Worth the wait, alright! The Philadelphia Flyers WIN the very first game of the 2021 NHL regular season, doubling up the Pittsburgh Penguins by a 6-3 final tally. For the fifth consecutive season, the Flyers open with a victory.
This pandemic has taken a lot from us, but thankfully, we still have the joy of hockey to comfort us during these trying times. Referee Kelly Sutherland reminded the players such with a quick speech right before opening puck drop. While the long wait and shortened season is unfortunate, it certainly adds to the excitement and intensity of the 2021 NHL season.
Those traits are amplified even more considering the hype and potential for this year’s Flyers. After taking a huge step forward in 2019-20, the Flyers are finally looking to build on last year’s progress rather than see it as a new height to fall from. The Flyers won their first playoff series since 2012 last year, but have alternated making the playoffs with missing them ever since that year. It’s imperative for the Flyers to finally develop the consistency contenders are known for if they hope to become one themselves.
So far, so good? The Flyers did win this game, and a win’s a win, especially in this shortened season. Reducing the schedule from 82 to 56 games makes everything exactly 1.44 times more important. Taking down a rival amplifies the excitement.
But as I mentioned, the key for the Flyers is to find success to build on. To be honest, there wasn’t a ton of that at even strength. Pittsburgh outshot and out-chanced the Flyers in every period. Philadelphia was one of the best possession teams in the league last year, led by a sturdy defense (no team allowed fewer shots per game than Philly’s 28.7).
The Flyers looked sloppy, which is expected for the first game of a season, especially coming off a condensed training camp. It showed early. Barely five minutes into the contest, Ivan Provorov was unable to work away from a forechecking Mark Jankowski. Seconds later, Jankowski took a pin-balling pass that hit two skates and roofed it so well the ref didn’t even realize it was in. That had to feel good for Jankowski coming off a nightmare season in Calgary (his point total fell from 32 to 7).
Not so good for the Flyers, however, who took some time to respond. Pittsburgh went to the power-play 32 seconds after the Jankowski strike. But the Flyers PK, one of their biggest strengths last year (6th Net PK in NHL, which factories in shorties) returned to form and shut down Pittsburgh’s potent power-play.
The Flyers found life 10 minutes later on a 3rd-line rush. James van Riemsdyk beat resident pylon Cody Ceci wide on the attack, drawing a slashing penalty before nearly setting up an Erik Gustafsson goal. Undeterred from Jarry’s first great save, Gustafsson fired again with time winding down on the power-play. This time, his shot found twine, courtesy of a textbook tip by JVR. Power-play production (or lack thereof) was a major reason for van Riemsdyk’s disappointing 2019-20 campaign. If he can regain that touch and combine it with the defensive strides he made last year, watch out.
Pittsburgh’s other controversial defensive acquisition took another costly penalty shortly after. With time winding down in the first period, a scrum broke out in front of the Penguins bench. When the dust settled, Travis Konecny had been cross-checked to the ice, and Mike Matheson was spotted as the culprit. The good news for the Pens was the call came with just 16 seconds left in the period, allowing them to easily kill of a few seconds and regain composure at intermission.
Not if Nolan has a say in it! Basically the exact same shot by Gustafsson produced the exact same result, only this time it was Patrick doing the deflection honors. Flyers Twitter is always hyped after goals, but the timeline flood after Patrick’s tally was unmatched. In case you don’t know, Patrick missed the entire 2019-20 season with migraine disorder. Today was his first game since April 2, 2019. And he scored! It’s both an incredibly happy moment for him and a tantalizing “what-if.” The roar from a sold out WFC crowd would’ve been deafening.
The second part also started slow, with Jake Voracek being called for a sketchy interference call less than two minutes in. Thankfully, the Flyers top defenders were shutting the door once again. Carter Hart wasn’t a huge part of the effort, not facing a single shot. But your goalie doesn’t always have to be your best penalty killer.
What they have to be, however, is A penalty killer. The only wounds Hart dealt were self-inflicted. A ghastly turnover right in the middle in the ice combined with the incredible hand-eye of Sidney Crosby (he could’ve given it to anyone, but this is Philly, of course, it’s Sid) erased the Flyers lead with only 30 seconds left on an otherwise underwhelming man-advantage.
Philadelphia started to generate some good looks, slightly out-chancing the Pens at even-strength in the second. Kevin Hayes had the best look, barely falling to outreach Jarry on a breakaway backhand deke. A couple of great chances for the third line failed to generate much on net, but the Flyers kept pushing.
Once again, Philly struck right before the end of a frame. The Giroux-Hayes-Farabee line, easily Philadelphia’s best of the night, was rewarded for their efforts. Kevin Hayes size and skill was too much for Pittsburgh’s fourth-line to handle. Hayes set up Joel Farabee, he of two assists already in the game, and Farabee made that pass pay off. A quick power move eluded Jarry’s right pad, and Beezer delivered a potentially back-breaking blow.
Unfortunately, potential didn’t match reality this time around. Pittsburgh’s third line doesn’t jump off the page with talent like the Flyers does, but they produced once again early in the third. A flubbed pass by Gustafsson put #56 on his heels, allowing Mark Jankowski to break in with control. A backhand cross-seam dish found a charging Brandon Tanev, who beat Hart top cheese, sending us back to square one.
Despite the tied score, the Flyers were still in good position. When you look back at the reason’s for last year’s success, two things stand in. The first was third period play. Philadelphia had a season-long strategy of dumping lots of pucks early to wear down opposing d’s and get them on their heels. It worked incredibly well. Only two teams scored more 3rd period goals last year than Philly’s 87. Only four allowed fewer than their 61.
Philly’s other unique strength is their depth. You can make a solid argument that the Flyers have the deepest forward core in the entire NHL. Alain Vigneault loved rolling four lines last year, an approach that worked great before below-average rentals Derek Grant and Nate Thompson entered the mix. With them out of the picture, the Flyers have four dangerous lines capable of making opponents pay.
And they needed all four to break the deadlock for good. A steal in the d-zone by Michael Raffl quickly turned into a near breakaway for Nic Aube-Kubel. He was checked off at the last moment by Matheson, but with both players skidding behind the net, the puck was up for grabs. The hustling Laughton did a quick head-check before collecting it, and saw the Austrian Rocket darting to the crease. He too was checked as he went to shoot, but all that did was give us a vintage Rafflcopter to rejoice! 4-3, good guys.
NBC’s hopes of a nail-biting finish to drive ratings died shortly thereafter. Sean Couturier copied Raffl’s defense to odd-man rush fashion perfectly, creating a two-on-one seven minutes later. Travis Konecny popped the rebound (by his own admission) of a fallen Oskar Lindblom’s head and into the cage. It’s TK’s goal for now, but he thinks Oskar should get credit.
If he does, what else can you ask for? Both of the Flyers young guns returning from scary illnesses scoring in their first game back in Philly. Actually, if your answer was a sixth Flyers goal, your wish would be answered. Kevin Hayes’ body language looked like he was taking candy from a baby as he effortlessly tapped in a rebound goal twenty seconds later. Suddenly, the rout was on, and the first of eight (!) battles of Pennsylvania went to the Orange and Black.
The Flyers will have to show more moving forward to reach their scary good potential, but tonight’s victory was an important first step. Considering where we were on opening day last year, when I was just praying the Flyers would contend, I’ll take it. The fact the Flyers kind of sleepwalked their way through a dangerous Penguins team shows just how good they are. What it doesn’t show is how could the Flyers can become. Hopefully, that’s what the other 55-plus games are for.
Welcome to Lindies, the fun-facts section of FFR. Named after Oskar Lindblom following his diagnosis last year, this section covers stats and little details from the night’s game or recent trends of the team. FFR (Flyers Fan Reaction) is a parody/imitation of Steve Dangle’s 14-year LFR (Leafs Fan Reaction) series, which is way more popular than this. Make sure to check out his video to Toronto’s season opener tomorrow morning.
The last time the NHL had a shortened season (2012-13, due to a lockout), the Flyers and Penguins also kicked off the festivities. Pittsburgh won that game 3-1, so it was nice to see the Flyers get revenge five days short of eight years in the making.
Philadelphia was certainly a third period team last season. The Flyers only lost one regular season game in regulation (11/15 @ Ottawa) when leading after one. They only lost once, period (11/16 vs. the Islanders; something in the water that weekend?) when leading after two.
The Hart giveaway was incredibly frustrating to watch, but I kind of saw it coming. Hart is an outstanding goalie, but puck-handling has always been a weakness for him. Regardless of skill, goalies going up the middle with even an inkling of pressure is never a good idea. Thankfully, Hart rebounded strong (as he always does), stopping 17 of the last 18 shots he faced.
Erik Gustafsson became the third Flyers defender to score multiple points in their first game with the team, joining Paul Coffey and Eric Weinrich.
Farabee’s four-point effort doubles his career-high of two. He recorded the feat twice (2/1 vs. COL, 2/18 @ CBJ) last season. That total ties Farabee with Ray Allison (1982) for most points ever in a Flyers season opener.
Tonight was Travis Konecny’s 300th NHL game. If the league rules that he gets credit for the Flyers 5th goal, he’ll have scored in his 100th, 200th, and 300th NHL game.
Philadelphia has now each of their last five season openers; only Vancouver and Tampa Bay (seven) have longer active streaks. They’ve also scored at least one power-play goal in their last four.
In case you were wondering, the Flyers are keeping Jetboy’s “Feel the Shake” as their goal song for the second straight season.
EA Sports’ 2021 season simulation didn’t see the Flyers improve on their playoff performance from last year. However, they did project more individual hardware for the club, penciling Carter Hart as their Vezina winner this year.
Post-game, AV said the only thing he was disappointed in was not having a building full of fans to see Oskar (and Nolan) return to the ice. Both were coming off scary, career-threatening medical situations (and Lindblom’s case, lifethreatening). To wrap up the feel good stories, tonight was Patrick’s first goal since March 9, 2019. Lindblom may get credit for his first since November 30, 2019. Awesome.
1st – Joel Farabee (PHI) – Goal, 3 Assists
2nd – Erik Gustafsson (PHI) – 2 Assists
3rd – Kevin Hayes (PHI) – Goal, Assist
1/15, 7 PM – PIT vs. PHI