There were plenty of reasons for the Flyers to start off a little slow and rusty. It was their first game of a four-game West coast trip off an 11-day pause that included multiple players on the COVID list. The team flew out to Seattle on Tuesday after just their second full-team practice since the pause.
So when they came out of the first period on Wednesday in a 1-1 tie after some uninspiring hockey, at least there was still 40 minutes ahead to get into a rhythm. The next 20 minutes were just as uninspiring and downright sloppy.
But again in the third period, as they have many times before, they were in a position to grab two points. A quick response and another overtime winner ensured they did come away with just that, as their points streak hits six games with a 5-0-1 record.
Here are five takeaways from Wednesday’s 3-2 win over the Kraken.
1. Making History
It didn’t take long for the Flyers to get on the board in the first period. Just 4:44 into the game and 15 seconds into a power play, James van Riemsdyk snapped a quick shot from the slot on goal and scored his sixth goal of the season. It also had some history attached to it.
Claude Giroux had the primary assist, recording his 600th career assist and 884th career point to move past Bill Barber for second all-time in Flyers history.
It was another milestone for Giroux, who continues to climb up the charts in Flyers lore. In addition to being second all-time in points, Giroux is second in games played and second in assists. He’s also the franchise’s all-time leader in power-play points and overtime goals. Add in that Giroux is rapidly closing in on becoming the second Flyer to ever reach 900 points and 1,000 games, and his longevity and consistent contributions continue to show.
2. Showing Some Rust
If the first period was more about shaking off some rust and just coming out on the other side of a long break, the Flyers succeeded. They were locked in a 1-1 game and despite a 12-6 deficit in shots, they had survived the early push on the road.
The second period somehow went worse. They were heavily out-shot again, trailing 23-11 after two periods. They struggled to gain possession. They were getting dominated in all areas of the game. They couldn’t connect on passes, make clean breakouts, or get any sustained pressure. It was a horrific middle period.
I said on 97.3 ESPN earlier this week that perhaps facing a team like Seattle, who has really struggled all season, could be a benefit to the Flyers. Perhaps it wouldn’t take your best game or prettiest showing to secure a win.
But for two periods, this wasn’t even close to winning hockey even when you’re not at your best. This felt like a preseason game, still going through the process of trying to find yourself, still trying to get into a rhythm. At that time of the season, mistakes and struggles are a little more acceptable than this performance was as the calendar is about to flip to 2022.
3. Jonesing for a Win
One reason this was still a game at all was because of Martin Jones. This was not supposed to be Jones’ game. Interim head coach Mike Yeo had said the plan was to have Carter Hart start the first game back and have Jones go against his former team in San Jose.
But plans, especially during this challenging time with COVID, change rapidly. With Hart unavailable for the trip, Jones was getting the first call. Lucky for the Flyers, there was virtually no rust in his game.
He was sharp from the start. Sure, the Kraken got on the board on the power play, but entering the third period, Jones was already up to 22 saves and climbing as the final period progressed.
Jones was fortunate to get a goaltender interference call in his favor after a coach’s challenge, then let in a tough goal with 5:28 left only to have his teammates come right back with the equalizer. If there was anyone in Orange and Black that deserved the win, it was Jones.
Now the question becomes what Jones’ status is for Thursday. Yeo wouldn’t commit to a goalie beyond Wednesday’s game, even following the win, but it is a possibility that Jones will get the call again. But it’s certainly up for consideration after a 34-save performance.
4. Provorov’s Slick OT Move
Now to the overtime goal that lifted the Flyers. Sure, they had already secured a point in a sixth straight game, but they had an opportunity to finish the job.
This game really seemed destined for overtime. Better yet, this seemed exactly like the type of game the Flyers pull out in overtime because of the 3-on-3 and increased space on the ice.
Enter Ivan Provorov. He’s won a couple of previous games in overtime – how can anyone forget the spectacular individual effort on his coast-to-coast OT winner in Montreal a couple seasons ago? – and this one certainly featured a similar vibe.
Provorov took a lead pass from Kevin Hayes and had a step on forward Marcus Johansson. He started to the left and got Philipp Grubauer to bite on the move, leaving him with an open net as he directed a rolling puck out of the reach of Grubauer’s outstretched left pad.
5. Picking Up Points
Don’t look now, but the Flyers are continuing to pile up the points. Following a 10th straight loss against New Jersey back on Dec. 8, just two days after firing head coach Alain Vigneault, the Flyers were sitting at 20 points in the standings, tied for seventh-lowest in the NHL.
While they have only moved up a few spots in the standings overall, they have suddenly strung together 11 of 12 points in their last six games during this points streak. A quick look at the standings shows the Flyers just two points out of a wildcard spot.
The vision of the Flyers just a couple of points out of the playoff picture is certainly skewed. There are two teams behind them, within two points, with plenty of games in hand to surpass them. The performance on the ice also isn’t always matching up to the result.
But right now, in the closing days of December and at the 30-game mark of the season, there is still plenty of road left ahead, and for the Flyers to be back in this position already after a 10-game losing streak does at least show some character.
They had done exactly what they needed to in these last few weeks: embraced the opportunity to put the losing streak behind them against some teams experiencing similar or worse struggles. The Flyers have wins over teams ranked 32nd, 30th, 28th, and 25th in the NHL. They also took a shootout loss to the 31st-ranked team. But their win over 7th-ranked Vegas to open this whole stretch does off-set that a bit.
Still left on this road trip, a pair of teams that are just two points ahead in the standings and ranked 17th and 18th respectively. If the trend continues and the points streak progresses, some more favorable results in California might just move the Flyers back into a playoff spot upon their return to Philadelphia in another week’s time.