January 12, 2023
The hats flew onto the ice and it was clear: The Flyers are on to something.
Are they going to win the Stanley Cup? No. And they're still seven points removed from the playoff picture.
But on Wednesday night, behind Travis Konecny's second career hat trick, the Flyers put down Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals, 5-3, stringing together wins in six of the last seven games and – since Sunday's "spanking" from Toronto – back-to-back victories against two pretty high-powered offenses in Buffalo and Washington.
There's still a ways for the Flyers to go, wherever it is they're going, and head coach John Tortorella will be the first to tell you that. But for right now, things are going good and the players should feel good about it too.
Take the wins where you can get them, right?
"I was talking to you guys (the media) and you could hear them out on the rink during the pregame skate," Tortorella said postgame on Wednesday. "It's a noisy group. When it's a noisy group, they feel good about themselves and they should. All the browbeating and the negative vibe – quite honestly, rightfully so – it can wear you down. I think when you're on a little bit of a run, you should feel good. You gotta find ways to feel good about yourself and they deserve it.
"Fine line now," he added. "Feel good, but make sure you stay not too far away from that line as far as what you're doing to get some results. Hopefully, we can stay about it here."
On a few of the players who established that line...
Positionally speaking, Travis Konecny was on the outside looking in the past two seasons, and he seemed to realize that's where his decline in production was coming from.
In his exit interview for the 2021-22 season last May, Konecny mentioned conversations and work with both Danny Briere (the former Flyer now special assistant to GM Chuck Fletcher) and Ian Anderson (the team's analytics director) and how those were leading to more scoring chances for him in the final handful of games.
That work continued over the summer, and so far, Konecny has 24 goals and 46 points through 36 games – sending him well on his way to new career highs in each – including an active 10-game point streak that has seen him put up 18 during that span.
The work with Briere and Anderson maybe isn't the sole crux of the 25-year old winger's turnaround – greater responsibility on special teams and chemistry on a line with Joel Farabee and Noah Cates have been bigger factors too – but it sure seems to have helped.
"They sat down quite a bit as far as playing on the inside," Tortorella said of Brier and Konecny on Wednesday. "He was on the outside a lot and his stats weren't there where he wanted them to be. I think he put the time in. I think Danny as a player – ex-player – helped him and showed him some stuff. But the most important thing, he puts the uniform on, he's gotta run with it. I think he's done a really good job."
"It's more just when I get rid of the puck where I funnel into rather than play on the outside, and then instead of taking shots on the outside, maybe make a play instead of just wasting a shot," Konecny said. "There's more detail but it's too long to talk about."
And his results so far this season have done plenty of talking for him already.
Konecny's hat trick Wednesday night consisted of him waiting in the slot on a perfect feed from Joel Farabee behind the net in the dying seconds of the first, a 2-on-1 rush shorthanded after Scott Laughton and Ivan Provorov trapped the Capitals' power play along the boards in the third, and an empty-netter after Laughton forced a turnover in the neutral zone late.
All three were shot between the faceoff dots, and overall, his heat maps on IcyData shows a higher concentration of shots between the circles this season over last.
"I've just been trying to come to the rink every day and just work hard," Konecny said. "I'm kind of getting my bounces right now and it goes around in the locker room throughout a season. It's just going my way right now."
It always seemed like something was happening when No. 74 was on the ice Wednesday night. Be it multiple scoring chances, three drawn tripping calls to send the Flyers on the man advantage, or even just standing up a couple of Washington attackers in the Flyers' own end, Owen Tippett was just everywhere when his line was out.
Then, just shy of six minutes into the third, all that work put him in the goal column. James van Riemsdyk caught the Capitals' defense pinching on the strong side and chipped the puck up the boards, and Tippett, who's read on the play was two steps ahead, was already skating through the neutral zone to corral the puck all alone.
Alexander Alexeyev got back to defend for Washington, but Tippett made a toe-drag in close on the entry and rifled a shot right through his feet. Goaltender Darcy Kuemper never stood a chance. 3-1, Flyers, Tippett's 13th goal of the season and his seventh since December 1.
"He should’ve had three before the third period," Tortorella said. "You can see he’s just about to bust out, and not just the offensive part. He’s been a more consistent power forward, winning puck battles, carrying the puck on the boards, getting pucks in when he needs to, chasing them down, all the little things you do as a strength of a power forward."
Tippett, the 23-year old winger who was the key return in the Claude Giroux trade with Florida last March, was never able to create a regular spot for himself with the Panthers but has been given ample opportunity to do so in Philadelphia.
His anticipation and strength in finding the open ice for scoring chances was clear from when he got here, but his finishing ability in getting pucks to the back of the net was always what needed work. On a line with van Riemsdyk and Morgan Frost in the top six, Tippett's at a new career-high in goals and points (23), with the most ice time he's seen to this point.
It looks like he's finally putting things together at the top level.
"The goal-scoring is going to be there," Tortorella said. "The other parts of the game are what I like. I always felt like Tippett identifies himself as a power guy, not just a shooter. I think most of the attributes of his game are power."
"I think it’s just using my size all over the ice whether I have the puck or not," Tippett said. "Using my feet, taking pucks and being strong on pucks all over the ice."
Scott Laughton had Wednesday night's opening goal on the power play and the primary assist on both of Konecny's goal through great reads and relentless attacking on the Capitals' skaters.
He's the lone Flyer left with a letter this year for a reason.
"He has been probably our most consistent guy all year," Konecny said. "He just shows up every night, plays the right way and gets rewarded for it. He is one of those guys where if you need a big block, he gives you a block. Need a goal, he gets a goal. Whatever it is, Laughts is always there to get guys going."
On the break that led to the shorthanded goal specifically, Tortorella broke it down: "It’s a great read by Laughts because the player's on his back at the blue line. When it’s rimmed around the boards, player's on his backhand, that is a go. It’s a go. [Associate coach Brad Shaw] shows it all the time on the tape, he goes and once he goes, everybody else goes. Provy makes a great read on the wall. Laughts pinches the guy up, comes down the wall, Provy gets the puck, and there we go on a 2-on-1.
"Laughts and them seem to have some chemistry. They end up scoring a goal, but it starts really with that defensive read and everybody moving together."
The Flyers lead the league in shorthanded goals with eight of them after Wednesday night. Laughton has had a hand in six – three shorthanded goals and three shorthanded assists.
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