Hockey is officially back.

Yeah, it was nice to talk about camp battles and what rookies should make the team and line combination experiments and all the other crap you are forced to talk about when games don’t matter, (and really, isn’t every exhibition season in every sport dreadful, boring and too freaking long?)

That’s all behind us now.

It may not feel like October out there (is global warming a thing?), but it is, and that means the hockey matters now.

‘Tis the season in Philadelphia to tweet “Choo-Choo” every time Wayne Simmonds does his thing (plenty of opportunity for that last night), to bitch about Andrew MacDonald (even when he doesn’t do anything wrong), and to want to fire coach Dave Hakstol because he is scratching rookies again.

I’ve missed you Flyers fans, truly I have.

So, it was with a lot of coffee that I sat down on the couch to take in Game 1 of 82 last night with an ungodly 10:50 pm puck drop, and stayed up well past my usual bed time to bring you these 10 observations, which were made through glazed-over eyes pried open by tooth picks and strong tape. I’m a man of the people.

So, without further ado, here’s what I saw last night/this morning in the Flyers’ 5-3 win in San Jose.

1) Wayne Simmonds – Best Goal Scorer in the NHL

Well, for one day anyway. Simmonds posted his second career hat trick – and the first by a Flyer on opening night in the team’s 51-year history.

Everyone in the NHL will be talking about Connor McDavid scoring all three goals in Edmonton’s opening night win over Calgary because, well, he’s Connor McDavid – and he’s considered the next face of the league in the NHL. But, Simmonds matched him with the type of performance that is typical of Simmonds. Gritty. Hard-nosed. 100% effort at all times.

And unlike McDavid, none of Simmonds’ goals were flashy, or pretty. One hit him as he tried to get out of the way of a Shayne Gostisbehere shot. The second he tipped in, again angling his frame in front of the goalie. The third was an empty-netter.

But, when you play the way Simmonds plays, you are going to create your own good fortune – and that’s what tonight was – it was a spirited effort by the team’s emotional leader.

A lot of people – myself included – have been saying that for the Flyers to make a playoff push this season, the core veterans will have to be better than they were a year ago. That includes Simmonds, who although he scored 31 goals and 54 points last season, was subpar in 5-on-5 play.

Not so in the opener. Simmonds lived up to his moniker and steamed around the arena. It’s never pretty, but it’s always effective. Even when it’s taking place after midnight.

Which reminds me of an Aerosmith song, seen here in Rock Band version:


A shout out to my man Lou Nolan. The power play was en fuego last night. One game, yes, but a good sign.

The Flyers fired assistant coach Joey Mullen after last season because the power play had dipped from stellar to mediocre. Then, in the preseason, it looked dreadful, making you wonder if it was a case of the archer with bad aim blaming the arrows.

But last night they flipped the switch and… well… this happened:

Then this happened:

(It was actually Simmer’s goal, although Gostisbehere was originally credited with it).

And then, oh yeah, this happened:

That’s right– three power play goals. They were actually 3-for-3 at one point (They finished 3-for-5). And the first unit looked slick.

The difference from last year to this year? Quicker passing. The Flyers used to hold the puck and wait for openings and then try to use their skill to take advantage of them. They would hope for the other team to break down on the PK, and pounce. It’s not a terrible strategy, but one that is akin to a serve-and volley tennis player.

Last night it was the big booming serve– moving the puck with alacrity, breaking down that PK box quicker by keeping it fluid.

It requires more precision, trust and instinct, but it should create higher percentage chances.

Connecting on 60 percent of them. SMALL SAMPLE SIZE ALERT. We’ll take it.


3) The New Goalie

Look, Brian Elliott has been around– not quite as long as E.T., but almost. He has been steady (2.42 GAA, .913 SvPct). But what he does especially well, and has for the most part in the past six seasons, is compete, battle and keep you in games.

He’s a game manager quarterback – not posting the flashy numbers, but not hurting the team either with risky plays or boneheaded mistakes. Though I’d imagine we’d all take an Alex Smith-like effort this year.

But, it’s no secret that something happens to you when you play goal in Philadelphia. You morph. You start to change – and you never know how you are going to turn out.

You can be like Pennywise, and seem like a safe and innocent clown at first, but then shape-shift into something horrible and scary at the most inopportune time (see Cechmanek, Roman).

Or you can turn out like the third clone of Michael Keaton in Multiplicity (see Bryzgalov, Ilya).

What Elliott will eventually be in Philadelphia will play out over the course of this season, but for one night, he was good.

Yes, he allowed three goals, but considering the Flyers had a real weakness clearing the front of the net, allowing both high scoring chances for the Sharks from in close as well as screens for shots from the point, the fact that Elliott made 32 saves and got the win was an impressive beginning.

Michal Neuvirth likely gets the start tonight in Los Angeles (although nothing is guaranteed), but Elliott shouldn’t make you worry too much. He’ll do his job and do it well enough to keep the Flyers competitive.


4) The Ghost of Ghost

I don’t know if I want to praise Shayne Gostisbehere’s performance or if I want to criticize it. And frankly, I have a feeling he’s going to leave me with this conundrum often.

First, the good.

The guy everyone fell in love with two seasons ago was back and making a difference from his own blue line out.

He is so gifted offensively. He can skate, and carry the puck into the zone with pace that automatically increases scoring chances. He has a heavy shot from the point and truly is an offensive threat. He seemed a little sluggish on his first few shifts, but then turned it up a notch and drove the play with authority.

However, put him behind his own blue line, and it’s a different person entirely. He gambles too much. He tries to take the puck carrier out of the play even though doesn’t have the physical authority to make it happen. He missed on a number of gambles last night and got pushed around too easily in his own end.

I think Gostisbehere has the potential to be 60-point player while equally frustrating you with enough mental lapses in his own end. Last night was a microcosm – three assists on one end and inconsistent play on the other.

The good news is, he looks healthy – unlike last season – and he doesn’t have a concussion, which was a worry heading into the game.

He has the talent to figure out how to make up for his shortcomings. The question is, will he?


5) The 19-year-old

The Nolan Patrick era began rather quietly. He played 13:30, got three shots on goal (including the first of the game for the Flyers), won five-of-nine faceoffs and almost set up Simmonds for a goal in the third period with a nice pass.

Otherwise, it was an uneventful debut for the No. 2 overall pick in last summer’s draft.

He’ll get chances playing with Simmonds and Jordan Weal, but it will be a little slower production-wise than you hoped. And that’s OK. Really, it is. Don’t start putting expectations on the kid yet.


6) The other rookies

Robert Hagg was solid. He played 16:13 and had two shots on goal. He did take one penalty (more on that later) but other than that, he did his job and was quietly effective.

Taylor Leier is still considered a rookie, and he took 19 shifts and flashed some top-notch speed. That fourth line with Scott Laughton and Michael Raffl could be an integral piece for the Flyers as it is easily the fastest and most creative fourth line they’ve had– maybe ever.

Samuel Morin and Travis Sanheim, much to the chagrin of the fans, did not dress. Hakstol decided to go with veterans Andy McDonald (alternate captain baby) and Brandon Manning in lieu of the rookies. They both took a bad penalty (more on that coming up), and MacDonald had a shot ricochet off him and into the Flyers net for an own-goal of sorts. Something tells me one of the kids will play tonight in L.A. Call it a gut instinct.


7) All eyes on Coots

Sean Couturier did a lot of things you need a top line center to do. He had an assist, he was a plus player. He led the team in shots with six and hits with four. He created space for Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek to operate on the wings. He pinched along the wall to force the turnover on the first goal of the game (see #9 below for video) and he won the key faceoff and made the key poke check in the final minute that sprung Simmonds for his empty-netter and secured the victory. He’s as sound of a defensive forward as there is in the league.

But he didn’t finish. Not that he didn’t have chances. He definitely did. He had a couple goals ready made, he just didn’t have the mitts to put the puck where he needed to.

And that’s the rub with this great left wing experiment for Giroux. To be successful in the NHL, you need a number of things to go right. You need production from your top-line center.

For the most part, the Flyers had that with Giroux. He’s on the wing now, which means a lot of that pressure falls on Couturier.

Can he deliver? It will be one of the season-long burning questions the team will have to answer.


8) Lack of Discipline

For this game that can mean two things.

Exhibit A:

Amen, Bundy. Amen. At times it seemed like the Flyers were rushing their passes, trying to generate their breakout, and had them turned right back in their face. There are a lot of better teams than the Sharks who will make them pay for that.

Exhibit B:

And it wasn’t just Gudas – although he did take two bad penalties. Manning and Travis Konecny took penalties that led to Sharks goals. MacDonald took a dumb cross-checking penalty. All told, the Flyers were shorthanded six times. That’s too much.

Oh, and it leads to awful clearing attempts while shorthanded too, like this one by Dale Weise:

However, I agree with Bundy here, too:

They are… but this is the new NHL and the Flyers have to play within it. They let the Sharks back in the game twice because of indiscretions. They have to be better than that. Period.


9) Boy the Sharks are bad

This team was in the Cup final 16 months ago. And while most of their veteran core is still there, their depth forwards are not ready for prime time. That, and starting goalie Martin Jones wasn’t ready to start the season.

He definitely should have stopped Weal’s goal (as seen earlier in the post) and this turnover on the opening goal by Claude Giroux was basically gift wrapped with a giant red bow:

Then there was Kevin Lablanc (whose name I misspelled on Twitter all night). He scored both San Jose goals, but took three penalties and the Flyers scored on each ensuing power play. That’s the kind of hat trick you don’t want.

The Flyers played well, for sure, but they got help from the Sharks being below the bar in this one as well.


10) Loose Pucks

  • Michael Raffl only played 7:22 – the only Flyer with fewer than 11:30 of ice time. Not sure if he got hurt or if he is, in fact, the Flyers’ 12th forward at the moment.
  • Konecny has so much talent – and I think it’s being wasted with Filppula and Wiese. I’d like to see what he and Patrick can do together at some point this season. Make it happen, Hak!
  • Ivan Provorov led all skaters on both teams with 25:35 of ice time. He was on pace for more early. Hakstol reined it in a little in the second and third period.
  • I’m not just saying this because I covered him for almost his entire career, but for my money Brian Boucher is one of the best hockey analysts out there for National games. He’s informative, doesn’t speak in cliches, and really has legit insight.
  • Tonight’s game against Los Angeles will also have a slightly delayed puck drop because of it being a home opener for the Kings. It won’t be as late as last night as everything is a half hour earlier, but it’s going to be another late night. As I said on Twitter: