The Flyers have something to prove.
The team’s mission to deem their 25-23-8 finish last season a fluke became the focus of the new-look squad, so much so that the “something to prove” mantra became a part of the team’s branding.
However, in their 5-4 shootout loss to the Canucks on Friday, the Flyers showed they have some more proving to do.
The first period showed flashes of their 2019-20 season, when the Flyers finished sixth league-wide in goals(232). They dominated possession, peppering 13 shots on goalie Thatcher Demko and pulling ahead 1-0 early. It seemed like the Flyers had shocked the Canucks, who only managed to put five shots on net in the opening period.
However, some of the Flyers’ biggest flaws of the 2020-21 season reappeared in the second period when the team allowed two power-play goals and goalie Carter Hart let in four overall. While a dramatic comeback late in the third evened the score 4-4, they couldn’t find the back of the net in overtime and fell in a shootout. The defeat was the Flyers’ first season-opening loss in six seasons.
“We started the game on time,” head coach Alain Vigneault said. “Really liked the energy and our execution in the first period. I think what took a little bit of the momentum away from us was the penalties that we took tonight.”
Hart hot and cold
In his first start of the regular season, goaltender Carter Hart looked to move on from his poor 2020-21 finish. Hart wasn’t tested early in the night against the Canucks, but in the second period, he struggled to keep the puck out of his net.
The most alarming goal allowed came at 17:07 in the second period when Elias Pettersson’s shot sat on the goal line and Hart couldn’t find the puck lodged beneath his skate. Winger J.T. Miller poked the puck out from beneath Hart and into the net, putting the Canucks up 4-2. The timing of the goal, too, proved deflating — winger Cam Atkinson had just pulled the Flyers within a goal five minutes prior.
Hart did, however, have a short memory. He dazzled in overtime, making multiple saves on Pettersson and stopping all six Canucks shots. He singlehandedly kept the Flyers in the game, who only managed two shots on goal in the overtime period.
“You take those two unfortunate breaks, and his game’s pretty good,” Vigneault said. “His game’s excellent 3-on-3. He gave us a chance. That’s what you want from your goalie.”
» READ MORE: In Carter Hart the Flyers (still) trust
Penalty, not killed
Among the nightmares from last season that the Flyers would like to leave behind was their poor penalty killing. The club finished next-to-last in penalty killing (73.05 percent).
This offseason, general manager Chuck Fletcher brought in pieces to help the Flyers bolster their special teams units, including Ryan Ellis, Keith Yandle, and Atkinson. The early returns, however, were not stellar against the Canucks.
Early in the second period, Travis Konecny was called for high sticking. Pettersson scored less than a minute into their man advantage with Ellis, Nate Thompson, Sean Couturier, and Ivan Provorov on the ice to put the Canucks up 2-1.
The Flyers went on the kill again nearly five minutes later, and three-quarters of the way through their second shorthanded stint of the night, they were caught with too many men on the ice. The Canucks capitalized on the Flyers’ sloppy special teams, as winger Alex Chiasson jammed in a shot from Miller. In total, the Flyers killed two of four Vancouver power plays.
“Everyone was pretty excited for the home opener and sometimes your emotions get the best of you,” Atkinson said of the penalties. “On the flip side, I think those penalties, we have to kill for the guys. So, myself included, I think we have to do a better job at helping each other out.”
Farabee follows up
Last season, the breakout of winger Joel Farabee was one of the lone bright spots to an otherwise disappointing Flyers season. He led the team in goals with 20 and earned a new contract in the offseason.
He registered the first goal of the season early in the first period. Just as the Flyers’ man-advantage expired, Ellis sent the puck from the point to Farabee, who was positioned at the top of the right face-off circle. Farabee then fired a one-timer toward Demko, the puck deflecting off defenseman Tucker Poolman and into the net.
“We have a lot of new guys, just trying to get that chemistry going,” Farabee said. “I thought this past week of practice, our power play was really moving the puck around so it was really nice to get one there.”
The Flyers move on to the second game of their four-game homestand on Monday against the expansion Seattle Kraken at 7 p.m. (NBC Sports Philadelphia). Led by former Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol, the Kraken are 1-1-0. With defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen day-to-day with an upper-body injury, Monday could mark his Flyers debut if he’s cleared to play.