The Philadelphia Flyers will head into the Christmas break on a high note after a thrilling come-from-behind win over the St. Louis Blues on Monday.
St. Louis took the lead at 8:16 of the first period when Robby Fabbri capitalized on several careless plays by the Flyers in their own end. Later in the period, a scrum ensued near the teams’ benches. Multiple players from both teams were involved, but the only resulting penalty was a roughing minor on Jake Voracek. This led to a Kevin Shattenkirk power-play goal off a nice cross-ice feed from Vladimir Tarasenko. Mid-way through the second period, Magnus Paajarvi scored five-hole on a breakaway. The Flyers were down 3-0. But Philadelphia did not throw in the towel.
With Giroux in the penalty box for hooking, St. Louis looked to extend its lead. However, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare made an excellent read and cut off a pass at center ice, leading to a breakaway. Bellemare made a nice forehand-backhand move on Allen but couldn’t shove the pack past Allen’s outstretched leg/skate. However, Chris VandeVelde came in and tapped it in, giving the Flyers a shorthanded goal at a critical point in the game. A little over two minutes later, Shayne Gostisbehere broke up a pass in the Flyers’ zone, leaving it for Wayne Simmonds to set up a two-on-one. Simmonds and Jake Voracek played the two-on-one perfectly, resulting in a one-timer goal for Simmonds at 12:13 of the second. This was Simmonds’ first goal at home this season.
Philadelphia entered the third period with 90 seconds of carry-over time on the power-play, but the Flyers needed only 51 seconds. Simmonds scored his second of the game (ninth of the season) on a redirection off a shot by Jake Voracek. Steve Mason made many excellent saves throughout the game, and he kept the game tied in the third. With just over three minutes remaining in the third, VandeVelde made a nice behind-the-back pass off the boards to Ryan White, who skated the puck through traffic and eventually made a great behind-the-back drop pass to Evgeny Medvedev, who was wide open in the slot. Medvedev beat Allen with 3:13 remaining in the third for his second goal of the season to give the Flyers their first lead of the game. The Flyers held on and beat the Blues by a final score of 4-3. It was a great example of the Flyers’ true potential as a team that hasn’t often come through this season.
After getting off to an inconsistent and, at times, rocky (no Philadelphia pun intended) start to the season, the Flyers now sit three games above .500 and are rolling four lines. New head coach Dave Hakstol has made some recent line adjustments that have seemingly worked out quite well. The main tweak involved Jake Voracek moving over to left wing to play on the Flyers’ second line with Sean Couturier and Wayne Simmonds. That line has been excellent offensively and defensively over the past several games. Significantly, Voracek is now on a five-game point streak after struggling to find offense early on. Voracek had been on the third line with VandeVelde and Bellemare but has been much more productive in his new role.
Additionally, the play of rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere has been crucial to the Flyers’ recent success. Gostisbehere was called up to replace the injured Mark Streit on the Flyers’ top power-play unit. However, “Ghost” has been simply outstanding, scoring 14 points in 18 NHL games. Three of those 14 points were game-winning overtime goals, as Ghost has shown he has a taste for the dramatic. His clutch play has made a huge difference for the team, and he and Claude Giroux have developed obvious chemistry.
There’s still a chance Gostisbehere will be sent back to the AHL once Streit returns from injury. It’s possible Streit could return after the Christmas break, so Flyers general manager Ron Hextall will have a difficult decision to make. Defenseman Brandon Manning is currently the odd man out of the seven healthy defensemen on the roster. However, since Hextall is committed to giving prospects ample time to develop, he could theoretically send Gostisbehere back to the AHL. Hextall has not yet indicated his plan. It will be a harder decision than most people might think, though. Ghost has brought so much to the team this season, but once Streit returns he may be better off getting more ice time in the AHL so he can work on polishing his defensive game. It will be interesting to see what happens.
Either way, the Flyers are in a respectable position headed into the Christmas break. The team has gone 8-2-2 in its past 12 games and, as of Monday night, sits in fifth place in the Metropolitan Division. Philadelphia is in a three-way tie with Tampa Bay and New Jersey with 37 points; all three teams are two points out of a Wild Card spot, currently held by the Ottawa Senators (39 points). The Flyers are now only five points behind the Rangers, who hold the third playoff spot for the Metropolitan Division.
The Flyers are set to face Anaheim, San Jose and Los Angeles after the break, which will surely be a big test for this club.
Featured Image Credit: Patrick Smith-Getty Images