No one can say that they saw this one coming.
Sure, when news broke that the struggling Evgeni Nabokov would be in net tonight for the Tampa Bay Lightning, there was a plausible path to victory. Be opportunistic against a below-average goalie and then try to weather the storm against the league's best offense.
Dominate in possession from the start and jump out to a 7-1 lead? Yeah, that seemed likely.
Yet somehow, the Flyers pretty much carried the play from puck drop. Chris VandeVelde kicked things off with a goal six minutes in, and Philadelphia was outshooting the Lightning 7-1 (strangely appropriate, right?) until a Steven Stamkos power play goal tied the score.
But instead of falling back into the expected narrative of "Tampa good, Flyers bad," the home team kept pushing, and were finally rewarded with an R.J. Umberger (!) goal late in the first to retake the lead.
The second period is when the real fun began. Jakub Voracek, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Mark Streit, Brayden Schenn and Michael Raffl all potted goals. Nabokov was gone after the fourth goal, and Ben Bishop (who was surely looking forward to the night off) ended up forced into duty. He didn't fare much better, allowing three goals on 12 shots.
Things opened up a bit in the third period, and the Flyers' massive 5v5 shot attempts advantage evaporated under the weight of score effects. But for the first two periods, Philadelphia had maybe their most complete performance of the year. Zone exits were clean. Speed through the neutral zone was frequent. And the forecheck was devastating, pinning the Lightning in their own zone time after time.
No matter how good of a performance, it was just one game. But once in a while, you get a glimpse of how the Flyers should ideally execute Craig Berube's system, and it's pretty awesome to watch.
Eight more observations from tonight's game:
- R.J. Umberger continues his recent run of very solid play. While he's still lacking in the speed department, Umberger has been much improved in the offensive and defensive zones, particularly in terms of positioning and winning puck battles. Essentially, he's looked like a viable third liner, which is a dramatic improvement over the first three months of his season.
- At the start of the second period, Jakub Voracek first drew a penalty by carrying the puck from down low into the slot, and then scored on a laser of a shot on the ensuing power play. It's just too easy for him.
- He was never a truly elite goalie, but man, Evgeni Nabokov looks particularly awful now. While the VandeVelde goal was a tricky redirection, he was a mess on the Umberger goal and struggled in both positioning and reaction time on Voracek's PP score. Might be time to hang 'em up, Evgeni.
- First game away from Grossmann - 88% Corsi for Mark Streit. Second game - Streit gets named first star. We might be on to something here.
- Chris VandeVelde had his first two point game of his NHL career. That's when you know a game really got out of hand.
- In probably the only bad news of the night, Braydon Coburn took a shot off the foot that he broke early this year, and didn't return. The top-six that the Flyers dressed tonight is probably the closest to an optimal lineup as you're going to see (in an ideal world, maybe Colaiacovo starts over MacDonald, but it's easy to understand why you can't torpedo MacD's value by stashing him in the press box forever), so it would be really disappointing to have that lineup only last two games.
- Voracek and Claude Giroux both finished with two points tonight, keeping them right up at the top of scoring charts. Considering how many goals were scored, the guys chasing Voracek are probably relieved that he didn't finish with more.
- Only Flyers who didn't score points tonight: Vincent Lecavalier (not surprising), Nick Schultz (even less surprising), Andrew MacDonald (but he did fight!) and Sean Couturier (unfortunately).