If the first game of the season is often a first impression, this was a first impression in a multi-act play.
The Flyers’ first act couldn’t have gone any better. It was flat-out dominant at times. The second was shades of the season just past. Most of the third was a similar energy to that dismal season a year ago – just rather lifeless overall. Then came the rally, another frantic dash to the finish that came complete with a bank shot by the captain.
While the Flyers didn’t win the game, you certainly sensed the new energy with so many new faces. But you also got another sign of how chemistry may be instantaneous among teammates off the ice, but can take some time on it. It’s only one game, and there’s no reason to overreact to anything that happened until the patterns persist.
Here are five takeaways from the Flyers’ 5-4 shootout loss to the Canucks.
1. Carter Hart
The Flyers had a really strong first period, one that we will dive into more in a moment. By out-shooting the Canucks, 14-5, in the opening 20 minutes, that meant Carter Hart was relatively limited in his work. That said, with shots coming few and far between, he looked good to start.
Then came the second period. A four-goal frame for the Canucks changed the game completely.
The first goal came at 2:36. Vasily Podkolzin was able to walk in and pick his spot. It’s a familiar spot that goes to show the book is out on Hart. A rising shot to the short side, over the glove hand. Now, Podkolzin can certainly shoot it, so it makes it a difficult save nonetheless, but it’s more one that you would like to see Hart make because he is able to square up to it.
The next goal came 1:31 later. It was the first stroke of tough luck that Hart had in this game. Elias Pettersson took a shot that went wide off the endboards, then popped right back to the net and banked in off of Hart’s skate.
“That puck just kind of bounced back pretty quick, didn’t have enough time to move my leg out of the way and it just goes off of my skate and in. That’s the game of hockey. You’re going to get a lot of bounces that don’t go your way.”
At 9:36 of the period, another goal, this time one that Hart didn’t have near as much of a chance to stop. In fact, he actually did make a great save in the process. It’s a backdoor play from J.T. Miller to Alex Chiasson that Hart slides across to stop. As the puck sits in front of him, Travis Sanheim tries to clear and knocks it right off of Chiasson and past the netminder.
Then came perhaps the strangest goal of the night. It’s a rather routine play, a chip up the boards that should result in a battle or a harmless shot to the net. Instead, Pettersson throws a shot toward the net that catches Hart off-guard. You can see him leaning, trying desperately to locate the puck. It turns out it was wedged under his skate and Miller goes to the net to put it in.
Hart isn’t alone in sharing the blame on that goal, but it’s certainly one that shouldn’t go in.
The good news for Hart is that in the third period, he faced a higher shot volume and didn’t allow another goal, which did allow the Flyers the chance to tie. When the Flyers did and forced overtime, Hart was stellar up until the shootout. All in all, Hart finished with 35 saves on 39 shots, but the numbers a decent debut even with four goals allowed. But there’s a lot of work to be done going forward, especially when so much of what the Flyers will do this season hinges on his success.
2. A Flying Start
How was that for a first impression? The Flyers came out literally flying to start the game. The energy was high and, boy, did they have the legs.
There was some early physicality and you could just sense the steady nature of the game from many of the newcomers in that opening 20 minutes. It was exactly the kind of start they needed to introduce what could possibly be a new era, yet very reminiscent of the team that last played in front of a packed building.
This was the team that made it very difficult to get out of your own zone. This was the team that would come at you in waves with tenacious forechecking. This was the team that would wear you down over the course of the game. And they were doing all of those things to Vancouver in the early going.
If nothing else, you now know this team is capable of controlling the play, and they essentially did it right away from the drop of the puck. They desperately need to have starts like that to avoid situations like they faced later in the game. But at least a foundation was set here. Clean up the other stuff we saw later in the game and focus on playing as close to the style of hockey on display in the first period, and you’ve got something here.
3. Penalty Kill Struggles
Well, coming into the regular season, the Flyers penalty kill was a whopping 12-for-20 on the preseason. Not very good by the numbers and only forgivable by games where less than a fully-optimal lineup dressed. Now that the regular season is here, there are really no excuses.
The Flyers penalty kill still needs a massive amount of work. Sure, they had moments, like Nate Thompson’s shorthanded breakaway started by a Cam Atkinson takeaway, but those were just too few and far between. What’s more, the Flyers allowed another two power-play goals in this game.
It didn’t help matters that some of the penalties taken in the game were completely avoidable. Vancouver had four power plays in the game, including 35 seconds of a 5-on-3 where they did cash in. The two penalties that created the two-man advantage were a delay of game penalty on Ivan Provorov and a bench minor for too many men on the ice.
Certainly, staying out of the box is something that can help the Flyers out in this area. But they will get involved in physical games throughout the season and there are sure to be games where the penalty kill is called upon to make a difference. The first impression on this area is unchanged from the preseason. It’s a liability to the team until they turn things around in their favor.
4. Firing Up the Fans
For most of the third period, the Flyers didn’t seem to have any answers. It was as clean a period as Vancouver could play, right down to maintaining the better of the possession. But with 2:24 to go, an opportunity opened up. A slashing penalty on Oliver Ekman-Larsson put the Flyers on the power play with the goalie pulled.
At 6-on-4, the Flyers made quick work of things with Travis Konecny getting the goal in just seven seconds. That woke the building up to the possibility that the Flyers could, in fact, mount the late rally with 2:17 still to go.
It took 65 seconds for them to do so, as they got Hart back out of the net and executed a play that Claude Giroux finished off with a bank shot off the head of Thatcher Demko. Giroux called for the puck from the side of the net, as Sean Couturier got the message and banked a pass off the endboard to him. Giroux said afterwards that the puck happened to sit flat, and rather than continue with the set play and passing to the front of the net, he just fired.
At that moment, a crowd that had waited some 18 months to erupt finally came unglued. It was a new game with 1:12 to go in the third period, and despite all of the struggles the Flyers had, they had a chance to win the game.
5. Take the Point
It’s not really all that surprising that the Flyers had their moments in this game, good and bad. The new energy from so many new faces was going to lead to some moments with pure jump and adrenaline. There were also too many areas of concern to clean up to see them all fixed and in pristine shape at the start of a season.
That said, in a third period where the Flyers didn’t appear to have much of a push, they did find a way to even things up and force overtime. In October, you will always take whatever point you can get early on.
Things weren’t going to click instantly in a game setting or be completely fixed from last season – not with all of the extended practice time, not with the preseason, not with a clean slate. It’s going to take time to see what this team will truly be. If that is the playoff team they have said for the last few days, every point matters in that quest.