The season that is currently on pause was the Flyers’ best season since at least the beginning of the decade, and so many moments have gone into making that the case. While we’ve got time here to pause and reflect (and we hope for it to resume at some point), we wanted to take a moment to dive in a bit on some of the best moments of the year, including a few that maybe you wouldn’t think of when you think of the season’s top moments. Sure, Ivan Provorov dunking on Montreal’s entire defense and Kevin Hayes donning The Belt in Columbus were awesome, but there were other moments here and there that have made this season as fun as it was. Mostly goals, but maybe some other stuff too. Let’s talk about them, in a series that we’ll call “Maybe This Team Is Different.”
Many things have threatened to derail the Flyers during this season. Some of them have been gravely serious, such as the medical issues that have faced Oskar Lindblom and Nolan Patrick. Others have been a bit lighter, which brings us to this near-assailant of this season:
Yeah, I’m looking at you, smiley. As you likely know if you’re here, just about every year the Flyers pack up after Christmas and go on a long road trip because this guy up here needs to hog the Wells Fargo Center for a couple of weeks for Disney on Ice. Often times it’s a long trip out west, as it was this year, as the Flyers had five games in eight days in San Jose, Anaheim, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Phoenix.
This trip has, by and large, not gone well for the Flyers in the past few years. The Flyers went winless in their immediate post-Christmas road trip in four of their previous five seasons:
And sadly, even as the Flyers headed into the break looking like they were a team on the rise and ready to push for a playoff spot, this season followed the form of those before it. The Flyers won just one of the five games they had out west, and that lone win came in an overtime victory over the lowly Anaheim Ducks. For the third time this season, the Flyers sputtered their way through a lengthy road trip, one which cast a lot of doubt on what they’d be capable of the rest of the way.
The trip concluded with a roller coaster of a game in Carolina three days after their final game out west; in this one, the Flyers took an early 2-0 lead, then gave up four goals in 15:17 before clawing back in and tying the game with a late goal by Travis Sanheim in the third period. When all was said and done, though, they’d take the loss in overtime on a Dougie Hamilton game-winner.
That game ended the Flyers’ 1-4-1 nightmare of a road trip. At that moment in time, they were out of a playoff spot, behind that same Carolina team it couldn’t pull out a win against and a remarkably plucky Columbus team that was soldering on despite a rash of injuries. Unfortunately for the Flyers, awaiting them the very next night after what was surely a late flight home was the team that was, at the time, the frontrunner for the President’s Trophy: the Washington Capitals.
One could be forgiven for expecting a loss in this situation. The Flyers were tired, they were probably demoralized, they weren’t playing very well, and they were facing a very good team that has, for most of the previous decade, reigned atop its division.
Then, a few minutes into the game, Capitals defenseman Nick Jensen flubbed the puck just inside of his own blue line, and this ensued.
After a quick turn to shield the puck from Konecny, Jensen takes it up-ice and gets within a few feet of his own blue line, where he misplays the puck for just a split-second. That is enough time for Sean Couturier — truly, a man who knows nothing more than being in the right place at the right time — to wrangle the puck away from Jensen along the boards. While everyone else is heading up the ice, Konecny, knowing full well what’s about to happen, throws on the brakes and then starts skating back towards the Capitals’ net. Couturier puts a puck where Konecny can get to it, and suddenly the Flyers’ best offensive player this season is all alone with Braden Holtby and he
There is a lot to love here. First: the near-nonchalance of it really brings it home. Most one-on-one goalie/shooter events are breakaways, which are pretty hectic happenings. The guy with the puck is booking it up the ice, the guys behind him are hauling ass to try and catch up to him and break it up, and the goalie more or less jumps to action, ready to try and save the day.
This ... was not that. Konecny probably moves about five feet between the spot where he corrals the puck and the spot where he shoots it from. By the time the other skaters on the ice realize what’s about to happen, it’s too late; Alex Ovechkin isn’t close enough to do anything except get a nice view. It takes four lightning-quick movements from the stick of Konecny — forehand, backhand, forehand, flip — to get the puck in the net. And Holtby, meanwhile ... is frozen. He has no idea what to do here, and his reaction to Konecny’s shot is much too late to do anything about it.
But perhaps more importantly: watch the celebration from Konecny after the goal here. Once again rather calmly, our favorite cocky little shitlord slides his stick back into his left hand, puts his right hand up, and tells the crowd to get louder with a few quick waves.
Confidence is a tricky thing to try and pin down. We tend to hear a lot about how it’s there when a team is winning, and how it’s not when they aren’t. But this was a Flyers team that, coming into this one, had a good reason to feel lacking in confidence. It was generally not playing well. It’d spent the past week and a half getting its butt kicked up and down the Pacific and Mountain time zones. It was coming in off a back-to-back, against a recent Cup champion who has owned their division basically for most of the previous decade.
Yet this team did not care about any of that. This team, by and large, is not one that has really found itself lacking for confidence. And Konecny is here, giving the fans — who, at this point in the season, certainly had not seen enough to be confident that this year’s team was meaningfully better than the seven years’ worth of teams that had preceded it — a simple message: Hey. C’mon. You can believe it. We got this. We’re gonna do this. Tell us you believe it, and we’re gonna do it.
And what do you know — from that game onward, the Flyers are 19-6-1 and gained 13 points on those very Capitals, and are very much within striking distance of them to win their first division title in Metropolitan Division history if the regular season picks back up at some point.
Did the goal itself matter that much within this game? Probably not. The Flyers actually gave up two more before the period ended, though they’d head into the first period tied thanks to a long shot by Robert Hagg and would eventually win it on (surprise!) a Kevin Hayes short-handed tally. But three minutes after a stretch that could have led to a spiral that would’ve been tough to pull out of, Travis Konecny came out and, with four movements of his stick and a quick wave of the hand, told us all that we’re gonna be alright.