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March 05, 2020

3 reasons the Flyers demolished the Hurricanes to seize first place in the division

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The last time the Flyers lost a hockey game, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were both healthy, the Phillies hadn't even reported to Clearwater yet and Joe Biden's presidential campaign looked like it was almost over after two horrible primaries.

It's anyone's guess when they will finally fall to earth, but it wasn't Thursday night. The Flyers took the lead in the division — the entire diabolical Metro — with their 4-1 win over the Hurricanes, a victory so close to flawless it looked like the team was showing off.

During their current eight-game win streak, Philly has scored at least four goals in each win. They are in prime position as teams jockey for playoff positioning. Thanks to the Capitals overtime loss to the Rangers, Philly sits atop the division for the first time since 2010, albeit tied.

Here's a look at three of the reasons why the Flyers were so completely dominant in their most recent 'W':

Defense wins championships

The Flyers defense has been one of the best in hockey overall, allowing the fewest shots on net of any team so far this season. But they've also been super in another part of the game entirely.

When Ivan Provorov scored the first goal of Wednesday's game in the second period — following his own miss after a Carolina turnover — it was the 44th goal for a Flyers' defenseman on the season. None of the other 30 NHL teams have more goals from defenseman this season.

Provorov, who also has 23 assists, leads all Flyers' blueliners with 13 goals (he scored one of them last night in Washington too). Matt Niskanen and Travis Sanheim each have eight goals apiece to tie for second.

With that kind of additional firepower coming from players not really expected to contribute in large numbers offensively, it helps them overcome the fact that while they have a lot of potent scoring forwards, they have no one with more than 24 goals (Travis Konecny, 35th in the NHL).

The Flyers have never, in their history, led the NHL in defensemen scoring.

Try try again

It's easy (or at least easier) to win hockey games when you shoot more times than your opponent does. 

In their first game during the current eight-game win streak, Philadelphia somehow downed the Blue Jackets while being out-shot 29-15. In the subsequent seven games, they've only fired less shots on net than their opponent once. 

Wednesday, the Flyers out-shot Carolina 32-29, continuing a season-long trend. Though Philly only had the 17th most total SOG heading into action Thursday, they allowed only 28.5 per game on the year, the fewest in the entire league. 

They are also efficient, scoring on 10.6% of the time they shoot — tied for the third best rate in the game.

A beautiful goal from Michael Raffl over Alex Nedeljkovic's shoulder put Philly up 2-0 Thursday, giving them some insurance .

With four goals on the night, their shot percentage will only get better.

Almost mistake free

For the first time since November (and second of the season), the Flyers did not commit a penalty. Over their win streak prior to the Canes win, Philly was shorthanded 24 times. They only allowed goals in three of those seven wins, five of them total when down a man. Avoiding those chances is a big lift not only to Hart, but to the entire defense.

Interestingly, the Flyers failed to score on the power play for just the second time during their streak (the longest of the year), despite having the second most chances with a man advantage. They had two tries Thursday.

Their knack for giving themselves more power plays than they surrender is the sign of a really smart and disciplined hockey team, and it's a trend they'll hope to continue with just 15 games remaining.

Carter Hart was one save away from his second shutout of the season and of his career, joining in the near-flawlessness. 

His teammates had his back seconds later, scoring back-to back-goals in 26 seconds. First, an opportunistic (and very attentive) goal from Nicolas Aube-Kubel.

Then Sean Couturier got in on the action to pretty much clinch it, thanks to an assist from Jakub Voracek, who had his eighth assist in four games.

Hart was particularly impressive in the third, when Carolina fired more than half of their shots for the entire game.

Follow Evan on Twitter:@evan_macy

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