*Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault — Near the end of this article, I discuss the report of Brad Aldrich’s sexual assault of former Chicago Blackhawk Kyle Beach in 2010. There is another warning farther down just before I begin discussing it.
Flyers Fan Reaction (FFR4) Gm 5: PHI 5, EDM 3 – Flyers After Dark
Ready to do that again in a few hours? Welcome back to the wild, wild, West, where the Philadelphia Flyers WIN, 5-3, over the Edmonton Oilers. It had been 664 days since the Flyers last played a game in the Pacific Time Zone, a rest fans certainly appreciated. It’s not just the inconvenience of staying up late and subsequent fatigue in the morning; Flyers games after dark always tend to be chaotic. Whether it’s dramatic victories or defeats, wild comeback attempts, or stuff that you would only find in a videogame else wise, the Pacific Time Zone always seems to treat the Flyers more like the twilight zone.
Yet any weirdness you could pull out of any of those games in years past frankly couldn’t hold a candle to the utter insanity that graced Wednesday night’s first period. The Flyers quickly and a little undeservedly jumped out to an early 2-0 lead; a wrap-around goal by Claude Giroux off a missed Travis Konecny shot and a classic dang-it by Mikko Koskinen, who gift-wrapped a goal to the Flyers fourth line with a pass right on Nicolas Aubé-Kubel’s tape that Nate Thompson eventually banged in.
The Oilers quickly responded off a then Nick Seeler turnover, with Tyson Barrie waltzing to the middle and shelving an impressive backhander past Carter Hart. The Flyers continued to play with fire throughout the period; Connor McDavid is always going to get chances, but it felt like the Flyers made it a little too easy for him. McDavid wound up 1-on-1 with Hart after an early Philadelphia power-play when Alain Vigneault got caught with his fourth-line on the ice. Hart stopped up, but it hardly sapped McDavid’s spirit; he created at least 2-3 high-danger chances all by himself the rest of the period. None of them went in, but a backdoor saucer passes for Jesse Puljujarvi that deflected off Justin Braun’s stick did.
That tied the game, but it also set the table for the Flyers to reflip the momentum back in their favor. Cam Atkinson shockingly did just that with 0.6 seconds left, capitalizing off a fluky bounce off Darnell Nurse. Numbers hardly do such a breakneck period justice, but here are some for you anyway; 2.45 combined expected goals at all strengths (1.41-1.04 Edmonton), twenty-five combined shots, four total penalties (three drawn by the Oilers). There were four other games on Wednesday, all of which had exactly five goals. The Flyers and Oilers reached that number in the first period alone.
Atkinson’s fifth in five games in Philadelphia was matched by Zach Hyman’s sixth in six games in Edmonton, sneaking a one-timer through Hart just 54 seconds into the second. After that, the teams finally started to settle down; but that more or less meant a return to the first six minutes when the Oilers were skating laps around the Flyers in the offensive zone. The Flyers had only two shots in the first half of the period; though Philadelphia started to create some chances as the period progressed, the Flyers were basically just holding on for dear life in the defensive zone. In fact, the Flyers finished the second period with more shot blocks (21) than shots on goal (18). They were fortunate just to be even heading into the third for the third straight game.
And yet, as is typical in Flyers games after midnight, the unexpected became reality. Edmonton’s biggest weakness coming into the year was supposedly their (in)ability to keep the puck out of the net. The defense didn’t look great; betting on a bounceback from 37-year old Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci sustaining his surprisingly solid Pittsburgh form didn’t seem smart. Neither did heading into the year with 39-year old Mike Smith and a Koskinen coming off a .899 save percentage. Both units are off to strong starts this season, and Koskinen did make some tremendous saves tonight. But he’d undoubtedly like to have Cam Atkinson’s slapshot from just above the circle 4:18 into the frame. Instead, the puck rocketed through his five-hole, scoring another point for Atkinson’s shoot-first mantra and putting the Flyers back in front.
Both teams kept their fans at the edge of their seats before time expired. Giroux missed a tap-in feed from Scott Laughton that would’ve made it 5-3. Koskinen recovered to make an incredible save on Laughton all alone in front just after a solid Flyers power-play couldn’t light the lamp. Edmonton didn’t exactly whither away though; Hart was tested nine times in the back half of the period from a variety of angles. Despite the best efforts of Travis Konecny, who took a (somewhat questionable) interference penalty, unnecessarily iced the puck aiming for the empty net, and staying onsides by an eyelash on Sean Couturier’s empty-netter, the Flyers held off the Oilers’ final push, starting their Western Canadian road trip strong.
While this wasn’t exactly a pure shutdown performance by the Flyers, to play the way they did without Ryan Ellis was impressive. Despite being outshot, the Flyers won the expected goals battle by a fairly significant margin (54.19%). They also blocked a ridiculous 26 shots; that’s their most in a game since February 4th, 2019 against Vancouver. Blocked shots aren’t something you want to rely on night in and night out. And to borrow an EA Sports stat, the Oilers clearly had the edge in time on attack. But without a player like Ellis, and facing players like McDavid and Draisaitl, you do what you have to do. Ellis remains day-to-day with an undisclosed injury.
Congratulations to Nicolas Aubé-Kubel on playing his 100th NHL game! Aubé-Kubel became the 231st Flyer to reach the milestone, per The Athletic’s Alex Appleyard.
Didn’t spot this in real-time, but McDavid probably should’ve drawn a tripping penalty just a few seconds before Atkinson put the Flyers ahead for good. After absurdly not drawing a single call in the playoffs last year, McDavid has only drawn two penalties this season (including Konecny’s interference call). I find it hard to believe that’s what a player with 15 points in 6 games and is basically skating on air deserves. I know it goes without saying, but wow is he a special player. McDavid has multiple points in each of Edmonton’s first six games; one more would tie Wayne Gretzky’s franchise record from 1983-84.
Happy birthday to Rasmus Ristolainen (27) and Leon Draisaitl (26), who celebrated on Tuesday. Speaking of Ristolainen, his physicality pops as advertised when you’re watching the game. One of the biggest criticisms of Robert Hägg was that his hits weren’t very meaningful; they look good on the stats page but didn’t actually do much to help the Flyers win games. I wouldn’t say that’s the case with Ristolainen; the battle he won in the corner with Kyle Turris late in the first was a great example of impactful physicality. Ristolainen was beaten to the puck, but he successfully pinned Turris to the boards and eventually popped the puck free. His decision-making is still far from flawless; a pass right to an Oiler at the point resulted in a point-blank chance for Jesse Puljujärvi. Ristolainen remains a work in progress.
Sean Couturier and Travis Sanheim both played their best game of the season in this one by my eyes. Couturier didn’t do much offensively on the homestand, but he had a few nice set-ups tonight. He finished with ENG and an assist, but his defensive work is really what won the Flyers this game; especially some huge puck battle wins and clears during Konecny’s penalty. Unlike Couturier, who was just fine on the homestand, Sanheim actively struggled in Philadelphia’s first four games. The advanced numbers aren’t pretty for him and Ristolainen tonight; but I saw a player who broke up quite a few dangerous chances, blocked three shots, and drew a penalty. Not a perfect game, but to me, tonight was a step in the right direction for Sanheim defensively.
The Flyers’ top line had a tremendous night (53% Corsi, 65% xG), but perhaps their most important moment of the night came in the face-off dot. Claude Giroux won four consecutive face-offs in 36 seconds just after the Oilers pulled Koskinen, minimizing Edmonton’s late-game threat. The Flyers have won the faceoff battle every game this year, including against an Oilers team that entered tonight second in the league. Philadelphia is nearly three percentage points ahead of the next best team on draws (Toronto). Faceoffs can sometimes be overrated; but when you win as many (and as important ones) as the Flyers do, it can make a difference sometimes.
Atkinson is the first Flyer to score six goals in a season’s first five games since Mike Richards in 2009. Both of his goals tonight definitely involved a little bit of luck. But as Atkinson is reminding teammates and fans who sometimes think pass a little too often, good things happen when you get the puck on the net. They say there’s a bit of truth rooted in every clichè, and Atkinson is certainly hammering that statement home. He nearly finished off the hat-trick on the return of the Flyers set below the goalline PP passing play.
Minor roster move alert; the Flyers officially activated Cooper Zech off of season-opening IR and sent him down to the Phantoms, as was expected.
After being out due to a positive COVID-19 test, Patrick Brown is officially a member of the Flyers’ active roster. Alain Vigneault said he would like to get Brown into a game during the road trip; with the Flyers right back at it tomorrow, I’d bet he checks in for Aubé-Kubel or Zack MacEwen. Maybe the win and the fourth-line’s goal delays that debut until Friday, though.
POG Standings Update: Starter Hart gets the starter jacket against his hometown team!
Starter Hart, Camsanity, Unknown – 1
Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault
The TNT broadcast panel made the important and correct decision to discuss the report of Brad Aldrich’s sexual assault of a Blackhawks player in 2010 (who has now revealed himself to be Kyle Beach), which was released in full on Tuesday. It’s impossible to imagine what Beach went through — the details of the investigation are truly horrifying. Beach’s decision to reveal himself as “John Doe” (the pseudonym given to him in the report) is incredibly courageous and heroic. Beach did so in an interview with TSN’s Rick Westhead; it is a difficult and emotional watch, but I cannot recommend highly enough that you watch it anyway.
The incident itself, and the fact it went unreported for weeks after Beach told what happened in fear it would harm the Blackhawks’ chances of winning the Cup, is disgusting and inexcusable. Per the report, Aldrich made sexual advances on a 22-year old intern a few weeks after assaulting Beach and sexually assaulted a minor years later when he was working at the University of Miami (Ohio). The Blackhawks could have prevented these incidents by immediately reporting the incident, firing Aldrich, and ensuring he never got a job in hockey again. They did none of these things. That is absolutely unacceptable.
All of those responsible, whether it be Joel Quenneville, Stan Bowman, Kevin Cheveldayoff, or anybody else, should be punished extremely harshly. A $2 million fine to the Blackhawks — for reference, that is $1 million less than what the Devils received as punishment signing Ilya Kovalchuk to an illegally backloaded contract in 2013 (New Jersey’s punishment also included loss of draft picks, though the punishment was later reduced) — simply isn’t enough. Something like this — again, not just the incident, but hiding it just to protect the performance of the team — can never happen again in the National Hockey League. The league must do whatever it takes to ensure that. The performance of a sports team can never be more important than caring for a victim of sexual assault. Anyone who thinks or acts like that does not belong in sports.
3rd: Carter Hart (PHI) – .919 SV% (34 Saves/37 Shots)
2nd: Tyson Barrie (EDM) – Goal (1), Assist (3), 4 Shots, 20:35 TOI
1st: Cam Atkinson (PHI) – 2 Goals (5, 6), 4 Shots
PHI: 10/28 @ VAN (3-3-1, L1)
EDM: 10/30 @ VAN (3-3-1, L1; Twinning!)
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All Advanced Stats are 5-on-5 unless otherwise stated and via Natural Stat Trick