Back in October of 2019, which seems like decades ago, I wrote an article discussing the evident change in culture and style that emerged from then newly appointed coach Alain Vigneault at the start of the then normal 2019-20 NHL season.
Out of what was written, the following quote stands out as perhaps the most poignant:
“I know that it is a tried and tested hockey cliché, but the Flyers left it all out on the ice last night and showed some heart. They weren’t just dominating by possession metrics and playing fun, fast, attacking hockey, but they are doing it with a passion.”
One could be particularly reminded of the sentiments echoed by this quote after last night’s thrilling 4-3 victory over the Hextall-buffered Pittsburgh Penguins, to which we were so very openly reminded of Hextall’s presence, due to a goal being scored by his waiver claim, Mark Friedman.
However, despite this, and the two other goals scored by the Penguins within the first five minutes of play, it would be Philadelphia who would get the last laugh. Sean Couturier’s power play goal, a hard-wired slap shot launched in determined frustration, set in motion the comeback that Claude Giroux would complete in the third period in front of a limited audience at PPG Paints Arena.
Though the Flyers didn’t “dominate” the Corsi-For battle over the course of this game (overall they were at a respectable 51.85% at 5-on-5), after being heavily outmatched and outworked in the first period, they turned their fortunes around and from their second goal, controlled the flow of play and put out any budding embers emerging from Pittsburgh’s bench to get back in control.
In many ways, yesterday’s victory was wholly reminiscent of the Flyers’ famous 4-3 victory against the Boston Bruins in the seventh game of the 2009-10 Eastern Conference Semifinals. For starters, Claude Giroux featured in both contests, time-outs were taken after being down 3-0, and from then on, the Flyers steadily worked themselves upwards towards victory as momentum would creep into their favor and leave their opponent speechless. However, more than any of those points, the Flyers in both cases (though obviously the teams are completely different) showed how determined they can be to win if they simply put their minds to it.
To zoom in on a particular point from the last paragraph, when your team is down 3-0, taking a time-out to re-calculate and re-group is often a measure coaches take to attempt any sort of comeback in an important contest. Peter Laviolette did so against the Bruins on that fateful day in 2010, and Alain Vigneault (much to the delight of fans who had criticized his use of timeouts, or lack there of) did so last night. With hindsight, the article featured at the top of this piece is far too ignorant of Vigneault’s flaws, as we have now experienced them as unlike at the time of writing, Vigneault is no longer a brand new head coach for our critical eyes to observe. However, most of those talking points still stand to be somewhat true.
Despite his flaws, bullishness, and complete tactical 180 he pulled in the 2020 playoff bubble against Montreal and the New York Islanders, Vigneault is a coach that is able to inspire such comebacks as we say yesterday, and his vision and experience did bring about a culture change to the Flyers back in 2019-20 that still manages to manifest itself today. Obviously it is the players on the ice that do the actual “coming back” in a hockey game, but try to imagine (or rather, figuratively imagine) Dave Hakstol in the same situation, and see if the Flyers end up winning.
Say what you will about Alain Vigneault, and the core leadership on this hockey team, but as we’ve seen numerous examples of during last and this current season, they have it within them to come back when down, and to wear down and dismantle good opponents. They may not be the best hockey team in the NHL, but the Philadelphia Flyers are a good hockey team.
Stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick