After five long months of no Flyers hockey, even a mere preseason game was going to be enough to satiate the appetites of desperate fans. But with the outcome meaningless, the real focus shifted to whether the team's new acquisitions and their exciting prospects would live up to expectations.
Consider their first test passed.
Led by a standout performance from Travis Konecny, the Flyers were able to take down a weak New York Islanders roster at the PPL Center by a score of 5-3. His goal in the second period was more opportunistic than highlight reel, but the tally was a just reward for the prospect's strong play throughout the night.
But Konecny wasn't the only new face to impress. Evgeni Medvedev, Ivan Provorov and even Sam Gagner all performed admirably in their first NHL action as Philadelphia Flyers. Combine their play with strong performances from the team's first line of Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Michael Raffl, and it's not surprising that the Flyers were able to come away with a victory in new coach Dave Hakstol's first game behind the Philadelphia bench.
The first glimpse at an embryonic version of Hakstol's system saw the Philadelphia defense play far more active than was the norm under Craig Berube. Particularly in terms of sustaining a cycle and exiting the Islanders' zone, the defensemen showed flashes of an aggressiveness and decisiveness not seen since the end of the Peter Laviolette era. While the mobile personnel certainly helped (Medvedev, Provorov and Michael Del Zotto all played in Allentown), the tweaks in tactics were noticeable.
There was little to criticize, especially for a preseason game. But the score was a bit closer than play suggested, due to Michal Neuvirth having a below-average debut. The big news, however, was the return of Flyers hockey and a brief look at the future. Philadelphia may not have a formidable roster this season, but if prospects like Travis Konecny have their way, help could be coming soon.
Additional Observations on the game:
- Konecny picked up right where he left off after development camp, where he stood out as the top performer to my eyes. He simply demands attention every time he steps onto the ice, from his acceleration, to his crisp passing, to even his tenacious forechecking. Konecny could be the first Flyers forward prospect to really tear up the junior level at a young age since Claude Giroux.
- Ivan Provorov's performance was a bit more mixed. While he certainly had great moments (particularly an aggressive pinch on a cycle late in the first period), Provorov also had some miscues. He seemed to be a bit out of sorts defending against the rush, as he tried to adjust the professional game speed. But on the plus side, Provorov's zone exits were smooth and he did not look outmatched physically.
- Konecny's flashy play will make the headlines, but Evgeni Medvedev may have actually been the best all-around player on the ice for the Flyers. The veteran did not look out of place at all in his first NHL action, showcasing good speed and smart decision-making with the puck. It's way too early to call the signing a win, but the Russian's skillset certainly looked NHL-worthy tonight.
- The Flyers' star forwards were unsurprisingly paired together, and both Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek played like the elite forwards that they are. Against an Islanders roster that was essentially a B-Team, Claude and Jake were dominant, as they should be.
- Michael Raffl scored an early goal on the power play and generally looked like a guy who the Flyers would be well served to sign to an extension before he gets too expensive. He's an advanced stat darling who could have a true offensive breakout season at any time. With power play time, he could very well take that leap this year.
- R.J. Umberger actually seems to have gained back some speed following his offseason surgery. While he's been in decline for quite a few seasons, his speed and lack of strength on the puck were the major reason for his poor performance last year. If Umberger can even be average in terms of skating ability, it's a huge upgrade for a player whose contract is essentially untradeable.
- Sam Gagner was given the task of impressing his new coach while playing alongside two forwards who struggled mightily last season. But against all odds, the Gagner-Lecavalier-Umberger line actually wasn't terrible. Gagner supplied more than a few slick passes to help spring his veteran linemates, who both looked like viable NHL forwards. Granted, it was against a weak New York roster, but Gagner's job ended up much easier than expected tonight.