Folks, I don’t know about you, but I’m still in shock about last night. I’m also extremely sleepy, but I’m sure all of you are as well. Regardless, our boys in Orange and Black dominated the defending Western Conference champions with a 5-2 victory in the late night season opener. It started slow, and the Knights were playing that aggressive, pedal-to-the-metal pace that made them so successful last year, but the Flyers countered in a big way. Let’s dive into what we learned from the Flyers third straight season opening win.
All stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, Corsica.hockey, and NHL.com
1. Brian Elliott stole the show
I think it is entirely fair to say that the Flyers don’t win this hockey game without Brian Elliott’s play in the first period. The Golden Knights dominated the first 10 minutes of the opening period, putting the Flyers on their heels on a consistent basis. Elliott made saves left and right keeping the Flyers alive. Although Jonathan Marchessault did find the back of the net for the first goal of the game, to come away from that onslaught at the start only giving up one goal? It was a success and then some. Elliott stopped many point blank chances, and covered up the rebounds to boot. If this is the kind of Brian Elliott that we’re going to get this season, it makes me feel quite a bit better about the goalie situation.
2. Yeah, I’m thinking Wayne Simmonds is back
The Wayne Train is officially back. Simmonds was excellent in this one, looking like the player we all know and missed for much of last season. His line was centered by Mikhail Vorobyev making his first NHL start, and on the other wing, James van Riemsdyk making his official return to the Flyers. The line was one of the Flyers’ best against the Golden Knights, seeing Simmonds notch two goals which gives him five in the last two season openers. Vorobyev tallied his first NHL point with an assist on Robert Hagg’s goal, with JVR getting the primary assist on that one with a gorgeous pass.
Simmonds also posted the Flyers’ fifth-best xGF%, coming in at 59.69%. Simmonds broke even in regards to 5-on-5 raw CF%, but saw that number increase when adjusting for score and venue, giving him a 55.93 SVA CF%. If you pictured a bounce back game for one Mr. Wayne Simmonds, I don’t think you could have drawn it up any better than this. He’s back, baby.
3. HOLY SECOND PERIOD, BATMAN
The Flyers went into the second period having dominated the pace of play in the latter stages of the first, and boy did they ever carry that momentum into the second period. Three unanswered goals lead the way as Simmonds, Hagg, and Scott Laughton found the back of the net. Not only did the Flyers score three unanswered, but they all came before the halfway mark in the period. Simmonds’ second of the night came at 2:56 of the period, then Hagg and Laughton scored at 6:11 and 7:17 respectively. Not only did the Flyers keep their foot on the throttle to start the second, they stomped on it.
One of the oddities of the preseason was the somewhat consistent struggle of the team in the second period. Now whether this has actually been a point of emphasis for Dave Hakstol and this was them fixing it, or it was all just a coincidence, it was nice to see them carry momentum over from the first.
4. Michael Raffl was a man possessed
He didn’t score in this one, but Michael Raffl played a fantastic game and one that bodes well for the future of the fourth line. Raffl didn’t drive play particularly well in this one despite coming out on the positive end in the adjusted relative column. His expected goals numbers weren’t exactly all that great either, but Raffl was everywhere last night. Retrieving loose pucks, digging them free to open linemates, being a pest on the forecheck - everything. His kind of performance was essentially exactly what it looks like the Flyers want out of their fourth line players, and he gave them that and more. He played the most minutes at 5-on-5 out of the fourth liners in Jori Lehtera and Laughton, and it’s really not a surprise given how well he played.
5. Struggles for the top pairing
Alright, it’s been mostly positive to this point, but we have to talk about the first pairing. Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov did not have the best of nights. It’s fair to say Provorov looked better than Ghost, but both of them left a bit to be desired. Ghost seemed to be forcing passes all night long and just never really got into a rhythm. What Ghost does have going for him though were as previously mentioned, his expected goals numbers. He lead the way for the Flyers in that category in all situations, and still posted a 55.29% at 5-on-5. Overall, the two struggled to get anything done against Vegas, but they still won in relatively easy fashion. Provy and Ghost will be just fine, and if the depth produces like they did last night, it’s going to be a fun year, folks.
6. Depth, baby
Speaking of that depth, oh my was it ever on display vs. Vegas. Simmonds on the third line with two goals (albeit one on the power play), Hagg chipping in on the “third” pair, Laughton, and Oskar Lindblom on the second line putting one home. The Flyers top line and top defense pairing were both mediocre last night, and it was as if the team didn’t miss a beat. Yes, Lehtera is still on the fourth line and that’s...less than ideal, but the depth on this team has gotten so much better from last year and they impressed in the season opener. Once again, if this can be a theme that continues throughout the season, it takes so much pressure of the top line to carry the team.
7. Shot quality was...good? Oh happy days.
This drum has been beaten by me, everyone else here at BSH, and basically the entire fan base, but shot quality has been an issue. The Flyers constantly struggle with generating high quality shots, but in this game they made it easy. While point shots were still present, most of the chances were coming from the slot and right in front of the crease. Vegas still won the expected goals battle handedly, but the Flyers showed progress and that’s the more important thing. Making this a constant throughout the year will be the real challenge for Dave Hakstol, but at least for this game, positives!
8. Sanheim impresses
Travis Sanheim may have had the best game among Flyers defensemen. He and Radko Gudas had the two best SVA CF%’s on the team, and Sanheim posted the best xGF% out of the Flyers blueliners. Sometimes one of the best traits in a defenseman is not even noticing them on the ice, and that was Sanheim in this one. The pairing of Gudas/Sanheim was quietly the best for the Flyers — which if that continues — gives them two really good defense pairs and then...Mac and Hagg. It could be worse!
9. Oskar the Goal Scorer
In his debut on the Flyers second line with Nolan Patrick and Jakub Voracek, Oskar Lindblom did not disappoint. Lindblom opened the Flyers season with a beautiful goal as he out-waited Marc-Andre Fleury for a backhand tally on the breakaway. Lindblom didn’t particularly drive play in this one, but neither did any of his linemates. He didn’t post strong expected goals numbers, but Lindblom got the Flyers on the board in a big way. To that point, Vegas was controlling the game, but when Lindblom scored, it changed the entire outlook of the game.
10. Can we stop now with the West Coast openers?
Three years in a row we’ve had to deal with this nonsense, Gary. Please, for the love of everything that is holy have this be the last season opener in a long time that we open on the West Coast. It’s kinda difficult to take detailed notes on a hockey game when you’re about to pass out.