Prior to the start of Saturday’s game, it was evident what the Flyers roster indicated. This was very likely the group that will be on the ice on opening night and it was now in the hands of the players to show that they could take care of business against a shorthanded team as the Capitals brought in more of their ‘B’ team.
The Flyers did just that, winning the game, 3-1. But it was more than just the team winning a game for the first time this preseason. It was the players that really stood out and the coming together of a bunch of new faces to show signs that this season could be different in terms of the mood around the team.
Here are five takeaways from the Flyers win over the Capitals.
1. New Guys on the Board
With so many new faces on the roster, the Flyers are going to be expecting production out of them. Three of the newest Flyers all contributed with their first points of the preseason in Saturday’s game.
On the Flyers opening goal, Keith Yandle made a great play at the blue line to keep in a clearing attempt. In fact, it was shot so hard that it bounced off Yandle to stay in the zone and he never touched the puck again. Instead, Claude Giroux went to retrieve it, gave it off to Sean Couturier, and went to the left circle to position himself for the one-timer. A rocket off his stick banked off the far post and in, evening the score at one.
Early in the third period, Rasmus Ristolainen took a shot from the blue line that helped create the Flyers second goal. His shot left a big rebound that Oskar Lindblom was able to corral first. Lindblom awarely centered for a cutting Cam Atkinson, going to the net to knock in his first goal.
Yandle and Atkinson especially are going to be looked at as potential high point guys on the team. Yandle is expected to be quarterbacking the top power-play unit, Atkinson just flat-out has a nose for the net.
2. A Physical Presence
It took only a couple of shifts for Ristolainen to make his presence felt. On multiple occasions in the first period, Ristolainen laid heavy hits along the boards. It was a sign of an element that felt like it had been missing for years with the Flyers.
In the first period alone, Ristolainen finished with four hits. For the game, he had five hits, three shots, one blocked shot and one giveaway. He also again managed to balance out the flaws in his game with positives. There are pretty much always going to be moments with Ristolainen where he’s a little bit out of position or maybe loses an assignment, but the physical element makes him difficult to play against regardless.
Ristolainen wasn’t the only one throwing around the body. Couturier had four hits in the game. Joel Farabee had another three. As a team, they finished with 23.
3. Jones Bounces Back
The first period of Thursday’s game in Boston was not a shining moment for Martin Jones. Two of the goals allowed were not his fault by any means, but a third goal that appeared preventable and the overall makeup of the team in front of him left reason for concern. You can imagine the deja vu feeling when Washington scored first on the power play.
From there, Jones was lights out. There were noticeable differences to his game from Thursday. His tracking looked better. His movements were smooth and confident. He looked poised, especially as he settled into more of a rhythm.
Overall, he made 21 saves on 22 shots in the win, but more importantly, he got an entire game in and looked really good in the process.
4. Defending Teammates
In the first period, Farabee was around the net as a whistle blew and drew the attention of Garnet Hathaway. As Hathaway went after Farabee, in came the rest of his teammates to help, notably Yandle and Ristolainen.
In the third, Hathaway was at it again, attempting a high hit on Ivan Provorov. Provorov managed to avoid it, then fired a left back at Hathaway, leading to a scuffle. In came Derick Brassard to protect.
These are just two examples, but it was an element that appeared to be missing from the Flyers last season. It’s only three preseason games in, and realistically only the first game with the full roster, but you can tell it’s a team coming together quickly.
“I think we’re a tight group and that’s what you want to see out there, and it was fun,” Ristolainen said.
“That is part of being a team here you got to stand up for one another,” Alain Vigneault said. “You got to be smart about it. I think that shorthanded penalty in the third was the right thing to do. You got to find a way to kill those and we did find a way to do it. Good for our group of players to stand up for one another and it's gotta continue.”
5. Frost Shows Improvement
Saturday’s game was also a second chance for Morgan Frost to get on the ice and be out there with a much more veteran lineup. It was probably a combination of getting more ice time right away and playing with more experienced teammates, but Frost looked much more poised, confident, and involved in this game.
While it didn’t equate to anything on the scoresheet, Frost looked more like a player capable of handling the duties down the middle in a middle-six forward line. It’s certainly a step in the right direction for him as the season draws closer, especially after not playing in a game for the better part of a year.