In what has been a dismal, frustrating season, things may finally be looking up for the Philadelphia Flyers.
An exciting overtime victory over the rival Pittsburgh Penguins allowed the team to enter the all-star break on a positive note, and then they downed a weak Arizona Coyotes squad in their first game back. Tonight was a signficant step up in competition - a battle against Winnipeg Jets, a team pegged by some as a possible playoff sleeper due to their strong possession numbers despite numerous injuries on the back end.
But the Flyers were unfazed. After an underwhelming first period, Philadelphia started to impose their will in the second and scored the game's final three goals, pulling away for a 5-2 victory.
And Kimmo Timonen might be coming back! I told you things were looking up.
Just as impressive as the win was how the Flyers earned it. Philadelphia's early season blueprint for upsets over superior teams was basically to hope that Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek took over early, and made up for the rest of the roster's deficiencies. Tonight, the top line was invisible at even strength, and yet the team's role players picked up the slack.
Nick Schultz scored a goal, his first in about 100 years (kidding, just 125 games). R.J. Umberger drew a penalty and continued his recent "actually-decent" play. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Vincent Lecavalier and Chris VandeVelde generated chance after chance at evens. Even rookie Petr Straka chipped in with his first point of his NHL career.
Everyone knew that the Flyers' defense was going to be a problem entering the season. What was unexpected was the poor performance of the team's secondary scoring behind Giroux and Voracek. Tonight, we saw those role players show up and pick up the slack for their stars. In December, this game would have been a shutout. Now, it's a victory.
But hey, in the meantime - winning streaks are fun!
Ten more observations on the game:
- The Lecavalier-Bellemare-VandeVelde line was, from start to finish, the best line on the ice for the Flyers. They've been solid for past few weeks, but tonight was a perfect time to step it up even more, as the first unit had a rare off night. VandeVelde cashed in with a goal, and I'm disappointed that Vinny didn't pot one as well - he was an impact guy at evens and on the power play.
- Carlo Colaiacovo was brutal tonight, and his partner Andrew MacDonald wasn't much better. They teamed up to cause the Jets' first goal - MacDonald blew an easy clear, and then Colaiacovo allowed Mathieu Perreault to get inside position on the way to Winnipeg's first tally of the night. That was far from the only bad play that could be pinned on the pair, just the most memorable. Colaiacovo has been mostly good since his return to the lineup, but with Grossmann (ugh) on his way back, this wasn't the way for him make his case to stay out of the press box.
- So Wayne Simmonds had himself a night, huh? He scored a power play goal (not surprising), and then totally worked two separate Jets to set up Brayden Schenn in the slot for an even strength goal (a pleasant surprise).
- Speaking of Schenn, he finally scored, so we can stop hearing about his recent goal struggles, right? Right? Nah.
- It wasn't flashy, but Sean Couturier had a real good game in the defensive zone. Clean zone exits, covering for pinching defensemen, strong in the corners. He was finally rewarded for his play with an empty netter, appropriately caused by Couturier forcing a turnover in the d-zone and shooting the puck the length of the ice.
- Even with potentially three defensemen on their way back (Grossmann, Braydon Coburn and possibly Kimmo Timonen), can we all agree that Michael Del Zotto needs to stay in this lineup? He brings an offensive aggressiveness at 5v5 that the Flyers desperately need.
- Poor Matt Read. The speed is mostly back, and now he's just snakebit in terms of goal scoring. You get the feeling a two or three goal night has to be coming soon, when all the bounces finally start to go his way.
- I would harp on the fact that Chris VandeVelde has a way-too-high shooting percentage that is bound to come down, but to be honest, if this production keeps Zac Rinaldo out of the lineup in favor of CVV, I'll keep my mouth shut. Rinaldo's suspension isn't going to last forever, so keep sniping, Chris!
- I've come away fairly impressed with Petr Straka in his first two NHL games. He's not getting a ton of ice time, but he's showcasing speed in all three zones and isn't making visible mistakes (turnovers, blown coverages). He even got his first NHL point tonight, battling for a rebound in front of Hutchinson before the puck bounced out to Nick Schultz for an easy goal. Not sure Straka really has a role when Laughton and Raffl are back, but he's putting in a good showing in his first NHL stint.
- R.J. Umberger drew a penalty tonight, and Scott Hartnell took one. Guess that trade wasn't so bad after all! (Seriously though, Hartnell is still much better than even improved Umberger.)