Flyers hockey is officially back. The Orange & Black opened up the preseason tonight with a match in the Wells Fargo Center against Barry Trotz and the hated Islanders. What were the storylines, who stood out, and what unreasonably hyperbolic conclusions can we draw from the 60 minutes of play we witnessed? All of that and more below.
What went right?
The Flyers had some strong individual player performances tonight, even if they ebbed and flowed in terms of team success. Derick Brassard, Ryan Ellis, Oskar Lindblom, and Yegor Zamula particularly stood out as positives, although that’s not saying that guys like Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux, or Keith Yandle didn’t impress either.
Ellis specifically wins the first “best player on the ice” nomination of the year for his inaugural outing in Philly; he made so many subtle plays that contributed to much of what Philadelphia managed to generate offensively throughout the game, even when the rest of the attack looked sluggish or disheveled. To say he passed the eye test with flying colors is an understatement.
For his career, Ryan Ellis has a 51% success rate in getting attempted shots on net (55.4% on power plays).— Bill Meltzer (@billmeltzer) September 28, 2021
Brassard was representative of a broader theme that anyone who watched the second period could’ve gleaned: the Flyers look aggressive again, which is a positive sign. The forechecking effort seen by the newest No. 19 set the tone early, and the whole team got engaged during the early going of the second period. For a group that’s won or lost games via winning puck battles (executed at a high level in 2019-20, done poorly in 2020-21), it’s an alteration that should make you excited.
On special teams, there were some things to like as well. Cam Atkinson stood out as a threat when pushing high against opposing defenders on the penalty kill; the Flyers did a quality job of drawing penalties via effort plays and smart passing, something that was painfully absent from the team’s play in the recent past. The power play didn’t look fantastic per se, but Keith Yandle and Ryan Ellis appeared promising as a quarterbacking tandem with flashes of brilliance here and there.
Many of the positives drawn from this game came via a dominant opening to the second period by Philly, where everything finally looked like it was clicking. If the Flyers can work out the kinks and play like they did in the middle of this game for ~45 minutes or so, as opposed to 15 (a tall ask) they’ll be back to what worked under Alain Vigneault in his first season behind the bench for the organization.
In other positive news, Yegor Zamula scored a pretty goal, partially manufactured by an Oskar Lindblom screen. Good for Big Zam.
Egor Zamula snipes one to open the scoring! pic.twitter.com/IRP6jS5xux— Ryan Gilbert (@RGilbertSOP) September 29, 2021
The Flyers had some issues during the onset of the third period, but managed to turn things around and generally looked better than the Islanders did from around the 10 minute mark onward. A few consecutive shifts of hard forechecking, heavy pressure on puck carriers, and controlled pace led to multiple consecutive Islanders icings and eventually a goal.
Ryan Ellis banks it off the endboards and Maksim Sushko banks it in off of Appleby! pic.twitter.com/6cY0PBZX2k— Ryan Gilbert (@RGilbertSOP) September 29, 2021
What went wrong?
A lot of the usual suspects were in play tonight, but three stood out in particular: breakouts, a lack of aggression on the penalty kill, and inconsistency. The Flyers started slow and got their heads kicked in for much of start of this game, presumably only figuring out that they were, in fact, playing NHL hockey when walking back out of the tunnel to resume play for the second period. For a team with an extensive history of poor starts, that’s an unfortunate beginning to the year.
On breakouts, the recurring theme of “Philly can’t counter New York’s forecheck” reigned supreme for a solid bit of this contest. While certain guys like Ellis or Yandle made solid first passes, the second pass was rarely on target or correctly aimed for the open man. In an increasingly transition-driven sport, it’s not ideal that the Flyers are still working on the fundamental replication of simple exits.
The penalty kill was better tonight than it was much of 2020-21, but outside of Cam Atkinson the same notable lack of aggressive pressure was present. The improved positional play brought by guys like Ryan Ellis won’t help if the forwards continue a pattern of observing the “make like a tree” school of goal prevention. That’s what directly led to the Islanders’ second tally of the night:
A beauty from #️⃣ 8️⃣ pic.twitter.com/Aef3lDLZ6W— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) September 29, 2021
Carter Hart’s puck handling remains suspect at best, with a few scary moments resulting off of that tonight. He also couldn’t stop an Adam Pelech missile that it seems like he saw most of the way, even if he was behind a screen and dealing with another moving body off to his blocker side. Something to nitpick at, for whatever it’s worth.
Lastly, Samuel Ersson had a few nice saves and looked good tracking the puck, but unfortunately got pantsed by Anthony Beauvillier in overtime after Claude Giroux coughed up the puck (more like Fraude Giroux, strip the C, yadda yadda yadda). A painful way to end things, to be sure. Hopefully not a harbinger of the season to come.
Bird's-eye view of Beauvillier's winner! pic.twitter.com/URWHi0HlAQ— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) September 29, 2021
Three Big Things
- The NHL is back at a relatively normal time of year, and I cannot express enough how nice that is. Even if the Flyers were merely cromulent tonight, that’s a hell of a lot better than what we got out of the Eagles yesterday. Excited to share another year with the good folks in this community.
- Oskar Lindblom looks more like Oskar Lindblom, which lines up with what we’ve been hearing out of training camp. After being given an entire offseason to prepare and get in playing shape, it’s great to see him killing it out there. He’s back to doing the little things like stick checking precisely, taking good angles, and setting beautiful screens. In the words of Bernie Parent, “it’s a beautiful thing.”
- It’s the preseason. Let’s not overreact and get too mad about anything. Hockey can be fun, and y’all should look to enjoy the meaningless games before the inevitable high-strung mess of the regular season. Be more quixotic and less pessimistic. This has been a PSA from your friendly recap fella, who will surely abandon these ideals himself circa the second week of October.
Post Game Tunes
A great song by local Philly legends “The Menzingers” to close things out.
Good night, good hockey, and as always, go Flyers.