FFR2 Gm 1: CHI 3, PHI 4 - Backhand Czech
No die. Just fly.
In fairness, we probably should've seen this coming, since the Flyers were technically the home team and Chicago hasn't won a regular season game as the road team against us since 1997. And sure enough, the Philadelphia Flyers WIN the 2019 Global Series, 4-3 (in regulation!) over the Chicago Blackhawks, kicking off the season with a win for the fourth straight year.
Opening day always has a magical feeling around it. As I mentioned in the roster preview, everyone wakes up on day number one with cautious optimism (some more cautious than others). Everyone feels that there's a shot at something special. Game 1 may count the same as Game 27 or Game 58, but it feels much more important. It can be the start of greatness, or begin snowballing out of control.
Fortunately, the Flyers chose the former to define their beginning to the new slate. Throughout the game, the Flyers forecheck was amazing. Maybe it was just the ice, but the Blackhawks seemed to struggle with their breakout passes, which was largely due to the speed of the Flyers. Anyone who's watched the Flyers in previous years knows that they've looked slow compared to top teams. They looked as fast as those elite teams today.
It didn't take long for their efforts to be rewarded. Rookie defenseman Dennis Gilbert fanned on an outlet pass just above the left circle, allowing Travis Konecny to jump on the loose puck. He breezed past Gilbert and used those extra three days of no camp before signing that were definitely spent playing Call of Duty to his advantage, sniping over the glove of Crawford. TK becomes the newest Flyers first goal scorer of the year, joining an illustrious list that features Claude Giroux, John LeClair, and... Boyd Gordon?
Unfortunately, the early lead wouldn't last long. Many people questioned Chicago dealing established young blue-line prospect Henri Jokiharju for former #8 pick Alex Nylander. The problem for the Flyers is that Nylander, while raw, still has a ton of skill, and if you give him the chance to use it, he will. An Ivan Provorov turnover was that chance, and Nylander beat Carter Hart with a wrist shot from the slot (expertly using Justin Braun as a screen), tying the game 1-1.
Both goalies played well for the rest of the period, highlighted by a sprawling Hart stop on Dominik Kubalik, leaving the game deadlocked after 20 minutes. However, as time wore on, the Blackhawks wore out. Even though they're beginning to infuse more youth into the mix, this is still a Chicago roster with a lot of milage on it. And it showed in the second as the Flyers kicked the Hawks teeth in, dominating the cycle and getting into the high-danger areas.
Eventually, enough consistent pressure will force even the most structured and well-coached defense into a mistake. One came in the form of a Brent Seabrook delay of game penalty that sent the Flyers to their first power play of the year. The top unit dominated play, but were unable to light the lamp despite some great chances, mostly from JVR. For once, the second unit actually picked up where the big boys left off, going to work in the offensive zone. With under 30 seconds on the man-advantage, Oskar Lindblom walked up the left wing, fired, and... scored? I think he-no, he didn't.
Wait, he did! It wasn't the snipe that Jim Jackson thought it was; rather, a wrist shot that hit the crossbar and went off of defenseman Slater Koekkoek (for own goals, apparently) and into the vacant net. Lindy was first to light the lamp last year, and although he was willing to share with TK, the kid wasn't about to go to the back of the goal-scoring line this year.
2-1 Philly now, and the Flyers got another power play later on. It lasted 19 seconds, as G took a slashing penalty to foil a Hawks odd-man rush, sending the game to 4-on-4, the game mode meant for the fast and furious, which probably qualifies as TK's spirit animal. Even though Halloween is still weeks away, Travis Konency decided to show Duncan Keith best Knute Rockne, goin' inside em', outside em', getting Keith on the run, and once he got him on the run, he scored, scored, scored, scored! And oh what a backhand beauty it was! TK coming out in midseason form, and putting the Flyers ahead 3-1 going into 2nd intermission.
Psych. Remember that 19 second power play the Blackhawks got as a result of G's penalty? Patrick Kane sure did, hypnotizing the Flyers PK to set up a perfect play that ended in an ADBlast past Hart with 12 seconds to go. Cue Chelsea Dagger, which I guess is better than that random rock-ish song that played after the good guys scored, and suddenly we've got ourselves a game with 20 minutes to go.
But as the clock kept ticking, the Flyers kept grinding. For a team playing in game number one with a new coach and six new players and all new lines, I didn't think the Flyers looked half bad. It seemed like a matter of time before one of the great scoring chances the Flyers set up would go in. But then Sean Couturier's slot shot was blocked, Kevin Hayes' breakaway was stopped, and Michael Raffl's innocuous wraparound... bled through Crawford's 5-hole and in, man, I forgot how crazy this sport is!
I hope that wasn't Raff's annual power-move jaw-dropper, but after scoring just 6 goals a year ago, that's gotta feel good for the Austrian Rocket. The wave-after-wave offense of the Flyers kept pouring over the Blackhawks defense, headlined by a breakaway bid for Oskar Lindblom. Unfortunately, Crawford held down the fort as the game wound down, and the Flyers defense bent in the closing minutes when a Patrick Kane wrister through traffic found the net. 2:07 to go. Flyers up by one.
Deep breath in...deep breath out.
And again, the Flyers attacked. They checked, chipped, and chased. They refused to break. The Blackhawks got as close as an o-zone draw with 16 seconds left, but Kevin Hayes got the tie-up and pulled off the Bobby Orr of clearing attempts, earning a 9 from the judges as he dove to swat the puck down the ice, effectively killing off the clock.
If you're still reading, you can now say, "Alexa, Play The Orange and the Black."
The Flyers were much better than the final score indicated. Considering the circumstances surrounding this game, from its location to the new faces to our PTSD after last year's roller-coaster from hell (at least 2017-18's glanced heaven every once in a while), this was refreshing. The Flyers looked like a team that has bought in. That's another thing all the elite teams do.
If the Flyers are going to join that category this season, heck, even if they just wanna make it back to the playoffs, a game like this is a blueprint of what they need to do. Philadelphia's energy level was at refreshingly high levels unseen since the days of Hartnell, Timonen, and Briere. I could hardly spell hockey during those days, but now, I'm ready for them to return. I know you are, too. And for once, the guys that actually matter appear to be on the same page.
After Monday's loss to Lausanne, Alain Vigneault opted to switch up basically every line and defense pairing. The result was a couple of close, but no cigar passes and a few too many icings. But as I mentioned, no one looked completely out of sync, which was crucial, as this win was definitely a team effort.
Though the Flyers definitely looked good, Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford, two key pieces for the Hawks, got 2019-20 off on the wrong foot. Crawford played decent in goal but looked really odd, flailing around like a 5-year old or a goalie from the 1980s (both basically have the same amount of athletic ability). Keith was just flat out bad, being taken to school by basically 5-year old at heart Travis Konecny on the Flyers third goal and walked by Raffl en his route to the game winner.
For not having played all preseason, Tyler Pitlick sure looked effective. He was the tenacious forechecker, good skater, and ideal fourth-liner that was advertised. And he recorded his first point as a Flyer on the Raffl goal.
Partially as a result of their cap complications, the Flyers have sent Phil Myers and Joel Farabee down, and it doesn't seem like either will be back by Wednesday. Wow. Myers didn't have an amazing camp, but after everything Fletcher said during the offseason, I saw him as a lock. Farabee only got better as camp went on and it seemed like a matter of time before the points would come, too. Neither are decisions I'm thrilled by, but I can see both players benefitting from (likely) dominating in Lehigh. If they do, they won't be there for long.
As for the kids that did play in Prague, not too shabby NHL debuts for Carsen Twarynski and Connor Bunnaman. Both were noticeable on the forecheck and helped create some great chances. Twarynski was especially physical and would've had his first NHL point had Konecny not missed an empty net late in the first.
Speaking of cap complications, here's the 411 on Nolan Patrick. He has been diagnosed with migraine disorder, which is genetic and NOT a result of any previous concussions (at least that's what the doctors say). He is currently on regular injured reserve, meaning the Flyers can fill his roster spot but still have to account for his cap hit. If the Flyers place him on long-term injured reserve, they gain $925,00 in cap relief, and lock in Patrick to miss at least 10 games (including today's). However, using LTIR can have negative cap implications later in the season and Fletcher said he only likes to use it if it's absolutely necessary.
Travis Konecny's two goal game makes it four straight season openers the Flyers have had a multi-goal scorer. Wayne Simmonds put up two on Vegas last year, a hat-trick against the Sharks in 2017, and Sean Couturier lit the lamp twice in LA in 2016.
The Flyers power play is now 6/7 combined across their last three opening games. Four of those goals were scored by Wayne Simmonds.
TK talked to Taryn Hatcher post-game and talked about how his play-style has changed over his NHL career. Konecny said that he used to give up too many scoring opportunities by trying to thread a needle or break some ankles, and wants to shoot the puck more. TK already has a great shot, and if he walks that talk, he could be a dark horse for the team lead in goals.
The Flyers led the league in the all-important face-off percentage a year ago, and they're off to a pretty good start in defending their crown, winning 62% of draws this afternoon.
Quick hits on the new guys. Kevin Hayes played well, using his body to his advantage, sharp with his stick, and productive in the offensive zone. Braun looked good, and wasn't the breakout liability we're afraid of. Pitlick, see above. Niskanen was kinda just there - he took a lot of shots, but man I hope he finds a speed power-up somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, because he could use it.
BREAKING NEWS: We have a new player of the game helmet!
By the way, we're going to do a player of the game helmet winner standings this year, to be updated after each win. So far it's TK 1, the field 0. Hopefully someone will catch him Wednesday night.
1st - Travis Konecny (PHI) - 2 G, 6 Shots
2nd - Oskar Lindblom (PHI) - 1 G, 8 Shots
3rd - Michael Raffl (PHI) - 1 G, 4 Shots
CHI - 10/10 vs. SJ
PHI - 10/9 vs. NJ (miss you, Simmer)