Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Flyers, fans taking turns tormenting each other | Sam Donnellon

"I really believe that people who are in the seats, they want effort. They want compete," coach Dave Hakstol says. "And when they see that, it's not just about the result."

The Flyers' Sean Couturier tries to control the puck with the Coyotes net open.
The Flyers' Sean Couturier tries to control the puck with the Coyotes net open.Read moreELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer

So, Shayne Gostisbehere was asked after the Flyers' 5-4 overtime victory Thursday night over the Arizona Coyotes, who is more schizophrenic these days:

His team?

Or his team's fans?

"I don't know about the fans,'' the defenseman said, smiling as he shook his head. "But …''

But … well, let's just say if you're looking to encapsulate the Flyers' 8-7-1 season in a 60-plus-minute loop, Thursday's overtime victory was the loop.

The Flyers jumped out to the lead that had escaped them at home and in 10 of their first 11 games overall, igniting enthusiasm from an arena barely half-filled.

Then they fell asleep, allowing four consecutive goals — including two when they had a power play — to a Coyotes team that was down to five defensemen and missing its starting goaltender.

And, well, that crowd turned a little hostile.

Then the Flyers switched out goaltender Cal Pickard with Brian Elliott and roared back with three consecutive goals from the likes of Scott Laughton, Dale Weise and, finally, Gostisbehere. And the crowd, which had Bronx-cheered the first save Elliott made, quickly forgave and forgot, its enthusiasm again swelling the building with positive vibes, erupting when Weise tied it with a little more than two minutes left, exploding when Ghost slammed home one of Jake Voracek's trademark, seeing-eye passes at 1:01 of overtime.

"That onus is on us,'' Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said, when asked about that elusive fan support. "Our effort. Our intensity. Our play. You saw what the place was like in the third period. I really believe that people who are in the seats, they want effort. They want [us to] compete. And when they see that, it's not just about the result. They want that gritty …

"I can't believe I just said that.''

Actually, after what was shaping up as a fifth home loss in seven home games, even Gritty was in danger of falling out of favor with fans. Falling down on the ice, firing into your own teammates – it's cute when an oversized, fuzzy, orange thing is doing it. But when it's the team playing for points?

Well, it ain't so funny now, is it?

The crowd had seen this movie before, and it smacked of a team more fragile than resilient. Even amid a first period in which they emerged with a 2-1 lead, the Flyers had rolled up eight giveaways – three by their once-dependable main man on defense, Ivan Provorov. Twice, Provorov fed a Coyote in the slot with an errant clearing pass, the second producing a mad scramble that ultimately resulted in Arizona's first goal.

"We come off to a great start, we're putting pucks in deep, we're pressuring, we're coming in five-man units, and then you see them score that goal, it just deflates us,'' said Weise, whose continued spirited play has been a key ingredient to this team's improved mettle. "You could see it. It deflates the building. It deflates the team.

"That's something we've got to continue to work on. There's no reason to take a step back there. There's tons of hockey left.''

Just a day before, Claude Giroux tried to get his arms around why this team has looked so much better on the road than at home. "When the other team scores the first goal or it's not going well, I think we start trying a little harder and we stop thinking about our game," he said. "We start pressing. We start changing what we're doing because we want to tie the game right away. We have to let the game come to us.''

They didn't Thursday, and the two shorthanded goals the Coyotes scored 24 seconds apart early in the second period were practically a byproduct. No, after the good start they had been prioritizing during a successful Western swing, the Flyers went flat for a spell after Arizona cut their 2-0 lead in half with a power-play goal 8:30 into the initial period.

"Credit to us for rebounding,'' Weise said. "But that took way too long for us to get back into it.''

Said Hakstol: "This team has grown a little bit. We saw that over the West Coast trip. Rather than guys looking at their toes sitting on the bench, guys were more [ticked] off about what just happened, and we had a little bit of pushback in the second period. We righted the ship. … We were able to get back into the dressing room after two and really get a focus. And Scotty's goal was huge for us. That lit up the crowd, and that pushed us in the right direction.''

Us against the crowd. Us and the crowd. The Flyers on this night didn't lean on their fans to help them get back into the game. They pulled the fans back into it.

"They want that lunch-pail mentality,'' Hakstol said. "And when we go and play our tails off, they appreciate it. I hope tonight was a step in the right direction. Now we've got to do it every day.''