This was how November was supposed to go for the Philadelphia Flyers.
After an incredibly difficult month of October, which included games against Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, Pittsburgh and Montreal, the Flyers' schedule was primed to ease up in November, starting with last Saturday's game against the Florida Panthers.
Instead, the Panthers stymied the Flyers at even strength and on the power play, and came away with a 2-1 victory. But after a shellacking of the Oilers on Tuesday night, the Flyers had the kind of game tonight that they should have had down in the Sunshine State.
The new shutdown line of Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, and Matt Read took over the first period. A monster shift by Schenn eventually paid off with a Couturier redirection goal, and only minutes later, Schenn found Michael Del Zotto with a beautiful pass to set up the defenseman's first goal as a Flyer. The referee had a better chance of stopping Del Zotto than Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo did.
Unsurprisingly, the still-red hot Jake Voracek got in on the fun as well, scoring on a two-on-one rush with Claude Giroux to make it 4-1 after Florida had cut the lead to two goals in the second period. From there on out, the Flyers played a controlled game, keeping the shots relatively even while slowly closing out the game.
These are the types of no-drama wins that the Flyers will need in order to sustain a playoff push over an 82-game season. No one expects the Panthers to be contenders this season, and Philadelphia dispatched them accordingly.
Ten more observations on the game:
- The Chris VandeVelde experiment didn't last very long, as we predicted today. He spent most of the first period with Giroux and Voracek, and then was dropped to the R.J. Umberger-Vincent Lecavalier line. In his limited time with the team's two stars, VandeVelde didn't look terrible, but it was pretty clear that he wasn't doing anything to elevate the games of his teammates. Good on Berube for swapping him out quickly.
- Surprisingly, it wasn't Brayden Schenn or Pierre-Edouard Bellemare or Matt Read who got the call to replace VandeVelde on line one. It was Wayne Simmonds, who was mercifully retrieved from the Umberger-Lecavalier possession black hole to join Giroux and Voracek. The line was pretty devastating on the cycle, but Simmonds didn't look all that comfortable moving up ice on the left side when on the rush. These are the team's three best forwards, though, so it's an intriguing idea, and definitely worth a shot moving forward.
- Brayden Schenn looked like he took his coach's words to heart about Giroux and Voracek needing a winger who plays a simple game with speed and size. In the first, he was the standout player, setting up both Couturier and Del Zotto with primary assists and really bringing it on the forecheck. It didn't earn him the first call up to the top line, but Schenn was a big reason for the Flyers' win tonight.
- Despite the Flyers leading this game almost wire-to-wire, play was pretty even throughout. Score effects didn't result in Florida carrying the play for long stretches, as the Flyers bottled things up in the neutral zone and generated some scoring chances even with a three-goal lead. They had no intention of seeing a repeat of the Montreal collapse from a few weeks ago.
- Funny how the fourth line starts looking good again once it has two legitimate scoring threats (Bellemare and Jason Akeson tonight). Bellemare scored by pouncing on a loose puck in the slot early in the second period, and Akeson was noticeable all night long, creating scoring chances and driving play. Hopefully tonight's performance keeps him out of the press box, at least for a few games.
- After the Simmonds promotion and VandeVelde demotion, the Flyers had two lines of Umberger-Lecavalier-VandeVelde and Rinaldo-Bellemare-Akeson. So when you think about it - which one is really the fourth line?
- When do we stop calling this a hot streak for Jakub Voracek? It's gotten to the point where you expect Jake to find a way to score a goal each game, no matter how the rest of the team is playing. He's back tied with Sidney Crosby for the league lead in points (at publishing time).
- Michael Del Zotto continues to receive tons of ice time (23:18 minutes) in the absence of Braydon Coburn and Andrew MacDonald, and tonight he thrived with it, scoring his first goal as a Flyer and finishing in the black in terms of Corsi (+2). It's become more and more difficult to argue that he's not going to be one of the four best defensemen on this team (at least) when everyone is healthy.
- Sean Couturier took a nasty spill in the third period, as Erik Gudbranson knocked him to the ice after he had already stumbled once on his own. He smacked his back pretty hard against the boards, and stayed down for a few minutes, but never went to the locker room and later returned the game. He should be fine, but it's something to keep an eye on moving forward.
- Steve Mason wasn't one of the stars of the game, but he didn't really need to be. Mason did make some tough saves in the third period to keep the Panthers from beginning to mount a comeback, but on the whole, the Flyers made it pretty easy on him. I'm sure he appreciated it.
Comment of the Night
Raffl blocks a shot awkwardly and ends up with an injury. You’d think others would be more cautious. "Nay", sayeth Umberger. "I shall block this next shot with mine dick."
And so it was.