Flyers Fan Reaction (FFR5) Gm 1: NJ 2, PHI 5 – Rekonnected
No matter your outlook, you can’t win ’em all if you don’t win the first one. The Philadelphia Flyers WIN, 5-2, over the New Jersey Devils to begin what figures to be a very… interesting 2022-23 season. But whatever it winds up being, it got off to a great start on Thursday night. The Flyers delighted the home crowd with a four-goal run and rode 35 saves from Carter Hart in his first game of any kind in six months and a day to a win over a divisional rival to kick off their new campaign.
October is the time for NHL teams and players to set goals. It’s also a time for scoring goals, as the Flyers scored five goals for just the second time since Claude Giroux‘s final game with the franchise. The former is much more pertinent for a team that isn’t expected to compete for a wild card spot, let alone something special. But just because the Flyers aren’t likely to achieve anything particularly noteworthy in the grand scheme of things doesn’t mean they can’t set themselves up for future success during the 2022-23 season.
The most obvious way the Flyers could do that, of course, would be to bottom out. But that isn’t something any of the players or coaches are going to subscribe to. Fortunately, there are other things the Flyers can strive for and realistically achieve, even if they aren’t always as opportunistic as they were on Thursday night. Hockey may be a team sport, but the Flyers clearly aren’t on par with the league’s first or second-tier teams. Maybe, perhaps probably, not even their third or fourth-tier ones, either. What they do undoubtedly have, however, is players who are good enough to help those types of teams.
That isn’t saying much; even the league’s worst teams (of which the Flyers might be one) have some good players. But who is and who isn’t? Who is just good and who might be a little bit better than that? Finding out those answers is crucial for a Flyers team that doesn’t want to be in the losing business for the long haul. Figure out who can help you win in the future, whether that’s in one year, three, or five.
These evaluations can be sorted into two groups. The first is the bevy of kids trying to establish themselves as full-time NHLers, especially those who are running out of time. It would be great if Noah Cates or Egor Zamula established themselves as a regular contributor this season. But it isn’t absolutely necessary. For Morgan Frost, Owen Tippett, Wade Allison, and Tanner Laczynski? This season is vital for their future, both in the Flyers organization and the NHL as a whole. All four are no longer waiver-exempt. Frost and Tippett have had numerous chances to stick in the league but have failed to do so. Allison and Laczynski have dealt with numerous injuries over the years. They are getting opportunities that wouldn’t be there on a lot of other teams.
The other is players who are undoubtedly NHLers but clearly have more to give — because they’ve given it in the past. Just because the Flyers aren’t the team they were in 2019-20 doesn’t mean Travis Konecny can’t score at a 30-goal pace as he did that season. It doesn’t mean Ivan Provorov, finally given another strong puck-moving partner, can’t play like a legitimate No. 2 defender. It doesn’t mean Hart’s numbers, which deserved to be better last year because of how poor the Flyers’ defense was, can’t be closer to the strong .915 save percentage he put up across his first two NHL campaigns.
All of that probably won’t happen. But some of it will. The Flyers didn’t play a great game to begin their campaign; especially in the final two periods, during which they generated an ugly expected goals percentage of barely over 30%. They did not create a lot of controlled entries and survived a New Jersey third-period push with a succession of high flips out of the zone — good enough tonight, but probably not against the league’s upper echelon. However, they made plays when they had to. They answered a tough goal allowed by Hart in just 23 seconds. The same amount of time separated Philadelphia’s second and third goals, taking a lead they would not lose.
It also marked the territorial turning point, but that didn’t matter because Hart made the big saves to keep the Devils at bay. Frost made some nice plays with the puck and threw the body. Allison was a one-man wrecking crew at times and finished second on the team in expected goals percentage. Konecny, except for one overpass on the power play that he followed up by scoring less than a minute later, fired the puck whenever he could, and scored twice as a result. Frost, whose defense has held him back in the past, took a shift with Mackenzie Blackwood at the bench and finished with an empty-netter.
It may not have been a perfect night. But it was the last thing the Flyers should be striving for this season: fun. The Flyers weren’t just bad in 2021-22; everything about their season was miserable. Winning helps, of course. But just producing positive takeaways on a consistent basis would be a welcomed step forward. The Flyers can’t make up the massive hole they’ve fallen into over the past two seasons in one night. They probably can’t do so in a full season. What they can do, however, is restore at least some shred of optimism in their fans that they’ll complete that climb in a less arduous fashion than the fall that’s necessitated it. So far, so good.
For anyone who’s new, this section of these articles is named Lindies after now-former Flyer Oskar Lindblom. Originally given the pretty generic name of “Game Notes,” I changed the name to honor the little things specialist Lindblom after he was diagnosed with cancer in Dec. 2019. I briefly thought about changing the name to something else. But given Lindblom’s incredible courage on and especially off the ice, combined with the fact he left Philadelphia on basically the best terms possible, I’m keeping it, at least for now. Looking forward to Oskar’s return to the Wells Fargo Center on Oct. 23.
After lots of offseason speculation about who the Flyers’ next captain will be, John Tortorella poured cold water on the idea of naming a new one anytime soon at the start of camp. So it wasn’t exactly a surprise to see the Flyers “C”-less to start the season. But having just one alternate captain (Scott Laughton)? Yeah, that qualifies as unexpected. Although maybe it’s a little less shocking if an “A” is being reserved for Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson. Last year, Couturier, Kevin Hayes, and Ivan Provorov all wore a letter at some point during the season. In fact, Atkinson, who didn’t play Thursday, is listed on the official game roster as an alternate captain.
The Wells Fargo Center had a pretty good crowd on hand — maybe not a full sellout, but not bad. Of course, it’s about quality over quantity these days. Phillies manager Rob Thomson, budding 76ers star Tyrese Maxey, and some members of the Eastern Conference regular-season champion Philadelphia Union were all in the house.
Allison’s goal sounded the Flyers’ goal horn, and with it, a new goal song. It’s “Celtic Invasion,” the entrance theme of the WWE’s Becky Lynch. It’s also the fifth straight year the Flyer to score the team’s first goal of the year is 25 or under. Lindblom did it in 2018-19, then Konecny in 2019-20, Nolan Patrick in 2020-21, and Joel Farabee last season. Allison just makes the cut, turning 26 about four and a half hours after lighting the lamp. Yes, his birthday is actually today.
Laczynski’s assist on Frost’s goal was his first NHL point. It’s easy to write Laczynski off as nothing more than a fourth-liner. After all, he’s 25 with just seven NHL games to his name. But Laczynski scored at around a point-per-game pace in all four of his collegiate seasons at Ohio State. He’s definitely got some skill. It’s probably not enough to ever be considered an impact score. But maybe it could be enough for Lacyznsi to turn into a solid third-liner down the line.
Speaking of Frost’s goal, the 23-second span between Konecny’s goal and that one makes them the quickest Flyers goals since April 25, 2021, when Giroux scored twice in 22 seconds to erase a 3-1 Devils lead in the final two minutes of the third.
Opening night wasn’t all sunshine and roses for the Flyers, though. Tippett missed the final two periods of play with an upper-body injury. No further updates were provided, but hopefully, it’s nothing serious. As mentioned above, this is a pivotal season for the No. 10 pick in 2017 and the centerpiece of the Claude Giroux trade.
Also, the Flyers have now given up a player’s first NHL goal in their first game of the season for the second straight year. Vancouver’s Vasili Podkolzin recorded his first in the league last year (although that was the Canucks’ second game). No qualifiers needed for New Jersey’s Alexander Holtz, who snuck a wrist shot through Hart and then nearly scored again a few minutes later.
Finally, if you’d like some insight on the Travis Sanheim extension, make sure to check out my thoughts on that.
3rd: Carter Hart (PHI) – .946 SV% (35 Saves/37 Shots), 2 GA on 3.42 Expected Goals Against
2nd: Ivan Provorov (PHI) – 2 Assists (1, 2), 3 SOG, 5 Hits, 10 Blocked Shots, 22:02 TOI
1st: Travis Konecny (PHI) – 2 Goals (1, 2), 4 SOG, 21:12 TOI
NJ: 10/15, 7 P.M. vs. DET (0-0-0)
PHI: 10/15, 4 P.M. vs. VAN (0-1-0)
All Advanced Stats are 5v5 and via Natural Stat Trick unless otherwise stated