The Philadelphia Flyers will go down in history as a participant in the NHL's first regular season three-on-three overtime. Unfortunately, they'll also be remembered as the first team to lose a game via the new format.
In a matchup against the defending Eastern Conference champions, the Flyers did not look overmatched through three periods of play. In fact, Philadelphia skated right with the Tampa Bay Lightning and even looked the superior team throughout the third period. But they could not capitalize on a number of key opportunities, particularly two(!) penalty shots, including one in overtime that Scott Laughton could not put past goalie Ben Bishop. The Lightning, on the other hand, took full advantage of a Jason Garrison breakaway and came away with the 3-2 victory.
Dave Hakstol's fingerprints were all over the game from the start. The Flyers gave Tampa Bay fits in the first period with their aggressive offensive zone forecheck, outshooting the high-scoring Lightning 13-10. Neither team was able to light the lamp in the opening stanza, however, despite a number of scoring chances including a failed penalty shot by Claude Giroux.
The second period brought the scoring that the first had lacked. Tampa came out flying, and for the first seven or eight minutes, they looked every bit the Stanley Cup favorite that pundits expected to see tonight. Garrison scored early, and the Lightning kept up the pressure as the Flyers searched for a spark.
It was Matt Read who provided one, taking a slick feed from Scott Laughton and beating Bishop to tie the score at one apiece. It was hard work by R.J. Umberger along the boards that set up the goal, which proved to be a sign of things to come. Less than two minutes later, Umberger would feed Brayden Schenn for another goal, this one a result of a net front tip pass on the power play. After taking the lead, the Flyers were able to slow down the Tampa offense for a bit, but a Ryan Callahan tally with time winding down in the second sent the teams to their dressing rooms all tied up.
While the Flyers saw success in the first period primarily due to their punishing forecheck, the third period was marked by Philadelphia dominating the neutral zone. The usually-relentless Lightning were stopped in their tracks for most of the period as the Flyers slowed the game's pace to a crawl. Philadelphia dominated territorially in the third, but unfortunately struggled to get pucks on Ben Bishop, as they watched 11 shots either miss the target or find a Tampa Bay shot blocker. As a result, the Flyers and Lightning moved into the NHL's first 3v3 overtime period in history.
The two teams were able to cram a full game's worth of excitement in the three minutes and thirty-three seconds of overtime, pacifying any fans who did not appreciate the Flyers' more tactical third period. It was pond hockey at its finest, with end-to-end rushes and highlight reel saves galore. Scott Laughton had a chance to win the game with the Flyers' second penalty shot of the night, but he could not find the five-hole against Bishop. Tampa Bay then made Philadelphia pay, as Garrison scored his second of the night on a breakaway to end the contest.
Regardless of the outcome, the Flyers were able to grab a point in a road game against one of the NHL's best teams on paper, and they did not even need Steve Mason to bail them out in order to do so. Instead, Philadelphia looked like legitimate competition for the Lightning - a promising sign indeed for Dave Hakstol's regular season coaching debut.
A few more observations on the game:
- R.J. Umberger was named "Player of the Game" on the Comcast broadcast, and it's difficult to argue that he didn't deserve the honor. Umberger finished with two assists (one primary) and looked just as rejuvenated tonight as he did throughout preseason. Any lingering worries about Umberger's skating ability should be tossed aside after watching him chase down ultra-skilled Jonathan Drouin on a rush. It's only one game, but Umberger looks like a totally different player as compared to last season.
- The Evgeni Medvedev-Luke Schenn pairing looked the most comfortable in the Hakstol system tonight. Medvedev, despite some early jitters, was the team's best defenseman all night long, pushing up in the neutral zone to pressure the Lightning while making smart plays with the puck on his stick in the defensive zone. Luke Schenn impressed as well, justifying the coach's decision to place him in the lineup.
- The second power play unit scored a goal tonight, while the high-powered first unit struggled to get the puck into the offensive zone during their shifts. Once they were set up in the Lightning end, they were just as dangerous as last year, but expect the unit to work on their zone entries in practice over the next week.
- Scott Laughton was one of the team's most effective forecheckers, and slipped Matt Read a beautiful pass for the Flyers' first goal of the night. He certainly belongs in the NHL if tonight's performance was any indication.
- He didn't end up on the scoresheet, but I was particularly impressed with Michael Raffl tonight. He made smart decisions all night long, both with the puck and without. Defensemen will have no hesitation pinching if Raffl is on the ice on their side, because he immediately recognizes the shifts in coverage. After Sean Couturier, Raffl is the team's best defensive forward, and it showed tonight.
- Last year, the Flyers were a below-average team by the possession metrics, and the Lightning were one of the league's best. So it's incredibly exciting to see the Flyers basically play Tampa Bay to a draw in the shot attempt statistics (37-35 Tampa Bay at evens). A larger sample size is obviously needed, but at least tonight, Dave Hakstol's tweaks to Craig Berube's system paid dividends.
- Steve Mason made a number of fantastic saves, but three of his best came immediately following an egregious error on his part. Ryan Callahan's goal also was a bit weak, as Mason had time to position himself for the shot and still let it slip under his arm. Overall, a decent game for the Flyers' goaltender, but definitely room for improvement.