The Flyers are back, gang! No, really, they are back. They opened up their season last night against the Canucks with a truly classic Flyers performance—they got off to a really strong start and carried an early lead into the second, only to give up three goals in the first half of the second period. In a 4-2 hole as the final five minutes of the third period hit, they turned on the jets, and managed a comeback (care of Travis Konecny on the power play, and Claude Giroux on the 6-on-5). It was an exciting push, rewarded with a loss in the shootout, because of course.
All the same, it’s good to be back.
All stats via Natural Stat Trick
This was a weird one!
We alluded to this in the introduction, but this game sure did feature some wild swings in emotion and level of play. The Flyers looked flat-out dominant in the first period, outchancing the Canucks 22-11 and outshooting them 11-5 at 5-on-5, and had it looking like this one could end up a blowout if they were able to keep that momentum rolling through the next two periods. But then they didn’t. They came out for the second period, got on their heels, got caught taking needless penalties (more on that later), and quickly killed all of that momentum they had built.
It was a familiar format, getting themselves into a bit of a hole and having to mount a dramatic comeback to get themselves back into the game. They still have the skill to be able to successfully execute that comeback, but need again for it is more than a little tired. The Flyers had this one well within their control, but they couldn't hold on. A step back in pace and unforced errors unsettled them, and while the Canucks did get a bit of good luck on a pair of their goals, the Flyers opened the door wide for them to get back into this game. It is the first game of the season, and it’s fair to try to manage expectations, but it’s also fair to have wished for a more complete effort to kick off the season, as well.
The penalty kill…
On the whole, it wasn’t really a banner night for the Flyers’ penalty kill. They had four minors to kill, including 35 seconds of 5-on-3 time after they took a too many men penalty while already on the penalty kill (yes, that’s right). They gave up nine scoring chances and four high danger chances on the 5-on-4 penalty kills alone, and, of course, the two goals against. It wasn’t their cleanest showing, they looked a bit scrambley at times, and some of the struggles from the preseason seem to have carried over into the regular season.
But perhaps even more than the penalty kill’s play, the real killer was the number of penalties that were taken in the first place. The penalties weren’t necessary, were from somewhat unforced errors—a puck over the glass on a sloppy breakout attempt, the too many men, and a crosschecking call after one was let slide earlier in the period. Discipline was an issue, and that’s a big reason why this one got away from them.
Let’s check in with Carter Hart
It was a weird one in general for the Flyers, but it was a particularly weird one for Hart. He had a pretty heavy workload in this one, as he faced 39 shots in total, and allowed four goals on the night. There were two fluky goals, one with a weird bounce off the end boards that went in off his skate, and then another where the puck was out of sight, the officials probably should have blown play dead, but they didn’t, and the lost puck trickled through Hart’s pads, but J.T. Miller’s goal, where he lost the puck sitting on the goal line, he really should have had, and that was sort of emblematic of the flashes of trouble with tracking the puck has slipped into in the middle frame.
There’s some good news to be found here, though. Hart’s second period was pretty brutal, but he looked sharper in the third, and even better still in the overtime period, he rebounded well. And what’s more, when he spoke after the game, he seemed disappointed in the result, but he seemed ready to regroup and move on to the next one. He didn’t seem rattled like he did after many of his losses last season. And perhaps that’s reason enough for optimism that he’ll be okay going forward.
Big night for Max Willman
If there’s a nice story to be found in this mix, it would come in Max Willman’s NHL debut. It’s been talked about a bit here, but his is a great story—he started out in the organization as a healthy scratch in Reading, played well enough there to earn a tryout, and then a contract, with the Phantoms, and in quickly asserting himself as one of their most consistent forwards, grabbed the attention of the Flyers and earned himself an ELC. There’s a lot of hard work that went into getting to this point, and it’s nice to see him finally hitting the reward.
But as for that first game, it was a little bit of a mixed bag. The big negative standout is that he had a moment of letting his emotions get away from him, and took a needless crosschecking penalty in the second, and that was tough. But outside of that, he did bring some solid flashes—he plays something of a straightforward, hard nosed, straight line game, and that looked like it was translating. He skates at an NHL level, that’s pretty evident, and it was a real asset to him last night. The Flyers’ hope is that one of Zack MacEwan or Patrick Brown will be available for Monday’s game, so this may be the last we see of Willman for a bit, but he’s done well to solidify himself in the mix for a future call-up, should the need once again arise.
What do we take from all of this?
Alright, and the big question: how mad should we be about this game? It got ugly for stretches and it isn’t an exaggeration to say, at times, it felt like last year’s disaster season all over again, between the bad luck and unforced errors that the Flyers were dealing with. If you felt a bit of worry creeping in, that feels fair.
But there were positives to be found here too—they were breaking out well in the first period, and their forecheck was beating Vancouver pretty handily. And, what’s more, as we noted, Hart bounced back well after that tough third period. They let things get away from them for a while, but the effort wasn’t abysmal, and the tone after the game was still quite positive. They’re taking their lumps and moving on to the next one, but not getting too down about it.
The next week is going to be a big one, with Seattle (and Dave Hakstol), Boston, and then Florida on tap. The Flyers laid down a decent foundation for themselves, and talked a lot about just needing to clean up some details after the game, it will just be a question of bearing down and making sure, well, that they actually do it.