After three weeks of wallowing in the depths of a self-made pit thanks to a 10-game skid, the Flyers are on their way toward making the daunting climb out.
With their 6-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers have now won three straight games for the first time this season. The team’s scoring woes that once plagued them seemingly evaporated — from Oct. 28 to Dec. 5, the Flyers averaged just 1.65 goals per game. Now, over the last five games, the Flyers have scored an average of four goals per game.
“We wanted to have a really good home game,” interim coach Mike Yeo said. “We haven’t had one of those in a long time, too. So for our fans, for our guys to play the way that they did in front of our crowd, that was big.”
Winger Cam Atkinson led the offensive charge against the Devils, pulling off his first hat trick as a Flyer by scoring at four-on-four, four-on-five (shorthanded), and five-on-five. Captain Claude Giroux registered an assist on one of Atkinson’s goals with a picture-perfect, right-on-the-tape pass to his linemate.
Some of the Flyers’ most significant offensive contributions, however, came from defensemen. For the first time as a Flyer, defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen notched a multipoint game with assists on both of the Flyers’ first-period goals, one by defenseman Travis Sanheim and the other by Atkinson. Fellow defenseman Justin Braun also finished the night with a goal and Ivan Provorov was plus-3.
Atkinson gets active
After starting the season on a hot streak by scoring six goals in the Flyers’ first five games, Atkinson cooled off considerably and registered only one goal in 16 games from Oct. 28 to Dec. 1. However, Atkinson’s three-goal performance against the Devils put a bow on his offensive resurgence over the last six games (five goals, one assist). Atkinson’s first goal came in the first period at four-on-four when he scored on Devils goalie Mackenzie Blackwood’s doorstep off a feed from Ristolainen to put the Flyers up 2-0.
In the second period during a critical penalty kill with the Flyers holding on to a 3-1 lead, Atkinson scored a shorthanded goal on a two-on-one rush. The goal deflated the Devils’ confidence, but Atkinson managed to push the knife in further. Less than two minutes later, Devils defenseman Ty Smith turned the puck over in own zone to Atkinson. He passed the puck ahead to winger Oskar Lindblom, who scored to put the Flyers up, 5-1. Atkinson thoroughly sealed the victory in the third period with his third goal of the night, a tap-in from the low slot.
“Usually when someone scores a hat trick, you better win that game,” Atkinson said. “It means you’re doing the right things. But I think, overall, our team played really solid tonight. Another stepping stone in the right direction.”
In the third period of the last meeting between the Flyers and the Devils, Sanheim had an opportunity to prevent a shutout with the puck on his stick in the offensive zone. He drove to the net and put a low shot on Blackwood, who came up with the save. Sanheim lamented after the game that he should have tried to shoot high on the 6-foot-4 goaltender.
Less than a week later, Sanheim got his revenge on Blackwood. Halfway through the first period, Sanheim recovered the puck along the boards after Ristolainen’s shot on Blackwood went wide. Sanheim maneuvered around a couple of Devils and skated toward the crease from the left faceoff circle, firing a wrist shot on net and scoring five-hole on Blackwood. It turns out Sanheim didn’t need to shoot high on Blackwood.
“I’ve had a few chances this year,” Sanheim said. “Happy to finally get this first one.”
The goal marked Sanheim’s first of the season. The last time Sanheim scored? Last season — April 27, 2021 against the Devils with Blackwood in goal.
Hart stays hot
In his last start against the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday, goalie Carter Hart dazzled by denying 41 of 44 shots, which tied a career high in saves made and shots faced in a game. While the Devils didn’t challenge Hart nearly as much as the Golden Knights did, Hart put together a strong performance in net, only allowing one goal on 27 shots.
One of Hart’s most impressive saves of the night came early in the second period on the Devils’ power play. From the left faceoff circle, center Jack Hughes passed the puck to winger Andreas Johnsson, who camped out at the left post. Johnsson passed the puck through the crease to winger Jesper Bratt, but Hart covered Bratt’s attempt to slide the puck over the line. In the first two meetings this season between the Devils and Flyers, Bratt recorded two goals and three assists. However, in their third meeting, the Flyers held Bratt to three shots on goal.
Frost exits due to COVID-19 protocols
Roughly six minutes into the first period, Flyers forward Morgan Frost headed back to the locker room and did not return to action. Following the game, Yeo said that Frost had to be removed due to COVID-19 protocols. Yeo added that the team would have “more on his status” on Wednesday morning.
This week, the NHL has seen a rash of players and other club personnel enter COVID-19 protocols. The Calgary Flames are currently dealing with an outbreak, prompting the league to postpone their games through at least Thursday. On Tuesday, players including the Islanders’ Mathew Barzal, the Bruins’ Brad Marchand, and the Canucks’ Luke Schenn entered the protocols. Additionally, Tuesday’s game between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Minnesota Wild was postponed due to an outbreak on the Hurricanes.
“We’re aware of what’s going on around the league,” Yeo said, “and everyone’s health is obviously at the top of our list of what’s most important, as well as making sure that we take the right precautions here.”
The Flyers head north across the border for their first meeting of the season against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday at 7 p.m. (NBC Sports Philadelphia+).