This is the style of hockey Dave Hakstol wants his Flyers playing the remainder of the season.
It’s not overly exciting.
It’s defensive hockey. And it gives them a chance to get points every night.
One-man forecheck. Defensemen not pinching. Making quick judgments whether or not to commit to a battle on the wall near the blue line if the outcome is in doubt.
The downside, as the Flyers saw firsthand in Saturday’s 1-0 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings at the Wells Fargo Center, is your offense is greatly restrained.
“We’re trying to put more pressure and create more turnovers, but at the same time, guys are responsible defensively,” said checking line center Sean Couturier. “The 50/50 battles where you are hesitatant, you’re better off backing off and playing it safe. We limited turnovers and scoring chances that way.”
This style will earn the Flyers points.
That said, it was largely goalie Michal Neuvirth who earned this one point with a half-dozen incredible saves just to get the game into OT.
He had Jeff Carter, who scored the game winner at 2:35, talking to himself. Carter had eight of the 28 shots the Kings unloaded.
Conversely, the Flyers focused on defense with 29 blocks versus just 17 shots on goalie Peter Budaj, who paled in comparison to Neuvirth in terms of scoring chances he faced.
“He played unbelievable; he made huge saves,” Mark Streit said of his goaltender. “He was already down and he still made saves. Helped us big time. That is what you need this time of year.
“Big goaltending. He was in charge and he was calm. Always in good positioning and not scrambling out there. I was impressed with his game.”
Neuvirth’s first huge moment came in the second period when Jakub Voracek turned the puck over coming out of his end directly to Dustin Brown in the slot. Neuvirth had a diving, outstretched glove snare of the shot. Brown skated past him and looked back in stunned disbelief.
He had a similar save on Tanner Pearson and even Carter in overtime. Making consecutive starts for the first time since early November, Neuvirth was rock solid in net and likely starts Monday against St. Louis, too.
He is 2-0-1 in this brief three-game stretch with a 0.99 goals against average and .958 save percentage.
“He had a calmness to his game today,” Hakstol said. “That’s an important aspect. Three or four big saves for us and a bunch of other pretty good ones.
“He went out and did his job. He was one of the group who went out and battled as hard as he could. He was a big part of us gaining one point.”
The Kings are a bigger, stronger, more physical bunch. They came at the Flyers hard in the opening period with a strong forecheck backed up by significant pressure outside the blue line. Not a trap, but certainly a full press that caused the Flyers repeated problems on the breakout.
“They play a hard, heavy style when you look at the makeup of their team,” Hakstol said. “They’re built that way. This time of year, there is less and less space.”
Through 40 minutes, what few times the Flyers had the puck in the Kings end they lacked for sustained puck possession and zone time.
Both teams traded scoring chances in the opening minutes of the second period as Tyler Taffoli ripped a shot off the crossbar and carom became a breakaway from Sean Couturier the other way with him smacking the left post.
Couturier’s breakaway was the Flyers' best scoring chance.
“A tight game, I don’t think they had more either but more shots,” Couturier said. “Scoring chances? It was pretty even and tight out there. Not a whole lot of space. Like a playoff game. At the end of the day, we have to find a way to win those games.
“We let a point slip but we can’t be down on ourselves. It’s a good team and veteran experience team. They’re a playoff team. We battled hard. It could have gone either way.”
His breakaway illustrated a problem the Flyers faced in this game – no follow shots. It happened all afternoon.
The Flyers wasted a golden chance to break the scoreless tie early in the third period with a power play as they abused the puck with turnovers and poor choices on passes amid pressure.
“They always make you make an extra play,” Voracek noted. “That’s the way it is. We didn’t have many shots and a few quality chances. Coots hits the post. We couldn’t capitalize.”
Less offense and more defense equals more points for the Flyers right now.
“We want to jump into the play and create offense and be the fourth guy on the rush but at the same time, you don’t want to get caught out there,” Streit said.
“Same on the pinches. When you are not sure, just pull back. Play it safe ... We have to build on that.”