FFR2 Gm 2: NJ 0, PHI 4 - Home Is Where the Hart Is
Look out Philadelphia, there's one heck of a hockey team coming to you!
The Philadelphia Flyers WIN their 2019 home opener in dominant fashion, shutting out the New Jersey Devils by a 4-0 margin. You know you played well when four goals doesn't even tell how much better you were than the opposition.
A week ago, the Flyers and Devils were in nearly the same spot. Both had regressed a year ago after making the playoffs in 2018, largely due to poor performance between the pipes. Both made upgrades to help out their netminders, notably down the middle and on the blueline. Most analysts and hockey fans alike have one of them returning to the playoffs. On paper, they look nearly identical.
But after the final horn sounded at the new and improved Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday night, the two teams couldn't have looked farther apart. For the second time in as many games, the Flyers dominated their competition, and were rewarded with four goals and two points.
The cheers started long before the puck drop, and the praise will go on for long after. The former is due to the excitement of a new season, new faces in a familiar place (and sweater), and the return of fan-favorite Wayne Simmonds. Despite his offseason wishes of boos, the Wayne Train was rightfully showered with cheers and love from the fans he enthralled so many times over the last eight years.
The latter complement comes as a result of the Flyers stellar play throughout the contest. Like in Prague, the Flyers got stronger as time ticked down, coming out solid, then becoming spectacular in the middle stanza. The opening period saw both teams threaten fairly often, but it was one of those periods when the puck just didn't want to go in the net. Hart and Cory Schneider were sharp when they had to be, and the first 20 minutes solved nothing.
But the Flyers came out guns blazing in the second. It looked like the Flyers were going to crack the goose egg around five minutes in, when Claude Giroux hit the post on a mini-breakaway and missed the net on an ensuing one-timer. However, Nikita Gusev took a slashing penalty a few minutes later, sending the Flyers to their second power play of the game. Like Friday, the first unit didn't score, but gave a strong showing that the second unit was able to build on. With Oskar Lindblom setting up a screen in front, Ivan Provorov blasted a slap shot past Cory Schneider, confirming that the Flyers are very good and that random rock song from Prague is actually the goal song for the season. It's a fair trade-off.
In a recurring theme, the Flyers appear to have learned from last year (and the year before that and the year before that and the year before that's) mistakes by continuing their pressure immediately after the goal, with Travis Sanheim nearly scoring seconds later. The Flyers were dominating play, up a goal, and had Carter Hart in net. What could go wrong?
A delay-of-game penalty to Sean Couturier. And a face-off violation penalty to Kevin Hayes on the first face-off after, giving the Devils a full two-minute five-on-three power play. A unit consisting of former Hart winner Taylor Hall, KHL star Nikita Gusev, #1 pick Jack Hughes, and more seemed destined to tie the game at the very least. The play was drawn up to perfection, with Hughes receiving the puck at the left point and rifling a perfect cross-ice pass to Taylor Hall, standing uncovered backdoor.
There was just one thing the Devils forgot to account for.
STARTER HART, DO DO DO, DO DO - with the GREATEST save of the 2019-20 NHL season (TM), lunging in full desperation to take away a sure goal from Hall. The rest of the kill was incredible. Provorov, Hagg, and Laughton performed yeoman's work to a tee, killing off a Devils power play with the same amount of structure of as a first-grade recess. It was the 5-on-3 kill against Nashville in Hart's second game last year on steroids. And it was good enough to maintain the Flyers one-goal lead going into the 3rd.
Sami Vatanen's rough night continued by turning a surefire icing on the Flyers into a tripping penalty 20 seconds into the 3rd, giving the PP another chance to show their stuff. It was here the Flyers face-off talents actually lead to something for the first of about four times all year, as a loose puck off a tie-up dribbled onto Kevin Hayes' stick. Hayes dropped his stick as he shot the puck, but by the time he was picking it up, it was all smiles. The shot surprised Schneider, squirting through his five-hole and in, doubling up the Flyers lead.
But wait - there's more! Just 24 seconds later, actually confident Ivan Provorov waltzed in from the left point and fired a shot on net. Schneider stopped the first rebound from Lindblom, but no one picked up Elite 1st Line Center Sean Couturier driving to the net behind Lindy, and Coots stashed home his first goal of the year. In one fell swoop, all of the pressure and good karma the Flyers built up during the second exploded into a burst of goal lights and high-fives, essentially putting the game out of reach.
Travis Konency added to the fun when Kyle Palmieri's Life Alert failed him, as the Devils forward fell with the puck and just couldn't get back up, giving TK a 10-bell chance that he just wasn't gonna miss. But the icing on the cake was the zero next to the Devils logo on the scoreboard. For everything that he has already done, Carter Hart had failed to end all of his first 33 starts with that number still in tact. And despite a late Devils push, when the Orange and the Black began to play, Hart had a smile as wide as Ilya Bryzgalov's 5-hole and his 1st shutout puck in hand, courtesy of Justin Braun.
Charlie O'Connor of The Athletic, one of the best beat writers out there, has come across a strong reason for the reason why the Flyers have fallen in popularity in the city. Over the last few years, in my eyes especially since the Flyers blowout 8-2 win in the 2017 home opener, the Flyers have often been killed in some of their biggest games. Game 1 of the playoffs against the Penguins? 7-0 laugher. Game 3 at home with the series tied 1-1? Destroyed 5-1. Last year's home opener? Gave up 2 goals in 12 seconds, and embarrassed 8-2.
This year? Not so much. It wasn't just that the Flyers won this game, or that they won it by four goals. They wiped the floor with the Devils tonight, on the ice and on social media. Even the casual Philly fan who only watches the big games (unless a team is in legitimate championship contender) came away from this game impressed. The Flyers aren't in that elite category. Yet. But they're knocking on the door of something pretty fun. It's only been two games, but they seem determined to finally knock that door down.
Carter Hart is the youngest goalie in Flyers history to record a shutout. Seriously, what can't this kid do? Probably nothing, so here's did get instead.
Standings: TK - 1, Starter - 1, Everybody Else - 1 Great Game Away
The Flyers scored the first goal once in their first eleven games a year ago. They have done so in their first two contests this season. Night. And. Day.
We need to talk about that 5-on-3 penalty kill. Hart's save is what will make the highlight reels, but the PKers themselves got a well earned round of applause once their work was done. They were aggressive without being foolish, pressuring while staying in position, and almost seemed to be in the Devils' heads as time wound down. The crowd gave them a roaring congratulations once time was up.
The PK as a whole maintained the aggressive nature that finally saw them take a step up during the second have last year. One thing that stood out - the Flyers weren't afraid to carry the puck up the ice while shorthanded, with Hayes and Pitlick generating quality chances down a man.
Game number 300 for the Ghost tonight! It seems like just yesterday he was breaking every rookie defenseman record ever.
Now that the Flyers have two-right handed defensemen on their roster (maybe three if Phil Myers returns at some point), the coaching staff apparently watched a bunch of NHL 17 gameplay and have decided to emphasize d-to-d one-timers (at least early on), especially off the face-off.
If the Flyers power play (which was 2/4 tonight, 3/7 overall) is going to succeed with Claude Giroux on the right side, they're going to need to move the puck with a purpose. One-touch passing was the name of the game, especially on the second attempt, and it was a thing of beauty to watch. The top unit looked dangerous, especially on that try, and will do so regardless of personnel if they can move the puck like that.
This game may have been broadcast on NBCSN (gotta love Doc Emrick!), but that didn't stop us from hearing another line about how much Robert Hagg likes to hit people. We get it. Let me know when he leads the league in a stat that's actually useful.
The Flyers Corsi For and xG percentages in each of their first two games - 57.73 and 59.26% in Corsi, 62.48 and 65.80% in xG. That's really, really good. It won't stay that way the whole season, but imagine if the norm Flyers hockey becomes anything like that. This team might actually be fun, folks.
For the first time since the 2011-12 campaign, the Flyers have won their first two games. Heck, it's the first time since 2016-17 the Flyers have even gotten at least a point in each of their first two games. Not only might they be fun, they might be good, too. It's only two games, but they've been convincing so far.
1st - Carter Hart (PHI) - 1st NHL Shutout (25 Saves/25 Shots)
2nd - Ivan Provorov (PHI) - 1 G, Team-High 22:28 TOI
3rd - Sean Couturier (PHI) - 1 G, 79.19 CF%, 75.45 xG%
N(ew)J(ob for John Hynes) - 10/11 @ BUF (3-0-1)
PHI (Road Trip!) - 10/13 @ VAN (1-2-0)
*Advanced Stats Courtesy of naturalstattrick.com