Many Positives as Opening Night Victory Well Worth the Wait for New-Look Flyers

By David Strehle
NHL H
ot Stove Managing Editor

There were so many changes to the team for the upcoming season, you just knew the Philadelphia Flyers were chomping at the bit to get things started in their season-opener in Boston tonight.  But they would have to wait for over half an hour as the reigning champion Bruins held a banner-raising ceremony prior to the opening faceoff.

It wasn’t normal, we had fourty minutes to kill off so guys were kind of getting warmed up a little bit more, trying not to get cold,” said Claude Giroux after the game.  ”Guys were on the bike and stretching.  We all knew they won the Cup so it wasn’t a surprise for us we were just focused on the game.”

Winger Jaromir Jagr said he thought it might have hurt the Bruins.  ”Well for them I think it’s exciting, but on the side I think it’s going to make them tired a little bit because they have to stand thirty minutes and wait for the ceremony,” #68 noted.

After an understandably slow Philadelphia start in which Boston carried play and picked up the game’s first goal on a Brad Marchand power play marker, the Flyers gradually began to take control of the game.

When Nathan Horton went to the box for slashing Matt Read late in the opening frame, the Philadelphia power play unit that was so hot in exhibition games got a chance to show what they can do in games that really count.

Giroux scores in first period. (Photo by Elsa / Getty Images)

They didn’t waste the opportunity, as the dynamic duo of Jagr and Giroux fittingly combined on the Flyers first goal of the season.  Jagr carried the puck through center ice along the left wing boards and spotted Giroux breaking up the middle, then hit him with a perfect lead pass.  In a move reminiscent of one he made on Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury last year on opening night, Giroux faked to the backhand, then stuffed a forehand past Boston netminder Tim Thomas to tie the score at 1-1 with just 50 seconds left in the first.  ”I think that he (Jagr) saw that I had speed,” said Giroux of the pass that sent him in on Thomas.  ”I made the inside move and I was able to beat that defenseman and take it to the net.”

The assist was Jagr’s 1,600th NHL point, and he did not look out of place in his first game back since playing in the KHL for the past three seasons.

Just as it looked like the teams would head into the locker room tied, Philadelphia would grab the lead in the period’s final ticks.  Jakub Voracek, who was part of the Jeff Carter trade with Columbus, picked up the puck in the slot, wheeled and fired a shot past Thomas with just three seconds left in the first.

The goal would prove to be the game-winner.

There were many positives for the Flyers in their first look with all the new faces.

  • The chemistry between Giroux and Jagr was once again amazing.  While the pair clicking so effortlessly in preseason was impressive, it was still just the exhibition season.  To see them able to continue to be dominant with linemate James van Riemsdyk against a Boston team deep in defensemen was a welcome sight for the Flyers.  Each game looks to bring new ways for Giroux and Jagr to come up with truly creative offensive flash.
  • The play of goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov.  After being beaten by a Marchand backhander in close on a power play midway through the first period, “Super Flyer” shut the door the rest of the way.   He didn’t face many shots over the first two periods, but really had to hold the fort in the third when Boston outshot the Flyers 11-4.  Many of his 22 saves were of the difficult variety, highlighted by a spectacular glove save on Marchand when it appeared he had his second of the night with a short-side backhander ticketed for the top corner.  ”I just waited and hoped he hit me in the pad or with the puck in the glove,” Bryzgalov said, modestly.  ”And he did it, he put the puck in the glove. It was lucky.”  Giroux liked what he saw from his new netminder.  ”I mean he made a couple of saves where a couple of guys looked at each other on the bench and said ‘wow, that was amazing’,” the crafty center observed.
  • Sean Couturier was a bit of a surprise making the opening night roster, but there he was, on the ice in the final minute with his club up by just a goal.  That was a huge testament as to just how much Peter Laviolette thinks of the 18-year-old, and that kind of trust should go a long way in developing Couturier’s confidence.  He ended the night with 14:04 of ice time, which included 4:34 of penalty-killing time, second only to Max Talbot among Philadelphia forwards.
  • The play of Voracek.  He looked very comfortable early on in the preseason and made several jaw-dropping passes, but as the exhibition season wore on, the less Voracek was involved in the offense.  He did not score a goal in the preseason, so getting one right off the bat on opening night is an excellent way to start the year.
  • The play of the team’s older defensemen.  Chris Pronger only played in one preseason contest, so it was curious to keep an eye on his ice time tonight.  As has been the case in the past, he led all Flyers in TOI with 24:34.  The captain blocked five shots, recorded two shots on goal, and picked up an assist on Giroux’s goal.  Kimmo Timonen was equally impressive in his 22:29 of ice time, blocking three shots.  Perhaps his biggest contribution of the night was one blocked shot with Bryzgalov down and out, when Horton appeared to have an open side of the net before Timonen got his stick on the puck.

There were a couple of things that the club will need to work on, as Laviolette said.  ”Parts of the game looked really good and there were parts we can look to improve on,” said the coach.  ”It’s always easier to show things to improve on after you win.  We’ve got lots of things we can look at.”

The first ones that come to mind are:

  • Faceoffs.  The Flyers won just 16-48 faceoff draws for a miserable 33% success rate.  This isn’t what you wanted to see from a club that just allowed faceoff guru Blair Betts to walk away via the waiver wire to the Montreal Canadiens yesterday.  Danny Briere’s 42.9% (6-of-14) led the team, who will have to improve.  Particularly taxing was Talbot’s numbers (3-of-8 for 27.3%), as he was the one who was supposed to make Betts so expendable.
  • Bad penalties.  With Philly in control of play and pushing the pace late in the second period, Briere took a really bad tripping penalty on Rich Peverley near the defensive blueline.  Undisciplined play took its toll on the team in the latter stages of last season, and Briere’s transgression started a parade to the sin bin.  Of the seven minors taken over the rest of the game, five were by the Flyers – including two by Wayne Simmonds.

But the good far outweighed the bad, and Giroux liked what he saw from the new players.  ”It’s a new team and like I said it was pretty exciting to see everybody working hard and everybody working together.  The attitude was great out there.”

That is a big aspect for the Flyers, especially after how tense the air in the locker room was late last year.  And this early in the season.  With so many new faces.

It was a big win for the club, one that was definitely worth the wait.

Taking a Flyer:  The mysterious stay of defenseman Matt Walker in Philadelphia continues.  After clearing waivers on Wednesday and being kept with the big club, we were led to believe that he would be in the lineup in Boston, paired with Braydon Coburn.  But as the morning skate came and went with no sign of Walker, it was apparent he would not be playing.  And he didn’t.  Laviolette went with six defensemen, with Andreas Lilja filling the last spot over Walker.  There is no word of any injury.  Walker, who missed most of last season with a slew of ailments, came to camp in much better shape and looked to have a spot.  Stay tuned, because this should get real good over the next few days.


If you have any comments or questions, you can email the author at dstrehle@nhlhotstove.com.  You can also follow him on Twitter – @David_Strehle