With a shortened training camp and no exhibition games, there will be rust, no doubt, in the first few weeks of the NHL season.
The special teams didn’t get much work in camp, so they figure to be especially out of sync.
The Flyers didn’t get the memo.
Their power play, under scrutiny in the offseason because of its awful production in last year’s playoffs, scored on its first two chances Wednesday, triggering an entertaining 6-3 opening-night win over the Pittsburgh Penguins at the almost-empty Wells Fargo Center.
Joel Farabee had a career-high four points, including two assists on the power play, to key the win. Nolan Patrick, who missed last year with a migraine disorder, scored his first goal since March 9, 2019, and newcomer Eric Gustafsson set up two power-play goals.
“I feel a lot more comfortable this year,” said Farabee, 20, who gained 9 pounds from last season, when he had 21 points in 52 games as a rookie. “I just happened to get lucky tonight with some bounces. Overall, I thought our team play was really good. We have a lot to build off of that.”
Michael Raffl converted a slick, behind-the-end-line pass from Scott Laughton with 14:23 left in regulation to give the Flyers a 4-3 lead. Oskar Lindblom and Kevin Hayes scored on rebounds 20 seconds apart to increase the lead to 6-3 with less than eight minutes to go.
In franchise history, the Flyers are 26-19-8 in season openers. It was their first time they had won a season opener at the Wells Fargo Center since 2003, a 2-0 victory over Toronto.
With 16:21 left in the second period, Carter Hart made an ill-advised clear that was intercepted by (who else?) Sidney Crosby in front of the net, and the Flyers’ tormentor scored a power-play goal to tie the score at 2-2. It gave Crosby 106 points, including 44 goals, in 71 career games against the Flyers.
The Penguins controlled the second period, but Farabee put the Flyers ahead, 3-2, by scoring a pretty goal with 66 seconds remaining in the stanza.
Farabee, 20, got behind defenseman Mike Matheson, took a feed from Hayes near the end line, and made a clever maneuver out front and beat goalie Tristan Jarry.
A crowd of four people — one frontline workers’ family was allowed in the arena — and a national television audience viewed the Flyers’ fifth straight opening-game win.
Other than the frontline workers’ program that will permit one family to attend, fans are not allowed in the Wells Fargo for the time being because of the coronavirus.
The Flyers’ new-look second power-play unit got goals from James van Riemsdyk (tip-in) and Patrick (deflection off his body) in the final 4:39 of the opening period to put them ahead, 2-1. Patrick, playing in his first game in 650 days, scored with 7.8 seconds left in the first.
Farabee and Gustafsson had assists on both goals. Gustafsson took point drives on the tallies.
“Adding Gus is huge. He’s really good on the power play,” said Farabee, whose team scored at least six goals in an opener for just the fourth time in franchise history. “It gave us a lot of momentum tonight and we’re really excited with the people who are on it and the ability they have.”
Farabee wasn’t a full-time power-play participant last year, and Gustafsson was a free-agent signee. Jake Voracek, is now on the second unit (switching with Hayes, now on the top unit), as is Patrick, who missed all of last season.
The Flyers hope the two early power-play goals set a tone. They clicked at an anemic 7.7% (4-for-52) in last year’s postseason and went 0-for-13 in the second round against the Islanders.
“I liked the fact we shot the puck and had some net presence on the power play,” coach Alain Vigneault said after the victory. “That enabled us to get both of those goals. It was a good start for our group.”
After Pittsburgh tied the game at 3-3 in the third, the Flyers pulled away by scoring the last three goals.
“When you stick to the game plan and keep grinding down teams, things usually go your way,” said Hayes, who had a goal and an assist. “I think all the players in that room tonight stuck to the process and we got rewarded in the third.”
Hayes’ line, with Claude Giroux and Farabee, was particularly effective.