Once again, it wasn’t pretty. The Flyers continue to have their moments and struggles as they try to get their legs and execution down at the start of this shortened season.
But on Tuesday night, the Flyers made a much-needed return to the win column, defeating the Devils, 5-3. Much like the game the week before, the last time the Flyers bounced back from a 6-1 defeat, there were moments where the team that dominated the second half of last season showed up. There were also moments that prolonged the struggles that they have had so far.
Here are five takeaways from Tuesday’s Flyers win over the Devils.
1. Hot Start for JVR
It didn’t take long to realize who the best player was on the ice for the Flyers from an offensive standpoint. It’s been quite the start to the season for James van Riemsdyk, who added two more goals to reach five on the young season.
We know that JVR can score in bunches at times, but it seems like the power play just runs through him. In this game, it was two deflections that got him on the board. He’s just parked in his office the entire time and getting good positioning.
But you can also see his confidence level at even strength. Not long after his second goal, the Flyers were really buzzing with energy, and JVR nearly completed the hat trick that quickly. There may be flaws with this team so far this season, but the production they are getting from van Riemsdyk has certainly been a pleasant surprise.
2. Elliott Remains Solid
If van Riemsdyk was the best player on the offensive side, Brian Elliott was the best player overall early in the game. The Devils came out with six of the first seven shots of the game just six minutes in and that really set the tone for the kind of night it was going to be.
The Flyers needed to survive that early surge yet again and continue to get out of their own way. Elliott was strong in those moments, making big saves on Jack Hughes on the power play and stopping Pavel Zacha on a breakaway.
While Elliott was far from perfect – he’ll want the Devils’ first goal and third goal back – he was also the reason the Flyers were able to grab the lead in the first and play most of the game with it. Given the way the team had played Saturday, Carter Hart included, Elliott perhaps gave them the best chance to win going into this game, and it showed on Tuesday.
3. Defensive Zone Struggles Continue
The Flyers defensive zone play is flat-out lazy. So many times, a defenseman finds himself with the puck on his backhand. It’s constantly leading to an icing or a turnover. Far too often, there are players just standing around watching the play. The outlets still need work, though they were better at times in this game, and the puck management was still a huge issue.
The Flyers can look back on these first seven games and feel good about their record for sure. No one can take away the nine points they have in the standings. But these issues they have in their play are damning. You can’t play like this night in and night out and expect to survive on good goaltending or sheer luck.
That’s often what the Flyers are clinging to, and long before Nolan Patrick scored in the third to put the Flyers ahead for good, the Devils hit two posts in the third and had one in the first as well. You’re not going to always get that lucky, and the Flyers have lived on the edge for too much of this season.
4. A Strong Second Period Fades
It wasn’t all bad for the Flyers in these areas. As they started the second period, they got an early power play, took advantage, and the legs were there. The forechecking was strong. The Flyers were starting to be that team that skates circles around the opponent, wins battles and forces quick and poor decisions from the opposition.
This lasted for the first 10 minutes of the period and the Flyers were starting to appear to secure their grasp on this game. Then, it faded. Ivan Provorov took a penalty, which ultimately led him to stop skating on a play and allow the Devils to get the puck in front and score.
That play turned the tide and gave the Devils their energy back. As much as it can’t happen in the moment, the Flyers allowed that to linger for too long, and it wasn’t until they finally did score again just under eight minutes into the third that they had completely weathered the storm and gotten things back on track.
But it could have unraveled so much worse as the strong start to the period faded. The Flyers have it in them to be the team that they were a year ago. We’ve seen brief flashes of it. It is not being sustained and it is not showing up with enough regularity, and that’s the problem.
5. Back in the Win Column
As mentioned above, there is nothing wrong with getting the win and two points, no matter how it comes. That said, there is a sense of lack of satisfaction in this win.
One thing I said on GameNight on Tuesday night leading into the game was that given the recent results – the blown lead on Thursday, the two 6-1 losses in the previous week, and all of the glaring issues that were surfacing – a win may not be completely satisfying. It’s calming for sure, because at the very least, it is not a missed opportunity, but it will not be satisfying until it is a game where the Flyers completely dominate, and even in games they have won by three goals, including a shutout win the previous Tuesday, it hasn’t come without moments of complete survival.
So the Flyers will gladly take the win. They will happily look at the standings and see they are one of nine teams in the league with nine points and one of 10 with four wins entering Wednesday. But they really need to turn around their execution and performance on the ice. Otherwise, those two regulation losses will snowball into a number that is too much to overcome.