The Washington Capitals came to town on Saturday night for the Philadelphia Flyers home opener, and the Flyers gave them a good old fashioned Philadelphia welcome.
The Flyers scored early and often to the tune of an eventual 8-2 final score over the reigning Presidents’ Trophy Winners. The energy in the building was palpable for the much-anticipated home opener, and the Flyers did not disappoint.
10 Flyers recorded points in the game with several having very impressive nights. There’s a lot to unpack and take away from a memorable home opener.
Let’s get to the storylines.
Top line lights up the scoresheet
Each member of the top line had a multi-point night, combining for 10 points total. Giroux led the way with four points (two goals, two assists), while Couturier (two goals, one assist) and Voracek (three assists) each had three-point nights. It was a game where seemingly everything went right for the trio.
The goals are obviously the sexy headline, but the hard work put in all night long and the plays leading up to the goals were just as if not more impressive. The line’s four goals, two from Giroux and two from Couturier, were the product of either great sustained pressure in the offensive zone, or a chance of the rush created by nice breakout passes.
The opening goal was a perfect example of what the line can do. Giroux got the puck at the red line, but circled back and waited for his linemates to gain speed. He fed Voracek a cross-ice pass to get him into the offensive zone with speed, where Jake then dished a pass to Couturier in the slot. Couturier was denied at first, but he stayed with the play for a second-chance goal. Giroux has the great vision, Voracek has the sweet hands and dangles, that he also showed off later in the game, and Couturier will get to the areas necessary to score greasy goals.
The line has been creating chances all season long, and they are finally getting rewarded for it. They have been criticized for their lack of shooting, but that wasn’t as much of a problem against the Capitals. Giroux was credited with four shots on goal, Couturier with three, and Voracek with two. But Voracek made more noise with his dekes and passes than he did with his shots.
Voracek had three assists and was inches away from a goal in the third period, but it rang off the crossbar. He had the primary assist on both the aforementioned Couturier goal, as well as Simmonds’ power-play goal. Voracek deked rookie defenseman Madison Bowey out of his jockstrap before sliding the puck over to Simmonds for the finish. His other assist was a secondary one, but it was still impressive. After a cycle he chipped the puck across the ice, where Couturier threw it on net and it was redirected home by Giroux.
The top line has the majority of the Flyers’ firepower so they’re going to need to be great night in and night out. They were great, and then some, in Saturday night’s home opener. Couturier is finishing plays, Giroux is scoring even-strength goals (at home!), and Voracek is playing with speed. It was a great performance by the trio.
Fourth line bounces back
The Flyers fourth line didn’t have a good game on Tuesday night in Nashville, but they bounced back in a big way for the home opener. Scott Laughton recorded his first career two-goal game, while Taylor Leier and Michael Raffl showed off their speed and grittiness. In fact Raffl drew a penalty in the corner that led to Simmonds’ power-play goal.
But the main story of the night for the fourth line was the play of Laughton. He had an amazing goal in the first period while shorthanded, reading Philipp Grubauer perfectly to steal the puck and put it in the yawning cage behind him. Laughton raced down the ice on the penalty kill, held up just enough to get the puck off of Grubauer’s stick, and then sped behind him to deposit it into the empty cage. It was reminiscent of Mike Richard’s “The Shift” from the 2010 playoffs against the Canadiens.
As great as that play was, his second goal may have been better. He got a pass from Ivan Provorov at the top of the circle and wired a perfectly placed shot over the shoulder of Grubauer in the third period. Laughton isn’t necessarily a sniper by any means, but that was a goalscorer’s goal.
While Raffl and Leier didn’t get any points on the night, they still contributed in their typical role. They are the ideal fourth-line grinders for the Flyers to have. Perhaps they could play individually higher in the lineup, but the three of Leier, Laughton, and Raffl together have given opposing teams headaches.
Defensive miscues directly lead to goals against
With two positive storylines out of the way, let’s split up the other two positives with the negative one. Brandon Manning and Andrew MacDonald made massive mistakes that directly led to goals against on Saturday night. Luckily the Flyers offense bailed them out in a big way, but they allowed the Capitals to climb back into the game in the first, and then the second period.
The Flyers were up 1-0 in the first period, but the lead didn’t last too long. Just over two minutes after Couturier opened the scoring, the Capitals struck back. Alex Ovechkin picked up the puck at the top of the circle heading towards the high slot. MacDonald marked him, and then drifted with him out towards the blue line. He stayed with him and was the furthest Flyer away from the net when Evgeny Kuznetsov fed Jakub Vrana in front for an easy goal.
That’s never where you want to be as a defenseman. And a defensive defenseman at that. MacDonald took himself out of the play and failed to even attempt to get back into it. This could be excusable as a one-off thing, but MacDonald’s track record is more bad than good. He is a veteran, but has made rookie mistakes throughout the first five games.
MacDonald may play solid for most of a game, but a play like this, or failing to challenge Scott Hartnell on a rebound goal, or being unable to tie up his man in front, overshadows all and any of the positive plays he may make. Unfortunately he’ll be in the lineup, dragging down Ivan Provorov, for the foreseeable future.
And we aren’t done there. Brandon Manning’s misplay was a bit more excusable, but it’s a misplay nonetheless.
The Flyers scored three straight after Vrana’s goal to go up 4-1, but after Giroux’s first goal of the night, Backstrom scored on a breakaway just 13 seconds later.
Manning, the left defenseman, followed his man to the right side of the ice in the neutral zone, and Backstrom got in all alone after a nice touch pass from TJ Oshie. Jordan Weal didn’t read the play right away, so some fault could be placed on him, but also Manning shouldn’t leave his side of the ice that wide open. That got the Capitals right back in it after the Flyers cracked it open to a three-goal lead, and could’ve changed momentum back. Luckily the Flyers kept pushing and that was the last goal they allowed.
It was just Manning’s second game of the season, the other being the season opener. He also struggled in San Jose. He took a bad penalty that led to a goal against and was just mediocre-at-best overall.
Manning was in the lineup instead of rookie Travis Sanheim, with perhaps Hakstol wanting to give the veteran the “ceremonial” home opener. But I don’t think he’ll stay. Sanheim has improved over his three NHL games and should get back into the lineup on Tuesday night.
Was scratching Sanheim for Manning the correct decision? Probably not. Do I understand why he did it? Mostly. Did it end up costing the Flyers? No, but that shouldn’t matter in making the decisions moving forward. Hakstol has already shown that he’ll change the lineup after a win, and Tuesday should be no different.
Okay, the Flyers won 8-2, let’s get back to the fun.
A new top pair?
Ivan Provorov is the Flyers’ best defenseman. There is no debating that. However, with Andrew MacDonald weighing him down, there could be a new top pair emerging.
While Provorov (top-pair talent) and MacDonald (bottom-pair talent) balance each other out to be a solid pair, Shayne Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg complement each other extremely well and are incredibly consistent. The two solid middle-pair guys raise each other up into near top-pair status.
Gostisbehere has led the Flyers in ice time in a few of their early games, and Saturday night was no different. He topped 22 minutes for the fourth straight game, totaling 22:22 against Washington. He has been playing great two-way hockey as he has brought the defense as well as his steady puck-moving ability and offense. He had three assists and was arguably the team’s best defenseman on the night. The defenseman that can be argued as the other best on the night? His partner, Robert Hagg.
Hagg has been a few minutes behind Gostisbehere in total ice time due to the power play and other aspects, but he recorded a season-high 21:00 against Washington. It wasn’t a career-high, however, as he played 21:19 in his NHL debut last season against Carolina. Hagg is just consistently solid on every shift. He brings the physicality in the corners, is positionally sound, and can make a breakout pass nearly as good as his partner Gostisbehere.
Gostisbehere and Hagg have been relied on in nearly every situation by Dave Hakstol. They are playing well together and are proving to be a force on the ice in every zone. They should continue getting top minutes for the Flyers.
Mixed bag middle-six
The Flyers’ top and bottom lines were impressive in the big home-opening win, but the middle-six was a bit of a mixed bag. Let’s get the more negative side out of the way so we can end on a high note.
Nolan Patrick got the rookie treatment prior to the game, and his line was the only full line to not register a point in the victory. After two straight games with a point, we were hoping to see more of the same from Patrick, Travis Konecny, and Dale Weise, but the last member of the trio seems to be holding them back. Patrick and Konecny are skilled with the puck on their stick, and to receive passes, but Weise mishandles the puck at times.
After a gritty goal on Tuesday night, the line couldn’t get on the board against the Capitals. It’s not something to be too worried about, especially with Patrick who is still playing great two-way hockey, but this line could be hot-and-cold depending on the night.
The other middle-six line, however, did play well and produced a goal in the process.
Valtteri Filppula finished off a great play from Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds. Weal chipped the puck into himself and chased, got the puck to Simmonds who won a battle then passed back down low to Weal. Weal maneuvered around a prone defender and fed Filppula in front for the top-shelf goal. It was a hard-working shift that resulted in a goal.
Weal and Filppula had just that lone point on the night, but Simmonds of course also had his goal. He crashed the net alongside Voracek as Jake welcomed Madison Bowey to the NHL.
The Flyers are going to have at least three lines that bring it every night. On a great night they’ll have four, but three clicking and a fourth remaining respectable is sometimes all you need for a big win.
- Brian Elliott got his third-straight start on Saturday. I thought that Michal Neuvirth would get the home opener, especially after Elliott’s performance on Tuesday, but that was not the case. Elliott stopped 21 of 23 shots he faced in a solid effort for the 8-2 win. He wasn’t tested that much, but had a few big saves in the second period with the Capitals down 4-2 to keep the Flyers’ momentum going.
- 10 different Flyers recorded points, including six with multi-point nights. It was truly a team win in the 8-2 drubbing of the Capitals.
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