*Whistle blows* Minor penalty, two minutes, YOU — not clicking on this article fast enough. ELEVEN penalties and a five-goal first period later, Philadelphia Flyers WIN, 5-2, sweeping a two-game “series” against the Pittsburgh Penguins. For the first time in over twenty years (and just the second time in the last eight years), the Flyers are 2-0-0.
Wins are always welcome, especially when they come against the Penguins. They don’t ask how, just how many, they say. However, this early in the season, it’s more important ever to diagnose and analyze a team’s flaws. There’s still plenty of time to fix them right now.
So let’s just come out and say it; the Flyers haven’t looked great, have they? At 5-on-5, they’ve been outshot in every single period so far this year. They’ve been out-chanced in five of them. It’s so hard to tell how much of this is rust, especially considering there was no pre-season this year. We all expected sloppy hockey early in the year, and boy are we getting it. That doesn’t mean it’s any more pleasant to watch.
The first two minutes were shaky, and not just because the Flyers were being shaken up a lot. Big hits on Provorov and Laughton set the tone early. However, the Flyers got their act together quickly in this game. There were A LOT of penalties in this game, but that doesn’t always have a drastic effect in the shape of the game. Tonight, it did.
Consecutive Pittsburgh penalties for too many men (second straight game with one) and slashing gave Philly’s power-play plenty of chances to pick up where they left off. The second time was the charm, as Travis Konecny slammed in a tap-in on a picture-perfect set-up from Jake Voracek. It’s the same type of goal Wayne Simmonds scored countless times over the years, and it still looks just as sweet. For the first time this year, the Flyers strike first!
Just 1:59 later, Travis Konnected again. Nolan Patrick drove the net, sprung by an excellent below the goal-line feed from van Riemsdyk. The power move didn’t score, but the puck caromed in off his skate. Pittsburgh looked absolutely lost on Philly’s next swarm, with Voracek snapping a pass to a pinching Provorov for a top shelf snipe. 3-0 Flyers eleven and a half minutes in, and that’s the night for Tristan Jarry.
But once again, a penalty completely changed the course of the contest. Provorov essentially gave his goal back by taking a roughing penalty on Crosby as Hart was making a great save. Hart wouldn’t be as perfect on the power-play, as Crosby’s silky smooth hands delivered a backhander off the post (and maybe Phil Myers) and in. His league leading 45th goal against Philly put Pittsburgh right back into the thick of the game.
And just like for Pittsburgh, there was a negative carry-over at 5-on-5. Literally 32 seconds later, an errant pass combined with a terrible Robert Hagg pinch gave the Penguins a two-on-one. Jared McCann shot for a rebound and got the perfect one for Brandon Tanev to slam home. It’s another exclamation point on what has surprisingly been a dynamite third line for Pittsburgh. Mark Jankowski would generate another great chance later in the game, only for Carter Hart to turn it aside. Pittsburgh outshot the Flyers 17-2 in the two games when those three were on the ice,. They also generating .93 expected goals for, tied with Guentzel-Crosby-Rodrigues for the most of any Pens line.
So, that was a wild first period, but the Flyers usually struggle in first periods. Things will get better as the game goes on, right? Not exactly. The Penguins didn’t exactly play a stellar game, but it seemed like the Flyers tripped over themselves more often. Errant passes, poor decision making (looking at you, third pair), it was all on full display. And compared to last year’s opening two games (remember the five check?), the Flyers have been moving at a snail’s pace to my eyes. Pittsburgh dominated the second period to the tune of a 10-4 shots advantage and over 70 percent of the expected goals. So how did the Flyers win this game? Simple: goaltending.
In the second, Hart had to make an incredible paddle save on Jake Guentzel and stone Jason Zucker on a breakaway within the frame’s first four minutes. Zucker in particular was all around the puck tonight. Later, he’d get a glove on Crosby’s two-on-one bid. Flyers fans everywhere are still just getting used to how good this kid is. The 2017 Flyers lose this game 7-4. Hart’s had to get out of his composed positionally perfect style a few times so far, diving out in desperation a bit more often. But the results have certainly still been there.
The one thing the Flyers had going for them as the game progressed was that they were still drawing penalties. Pittsburgh power-plays ended prematurely twice because of penalties. Though the Flyers man advantage didn’t look great, they delivered the dagger thanks to a rush right at the end of their sixth PP. An errant pass by Jankowski on an attempted short-handed rush gave the Flyers a chance to counter-attack. Giroux patiently feathered a cross-ice pass for Hayes, who set up Konecny for a carbon copy of the game’s opening score. Hat-trick hero for Travis Konecny, giving the Flyers a commanding 4-2 lead.
The Penguins never pressured much after that. DeSmith went to the bench with about 2:30 to play, but returned before long after Oskar Lindblom deposited the ENG. Somehow, the Flyers weathered the second (and early third) period storm, leading almost the whole way en route to their second win of the 2021 campaign. How good Philadelphia actually is (and can be) will be gauged over time. But if the Flyers hope to be true contenders, they’re going to need to win games even when they’re not firing at all cylinders. If nothing else, they’ve proved they know how to do that so far.
Philadelphia suffered the scare of the season with Sean Couturier going down the tunnel early in the first period. Coots was actually about the only Flyer that didn’t take a devastating check in the early going (though maybe this hit by Jared McCann is the culprit). Couturier was later seen grabbing his right shoulder on the bench before heading off. He did not return and will have an MRI tomorrow. Hopefully it’s not serious; Couturier is arguably Philly’s most important piece.
Pittsburgh’s biggest concern (at least for me) heading into the year is goaltending. Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith have only played 112 combined NHL games this season. I’m on the record saying that they’ll be fine in net, since both at least have good numbers (10.2 combined goals saved above average). But a .710 save percentage is basically the worst possible start for Jarry; it’ll be interesting to see how he responds.
Two games in and Erik Gustafsson is everything I’ve hoped for and feared. His power-play work has been solid; he definitely knows how to get his shot through. On the other hand, his decision making is sus, and he needs to be better at moving the puck, which is supposed to be a strength.
The Flyers are doing something cool off the ice this year. For each game, one front-line worker and their family will be invited to attend. It’s certainly not the same as sold out WFC, but it is a great way to honor our great front-line workers, who have been working so hard over the last 10 months.
Congrats to Jake Voracek on passing Mark Recchi for the 5th most assists (563) in team history (Sam Carchidi).
Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper gave Konecny a shootout on his Instagram story after Konecny finished off his first NHL hat trick.
Good news, everybody – the absolute savage who runs the captions at NBC Sports Philadelphia is back. Here’s what they had to say about Joel Farabee’s hot start on Wednesday.
Most teams will be affected by COVID in some way or form this season, and the Flyers are no exception. Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, who figured to get first licks at playing with Provorov, has missed the first two games due to COVID-19 protocols. After a nightmare 2019-20 season, everybody wants to see Ghost get a crack at bouncing back. Here’s hoping it comes sooner rather than later.
Alright, last thing I forgot from Wednesday – happy belated 24th birthday to Ivan Provorov! That’s newest alternate captain Ivan Provorov, to you. Provy will wear the “A” at home games this year; Jake Voracek and Kevin Hayes will alternate it on the road. Sean Couturier will always have an “A,” and of course Claude Giroux still has the “C.”
Provorov and Giroux have now played 317 consecutive games; only Rod Brind’Amour has a longer streak in Flyers history.
The Flyers reassigned three prospects (forwards Maxim Sushko and Dave Kase, defenseman Linus Hogberg) to the Phantoms Thursday. All three had been on loan to various clubs in Europe. The AHL season starts February 5, so this is probably in preparation for the Phantoms training camp.
2020 was dismal from a sports TV ratings perspective, but 2021 is off to a good start. Wednesday’s Penguins-Flyers season opener is NBCSN’s most watched regular season NHL game ever.
The best play of tonight was a pretty impressive backhand flick of an oversized hat by Gritty after TK’s third goal. It’s the first hatty for a Flyer against the Penguins in the regular season since Jake Voracek’s on February 20, 2013. Sean Couturier had one in the playoffs against the Pens on April 22, 2018.
3rd – Oskar Lindblom (PHI) – Goal (2)
2nd – Carter Hart (PHI) – 2 GA on 2.74 xGA, .939 SV% (31 Saves/33 Shots)
1st – Travis Konecny (PHI) – Hat-Trick (1, 2, 3), Assist (2)
PIT – 1/17, 12 PM vs. WSH (NBC)
PHI – 1/18, 7:30 PM vs. BUF (NBCSN)