A dramatic comeback prevented a total disaster in Philadelphia’s 2021-22 season home opener. But Thatcher Demko and company held the Flyers off just enough to secure their first win of the season. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Flyers Fan Reaction (FFR4) Gm 1: VAN 5, PHI 4 (SO) – Camsanity

The more things change, the more they stay the same (for better and for worse). The Philadelphia Flyers lose (shootout style *shrugs*) 5-4, in their 2021-22 season opener to the Vancouver Canucks. For the first time since 2015-16, the Flyers start their season with a loss. Though a fervent third-period comeback salvaged a point and prevented what didn’t feel like the start of an era, but probably was, from total disappointment.

It’s hard for me to remember a season where the Flyers were facing this much adversity before the puck even dropped. Part of that of course stems from last year’s failure, of course. But training camp and preseason weren’t exactly kind to the Orange and Black. Wade Allison suffered a serious ankle injury in a rookie game that has him out indefinitely; based on what Alain Vigneault has said, I wouldn’t expect him back before the end of the 2021 calendar year. Then Kevin Hayes underwent his second surgery of the offseason just before the start of training camp, leaving a gaping hole at the second-line center spot.

Sam Morin went under the knife around the same time as Hayes and is also out to start the year. Tanner Laczynski underwent likely season-ending surgery. Prospects Egor Zamula (who sounds like he’ll be cleared soon), Zayde Wisdom, Cooper Zech, and AHL forward Ryan Fitzgerald are currently on season-opening IR (as are Laczynski and Allison). For once, the loudest cry to fire Alain Vigneault wasn’t coming from angry fans on Twitter, but rather a frustrated goaltender of an opposing team… still on Twitter. And just when you thought the dust had finally settled, Philadelphia’s priciest offseason acquisition in Rasmus Ristolainen was sidelined for the season opener with an upper-body injury (he’s thankfully only listed as day-to-day).

All of that created a fairly negative aura on social media and comment sections everywhere over the last two days or a week or so. But as fans started to trickle into the Wells Fargo Center by the droves, that feeling mercifully faded away. Instead of that negativity holding the Flyers back, they used it to slingshot them to as good of a start as you’ll see all year. At the first TV timeout, Philadelphia held a gaudy 8-1 shots advantage over the Canucks, flying all over the ice with all four lines creating chances.

Thatcher Demko managed to hold off the Flyers during that wave, but couldn’t fend off some friendly fire. Just seconds after a pretty strong power-play by the Flyers, one which was started and dominated by the second unit, the Flyers caught an early break. Joel Farabee loaded the gun for a blistering one-timer on a seemingly slow-motion feed from Ryan Ellis. Demko was set up perfectly to stop the shot. But not as perfectly to stop a fortuitous bounce off Tucker Poolman’s skate. The last Flyer to score in 2020-21 is the first to score in 2021-22, with last year’s team goals leader in Farabee picking up right where he left off just over six minutes in.

It truly was a dominant first period, which is especially encouraging considering how problematic that portion has been in recent years. The Flyers out the Canucks 14-5, drew the only penalty and scored the only goal. It was truly awesome… which makes it that much harder to fathom the bottom dropping out in the second. Vancouver’s possession numbers weren’t quite as dominant as Philadelphia’s were in the first; but a combination of poor discipline, unlucky bounces, and questionable goaltending left the Flyers behind the eight ball heading into the third.

For all their territorial dominance and the bevy of chances they created in the opening twenty minutes, Philadelphia’s lead disappeared rather early in the second period. Tyler Myers shrugged off an aggressive challenge from Nate Thompson at the red-line, creating a 3-on-2 in the Flyers’ end. The mammoth Myers didn’t stop there, driving to the net to create space for Vasily Podkolzin, who he passed to on the right-wing just after gaining the zone. Keith Yandle couldn’t get around Myers to challenge the shooter, and the rookie Podkolzin rattled Carter Hart’s water bottle with a laser of a wrister. A rookie scoring their first NHL goal against the Flyers? Yeah, that checks out. Tie game.

But Podkolzin’s breakout tally paled in frustration compared to the hot water the Flyers got themselves into throughout the frame. Travis Konecny took the first of four Flyers penalties, all in the middle period, by high-sticking Myers just 37 seconds after his assist on the Podkolzin goal. Fifty-four seconds after that, Vancouver took the lead on a goal that your reaction to will show how quickly (or slowly) you’ve forgiven or/and forgotten Carter Hart’s nightmare 2020-21 campaign. Elias Pettersson ripped a shot that ricocheted off Ivan Provorov, then the end boards, and banked off the back of Hart’s skates and in for a lead-changing tally. The Vancouver broadcast was pretty critical of Hart for not getting his skate back against the post quicker. Though perhaps that can be forgiven considering the change of direction off Provorov.

Either way, you slice it, the Canucks are up one on the scoreboard. Moments later, they found themselves up two men on two frustrating penalties; a delay of game on Ivan Provorov and a too-many-men call 95 seconds later. Embracing the chaos of the night, J.T. Miller threw a backdoor pass to Alex Chiasson, standing near the doorstep in front of the net. In what is either dumb luck or the greatest pool shot of all time, Chiasson tipped the puck on the net. He was initially robbed by Hart, then tipped the rebound in the completely wrong direction, only for it to trickle innocently off his skate before not so innocently sliding over the goal-line.

There are few things more demoralizing than giving up a goal with one second left on a 5-on-3. But the Flyers finished the kill, then responded barely a minute later. From what little I saw of the post-first twelve minutes of the game (I was tragically flying back home from college for fall break tonight during almost the entire contest), the Flyers still had a bit too much of that “pass-first” instinct that fans know all too well. But that’s exactly why they brought in Cam Atkinson. After feeding Farabee for a shot off the rush, Farabee returned the favor on a Keith Yandle-initiated cycle. Even with Myers (who is one foot taller than him!) draped on his back, Atkinson managed to fire off a one-timer past Demko to get the Flyers and the crowd right back in it.

Unfortunately, one of the only things more demoralizing than giving up a goal with one second left on a 5-on-3 is your goalie giving up a softie. Carter Hart gets a pass for the tough bounce on Pettersson’s goal, but this one is less forgivable. An innocent shot from the half-boards by Pettersson handcuffed the Flyers netminder, who wasn’t able to squeeze it. Instead, Miller was able to stash it, sucking the life out of the building and restoring the Canucks’ two-goal lead just in time for them to take into the second intermission.

As you’d expect from a team trailing by two in the third period, the Flyers gave up a game-high 15 shots and generated a mere 0.15 expected goals at 5v5 wait that isn’t what you’d expect at all, seriously this is the comeback effort we’re getting on night one? Instead of getting themselves back into the game, the Flyers needed the Canucks to open the door to have a chance at redemption. Hardly a stable formula, but every once in a while, it works out. Hard to do that when other than a dangerous tip by Giroux with about six minutes to go, the Flyers didn’t have much going for them in the 3rd.

That is until Konecny decided to put his stamp on the contest. Just after Alain Vigneault pulled Hart for an extra attacker, a dogged forecheck by Konecny drew a slashing penalty on new Canuck Oliver-Ekman Larsson. Needing a quick strike to have any chance at a comeback, Couturier copied Miller’s approach on the 3-1 goal and tried to set up JVR for a redirect in front. Like the Canucks, the initial effort proved unsuccessful, but the attempt was worth it. Instead of JVR tipping it off his skate, the puck caromed to an energetic Konecny. For this brief sequence, the play-driving menace that led the team in scoring reappeared. To borrow a phrase Jim Jackson borrowed from Marc Zumoff, TK turned “garbage into gold,” and more importantly, turned the Flyers’ chances to win from slim to, well, slightly less slim.

It was great to see. But the Flyers still needed one more. Once again, the Flyers attempted to sway some of Vancouver’s magic from the middle stanza. Instead of calling his shot, which is so 1930s, Claude Giroux called Couturier’s pass, emploring Couturier to try a bank off the boards directly behind the net from his 6-on-5 station at the right circle. In doing so, we learned two things: 1) Sean Couturier is better than you are at geometry and 2) Claude Giroux’s late-game magic from last season isn’t going anywhere. On a crisp October Friday night, the bank stayed open late, as Giroux one-timed the angle feed off the side of Demko’s mask, spinning the puck into the cage for an electric game-tying strike.

The usually electric 3-on-3 overtime didn’t quite live up to the hype of the last few minutes of regulation. Other than a Pettersson breakaway, chances were few and far between, with the Canucks racking up possession time but failing to close the deal. Turns out, they were just doing what any good college student would do: procrastinate for far too long but still wind up pulling it out in the end. Couturier and Giroux failed to get off clean shots in the shootout, while Pettersson backed Hart into his net before sniping glove side and Miller pulled off a slick forehand deke to seal a victory that was probably a bit more entertaining than Canucks fans would’ve preferred.

With how big of a season this is for the Flyers — at least a modest purge will almost certainly occur if they miss the playoffs — it’s tempting to draw major conclusions from the first game. It’s also probably ill-advised. The sloppiness of the second period made the Flyers look exactly what they are; a banged-up team with a bunch of new faces getting back into game form. The first period made the Flyers look exactly what they want to be; a dominant possession team that puts up lots of shots and makes the netminder sweat on almost all of them.

Overall, the Flyers were dead even in Corsi and held a minuscule edge in Expected Goals on Friday night. Considering their injury situation and that the Canucks got a game under their belt on Wednesday, this loss is far from unacceptable, especially given the late comeback. But the comeback shouldn’t overshadow what went wrong, either. There were plenty of games that had similar endings as tonight’s in 2020-21, and look how that season turned out. With Hayes out at least nine more games after being placed on LTIR, the Flyers’ margin for error shrinks significantly. It magnifies issues like lack of discipline and a mixed performance by Hart.

It will be next to impossible for the Flyers to win with both of those shortcomings without Hayes. Even winning with him in the face of those challenges is very tough. And considering how poorly last season went, all eyes will be on Hart until he shows his true colors this year; one way or the other. To be clear, I’m certainly expecting a bounceback from Hart; but it’s not a guarantee, and it will take a big leap to get Hart back to his pre-2021 level. Don’t lose too much sleep fretting over that tonight, though. Appreciate the valiant comeback, note the initial concerns, and get ready for another entertaining year of Flyers hockey. If nothing else, tonight proved the franchise’s flare for the dramatic isn’t going away anytime soon.

Lindies

In case you are new, a belated welcome to season four of Flyers Fan Reaction! I started this series in 2018 on a blog I created with the power of Wix. I wrote it there for two seasons before transitioning to Vendetta last season. It is heavily based on Steve Dangle’s much more popular Leafs Fan Reaction series on YouTube. Steve’s LFR series is entering its 15th year, so make sure to check it out. Steve does tremendous work and is incredibly entertaining, even for someone who never cared about the Leafs before discovering him.

This series was more or less a straight copy at first. But I’m sure it’s developed its quirks over the years. Case in point: this section, which was originally named Game Notes. It’s a section all about the little things; milestones, fun facts, little observations that just don’t fit into the main section. It was renamed “Lindies” in honor of Oskar Lindblom when he was diagnosed with cancer in December 2019 (bonus points for sharing a name with the fantasy baseball magazine I looked forward to every January as a kid). His playstyle is all about the little things, just like this section. For suggestions, praise (dream on, I know), or criticism, you can find me on Twitter: @_AndrewMcG.

Gotta get the Flyers stats department on this; when’s the last time a Flyer scored the last goal of one season and the first of very next? That’s exactly what Joel Farabee’s done in 2021. If last season’s offensive breakout was for real, it would significantly help the Flyers handle life without Hayes. It wouldn’t hurt either when he comes back, either.

This is the Flyers first opening night loss since 2015 when they dropped the first-ever 3-on-3 overtime to the Lightning. For reference, Matt Read and Brayden Schenn scored for the Flyers that night. Steve Mason stopped 29 of 32 shots. It’s been a while, folks. At least the team extended their opening night point streak to seven years. That’s something, right?

One of the rare actually intriguing storylines to follow was the identity of the Flyers’ new goal song. The team announced a fan submission contest just before the preseason, testing out different candidates after each exhibition goal. After announcing three finalists about a week ago, Feel the Shake’s successor the Flyers revealed after Farabee’s 1-0 goal; a remix of “This Girl” by Kungs and Cookin’ on 3 Burners. I voted it as first among the finalists, although Beer might have been the better choice. For me, though, it added to the hype of Konecny and Giroux’s late tallies, which is more than good enough. As Broad Street Hockey Radio’s Bill Matz says, the best goal song is the one that plays the most often. Well, at least relative to your opponents’ one.

If you watched the Penguins-Lightning game that kicked off the regular season, you have it engraved in your mind that Brian Boyle made the Penguins after signing a PTO in camp. That’s impressive; ut it’s nothing compared to Alex Chiasson, who did so for the third time in his career this fall. Per the Flyers broadcast, that’s an NHL record.

The Flyers matched Chaisson’s feel-good story with the NHL debut of 26-year old Max Willman. Willman was in the ECHL two years ago; in fact, this is the first year he’s even been on an NHL contract. Other than being a victim of the NHL’s cross-checking crackdown in a post-second period scrum, he had a pretty average debut. Though his line with Thompson (who had a short-handed breakaway!) and Nicolas Aubé-Kubel was torched for 29% expected goals and was outscored 1-0.

One thing that impressed me about Thatcher Demko: his ability to play the puck. Demko moved the disc very swiftly, helping to quell Philadelphia’s forecheck. The 25-year old has a .913 save percentage so far this year, nearly identical to his career .911 mark. If the Canucks return to the playoffs this year, Demko will almost certainly be a huge reason why. So far, so good, even considering he couldn’t hold off the Flyers’ late third-period push.

If this article was a bit wordy for you, my opening night roster overview might be more up your alley.

As I mentioned earlier, I missed basically the entire game on a flight home from Notre Dame to Philadelphia; so expect more detail moving forward, especially in this section. Good news: missing things shouldn’t be a problem on Monday. I’ll be in attendance at my first Flyers game since February 18, 2020; a 608-day wait that I’m incredbly excited to end. I was also there the first time the Flyers hosted the Golden Knights; it’ll be cool to be able to say the same about the Kraken. Hopefully, Monday’s contest has a better ending than that one.

3 Stars

3rd: Joel Farabee (PHI) – Goal (1), Assist (1)

2nd: J.T. Miller (VAN) – Goal (1), 2 Assists (2, 3), 3 Hits, 23:55 TOI

1st: Elias Pettersson (VAN) – Goal (1), Assist (1), 6 Shots, 23:36 TOI

Next

VAN – 10/16, 7 PM @ DET (0-0-1, OTL1)

PHI – 10/18, 7 PM vs. SEA (1-1-0, W1)

Follow Us on Twitter! Also, check out the Vendetta Shop and our partnerships with SimBull (learn more here)!

Vendetta Sports Media is sponsored by Monkey Knife Fight, the fastest-growing DFS site in the industry. MKF’s unique style and gameplay make betting fun and easy. Use our promo code ‘VENDETTA’ or use the link below to get a 100% instant match on any deposit and let them know that we sent you!

Signup now!

All Advanced Stats are 5-on-5 unless otherwise stated and via Natural Stat Trick