As far as first impressions go, the new-look Flyers were a mixed bag during a 5-4 shootout loss Friday to Vancouver in their season opener at the almost-full Wells Fargo Center, where fans alternated between jumping out of their seats with joy and delivering boos to their team that could be heard on South Street.
Their penalty kill allowed two goals. Their goalie, Carter Hart, was up and down. Their speed was lacking after the opening period.
On the flip side, the Flyers showed great resilience by getting late goals from Travis Konecny and Claude Giroux to send the game into overtime.
As former Flyers coach Bill Barber was fond of saying: “Cherish the point.”
The fact they were able to steal a point was admirable. The fact they took their foot off the gas after one period was not.
“In the second, we had a couple penalties and we were playing on our heels a little bit,” Giroux said after taking eight shots, scoring the tying goal with 1 minute, 12 seconds remaining in regulation, and winning 11 of 14 faceoffs. “But we responded at the end. Overall, we did a lot of good things and a lot of bad things. All the little things that we did bad, we just have to correct them and keep moving forward.”
“In the first period, we were playing fast, we were moving our legs, we were moving the puck well, and we were on them and they didn’t have any time to make any plays,” said defenseman Ivan Provorov, who played 29:23, had four blocked shots and was plus-2. “I think in the second period, we didn’t come out the same way.”
They were outplayed in both the second and third periods, and the Canucks dominated the overtime.
“You’ve got to be able to play 60 minutes the same way,” Provorov said. ”That was our biggest problem last year, and we’re definitely going to work on that.”
Vancouver had already played a game heading into Friday, and you wondered if the Flyers would come out rusty, but it was the home team that was sharper, more physical, and dominating in the opening period.
Maybe they were inspired because they were playing in front of a huge Wells Fargo crowd for the first time in two seasons.
“We had a lot of cooped-up energy waiting for this,” said Konecny, whose six-on-four goal cut the deficit to 4-3 with 2:17 left in regulation. “And on every hit or shot …. it wasn’t just the bench, the whole crowd was into it.”
“Pretty electric,” new right winger Cam Atkinson said.
They stood and applauded after a first period in which the Flyers looked like the team that was dominant down the stretch in the 2019-20 season.
They booed as the Flyers fell into a 4-2 hole and looked like last season’s team as Hart allowed two iffy goals — coach Alain Vigneault called them “unlucky” — and the penalty kill struggled.
‘Found a way’
“I think what took the momentum away from us was the penalties we took,” Vigneault said, pointing to three infractions that took place far from the net. “… But we found a way to come back, made some plays when the game was on the line.”
Plays that came suddenly and unexpectedly, considering how well Vancouver — a team that will have to huff and puff to make the playoffs — was playing.
The Canucks, who couldn’t get out of their zone because of the Flyers’ ferocious forechecking in the opening period, won lots of one-on-one battles below the goal line in the second and third periods. They were controlling the third period and had a 14-6 shots advantage in the stanza when Hart was pulled for an extra skater with about three minutes to go.
“It was about as good a period you can play in a hockey game on the road,” Vancouver left winger J.T. Miller said. “It’s so easy to sit back. I thought we took it to them the whole period.”
Except in the waning minutes when the Flyers capitalized on a six-on-four power play, and on Giroux’s six-on-five goal, which he scored after taking a perfect off-the-end-boards pass from Sean Couturier. Hart was pulled for an extra attacker on both goals.
“We stuck with it and got a couple bounces to go our way,” said Hart, who allowed four second-period goals, settled down in the third period, and was brilliant in the overtime as he made six saves, one on Elias Pettersson’s breakaway.
It wasn’t the start they wanted, but the Flyers will be a work in progress for a while as they integrate several new players following their biggest offseason makeover in a decade. They are also biding time while second-line center Kevin Hayes continues rehabbing from abdominal surgery before his probable return Nov. 10.
“Chemistry with a lot of the new players isn’t going to come overnight,” Giroux said. “When you play with new players, you see a little bit of how they play and that hesitation that maybe we have in our game now is going to go away. We’ve just got to keep building here.”