With second-line center Kevin Hayes sidelined because of abdominal surgery, and promising right winger Wade Allison recovering from a high ankle sprain, the Flyers were expected to huff and puff for goals at the start of the season. Their offense figured to have as much life as a Squid Game contestant.
And so, naturally, the Flyers have started the season by going 2-0-1 and scoring a total of 16 goals – their highest three-game total to begin a year since 1983-84, when the mainstays were players like Rick MacLeish, Bobby Clarke, Brian Propp, Bill Barber, Tim Kerr, Ron Sutter, Dave Poulin, Darryl Sittler, Ilkka Sinisalo, and Mark Howe.
This team doesn’t have that kind of scoring depth, but it does seem to have great chemistry, and you have to admire how they have stuck up for one another in the first three games.
Example: Early in the second period of Wednesday’s 6-3 win over Boston, the Bruins’ Nick Foligno charged at goalie Martin Jones and a scrum ensued. And before you could say Dave Schultz, five Flyers crashed toward Foligno, led by Rasmus Ristolainen.
It was a good sign, something we’ve seen frequently in the first three games – and something that was missing last season.
That’s one of the reasons general manager Chuck Fletcher made the biggest summer makeover of a Flyers team in a decade. Quite simply, he wanted the Flyers to be tougher to play against.
So far, so good. The Flyers have outscored their opponents, 16-8, and they have outhit them, 99-80.
“Any team that has success in this league has got that ‘I’ve got your back’ mentality,” coach Alain Vigneault said after a 6-1 win Monday over Seattle, a game in which Nate Thompson fought the Kraken’s Nathan Bastian for going after captain Claude Giroux, and Nick Seeler fired up the crowd by (bravely) getting into a bout with 6-foot-7, 255-pound Jamie Oleksiak.
The FAB line – Joel Farabee, Cam Atkinson, and center Derick Brassard – has been terrific so far. They combined for three goals and three assists in the win over Boston. Fittingly, they were named the three stars of the game.
Early in his career with Columbus, Brassard and Atkinson played together with Columbus for two seasons and developed a good chemistry. They picked up where they left off eight years later, and Farabee has blended in nicely with the duo.
“I’m obviously very comfortable playing with Brass,” said Atkinson, whose shoot-first mentality is just what the Flyers needed. “When I was a rookie for a couple years, he was my centerman and we are obviously best buddies, so we are always talking and always staying positive. You add a guy like Beezer (Farabee), who is obviously very skilled and he can make plays and shoot the puck. … I had a feeling we were going to click.”
Farabee, who has three goals and six points over three games, said his line was playing “simple hockey. We’re not trying to do too much. We’re getting in on the forecheck, and I think it’s creating a lot of turnovers and just using that as offense.”
When you’re gambling on a breakout and “cheating the game, that’s when you tend to give up stuff,” Farabee said. “We’re just trying to play simple. Get it behind the D and go to work.”
Room for improvement
The funny thing is, the Flyers were outplayed in a lot of aspects Wednesday. Boston had a huge territorial advantage and a 40-25 domination in shots.
But the Flyers were opportunistic on their fast-break chances, and, for the second straight game, their goalie outplayed his counterpart. In his Flyers debut, Martin Jones (37 saves) was much better than Boston’s shaky Jeremy Swayman (19 saves).
“They had a lot of shots, but most of them were from the outside,” Jones said, crediting his defense.
Meanwhile, the Flyers took advantage of their odd-man rushes and continued to score at a pace — 5.33 goals per game, tied for second in the NHL entering Thursday — that cannot be sustained. Or can it?
“We just take it day by day,” Atkinson said after scoring a pair of goals. “One thing I love about this team is that we have an older team and everyone knows their role and every guy can contribute on any given night. We have to continue to stay the course and stay even keel and get better every single day.”
If they want to end their four-game homestand with an admirable seven points, they will need to play better Saturday when they face dangerous Florida.
But for now, they can bask in a 2-0-1 start, knowing they defeated gifted and physical Boston in a measuring-stick game. They also know they have plenty of room for improvement. Above all, the Flyers know Fletcher’s offseason moves — newcomers Atkinson, Brassard, Ryan Ellis, and Keith Yandle have been excellent — seem to have jolted the team to attention.