Move over, Seong Gi-hun, there’s a new winner of the Squid Game! For the first time in the 2021-22 season, the Philadelphia Flyers WIN, 6-1, over the Seattle Kraken. It was also Dave Hakstol’s first game back at the Wells Fargo Center as a head coach since December 6, 2018. Needless to say, it went much worse for him and much better for the Flyers than that one.
The other thing those games had in common was that I had the pleasure of attending both. For the first time since February 18, 2020, I headed to the Wells Fargo Center for the privilege of seeing the Flyers in person. They always say you don’t appreciate what you have until you lose it; and I was certainly itching for the chance to see live Flyers hockey for the first time in just over 600 days. Seeing as the Flyers have now scored 6, 6, 5, and 6 goals at the games I’ve attended since 2019-20 (all wins), I think they were, too.
It showed in the first 90 seconds, as the Flyers had a frenetic start, harkening back to Friday’s excellent beginning. But then they got sloppy. Exiting the zone was an adventure for both teams in the first twenty minutes; turnovers on the breakout spawned everywhere you looked. The Flyers’ struggles started when a cross-ice Keith Yandle was picked off, leading to a semi-breakaway for Joonas Donskoi. The backcheck of Yandle and Nick Seeler forced Donskoi to his forehand, though it was still a fairly tough save for Carter Hart. Unfortunately, the Flyers kept bleeding chances for the next six or seven minutes. Their breakdown culminated in Jaden Schwartz’s backdoor set up for Jordan Eberle off a rebound that put the Kraken up one to WAIT, WHAT.
Incredibly, Hart dove out to his left and somehow got his glove down just in time to rob Eberle. It was the type of desperation save Hart made seem routine in his first two seasons when he was still regarded as one of the game’s future stars. Last season’s hefty struggles understandably took a toll on that reputation, and his performance on Friday wasn’t anything more than a mixed bag. Tonight’s was nothing less than sensational; his early saves on Donskoi, a dangerous tip off the rush from Ryan Donato, and of course Eberle reminded everybody of the Carter Hart that had Flyers fans drooling over not too long ago.
Many of Hart’s biggest saves from those two years helped the Flyers reach another gear, a push they sorely missed last season. So it was only fitting when less than a minute after Hart stoned Eberle that Philadelphia struck first. Claude Giroux picked off a Kole Lind pass to the point, starting the Flyers in transition. Seconds later, the captain took a feed from Travis Konecny and wired a heat-seeking missile past a helpless Philipp Grubauer. Make it two consecutive Flyers goals belonging to Giroux, dating back to his late-game heroics on Friday. For the second time in as many games on the young season, the Flyers light the lamp first.
At the moment, it felt like Giroux’s one-timer tally might just be the Flyers capitalizing off a sudden momentum surge thanks to Hart. In hindsight, it was the start of utter domination on the part of the Flyers. When Hart robbed Eberle, Seattle had a 6-4 edge in shots. Over the final eleven and a half minutes of the period, shots swung to an eye-popping 12-4 margin for Philadelphia. The Flyers thankfully managed to settle down from their early in-zone adventures. But the Kraken simply had no answers for the Flyers’ speed and puck movement.
Less than three minutes after Giroux’s goal, the top line struck again. Konecny took a much better-timed feed from Yandle right down main street, then beat Adam Larsson to his own rebound. Less than three minutes after that goal, another one arrived like clockwork. Derrick Brassard’s sharp angle shot-pass for Joel Farabee rocketed top shelf off Carson Soucy’s skate, punctuating a commanding opening frame for Philly.
Just three days after following up a strong first period with 37 minutes of mediocrity, the Flyers avoided complacency Monday. No one had a larger smile on their face in the Wells Fargo Center than Chuck Fletcher when Brassard (and Joel Farabee) won a board battle before feeding a pinching Ryan Ellis for his first goal in Orange and Black. And wouldn’t you know, the Flyers scored in short-order once again, striking less than two minutes after Ellis’s marker. James van Riemsdyk curled a beautiful pass to essentially create a 2-on-0 for… Justin Braun? And Travis Sanheim?
Incredibly, your eyes didn’t deceive you there. Nor did they when Braun called his own number and squeaked the puck through a sliding Grubauer to make it five — yes, five — to nothing. The latter’s night ended then and there, as I pretty sure is required by league bylaws when you give up a 2-on-0 goal to Justin Braun (no offense, Brauner).
The rout turned to a bout shortly thereafter, starting when Nathan Bastian and Giroux exchanged roughing calls right off the face-off following Braun’s goal. Another large scrum broke out later in the period when Nicolas Aubé-Kubel knocked down Adam Larsson away from the puck. Nate Thompson and Bastian mixed it up, each receiving misconducts, while Jamie Oleksiak got the better of Nick Seeler in a battle of the #24s, though that didn’t stop Seeler from firing up the crowd on his way to the box. The Bastian-Thompson scrum turned out to be just a preview, as Thompson beat the brakes off Bastian, a consistent thorn in the Flyers’ side last year on the Devils, in a 3rd period scrap.
In between the fights, Seattle broke Hart’s bid to post the very first shutout of the NHL season with some luck of their own. Hart impressively shrugged off a Max Willman deflected knuckle puck from Carson Soucy, only for the defenseman’s rebound to kick over to him for his first goal in 34 games. The Flyers wouldn’t let Soucy crash their party forever, though. Off a rather seemingly innocent rush early in the third, Cam Atkinson picked his target and hit bullseye; no, he didn’t score, but he sauced the puck off the perfect spot on Chris Driedger’s pad to rebound to carrom to a streaking Joel Farabee.
After a few more nice saves by Hart, including another excellent one on Eberle to cement his place in Eberle’s nightmares, The Orange and the Black played for the first time since May 10, 2021, capping an incredible night at the Wells Fargo Center. Just because it was long inevitable by that point didn’t make it any less special. This was the Flyers’ first win in front of a full house since March 7, 2020, and it looked like they hardly skipped a beat.
Philadelphia’s first period on Friday looked eerily familiar to the dominance the 2019-20 club exerted down the stretch; only for it to be revealed as another of the tantalizing but all too brief moments that were replaced by countless faceplants. On Monday, the Flyers stuck the landing for all sixty minutes. Adjusting for score and venue, the Flyers won the Corsi battle in all three periods at 5v5, finishing the night over 60%. They held the edge in expected goals in the first two frames and finished the night at 55%. If you watched the game in the stands or on your couch, you could easily see how much better Philadelphia was. The Flyers even hit two posts on the night as well (one from each of the Travii); the final score could’ve been even more lopsided than it turned out to be.
Anyone who feared that the Flyers 2019-20 second-half form is gone for good should be able to breathe easy. Both the team and Hart took a solid Seattle team to school; the NHL’s newest franchise received their first rude “welcome to the NHL” moment. Whether or not they can maintain such a high standard of play remains to be seen; that, of course, will determine how successful this pivotal season is. The early picture the Flyers have painted isn’t perfect, of course. But it certainly has some promise to it.
Both Rasmus Ristolainen and Kevin Hayes seem to be making good progress healthwise. Ristolainen practiced on the third pair with Yandle Saturday; I would bet on his Flyers debut coming no later than Saturday. Hayes took part in an optional morning skate on Monday. That’s certainly encouraging; but since Hayes is on long-term injured reserve, he’s forced to miss at least eight more games (Nov. 10 vs. Toronto is the earliest he’s eligible to return).
The Flyers are now 7-2-1 in their first game against new franchises since 1991. That includes a perfect 2-0-0 in the last two decades; the Flyers also defeated Vegas (4-1) the first time they met in January 2018, with Hakstol still at the Flyers’ helm.
The biggest pleasant surprise of the early going: Derick Brassard. A few years ago, Brassard’s career looked like it was on its last legs. He delivered a bounceback on Long Island in 2019-20 and was decent for the Coyotes last season, even though he played a lot of center despite telling the team he felt more helpful at wing. He hasn’t looked out of place at all in a middle-six center spot. The three points on the night obviously stand out. But I thought Brassard was very strong on the puck and quite forceful in several board battles. His goal tonight makes Philadelphia the ninth franchise he’s scored for; per NHL PR, he’s now in an eight-way tie, including Jaromir Jagr and Brassard’s former Rangers teammate Dominic Moore, for most teams to score for.
Hart had the biggest bounceback from game one to game two, but the penalty kill was a close second. Last season, preseason, night one against Vancouver; the energetic PK that produced legitimately exciting moments in 2019-20 has been MIA for quite some time. The Flyers held Seattle to five shots (and most importantly, no goals) on four opportunities; three of which came in a one-second span on a stuff attempt from Donato. They even ventured up the ice a couple of times. Not quite the excitement of two years ago, but certainly a step in the right direction.
The advanced stats weren’t pretty for the Flyers’ top pair of Ellis and Ivan Provorov (38% Corsi, 45% xG in 14:02 together). But to me, that largely stemmed from uncharacteristic struggles to break the puck out in the first period. I doubt that will be an issue for the pairing moving forward; in fact, it wasn’t much of an issue over the last forty minutes. In addition to scoring, Ellis was especially noticeable on the PK; it seemed like every other Flyers’ clear was his.
All of Konecny, Aubé-Kubel, and Willman took unnecessary penalties in this one (though Willman’s was more pointless than anything since it came in the waning moments of the third). It’s a shame because aside from that, I thought all three had strong games. Konecny’s jump was obvious; he was arguably the best forward on a Flyers top-line that lived up to the hype and then some (71% Corsi, 74% xG, 2-0 actual goals advantage). Willman was especially noteworthy early in the game on the forecheck; he also had the Flyers’ first scoring chance of the night, hitting Grubauer’s chest on a 2-on-1. We’ll see if he gets another chance to impress in the NHL; Patrick Brown or/and Zack MacEwen may be ready to take his place on Wednesday.
Here’s a neat little quirk – on Friday, Farabee scored the Flyers’ first goal, and Giroux scored their last. That was flipped on Monday; Giroux scored first, and Farabee capped the offensive output.
Eleven different Flyers had a point on Monday, which is certainly encouraging for a team built on depth. Also encouraging: Philadelphia’s backend has combined for ten points across the first two contests.
Speaking of offensive output, here’s a nice nugget from NHL PR on Philadelphia’s strong scoring start to the season.
Carter Hart picked up his 50th career victory tonight, doing so in 103 appearances (97 starts). Per NHL PR (yes, again), he’s the youngest Flyer to reach that mark at 23 years, 66 days old.
Speaking of Dave Hakstol, I was kind of surprised that he didn’t receive a video tribute. Perhaps he received one when he first returned as an assistant coach in Toronto in 2019 and the team didn’t feel the need for a second? Hakstol’s tenure in Philadelphia certainly is remembered very fondly; there were some fairly loud chants at the WFC that confirmed just as much. But he did make the playoffs twice in three full seasons; and believe it or not, he’s actually coached the third most Flyers games of all time. All the best to Hak moving forward (and not just because I have Seattle making the playoffs and would like to seem smart).
Here are two very sweet tributes from Friday that I forgot to mention. Kevin Hayes has talked about how meaningful the support he’s received in the wake of the tragic death of his brother Jimmy. That continued on opening night, as I’m sure it will for a long time. The Flyers also made sure to leave a seat open for former beat writer Jay Greenberg, who passed away in August. May both rest in peace.
3rd: Nick Seeler (PHI) – 7 PIM
2nd: Derick Brassard (PHI) – Goal (1), 2 Assists (1, 2)
1st: Carter Hart (PHI) – .958 SV% (23/24), 1.94 Goals Saved Above Expected
SEA – 10/19 @ NJ (1-0-0, W1)
PHI – 10/20 vs. BOS (1-0-0, W1)
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All Advanced Stats are 5-on-5 (except GSAE) unless otherwise stated and via Natural Stat Trick