By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor
To this point in the season, the one thing the Flyers had done well, even in a pair of losses, was remain competitive in games. Saturday’s game was their first that would be classified as a clunker.
Following a rather lackluster first period for both sides, a late surge in the opening period carried over for the Flames, who dominated the game from there for a 4-0 victory over the Flyers.
Here are five takeaways from Saturday’s game.
1. Showing Some Hart
The Flyers came out of the first period in a scoreless game and the second period down by a goal. The reason was Carter Hart.
This start will not help Hart by the numbers. The late goal for Johnny Gaudreau turned his night into another three goals allowed and the 32 saves on 35 shots results in another night with a .914 save percentage. But make no mistake about it, Hart was standing on his head for most of the night and kept the game close.
Certainly through seven games, hold for Hart’s rough debut against Vancouver at home, the Flyers goalies have answered the bell. In several cases, they have been the primary reason that the team has succeeded. This had the chance to be another one of those games, thanks to Hart, it just wasn’t meant to be.
“He gave us a chance,” head coach Alain Vigneault said. “Without him, there’s obviously no game. He was the best player on the ice for us in this game, gave us a chance, and we weren’t able to follow up.”
2. “We Didn’t Help Him at All”
Most of the first period was played in the neutral zone, so the lack of shots for the Flyers in the early going wasn’t as concerning when Calgary wasn’t exactly dominating either. A late surge in the first period increased Calgary’s total to eight shots in the opening 20 minutes, several of them coming in the final two minutes. The Flyers had four shots in the opening 20 minutes.
Then for the better part of the second period, the Flyers stayed on four shots in the game. Calgary’s total rapidly climbed, first doubling their first-period total, then approaching 20 shots for the game, then going to 24 by period’s end. The Flyers managed to get five shots on goal down the stretch, but essentially nothing of note in a forgettable period of hockey.
While the Flyers did have 11 shots in the final period, the Flames actually topped them again with 12, keeping the foot on the gas with a 1-0 lead that eventually ballooned to 4-0 by game’s end.
If Hart was the reason the game was even close to begin with, it was the rest of the team’s sluggish play that was the reason for the lack of opportunities and pucks on net.
“The team puts an effort like that in front of Hartsy when realistically he’s the only reason it ended up the score that it was,” Travis Konecny said. “He made some unbelievable saves. Obviously, we try to help him as much as we can, but tonight we didn’t help him at all. He kept us in the game and it’s just too bad we couldn’t capitalize for him.”
3. Penalties Prove Costly
As much as the Flames were dominating this game, it was still scoreless 29 minutes into the game. It took a Calgary power play to finally break through.
Sean Monahan got his first goal of the season on a tip-in to make it 1-0 at 9:07 of the period. That was Calgary’s third power play to that point in the game. They took two more in the game, and on the fifth one, the Flames struck again.
That penalty was a hooking call on Zack MacEwen, taken in the offensive zone. It marked the 14th power play against the Flyers on the road trip, at least four in each game.
“We’re gonna have to get that under control,” Vigneault said. “There’s some penalties that we’re getting that I’m shaking my head at, that I’m not quite sure that they were penalties. But there are some that we obviously deserve and tonight the last two that we took 200 feet from our net in the offensive zone were deserved.”
4. Can’t Douse the Flames
Last season wasn’t just rough for the Flyers. The Flames had a rough go as well, finishing with a 26-27-3 record, firing their coach mid-season, and finishing things up rather lifelessly as well. That all appears to have changed this season.
For one, this is Darryl Sutter’s first training camp with the group, so this is really the chance you have to install systems and create a philosophy. It’s clearly working.
The season didn’t start in any special way for the Flames. They lost to Edmonton, 5-2, to open the season, then dropped a 3-2 decision to the Anaheim Ducks in overtime in their second game. But since then, a five-game road trip has proved to be a bonding experience and lifted their confidence. They defeated Detroit, Washington, the New York Rangers, New Jersey, and Pittsburgh to go a perfect 5-0-0 on the road trip. They never trailed in a game once.
That run continued on Saturday as they claimed a fifth straight win against a Metropolitan Division team and sixth straight win overall. For the third time on the streak, Jacob Markstrom recorded a shutout.
“You’ve got to give credit where credit is due,” Vigneault said. “They’re playing an extremely tight-checking hockey game where there’s not a lot of room on the ice. When a team plays that way, you’ve got to make plays offensively. Your execution has got to be at its best. Obviously, they took that away from us tonight. They made it very difficult. When a team is playing that well, it makes it very challenging for the opposition and they were the better team tonight.”
5. Still a Successful Trip
After wins in Edmonton and Vancouver to open the road trip, was this a sour note to end things in Western Canada? Sure, absolutely. A 5-1-1 start and claiming all six points on the road trip would have certainly made a statement coming in.
But let’s remember a few things before pressing the panic button. The Flyers have played their way to a 4-2-1 record through seven games to close out October. They have been competitive in every game going into the third period on the scoreboard, and really Saturday’s game was the first that didn’t feel equally as competitive on the ice.
The Flyers have also played a challenging schedule. Vancouver is an improved team from the offseason. The Flyers got three points in their two games against them. The Flyers faced Edmonton and Florida when both were still undefeated. They lost to Florida in a close game and defeated Edmonton. They have downed Boston and Seattle on their way to a solid start. And as mentioned above, it’s not like Calgary was any pushover of a team.
It’s an 82-game schedule. Some nights, you just don’t have it and your competition takes you to school. It’s how you respond that makes the difference.
Sure, playing through two periods and generating nine shots on goal is terrible. It sure seemed like everyone owned that. But it’s the first clunker in seven games. And they have played their way to this 4-2-1 record without Kevin Hayes in the lineup at all and the last four games without Ryan Ellis, a top-pairing defenseman. That’s pretty good when you consider all that.
They have won in different styles already this season, and should get a spell when they take on the Arizona Coyotes in a game on Tuesday night. Following the effort and lack of chances generated in this game, hopefully a motivated team comes out to put some of the overreaction to one bad loss to bed.