Before the puck even dropped for the Philadelphia Flyers' home opener, the team received a gut punch. Braydon Coburn, expected to essentially serve as the team's top defenseman in the absence of Kimmo Timonen, would not only be out for the game with a lower-body injury, but was in danger of missing extended time. On that note, the team saw an already-weak defense get even worse before the puck even dropped.
The game didn't exactly have a promising start on the ice, either. An ill-timed Michael Del Zotto pinch led to a rush for the Devils, and a blown coverage in the ensuing chaos allowed Michael Ryder to skate right into the slot untouched to beat Mason. A Vincent Lecavalier turnover led to New Jersey's second goal, aided by an unlucky deflection off Luke Schenn. And finally, a Mike Cammalleri deflection off a Jagr wrist shot seemed to seal the Flyers' fate. It was only twenty-five minutes into the game, but at the Wells Fargo Center, the game already felt over.
But the Flyers fought back, starting with captain Claude Giroux's first goal of the season on the power play. Then it was the Wayne Simmonds show - first on an even strength display of dangles and patience, and then on a buzzer-beating power play goal at the very end of the second period. Only 56 seconds separated the Wayne Train's first two goals of the season.
The third period was wacky, to say the least. Patrik Elias scored to give the Devils back the lead, as Luke Schenn completely abandoned his post to attempt a big hit, leaving Elias alone in the slot for an easy goal. But only seconds later, the Flyers responded with a Vincent Lecavalier goal to tie the score yet again. The back-and-forth play persisted, until Danius Zubrus beat Steve Mason on the rush for a very weak goal. The Flyers kept coming, but could not beat Devils goalie Cory Schneider again, as Mike Cammalleri was able to ice it with an empty netter late.
11 more observations from the game:
- Wayne Simmonds remains one of the top three reasons to sit down and watch the Flyers play hockey. He's still a monster (apologies to Pierre McGuire) on the power play, and he's showcased a few new slick stickhandling moves in the early going this year. All while retaining the edge to his game that endears him to Flyers fans. Wayne Simmonds forever, indeed.
- After a slow start, the power play got going in the second period and fueled the Flyers' comeback. Claude Giroux and Simmonds both scored PP goals, and the pressure from the top unit was reminscient of last season. A great sign.
- Nick Schultz was a surprise participant in the game tonight, replacing the injured Braydon Coburn. Schultz certainly didn't stand out in a positive way, but he was much better than he looked in the preseason. Still, if Coburn is out for a extended period of time as Ron Hextall hinted tonight, expect the Flyers to call up someone from Lehigh Valley and send Schultz back to the bench.
- The Michael Del Zotto-Luke Schenn pairing had a bizarre "great possession stats, bad on-ice results" game. Schenn and Del Zotto were both on the ice for five goals against, yet MDZ finished plus-21 in Corsi and Schenn was plus-17. It's impossible to praise a pairing that was a mess in terms of defensive zone coverage at key moments, but at least they were creating offense too...
- Despite the minus-four (he was on the ice for a Flyers 5v5 goal, too), Michael Del Zotto definitely had flashes of brilliance tonight. He's strong initiating the breakout and on the rush, even if his defensive zone coverage can leave a lot to be desired at times. You get the feeling that with a responsible, stay-at-home defensive partner (Braydon Coburn, anyone?), he could be useful.
- Unfortunately, he has Luke Schenn. Schenn maybe had the worst plus-17 Corsi game I've ever seen - he accidentally deflected a Devils goal into his own net, both screened Mason and failed to play the man on Cammalleri's second period deflection goal, and in his most egregious error, charged all the way across the ice to blow up Havlat in the third which left Patrik Elias wide open in the slot to score New Jersey's fourth goal. His mental mistakes are simply mindblowing at times.
- It was a questionable decision by Craig Berube to start Steve Mason on the second game of a back-to-back, especially so early in the season. Mason did not exactly justify his coach's trust. While most of the goals were not exactly Mason's fault (with the obvious exception of Zubrus' game winner), most of the goals were not completely unstoppable, and Mason was unable to come up with a big save at a key time. Just a needless risk on Berube's part tonight.
- The new fourth line of Rinaldo-Bellemare-Akeson continued their strong play from the preseason and the opener against Boston. Through the first period and half, they were the team's most effective line by far, and all of the line members finished as positive possession players. Fun to have a 4th line that doesn't get throttled every time they are on the ice.
- Flyers fans may be consistently frustrated with Vincent Lecavalier's poor performances, but I don't think many people actively dislike the guy - he's just not the player he used to be, and Paul Holmgren unfortunately gave him a terrible contract for his decline years. Still, it was great to see him score that third period goal and jump into the glass like he potted a playoff game winner.
- Nicklas Grossmann took two obstruction penalties in the third period simply because he couldn't keep up with a Devil on the rush. Some things never change.
- No early season goalless drought for Giroux this year! The captain got better as the game progressed, and the first line looked much better once Brayden Schenn was removed. Don't think they should give up on Schenn as 1LW quite yet, but he's on notice.
Comment of the Night
The tanking plan is right on schedule! Score lots of goals to keep the fans interested, then lose the game!
>> Bud in TN