It’s official. As of January 13, 2020 the National Hockey League resumed regular season play for the first time since March 12, 2020. The league has come back with an abridged 56 game season, with teams playing in home and away blocks. All this news regarding the NHL means one big thing: the Philadelphia Flyers are back in town and ready to rumble. After a tough Game 7 shutout to the New York Islanders in August, the rebuilt and ready-to-go Bullies were placed fifth for the likelihood of a Stanley Cup Final appearance by Vegas odds. After a painful home loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in their last Stanley Cup appearance, perhaps this is the season that the Flyers come out on top. Here’s a recap of the Flyers first ten games, which have landed them at 7-2-1 (15 points) and atop the Eastern Division.
Philadelphia Flyers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins: January 13 & January 15
The promising season started off with a bang at home against the Flyers’ historic arch-rival Pittsburgh Penguins. The two teams last faced off in an exhibition matchup in Toronto prior to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, where, thanks to Scott Laughton, the Flyers were able to win in overtime. Their first meetings in 2021, however, involved no overtime. The Flyers were able to beat the Penguins thoroughly despite an early 1-0 deficit. Joel Farabee, a youngster often playing fourth line in the 2019-2020 season, shined, with the Flyers’ fourth goal and assists on goals by JvR, Nolan Patrick (who returned full-time after a migraine condition last season), and Kevin Hayes. Oskar Lindblom also scored an important goal in this matchup, being his first regular season goal since he was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma in December of 2019. The Flyers bested the Penguins 6-3.
In their second meetings two days later, the Flyers showed further signs of promise, but also some cracks. The first and second periods were full of defensive errors, and Carter Hart, playing in net his second game in a row, was forced to make some stellar saves, such as an intense stick save on the other side of the net. Despite the difficulty defending pushes into the zone, Phil Meyers and Justin Braun were able to break up uneven pushes on net, greatly helping the cause. Despite allowing two goals in 30 seconds from Sidney Crosby and Brandon Tanev, the Flyers didn’t slow down their momentum. Travis Konecny recorded a hat trick, and with goals from Ivan Provorov and Oskar Lindblom, the Flyers were able to win 5-2, going 2-0 to start, with a +6 point differential to their name.
Philadelphia Flyers vs. Buffalo Sabres: January 18 & January 19
The promising start for the season turned into a nervous breakdown four days later in a showdown against the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres, a historically bad team which has missed the playoffs nine years in a row, steam-rolled into Philadelphia. Curtis Lazar (not to be confused with Allen “Lizard King” Lazard, but looked like a Lizard King in his own right) and Sam Reinhart each potted two for the Sabres. In the 2nd, Carter Hart was called for a tripping penalty on an obvious goalie poke check, which noticeably killed momentum for the Flyers. The Sabres found the back of the net on the power play, and scored two more in the 2nd shooting against Hart. The Flyers defense struggled immensely, notably Erik Gustafsson, who was unable to keep control of the puck in the defensive zone and otherwise. Hart was pulled for Brian Elliott after his fourth allowance. Seeing his first action of the season, Elliott let one goal through, and after a Nick Aube-Kubel goal to bring the score to 5-1, Aube-Kubel pulled a double-minor for high-sticking. Resulting in another power play goal and a result of 6-1.
After a tough outing the night before, the Flyers remained on home ice for a second showdown, this time with Brain Elliott (who was already scheduled to start) in net. The second outing versus the Sabres went much better, and as many would have expected the previous night’s game to have gone. Brian Elliott recorded his first shutout of the season against an offensively struggling Sabres, and the Flyers, after nearly two periods of back and forth, were able to find the back of the net thanks to Travis Konecny. Sabres goaltender Carter Hutton played a much less convincing game, struggling to save on his glove side. The Flyers were able to best the Sabres 3-0, bringing their record to a still-promising 3-1.
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Uncertainty surrounded the Flyers performance capabilities after the troublesome 6-1 loss suffered at the hands of the Sabres, though it was somewhat rectified the next night. The Flyers took their talents on the road to TD Garden in chilly Boston, Massachusetts to throw down against a Chara-less Boston Bruins. The Bruins have been a problem to get through, finishing with the highest regular season record of 2019-2020 and snapping a potential 10-game win streak for the Flyers in their last meeting in Philadelphia. The Bruins’ 5 penalties helped the Flyers keep the game tied through regulation, with the first goal by Travis Konecny and the tying goal by JvR scored on the power play. Largely a game of traded goals, the two teams went scoreless in 3v3 overtime to end in a shootout. On Boston’s third attempt on Carter Hart, Jake Debrusk was able to knock one in, with the game in the hands of long-time C-wearer Claude Giroux. This is where we learn two important lessons: 1) Claude Giroux, despite nearly being the longest serving Captain in Flyers history, has not scored a goal yet, and 2) why in the world would you shoot the puck five-hole on Tuukka Rask. The Flyers were painfully defeated 5-4 in a shootout.
Both teams were back on the ice two nights later for another crack at it. This went, for lack of a better word, poorly. After Kevin Hayes tied the game at 1-1 in response to a 1st period goal by “Pasta” Bergeron, the Flyers defense, and Carter Hart, fell apart. Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, Boston’s talented spewer of chirps, each tallied 2 goals and an assist. Boston scored 3 times on the power play, and brought the Flyers to their knees. The game was marked off by footage of Carter Hart banging his stick against the goal post, an action reminiscent of what every Flyers fan felt after watching two 6-1 losses in six days. The Flyers exited this nightmare at 3-2-1, riding in the middle of the standings.
After the aforementioned tough outings in Boston, the Flyers migrated to the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. The New Jersey Devils entered the 2021 season with the 2nd youngest roster in the NHL, only beaten by the New York Rangers. This spelled good news for Philadelphia, as the Rangers had a poor start to the season. The Devils could not do much better... could they? JvR made noise in their first matchup, scoring two goals on the power play in the 1st period and the beginning of the 2nd, to bring the Flyers up 2-0. The Devils were able to tie the game thanks to Michael MacLeod and Travis Zajac , but fell at the hands of the Flyers’ young forwards. Nolan Patrick and opening night hero Joel Farabee each found the back of the net against goalie Scott Wedgewood, placing the Flyers at a comfortable 4-2 lead in the 3rd period. Wedgewood was pulled for a sixth skater late in the 3rd period, and, by stroke of luck, Ivan Provorov managed to clear a puck straight into the Devils’ empty net from way downtown. Pavel Zacha put a late puck in net for the Devils, but the game was too far gone for the Devils, who fell victim to JvR’s second 2-goal game and a solid performance by the Flyers, who won 5-3.
After a very convincing first game against the Devils, the Flyers came back onto the Prudential Center ice looking for another win to cleanse the taste of their experience in Boston. Defenseman Damon Severson was able to net one against Carter Hart to start the Devils off with a 1-0 lead, one that didn’t last long. Nate Prosser, a Minnesota veteran recently acquired by the Flyers from St. Louis, took his first shot as a Flyer and scored his first goal, tying the game just two minutes later. After a 2nd period dotted with nothing but a Too Many Men penalty, the Flyers began a strong offensive push in the 3rd. Michael Raffl was able to score his second of the season, and Claude Giroux, a relatively unknown name in the goal-scoring category, was able to put his first goal of the season into the net against Scott Wedgewood. The Flyers bested the Devils 3-1, and left with a satisfactory performance and questions regarding who Scott Wedgewood is. The Flyers left Newark at 5-2-1, inching to the top of the Eastern division.
The Flyers had a rough series loss to the New York Islanders in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and it became very possible to get revenge when the Islanders shipped down to Philadelphia for the last weekend of January. The Islanders were missing key components from their playoff run, like Devon Toews, and did not have a great record, sitting at 3-4. Jakub Voracek was able to strike early against Semyon Varlamov, and Kevin Hayes followed him to end the 1st period 2-0. After Jordan Eberle and Scott Mayfield tied the game in the 2nd period, the teams played a strong back and forth through the end of regulation. Despite the Flyers committing four of five regulation time penalties, they did not let in a single power play goal. A fast-paced 3v3 overtime led to a pass from Shayne Gostisbehere to Scott Laughton, who sauced Islanders defenders to put a wrister into the back of the net, winning the game 3-2 in overtime. The Flyers won all three of their games in the playoff series in overtime, this marked 4 OT victories in a row, and 12 of the last 28.
The teams’ second showdown was an exciting match of wit, showcasing a fast-paced style of play. Embarrassingly, the Flyers could not convert early on 1:17 of a 2-man advantage PECO Power Play. The Islanders managed to kill the double penalty efficiently, but that didn’t stop the Flyers. Joel Farabee was able to score late in the 1st, his third on the season. Nick Leddy answered back early in the 2nd, but Joel Farabee proceeded to jam in two more for a hat trick, the first of his career, by the end of the 2nd period. Josh Bailey and Matt Barzal were able to bail the Islers out in the 3rd period, bringing the game to - you guessed it - another 3v3 overtime throwdown. Barzal was penalized for high sticking, allowing for the Flyers to bring a fourth man onto the ice. Kevin Hayes was able to drill a shot in on Ilya Sorokin from the middle of the Islanders zone, bringing the game to a close, and raising the Flyers win streak to 4. The Flyers closed out their second straight series sweep at a record of 7-2-1, first in the Eastern division and tied for first in the league, opposed only by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Flyers have built up a lot of expectations this season and last. Carter Hart had one of the highest save percentages in the 2020 playoffs, and the young goaltender has been the topic of discussion for some time, but can he be consistent? Justin Braun and Erik Gustafsson can’t seem to get their sticks on the puck, particularly when it is passed off to the blue line on the offensive. Claude Giroux, despite being a fan-favorite and the longest serving Philadelphia Flyers captain, has not performed as well as expectations may want him to. Despite worries surrounding the roster right now, there are rays of sunshine such as the impactful return of Shayne Gostisbehere, the potential seen in Samuel Morin’s return to the roster, Ivan Provorov’s immaculate play, Jakub Voracek’s assist capabilities, and James van Reimsdyk’s dominance on the power play. There is a long road ahead for the Philadelphia Flyers, but with fine-tuning and a restoration of team chemistry, the big dog teams in the near future such as the Bruins (once more) and the Washington Capitals will go down at the hands of our Broad Street Bullies.