Captain Claude Giroux said it would have been a great homestand with a victory Saturday night, but it turned into just an “OK” one with a 4-2 loss to undefeated Florida.
Still, there were far more positives than negatives in a season-opening 2-1-1 homestand.
The Flyers averaged 4.5 goals per game. Their power play, though victimized by a Keith Yandle turnover that led to the winning shorthanded goal against Florida, did a lot of good things and was 4 for 11 (36.4%).
And perhaps most importantly, Carter Hart, coming off a disastrous season, got off to a solid start. He has a 2.64 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage in three games, and he looks much more confident than last season.
In addition, Cam Atkinson (4 goals), who had points in all four games, has given the Flyers a much-needed dependable scorer. Joel Farabee looks like he’s going to take his game to another level, Travis Konecny seems revitalized, and Claude Giroux appears as if he is getting better with age.
The homestand, which included a 6-3 win over talented Boston, ended with a loss that was much more competitive than the final score might suggest. The Panthers snapped a 2-2 tie with a shorthanded goal with 12 minutes, 7 seconds left, then iced the victory with a late empty-netter.
The Flyers were also missing two key injured players — top-pairing defenseman Ryan Ellis, and second-line center Kevin Hayes — and they may have made a difference against 5-0 Florida.
“We competed well and played a good game,” Giroux said after the Flyers’ first regulation loss of the young season. “It was a pretty good test for us to see where we stand. They’re obviously rolling pretty good now, but that game was there for us to win.”
Need more discipline
The penalty kill is still a work in progress, and it made strides against the Panthers by killing 6 of 7 infractions. But the Flyers were undisciplined, giving the visitors way too many power plays.
It’s difficult finding a rhythm with the four lines when things are frequently disrupted by a penalty kill.
“It kind of messes up roles on the lines,” Atkinson, who had a shorthanded goal, said of spending so much time killing penalties, “and you know guys get out of sync and whatnot.”
“I think we’re a team that can roll the lines 5 on 5 and create our offense, so it was tough there, with all the penalties,” said Travis Sanheim, who is still searching for chemistry with his new defensive partner, Rasmus Ristolainen. “Kind of took away from our game.”
Now the Flyers head to western Canada, where it’s never been easy for them, and play three games in four nights against Edmonton, Vancouver, and Calgary, three teams with a combined 10-3-2 record.
Staying out of the box will be imperative in Wednesday’s trip-opening matchup against Edmonton. A big reason for the Oilers’ 5-0 start is their scary-good power play, which is clicking at a ridiculous 47.1%.
Connor McDavid already has seven power-play points, tops in the NHL, and Leon Draisaitl has four points in those situations.
Overall, McDavid has 13 points and Draisaitl has 11, and they are averaging 2.60 and 2.20 points per game, respectively.
A year ago, the Flyers started the season a misleading 7-2-1. Misleading, because they were outplayed and outshot in several of their wins and were fortunate to have such a strong record. But their up-and-down play eventually caught up with them and they missed the playoffs for the fifth time in nine seasons.
This season, they started with a flat 5-4 shootout loss to Vancouver, but have played better since then. If they can get off to, say, a 5-3-2 start in the first 10 games, they will be in a pretty good spot because Hayes is expected to return to the lineup in Game 11 on Nov. 10 against visiting Toronto, and he will give the lines much more balance.
Initially, when coach Alain Vigneault saw his team would open the season with four straight home games, he said he “wasn’t crazy” about it. “But I thought about it and the practice time we would be able to get, the training camp, a whole week in between our last exhibition game and our first game, I really didn’t mind it,” he said. “I think we got a lot accomplished as a team as far as getting on the same page.”
Now, with their first road trip of the season on the horizon, they are about to find out more about their team, about to see if they can contain McDavid, Draisaitl, and Co.
Avoiding the penalty box would be a good start.