Inconsistency is the identity of the Philadelphia Flyers in game five. After two shutouts, Carter Hart whiffed on two Montreal Canadiens scoring chances that resulted in goals. Defensively, the Flyers were a step behind. Irresponsible penalties made a tough matchup even harder for Philadelphia. Even the powerplay had to stoop to new lows before any contributions.
One player remained consistent. His name is Jakub Voracek. He is the lead goal scorer for the Philadelphia Flyers in these Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Voracek’s contributions sparked a highly inefficient powerplay unit, giving the Flyers a brief lead. The Montreal Canadiens just found a way to make winning plays in game five.
It only took a minute and a half before these two teams became scrappy at one another. Ben Chiarot skated into Carter Hart in an offensive possession, which set the tone for physicality. The first powerplay opportunity for the Philadelphia Flyers reached new lows. Xavier Ouellet shot the puck from half-ice to bounce off the boards, creating a rebound for Joel Armia to score. Matt Niskanen’s lack of hustle allowed this goal to unfold, leaving Hart out to dry.
Early into the second period, Jesperi Kotkaniemi received a five-minute major and game misconduct for boarding on Travis Sanheim. This allowed the Philadelphia Flyers the best opportunity to do something with their powerplay unit. Finally, the Flyers were able to produce with the extra-man advantage, as Jakub Voracek tallied two powerplay goals. Philadelphia’s only lead would last just under four minutes when Joel Armia snuck the puck between Carter Hart’s shoulder and post. Before the end of the period, the Montreal Canadiens led, 3-2, after Brendan Gallagher scored a powerplay goal.
Heading into the third period, the Montreal Canadiens could have led by two goals, but Jonathan Drouin was offsides on Nick Suzuki’s goal. Just past halfway through the final period, Jakub Voracek made another play, this time setting up Joel Farabee for a powerplay goal. The Philadelphia Flyers immediately give up that goal as Suzuki gets his goal back. Phillip Danault pots the empty-net goal to secure the win, but the Flyers and Canadiens finished this game as they started it; scrappy.
A Tale of (Un)Special Teams
When a team is on the powerplay and gives up a shorthanded goal, there is a high probability that it is due to a lack of hustle or awareness. Joel Armia’s first goal had everything to do with a mental lapse from Matt Niskanen. As a premier powerplay defenseman on the Philadelphia Flyers, that is unacceptable. Travis Sanheim attempted to make a play with his stick, but could not make up for Niskanen’s lackadaisical shift. An already abysmal powerplay cannot afford to be even worse.
What makes the Montreal Canadiens’ shorthanded goal even more infuriating is that it set the tone for the game. With a heads up play by Matt Niskanen race to the puck and eliminate that scoring chance, the paradigm shifts. It is likely the Philadelphia Flyers are on the scoreboard first after Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s booted from the game. A two powerplay goal lift from Jakub Voracek to start the scoring changes the demeanor of the game. Unfortunately, poor execution in the first period set the pace.
Alain Vigneault mentioned after Nick Suzuki’s non-goal that he was ready to pull Carter Hart for Brian Elliott. Due to the overturned goal, Vigneault called an audible and kept Hart in the game.
“I was going to make a change, but I got a chance to look into Carter’s eyes, and he was fine.”Alain Vigneault; 8/19/2020
The Philadelphia Flyers had a two-game cushion heading into game five. It was certainly tough to go against the grain and start Brian Elliott, especially after Carter Hart served back-to-back shutouts. Certainly, I agree with Alain Vigneault’s decision to start Hart in game five. Now the question becomes if the Flyers start Elliott and give Hart a rest. Philadelphia could win with Elliott in net during game six, but if they lose, Hart is rested and ready for a winner-take-all showdown in game seven.
Get the Band Back Together
This is when I sound like a broken record. Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, and Jakub Voracek need to make up the first line again. As the series continues, these three have been contributing. The Montreal Canadiens’ game is about outsmarting on the forecheck and winning the physical battle. This particular first line is the only line that has proven to shut down the opposition.
Joel Farabee should remain on the second line with Kevin Hayes and Travis Konecny. Putting Michael Raffl back on the third line with Derek Grant and Scott Laughton would make sense. The fourth line needs rearranging. If Nicolas Aube-Kubel is ready for game six, that is an appropriate exchange for Connor Bunnaman. At large, James van Riemsdyk should replace Nate Thompson.
Against his former team, Nate Thompson has been less than serviceable. His Corsi in all hockey situations is at a career-low in the postseason. He has the worst Corsi on the Philadelphia Flyers during even-strength hockey. To add insult to injury, he has missed two empty-net opportunities. Derek Grant has not been much better.
Photo Credit: Alex Mcintyre