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Flyers 4, Blackhawks 3: Czech this out!

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It got nervy in the end, but the Flyers get the season off to a good start in Prague!

2019 NHL Global Series Challenge Prague - Chicago Blackhawks v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

In a historic matchup, playing their first ever competitive match outside of North America, the Flyers began their season on Friday against the Chicago Blackhawks from the O2 Arena in Prague. The Flyers started out with the line of Claude Giroux, Kevin Hayes and Jake Voracek, and sent out the pair of Travis Sanheim and Matt Niskanen on defense. Both the Flyers and Blackhawks were sloppy with the puck early on, and play was chippy through the first few minutes. The Blackhawks went to the power play early as Voracek was called for hooking Erik Gustafsson, The Flyers managed to kill it off and looked noticeably more aggressive in pursuing the puck on the penalty kill. Soon after, the Flyers scored their first goal of the 2019-20 season! Profiting off of a turnover at the Chicago blue line, Travis Konecny beat Corey Crawford under the glove with a quick shot to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead.

The joy was short-lived however, as Alex Nylander went through the legs of Justin Braun with his shot and beat Carter Hart to tie the game at 1-1. It wasn’t the best of shots and Carter Hart would have certainly wanted that one back, though he was screened by Braun. Brandon Saad had a decent effort around halfway through the first period, but was denied by Carter Hart who made a good save among a couple other nice saves to round out the first period. In particular, Patrick Kane found himself unmarked along the left wing bearing down on Hart, but he snagged Kane’s effort with his glove. Travis Konecny nearly made it 2-1 to the Flyers, but his effort narrowly missed. All of the lines were positive or at least break even Corsi-for wise except for Twarynski-Laughton-JVR line. The top defensive pair was Sanheim and Niskanen who logged an outstanding 66.67 CF%.

The Flyers started the second period with the Couturier line. They got off to a fast start, and generated some quality scoring chances early on. The Flyers went to the power play for the first time of the season off a tripping penalty from Duncan Keith, and converted! The now-100%-success-rate Flyers power play (we shall never forget) took the lead through a rocket of a shot from Oskar Lindblom after Travis Konecny found him open on the left hand side of the ice. Halfway through the period, the Flyers would find themselves on the power play again as Brent Seabrook was penalized for delay of game. However, they failed to convert. Rest in peace the 100% conversion rate. Both the Flyers and Blackhawks had scoring chances towards the end of the period, but Hart and Crawford did well to deny them. This was fortunate for the Flyers, as they turned the puck over more than one would like towards the end of the period.

With 2:30 left in the period, the Flyers went to the power play yet again as Andrew Shaw sat in the box, though it was negated early on as Claude Giroux was called on a slash. During the four on four play, the Flyers added another goal to their tally! Yet again, it was the mercurial Travis Konecny who roofed a backhand shot past Crawford after skipping past Duncan Keith. However, with just 12.2 seconds left in the period, Alex DeBrincat scored for Chicago on their seconds long power play advantage. This is how the period would end, as the Flyers would take a 3-2 advantage into the third period. The Flyers yet again showed positive play by CF%, except for, yet again, Twarynski-Laughton-JVR.

The Lindblom-Couturier-Konecny line started out the third period strong with some sustained pressure in the Blackhawks zone, however they weren’t able to convert on a few chances they created. Kevin Hayes found himself in alone on Corey Crawford with 13:00 left in the period, but was denied on his breakaway opportunity. Hayes was also rugby tackled to the ice a few seconds later, but that was not called. Play was fairly even through the middle of the period, with both sides having a few chances here and there.

However, with 10:12 remaining, Michael Raffl sprung to life and scored to give the Flyers a 4-2 lead! He found himself below the net after taking the puck off of Duncan Keith, and Raffl wrapped behind the net and unleashed a low shot that beat Crawford. A few minutes later, the Blackhawks managed to put pressure on the Flyers and generated some chances having pinned the Flyers back in their zone, but Carter Hart came up with answers yet again. Travis Konecny nearly had a hat trick as he had a one-on-one situation with a Blackhawks defender and the goaltender at the end of the period, but his slap shot went right into the gut of Crawford. Oskar Lindblom also found himself with a breakaway but was denied by Crawford.

The Flyers faced a scare with only two minutes left in the game as the Blackhawks scored through Patrick Kane with their net empty to bring them within one. Within the last minute of the game, Sean Couturier collided with Andrew Shaw which left Couturier clutching his hand. Fortunately, however, the Flyers were able to hang on and win the game by a final score of 4-3!

Three stars

1. Travis Konecny

TK capped off a two goal evening with an excellent second effort which was a beautiful backhand shot after posterizing Duncan Keith. One might have worried that Konecny would start off slow after his holdout, but he has looked very sharp and on the pace. We could very well be looking at a 30 goal season from Konecny this year. Sky is the limit for the 22 year old.

2. Travis Sanheim

Sanheim stood out on the blue line, and was easily the best defenseman tonight for the Flyers. He was solid in his own end, and provided plus-plus value in the offensive zone with some smart reads. No wonder they started him out in this one. Sanheim ended up playing top pair minutes tonight, and they were well deserved minutes.

3. Carter Hart

Hart played well in this one, and as I will explain in the ‘two big questions’ segment, he kept the Flyers in this game. He made some big saves early on that would set the tone for the rest of the evening.

Two big questions

1. Will Carter Hart get off on the right foot?

Besides the early blemish, Hart played pretty well! I don’t think you can blame him for the DeBrincat power play goal, as the defending was terrible and the cross slot pass was just allowed to be fed to DeBrincat. I also don’t think you can blame the third goal on him, as he was also screened. Otherwise, Hart made some key saves on the likes of Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad to preserve the Flyers’ chances in this game, and looked solid. His technique was what we’ve come to expect, and he bounced back from the goals, showing resilience. I wouldn’t say he singlehandedly saved this one for the Flyers, but he played well above average, and I would say he got off to the right start indeed.

2. Which of the new guys stands out the most?

I thought Connor Bunnaman and Carsen Twarynski played well as far as NHL debuts are concerned, though the standout to me was Kevin Hayes. He did a lot of little things right playing on the top line. He broke up offensive chances that the Blackhawks had, kept possession for his line mates, and helped the Flyers drive play. When you see statistics like this, you know that something is going right:

More specifically, the Hayes line sported a Corsi-for of 70.59% in the second period. That’s superbly dominant. Keep it up Kev!

Play of the game

The play of this game has to be Travis Konecny’s incredible goal in the second period. This was a special effort, and Konecny made Duncan Keith look like a pylon. To top that off, he beats Crawford with a deceptive backhand shot that nestles into the corner of the net. Top class from Konecny. I for one am looking forward to seeing more of this from him.