When the final buzzer sounded the last couple of nights, most of you were probably asleep as the Flyers finished the first two games of their western Canada road trip.
Not because the Flyers bored you to your pillows.
Rather, because the games ended around 12:30 a.m., and well, you had to get up early for work, or to get the kids ready for school in the morning.
You missed a pair of stirring victories for a team that is playing with much more structure than at a corresponding point last season.
You missed Carter Hart playing very well in a 5-3 win Wednesday in Edmonton, and Martin Jones playing even better in a 2-1 victory Thursday in Vancouver, homecoming triumphs for both goaltenders.
You missed the Flyers’ penalty kill, which was atrocious last season, continuing its turnaround by going 5-for-5 in Vancouver.
You missed Claude Giroux, who turns 34 in January, playing like he’s 24.
“I’m really happy with what we’ve done so far on this road trip,” coach Alain Vigneault said.
He should be. The Flyers handed explosive Edmonton its first loss after five wins. Twenty-four hours later, the grind-it-out victory over the well-rested Canucks was gratifying because the Flyers were playing on back-to-back nights after traveling.
“We found a way to get the energy and get the two points,” Vigneault said after the first of 17 sets of back-to-back games this season.
The Flyers dominated the first period as they had a 15-4 shots advantage. They gave Vancouver two power plays – and some momentum – as they seemed a step too slow in the second period. They survived that period primarily because of Jones, who stopped all 16 Vancouver shots in the second.
Hart stopped the last 22 shots Wednesday, while Jones turned aside the final 26 shots Thursday.
“We did a good job around the net and I was able to see a lot of shots,” said Jones, a North Vancouver native who is now 7-1-1 in his career at Rogers Arena. “And I thought the PK was big for us again.”
When there were occasional breakdowns, Jones stood tall. One example came when Vancouver had a rare odd-man rush late in the game, but Jones made a save with his mask on Brock Boeser’s left-circle one-timer with 1 minute, 27 seconds remaining.
“I tried to come across to make myself big,” Jones said. “It was kind of a three-on-one there, so I tried not to over-commit too much, and he took a shot.”
“He was an All-Star tonight,” Vigneault said. “He didn’t have a lot of work in the first period. We came out with a lot of energy and we were playing direct, and in the second and third periods there’s no doubt he was a big difference in us getting this win.”
Making the two road victories even more impressive is the fact that the Flyers were without top-pairing defenseman Ryan Ellis, who has missed three straight games because of an undisclosed lower-body injury.
With Ellis out of the lineup, Justin Braun was moved from the third to first pairing, alongside Ivan Provorov. The two played together for most of the second half last season, and the results weren’t always as positive as they have been this year.
Braun is playing a lot more minutes than usual, and he was a combined plus-5 with two assists over the first two games of the trip, which concludes Saturday against sizzling Calgary.
“He’s been awesome,” center Sean Couturier said. “He’s going up against some big matchups and some good lines, and he’s playing some solid hockey. He’s probably frustrating to play against. He’s got a good stick and is always in your face. He’s one of many guys who are stepping up right now in different moments.”
Couturier jump-started the Flyers by taking a perfect cross-ice feed from Travis Konecny and scoring from the right circle 22 seconds after the opening faceoff. (The Flyers are 4-0-1 in games when they have scored first; 0-1 in the other game.) He and Giroux each had two points. Couturier quietly leads the Flyers with nine points, and Giroux has points in all six games and has collected four goals and four assists.
“We came out pretty strong,” Couturier said. “We played a good road game. We did a lot of good things defensively that transitioned into our offense.”
Giroux, perhaps motivated because he is in a contract season, is off to a blistering start. He didn’t collect his fourth goal last season until Game 21.
He’s not doing anything differently, Couturier said. “He’s just always been that competitor and wants to be a big part of the team and make a difference. He does everything he can to be a difference-maker, and right now he’s doing it. He has a hot stick and we’re just going to keep feeding it.”
Even if many fans are sleeping and unable to watch it.