This could've been another one of those BSH auditions, but I've done enough of those at this point, and I'm just happy to have hockey back. Today marks the first day of our shortened season, and it does feel good to be watching and talking about real hockey games again. I'll start by mentioning something about NBC's double coverage, they worried me for a little bit there when they kept showing that LA-CHI game for a while at 3:30, but thankfully they switched at 3:38 and we got to see our beloved Flyers once again!
Then the game actually started...the announcers mentioned that more Flyers had been playing overseas or in other leagues during the break than the Penguins, but it sure didn't show. The penguins came out of the gate fast, and about 8 minutes later they were up 2-0. The first goal was a toughie, Bryzgalov was set for the original shot, but it was deflected off Kennedy's stick and in. The second was just a quick shot from Neal from the point on a faceoff, those happen all the time, tough saves for Bryz to make. The first thing I'm going to do, since I'm usually his number one critic, is complement Ilya Bryzgalov on a well played game. He didn't look particularly confident in his moves and hesitated a couple of times, but he looked solid and focused on stopping the puck, lets hope he can keep this up.
The most disturbing part of the first period was the play of the defense, the defense is slow compared to the penguins of course, but in this period they were getting absolutely smoked. Coburn and Grossmann especially played like they were drunk, laboring around, not in the right spot, struggling handling the puck, constantly getting beat in battles and foot races. The defense definitely showed that not many of them played in other leagues during the break, and were flat out bad. The offense wasn't a whole lot better, as they also looked slow and sloppy and could barely get any shots on Marc-Andre Fleury, even Claude Giroux didn't look quite himself. Towards the end of the first period the Flyers seemed to have gotten their sea legs under them, as the team pushed hard and began to put forth some serious effort at the end.
The beginning of the second period saw a payoff to that effort with Claude Giroux netting his first of many goals this season on a great play assisted by Hartnell and Brayden Schenn. The forwards played much better this period, showing a lot more hustle and skill and begun to start to catch the penguins in shots, beating them 11-8 in the period after being outshot 11-6 in the first. The second period was where Fleury began to shine, as he shut the Flyers down in most of their opportunities. Bryzgalov continued to keep the Flyers in the game by standing on his head in goal to give the team a chance going into the third period.
The third period was relatively uneventful goal-wise, but that was not for lack of chances, the Flyers had two more power plays in this period and it really had the feel of a playoff game, both teams putting forth a ton of effort, close in shots at 10-8 Flyers. The Flyers had a hard time getting it past Fleury the whole game, but in this tilt especially, there were way too many missed shots. The Flyers had a chance to tie it in the last 3 minutes by getting a power play, but in the last minute Giroux tripping Letang deflated the whole power play leading to the empty net goal that sealed the game, this was a case of struggling to get the puck on the net and Fleury standing on his head.
The biggest issues of the game came from the defense where as a whole they looked several steps behind the Penguins forwards. The defense also struggled getting the puck on the net, unless they were intentionally aiming at the boards, It looked like every defenseman taking a slap shot couldn't hit water if they shot it out of a boat. Though Fleury played well, he could have been beaten, he was giving up some juicy rebounds and the Flyers could have well taken advantage of. The Flyers seemed to struggle getting shots off at even strength, 11 of the Flyers 27 shots came on the power play while only 4 of the penguins shots came with an extra man. Yet, the Penguins had 2 power play goals (one of them being in the empty net) on only 3 chances, while the Flyers went 0 for 5. This game was one of those rare times where the Flyers got the penalty advantage, but once again just couldn't take advantage. Some things to take out of this game was how well Giroux, Schenn, and Hartnell played together, could take right over as the new Flyers top line and how well the Simmonds-Laughton-Read line played. Though considered the third line, Wayne Simmonds himself had over 22 minutes of ice time, the most of all forwards, Read playing 17, and the rookie Scott Laughton, not playing any special teams time but still logging 12+ minutes. Laughton played very well for his first game, consistently being in the right place, playing hard, and on a couple occasions almost notched his first NHL goal. I feel like Laughton could stay in the NHL even after Briere returns (do we really need Zach Rinaldo? Simmonds can fight if we really need it), but of course it is early and we'll need to see more from him to see if he can stick with the big show.
It should not be forgotten that Bryzgalov looked like the talented goaltender that we went out of our way to trade for and sign, and if he can keep up his focus and become more and more confident, defensive mistakes can be erased. The defense will definitely be fine against slower competition, but against faster team they will have to use their size to slow down the opposing offense, today they looked slow and not quite ready to roll, hopefully they will get their legs under them and play well. The offense for the Flyers is never a concern and once again this season it looks like this team will score plenty of goals, and our forwards, after they got their sea legs, could really hang with the speedsters on the Penguins. Overall I was actually impressed with the way the Flyers played in the last two periods of the game and this should be a nice year for the Orange and Black.
Good Night. Good Hockey. Go Flyers