As the NHL has worked toward a return, the plan allowed for one exhibition game that ultimately meant nothing to the team’s results. And while the result of Tuesday’s exhibition game didn’t matter, the win for the Flyers was icing on the cake.
Beyond the Flyers 3-2 victory in the exhibition game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday afternoon, it was just nice to have hockey back. For the players, it was just nice to get into a competitive game.
"It’s been a long time for both clubs that had some game action,” Carter Hart said. “I think it was just nice to get things rolling and just feel what it’s like to be in a game. For us, it’s a different environment. Something we’re not used to. No fans. We’re all in this bubble. It’s something that’s different. We’ll adjust. This game was good for us to see what it’s going to be like. I thought we played well tonight.
“It was good to see what it’s going to be like for sure,” Shayne Gostisbehere said. “It’s definitely a little different, but I think it was good to get at least one game in there before everything starts. See what the atmosphere’s going to be like.
“I thought the pace was pretty good for an exhibition,” Sean Couturier said. “Not as much emotions as there usually is between these two teams. I’m sure once playoffs get going, it will ramp up pretty quick.”
On the surface, it was a solid game for the Flyers. They kept a simple approach for the majority of the game. The Penguins capitalized first off a three-on-two that was created against the top line and ended with a quick passing play between two of Pittsburgh’s skill players, but the Flyers largely shut down that group for the rest of the game.
Couturier got the Flyers on the board midway through the first on a delayed penalty call and Kevin Hayes gave the Flyers the lead in the final minute of the period off a turnover by Evgeni Malkin.
“TK and Scotty had a good forecheck,” Hayes said. “They were on them. I think Malkin tried to send it through the middle. I guessed and guessed at the right time. I picked it off and luckily it went in.”
Malkin got better as the game progressed, helping to set up the tying goal for the Penguins with under four minutes to go in the third by Jason Zucker. Sidney Crosby, who had been out of practice for the Penguins for several days leading up to the team’s travel for Toronto, was relatively invisible for most of the game. The Flyers help the future Hall-of-Fame forward without a shot.
For most of the game, this was a sound defensive effort from the Flyers, which was especially encouraging with the group that was in the lineup. Shayne Gostisbehere was playing his first game since having surgery on his other knee. Gostisbehere said this is the best he has felt physically in years, and while there were moments of shaking off the rust for everybody, his mobility did look good throughout the game. Mark Friedman had a very sound game defensively and Egor Zamula, the 20-year-old prospect in his first pro game, certainly didn’t look out of place.
While Pittsburgh turned up the intensity as the game progressed — the Penguins doubled their shot total in the third period with a total of 12 in the final period and controlled most of overtime — the Flyers stood their ground and didn’t allow many quality chances. Alain Vigneault said it was to be expected in the first game in months for the players.
“My expectations, when I analyze the game quickly and haven’t looked at it on video yet, I really like our first period. I thought we executed quickly and made some high percentage plays with the puck,” Vigneault said. “I thought as the game went on, our play didn’t slip a little bit, but wasn’t as effective. Some guys, the game conditioning, the game tempo, the game momentum, is these next three games I believe is going to help our group. I am happy we got this first game out of the way. It was a typical September, early October game. Players are looking for their game shape, their game tempo. I think we’re going to move in the right direction here.”
There were moments when the Flyers looked like the team they were at the time of the pause. The top line worked effectively in a brief 6-on-5 situation that led to the equalizer in the first with Claude Giroux setting up Couturier in the slot. The overtime winner for Scott Laughton, a nice rising shot that went just under the crossbar, was set up with an excellent lead pass from Travis Konecny.
It was certainly encouraging to see both goalies get some quality work in. Hart got the start, a great sign after missing a couple of days of practice last week, and stopped 11 of 12 shots faced in two periods, only allowing the goal to Conor Sheary off the rush. Brian Elliott entered for the third and overtime and stopped 13 of 14 shots faced, including several quality chances.
So while the game was more important for the Flyers to simply get a feel of being back on the ice, the end result is certainly nice too. After all, the Penguins get to start a five-game series next and the Flyers have three more games to really figure a lot of things out and get ready for the first round. That all continues for the Flyers on Sunday afternoon when they start Round Robin play against the Boston Bruins.