The Flyers continued to reinvent themselves Thursday night in an impressive victory against the lowly Buffalo Sabres 2-1. As we watched this team struggle during the early part of the season, the most frustrating part was watching them lose to teams like the Avalanche and Coyotes in games that they easily should have won.
Despite the team reeling off four straight wins, the Sabres posed an interesting matchup to see if the surging Flyers could avoid a letdown. To my surprise, the Flyers continued to showcase that the traits they have been flashing during this five-game streak to prove that they may not be flashes at all. We are witnessing real growth. Here a few signs of maturity that have been key contributors to the Flyers 180 that now has the city paying attention.
Resolve & Fortitude
Brian Elliot lost his mind in the first two minutes of the game. He tried to wrap one around the boards and got caught behind the net when the puck got pinched. Ryan O’Reilly was waiting in front of the net to make him pay. Elliot’s mental mistake put the Flyers in a 1-0 hole before I sat on my couch.
Elliot didn’t panic or hang his head. The team followed suit. They bounced back quickly as Travis Sanheim tied it up a few minutes later. It might seem like a small feat against a less formidable team like the Sabres, but the Flyers were able to stop the mistakes from snowballing. We saw this team press too hard at times early in the season, and their lack of maturity would lead to costly penalties that would exacerbate the challenges. It was good to see them stay the course, play with discipline, and keep themselves in the game.
Staying out of the box
Penalties haunted the Flyers in November as it felt like they were killing penalties whenever they needed to shift momentum. We chalked it up to the usual growing pains from our inexperienced defensemen or veterans making mistakes from pressing too hard. Now that they are reeling off wins instead of dropping a ten spot in the L column, those inopportune penalties are few and far between.
The Sabres powerplay unit only hit the ice one time Thursday night. It’s much easier to build chemistry when you are not killing penalties twice a period. The physical presence of Gudas and the veteran stability of MacDonald has helped as well. The notable improvement in the neutral zone has also been a key factor in the Flyers ability to stay out of the penalty box.
Let the playmakers play
Secondary scoring was the most glaring turnaround for the Flyers. This is the one instance where Halstol’s constant juggling of the lines paid off. Moving Voracek off the first line has empowered him to elevate the game of Michael Raffl. Raffl almost notched another goal in the second period, moments before Voracek found Filppula in the slot for what would be the game-winner.
Having a playmaker like Voracek on the second line has played huge dividends without disrupting the chemistry of Coots and Giroux on the first line. Shaking up the first line has made all the difference. If I had to point to one single factor that sparked the Flyers turnaround, it would be Voracek dropping down to the second line. On the surface, being the odd man out of the only productive line could be viewed as a negative. However, it speaks volumes to the unselfish nature of Voracek’s game.
There is a philosophy of self-improvement that revolves around the premise of having to let go of who you are in order to take yourself to the next level. Hakstol took the gamble and killed off the only thing that worked. That decision allowed the team to grow and gain the confidence they needed to change the course of their season. Voracek may not be on the first line, but he is on the first line we look at when discovering how we found the key to unlocking the story of this season.
Photo Credit : Charles Fox