The Flyers and their fans couldn’t be happier with the result of this season’s home opener. With the excitement and energy surrounding the players’ introductions and the raw emotion during the hanging of the Eastern Conference Champions banner, this evening had all the makings of success for the Flyers.
It started early, as the orange and the black swarmed the Colorado Avalanche and created several early chances off of turnovers and simple hard work.
Despite falling down a man on a penalty midway through the first, the Flyers continued to establish themselves offensively. On the first shift of the penalty kill, Mike Richards found himself stopped on a breakaway by Avalanche goalie Craig Anderson. Later on, Richards tipped a puck up to Giroux who went in alone on Anderson and left him stunned as he roofed the puck to open the scoring – his second shorthanded goal of the season.
That wasn’t enough for them, though, as Jeff Carter takes a dangerous blue line drop pass for his own and sprints down the ice during the waning seconds of a Mike Richards penalty. Technically at even strength, Carter dips his shoulder and roofs a backhand over almost as if copying Giroux.
Two puck handling miscues by the Colorado defensemen, two goals for the Philadelphia PK unit.
The lead didn’t last, as if the opening ceremony’s energy had started to wear off and the Avalanche gained some momentum in the contest. After nearly doubling their shots and scoring chances in the first, the Flyers could do nothing more than simply match Colorado in the second.
The only goal scored in the period went to the Avalanche’s Brandon Yip. Halfway through the middle frame – following a few strong shifts by the Colorado offense – John-Michael Liles forced the puck from the stick of Scott Hartnell and bounced it up to Yip who planted it in the back of the net off a turnaround shot in the slot.
After failing to convert on three power plays in a row from the end of the 1st into the 2nd, the Flyers seemed to have shot themselves in the foot as Milan Hejduk – barely thirty seconds into the final period – picks up his first goal of the season off of a shot through traffic that trickled past the pads of rookie goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.
With the game tied, the Flyers started to show the urgency needed to put the Avalanche out of it and take the win for themselves. With a flurry of chances following the opening minutes and a penalty kill, the Flyers began to reestablish control.
It was just a matter of time until Philadelphia’s offense broke through once again. On a makeshift 3-on-2 chance, Richards throws the puck across the low slot to Jeff Carter who only has the opportunity to throw the puck at the net blindly. Coming across to cover, Anderson’s legs were open and the puck bounced through for the late game lead.
Peter Laviolette called a timeout immediately after the goal to settle his team down and make sure they recognize what still needs to be done for the win to be theirs. Following a pair of penalties to make it 4-on-4, Blair Betts and Darroll Powe – the Flyers’ penalty killing duo – teamed up to seal the deal as Betts chipped the puck out to a streaking Powe who slid it into the empty net.
The Flyers were aggressive throughout, swarming the Colorado puck carriers and creating turnovers that they ultimately turned into goals. The same team defense – a mobile unit homing in on the opponent any time they touch the puck – that kept the Avalanche from generating the scoring chances they’d need for a win was the one that produced the chances that built the Flyers win.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
Special Teams: In an interesting twist, reminiscent of their 2009 season that saw a spike in shorthanded goals, the Flyers offense contributed most during the penalty kills. This shouldn’t come as a complete surprise, as the Flyers pride themselves on defense, and its the team’s defensive ability that forces the turnovers and breakaways at the heart of these man-down tallies.
On the other hand, the power play went 0-4 and at times seemed sloppier than the even strength play. This once again comes back to the Flyers’ mentality of defense-first and capitalizing on opponent’s mistakes rather than simply forcing chances themselves. It’s not something they can’t do – simply something they’d rather not do.
Jeff Carter: After an impressive showing in the preseason – one that brought back memories of the Jeff Carter that challenged Ovechkin for the scoring title in 2009 – Carter seemed somewhat silent during the first two games of the season.
He opened up in this first game at home as he notched a pair of goals on a team-leading 7 shots. If he keeps this scoring touch going and finds a rhythm, expect an exponentially more potent and dangerous Flyers offense.
Claude Giroux: Likely to be a candidate for one of these spots night in and night out, Giroux has the vision, hands, and pure playmaking ability to be a dominant force on the ice. In the first three games of the season, he’s proved this by not only making plays even strength, but also positioning himself to take advantage of power play miscues as he picks up his second shorthanded goal of the season to open the scoring.
Chris Pronger: Pronger’s return marks a significant step forward in the size, depth, and shutdown capabilities of the Flyers’ defense. While not quite in top shape yet, having missed the preseason and first two games due to offseason knee surgery, Pronger knows what he needs to do and will waste no time getting to perfect game shape.