ST. LOUIS — The Flyers showed the St. Louis Blues what a true blue-collar effort really looks like.
Behind Michal Neuvirth’s 33 saves and a defense with four first-year NHL players with 272 games played combined among its unit, the Flyers kept the high-powered Blues out of the net with a 2-0 win on Thursday (see observations). It marked the first time the Blues have been shut out this season.
“Unbelievable. That’s one of the hardest-working teams in the league over there,” Neuvirth said. “They (defensemen) stepped up. They needed to step up and that’s what they did. I was impressed.”
If the Flyers didn’t already have enough going against them with all the injuries piling up, the team was also playing its fifth games in eight days. That stretch included four out of those five on the road with Thursday night’s game being the second half of a back-to-back set.
“The guys just worked hard. That’s just what it comes down to,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “They worked their asses off in the [defensive] zone tonight. The number of blocked shots, starting with Provy (Ivan Provorov), but throughout the group, that’s what it takes on nights like this.”
Defenseman Provorov came into Thursday’s game having logged some monster minutes over the Flyers’ past three games, including a career-high 29:51 the night before in Chicago. Yet Provorov put himself on the line Thursday in St. Louis as he matched a team record with 10 blocked shots (see highlights).
“The other team had a real shooting mentality, especially on the power play, so we tried to get into the shooting lanes and block some shots and help Neuvirth out,” Provorov said. “I think that’s what we did tonight.”
The Blues, on the other hand, had every reason to feel confident and comfortable. St. Louis owned the NHL’s best record at 10-2-1 and were well-rested with three days off between games.
“There were a couple of shifts where I thought we got a little bit slow in defending, but for the most part, whenever they did get it moving, we got it out of our down-low coverage,” Hakstol said. “We did a good job of getting in some lanes and then working and moving to find our next point of pressure.”
“A lot of guys are putting their bodies on the line, sacrificing their body, blocking shots,” Sean Couturier said. “You look at a guy like (Robert) Hagg, he’s not the most flashy guy. He’s pretty solid doing all the little details that make a difference to win a game, even Sanny (Travis Sanheim), he’s getting better every game, and the young guys are just getting better and better.”
The Flyers got the blocks and even a few of the breaks on Thursday night. Following a scoreless first period, the Flyers scored the game’s first goal when Brandon Manning ripped a slap shot that Blues goaltender Jake Allen never saw with Jakub Voracek in his face.
Initially, the referees waved off the goal on account of goalie interference. However, after Hakstol challenged and the play was reviewed, officials reversed the decision when it was determined that defenseman Alex Pietrangelo pushed Voracek into Allen’s way.
“I felt something, but I was pretty confident I was out of the crease,” Voracek said. “After I saw the replay, I thought it could go either way. You never know lately how the call is going to go. I’m glad they allowed [the goal].”
The Flyers’ reversal of fortunes came exactly a week after a Manning goal was taken off the board in a 5-4 loss in Ottawa, which would have been the difference in earning a point.
“A little bit of good karma I think,” Manning said. “As soon as I saw it I was hoping that Hak would challenge. There wasn’t much there. It all works out in the end. Fortunately for us, it was a big one tonight.”
Fourteen games into the season, the injury-riddled Flyers have already been forced to utilize nine different defensemen, which is one more than what they needed in their first 80 games last season.
“Everybody’s here for a reason. Everybody can play,” Provorov said. “It sucks that Ghost (Shayne Gostisbehere), Mac (Andrew MacDonald) and Gudy (Radko Gudas) got injured, but the guys that came in did a really good job. I think we played a really solid game.”
Notes and tidbits
• In their 50-plus years of existence, the Flyers have never put a team on the ice with such little experience on the back end. The Flyers played four defensemen in the game that had 15 or fewer games of NHL experience prior to the game — Hagg (14), Sanheim (10), Mark Alt (3) and Will O’Neill, who made his NHL debut.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, the next closest such game was on Nov. 5, 1981, when the Flyers suited up four defensemen with under 40 games of experience — Fred Arthur (11), Reid Bailey (25), Glen Cochrane (39) and Steve Smith (NHL debut).
• The last NHL team to play with four defensemen each under 15 games of experience was the Colorado Avalanche, who did so while suffering a 4-2 loss to the Calgary Flames on Nov. 9, 2010.
• Provorov equaled MacDonald’s record of 10 blocked shots in this game. MacDonald set the record in a game at Tampa on March 11, 2016. The NHL has only started recording blocked shots since 1997.