak (5-0-1) come to an end on Friday evening, as they suffered a 7-3 road loss at the hands of the Hartford Wolf Pack (13-4-2) at the XL Center. The Phantoms fell into a 3-0 hole by the end of the first period, and never drew closer than within 4-2. Lehigh Valley was blitzed for 20 shots on goal by Hartford in the first period.

Phantoms goaltender Cal Petersen (32 saves on 39 shots) was far from the lone culprit, but he allowed a couple goals that would be considered stoppable save opportunities. Hartford veteran goalie Louis Domingue (36 saves on 39 shots) earned the win.

A silver lining in Friday's otherwise disappointing performance: Several Phantoms rookies and second-year players got onto the score sheet.

JR Avon tallied his fourth goal of the season. Ronnie Attard shot from the right circle off a rush and potted a goal (4th). In the third period, Olle Lycksell and Emil Andrae set up a power play goal from the hash marks by rookie Samu Tuomaala (5th). Additionally, Ethan Samson and Adam Ginning chipped in even strength assists on Avon's goal. Among Phantoms veterans, Cooper Marody (11th assist of the season) and defenseman Victor Mete assisted on the Attard goal.

Lehigh Valley's special teams failed them in Hartford. The Wolf Pack burned the Phantoms for four power play goals (on six PP opportunities) plus a shorthanded goal. Tuomaala's power play marker on a 1-for-5 night for the team with a SHGA wasn't nearly enough to make up for the difference.

Phantoms captain Garrett Wilson was unavailable for the game. He served a one-game suspension stemming from an altercation after the final buzzer of the Phantoms' 5-4 home win against Rochester at the PPL Center last Saturday.

The Phantoms and Wolf Pack will rematch in Hartford on Saturday evening at the XL Center. Game time is 7:00 p.m. ET. The game will be streamed on AHLTV (subscription required). Look for Felix Sandström to get the start in goal for the Phantoms.

Lehigh Valley's starting lineup on Friday was as follows:

28 Olle Lycksell - 9 Tanner Laczynski - 27 Samu Tuomaala
29 Alexis Gendron - 91 Elliot Desnoyers - 20 Cooper Marody
16 JR Avon - 13 Brendan Furry - 19 Wade Allison
10 Evan Polei - 15 Jordy Bellerive - 14 Zayde Wisdom

6 Emil Andrae - 2 Helge Grans
98 Victor Mete - 12 Ronnie Attard
37 Adam Ginning - 5 Ethan Samson

40 Cal Petersen
[32 Felix Sandström]
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