By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor
In the blink of an eye, the Flyers went from sweating out a close game against the Pittsburgh Penguins to in total control. With just under eight minutes to play, the Flyers put their claim on a season-opening win that was storybook in so many ways.
There were returning players who certainly made their triumphant return. There were standout performances from young players. There were contributions across the board. Even in a game that was far from perfect, the Flyers showcased what their potential could be.
Here are 5 takeaways from Wednesday’s season-opening Flyers win against the Penguins.
1. Patty’s Back
Welcome back, Nolan Patrick. Yes, he scored a goal in Sunday’s scrimmage, but you just knew that first one back in a regular-season game was going to be special.
For a while, we didn’t even know it was really his. Replay showed that an Erik Gustafsson shot had deflected off of him, but the scoring wasn’t changed until later in the intermission between the first and second period.
For his first game action in nearly two years, Patrick looked solid all things considered. Sure, he was a minus-2 and had some moments where everything wasn’t perfectly executed or crisp, and that’s okay. He’s only going to get better with more time.
Perhaps the most important thing is that he showed in his first game back that he can contribute and potentially be an internal addition this year.
2. Oskar Strong
It was also a homecoming for Oskar Lindblom, and it produced this great quote from Flyers head coach Alain Vigneualt.
“I would say though this: my one disappointment in tonight’s game is that Oskar played his first game at Wells Fargo since December 2019 and he did not get a chance to play it in front of Flyers fans giving him the great cheer and love that he deserves after coming back and battling cancer,” Vigneault said. “I thought of that going in. I talked to Oskar a little bit about it after the game. It would have been phenomenal to play this game tonight, Oskar back with this place full of fans and first time he stepped on the ice, he was the starting lineup, I’m sure he would have gotten the cheer that he deserves.”
He may not have gotten all that, but he did get a hard-earned goal that, like Patrick’s, wasn’t completely determined to be his right away. In fact, it may have gone completely unnoticed if not for Travis Konecny, who said postgame that his rebound chance that eventually ended up in the net hit Lindblom in the head on the way in.
Lindblom was indeed credited with the goal, and how great a story it is to see the two biggest storylines for this season – the return of both Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom – come complete with goals for each in their first game back. It feels like it could be only the beginning for both.
3. Farabee’s Buzzing
Patrick and Lindblom are the great storylines, but pinning too much on them in terms of expectations after missing so much time seems a bit unfair. It was simply great to have them back on the ice and you could see how their presence resonated throughout the rest of the lineup.
But if you want to talk about expectations and taking a big step, turn your attention to the forward with the new number. Joel Farabee began his second season with an outstanding performance, as Kevin Hayes called it, a career night. He’s not kidding.
Farabee quickly picked up two assists on the power play in the first period. Then he closed the second period with his first goal of the season. Finally, he helped set up Hayes for the sixth goal to cap off a four-point game, easily eclipsing his previous career-high of two points.
Farabee has a lot of breakout potential this season. He knows what it takes to play in this league now that he’s no longer a rookie. He dedicated himself to preparing in a different way this offseason, to adding more strength and muscle, and you can’t help but notice that he looks bigger on the ice.
It can only help him be a better player as the season goes on. We saw the signs of potential even in his rookie year, and it looks like even more of that potential could come to fruition.
4. Lineup Depth
Even outside the two power-play goals in the first, both scored by players who are on the third line, the other three lines got on the board at even strength.
The second line of Farabee, Hayes and Claude Giroux was the best for the Flyers in the game. In a first period where they struggled to generate a lot, that line seemed to find a way to maintain possession in the offensive zone and create some chances. They carried that through the remainder of the game and contributed on the lone goal of the second period and the final goal of the third period.
The top line of Lindblom, Konecny and Sean Couturier wasn’t at its best, but picked things up as the game went on. They too finally cashed in for a goal in the third, as Couturier drove and got the puck to the net, allowing Lindblom and Konecny to dig after it. Lindblom actually did tremendous work to keep the puck alive, kicking at it before it made its way back to Konecny.
The game-winning goal was a product of great work by the fourth line. Michael Raffl starts and finishes the play, creating the turnover in the defensive zone and getting the puck ahead to Scott Laughton. Laughton picks up speed and motors around John Marino. Nicolas Aube-Kubel makes a play at the puck but doesn’t connect, but Laughton alertly takes control and hits a trailing Raffl at the front of the net. This is the potential of the fourth line with this kind of talent on it.
All four lines had their moments and were on display in this game. The Flyers may not get consistency in every game from every line, but it shows just how deep they are up front.
5. Early Signs of Life for Power Play
The Flyers had three power plays in the game, two of them coming in the first period. The top power play unit got some good possession time, but couldn’t really make anything happen in their time on the ice. The second unit, however, cashed in twice in short order.
Gustafsson is the newcomer to the group, and his presence on the power play stood out right away. Two of his shots found the net, deflecting each time. It also seemed like he and Farabee had some good chemistry, with Farabee playing on the left side along the wall and Gustafsson out top.
That allowed the Flyers to send traffic to the net. In both cases, the goals were scored on deflections from different spots. James van Riemsdyk was parked in front of the net, directly taking the goalie’s eyes. Patrick was out in the slot and tipped the puck as it traveled through.
This seems to be the strategy of the Flyers power play, at least for now. The goal is to funnel pucks to the net and get traffic to take the goalie’s eyes. It may lead to a goal like it did twice on Wednesday night. It could create a rebound that provides a chance for somebody in front. It could also force opposing penalty kills to cover the area around the net and leave somebody open for a long-range shot.
Certainly, the power play that had struggled so much in the playoffs was off to a good start. Now, they need to build on it.