We’re back, folks! Hockey is back and the Flyers kicked off the preseason in perhaps the most Flyers way possible—with an exciting comeback to tie the game and a prompt loss in overtime—last night against the Islanders. The result was a tough one, but we remind ourselves that it was the first game back after all, and a lot of rust is being shaken off. Expectations are manageable here, so we’re focusing on a pretty simple question as we ease into the preseason—who looked sharp right out of the gate?
All stats via Natural Stat Trick.
It’s good news to start out with, and we’re pleased to announce that after the last pretty brutal season, the initial looks for Carter Hart were quite good. He had quite a bit of work, particularly in the first period when the Flyers were caught hemmed into their own zone quite a bit and the Islanders were pressuring well, and Hart remained steady. He was reacting well, tracking pucks through traffic, and (the big piece) not making himself look small in his net anymore. As we know, confidence is a huge key to his game, and he seems to be getting that back.
The goal he gave up was a tough one—a long shot through a good bit of traffic—but on the whole, it was a nice sort of rebound showing for Hart. We’re not expecting anyone to be perfect right from the jump, but the improvement we’re already seeing from him is encouraging. it pretty well goes without saying that as Hart goes, the team will likely go this season, and it may well be good news that things are looking like they’re getting back on track.
The initial returns from just about all of the new additions were good, but Ellis was probably the one who stood out the most. He’s working well to get adjusted to the new system with the Flyers, and the immediate payoff has been good. He brought a nice bit of flash with the setup on Maksim Sushko’s goal—an intentional missed shot which went wide of the net, left for Sushko to pick up behind it for the wraparound attempt—to tie the game and ultimately force overtime. He looked solid in a somewhat limited look on the Flyers’ second power play unit. He provided a nice bit of offense with a team-high eight shot attempts, and then two individual scoring chances. And overall he brought a nice steadying presence, on the whole, right to the very end, as in the final minute of regulation we saw the defensive efforts looking pretty scrambley, he made a nice block and then a clean dump out to settle things down. No drama, just the simple, correct play.
He’s also showing some nice initial chemistry with Ivan Provorov, and that’s a very good sign. It’s not hard to imagine that this is a pairing that the Flyers will want to roll with in the season, and one that will be given a lot of tough minutes to work with, to boot, so to have them rolling pretty immediately has been a welcome sight.
And staying on the topic of new defensemen for a bit longer, Egor Zamula also had himself quite a solid game. The biggest bit of flash came from his goal in the second period to get the Flyers on the board, where he beat Cory Schneider with a shot from the point through a bit of a screen, but beyond that there was still a lot to like about his game. He was moving the puck well at the blue line and on breakouts, and he also had a couple of nice disruptive breakups on would-be Islanders chances on the rush. There wasn’t as much flash there, but the more quietly effective parts of his game were still working well, which was a real positive.
He’s still very much getting adjusted to the pace of play at the NHL level, and that’s clear even in a preseason setting, but he’s still putting in some nice work and making good progress.
One of the more exciting notes that’s come out of training camp so far is the fact that Lindblom is looking so much closer to old form, and that’s certainly something we saw reflected in last night’s game setting. Lindblom looks stronger, right off the bat, and he was able to bring a good bit of speed as well. He had one nice look at the tail end of the second period, but mostly the impressive bit was how his characteristic details game was clicking quite well. It wasn’t perfect, but he brought some solid defensive play and looked strong on the forecheck, and that had him looking quite effective.
Alain Vigneault summed up his showing nicely after the game:
I thought Oskar had some real good moments. Some other times, I think he put himself a little bit in 50/50 opportunities because of his puck decisions. Just a matter of him getting his timing back. I think physically he feels stronger and I’ve seen it in practice and I saw it tonight in a couple of opportunities there 1 on 1 he’s winning those situations and that’s what we need from him.
It’s going to take some time for Lindblom to get himself all the way back to that old form, but he’s putting in some really good work, and the initial returns are promising. Just like with everyone else, we’re not expecting perfection from him right away, but the improvements we are seeing are really encouraging. If he can take another step forward this season, that would certainly be a huge asset for the Flyers.
The top line
The Flyers reunited one of their most used top lines for this game, with Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, and Travis Konecny, and it was not shocking to see that they were getting right back to old form and looking very sharp. The Flyers did get some good work from all of their lines—despite a difficult start, just about everyone was able to contribute a bit of offensive flash—but this one was probably their best in terms of consistently being able to establish extended offensive zone time with a cycle. They weren’t rewarded with a goal, but they did still have a few nice looks, and the work overall was good, and they held a nice territorial advantage, closing out the night with an adjusted 58.52 CF% (for however much weight we want to give underlying numbers in the preseason).
Is it a surprise that the line that has worked very well together in the past was working well together again? No, definitely not. But any bit of momentum we can already see lines building is a good thing, so we’ll take this.