Call it a Comeback. Eighty-Eight…er…uh… Five Takeaways from Flyers 3, Maple Leafs 2

Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

As time passes, the outcome of last night’s game will be no more than a footnote in history as everyone else will remember the pomp and circumstance.

They’ll remember nearly 20,000 people wearing Eric Lindros T-shirts.

They’ll remember the number 88 painted into the ice behind each net. Or, in each corner where he laid out many an opponent with his physical style, or even across the the tarp that covers each tunnel entrance into the locker room area.

They’ll remember the 50-foot projection screens that hung from the scoreboard that showed highlights of Lindros’ career and how, at the end, they dropped rapidly to the ice to reveal, standing alone at center ice, the player who many believe was responsible for the erecting of the Wells Fargo Center to begin with. Big E. Standing amidst the trophies he and his team won in his career – receiving thunderous applause from the fans.

They’ll remember how the Flyers, and specifically Lou Nolan, once again proving why he’s the best Master of Ceremonies, maybe ever, deftly introduced Eric’s parents – Bonnie and Carl, the most meddling parental duo in the history of Philadelphia sports and arguably in the history of the four major sports in North America – by having them escorted to the ice by Lindros’ running mates who got a huge ovation: John Leclair and Mikael Renberg.

They’ll remember the No. 88 slowly being lifted to the rafters, where it became the sixth retired number in franchise history, finally coming to rest, slightly askew (I’m sure the Wells Fargo denizens will fix it by Saturday), in a twist of irony right next to Bobby Clarke’s No. 16.

They’ll remember the messages being played on the scoreboard throughout the game from great players from the Lindros’ era giving video tributes to No. 88 (of course, Jeremy Roenick’s was delivered from a golf course and was the one that blathered on the longest).

They’ll remember all that.

What they might not remember though is a gut check performance by the current hockey team that took place on the ice afterward, in what amounts to just another crucial game for a Flyers team that has designs on making the postseason, no matter how difficult it might be for a last place club at this juncture in the season.

Check that. They’re no longer in last place.

In the ever-shifting and ultra competitive Metropolitan Division standings, the Flyers used last night’s 3-2 overtime win over Toronto to actually leapfrog Carolina and move into a tie for sixth place in the division with the New York Islanders.

They didn’t move any closer to the Wild Card teams they are chasing – they’re still three points behind the Rangers and Pittsburgh, the two teams against which they’ve stained the bed sheets in recent head-to-head match-ups, but this win was of a different kind. It came from a different place. It showed a moxie that has been missing most of the season.

You see, the Flyers had all of one win this year when trailing after two periods before last night. That, by the way, was in 15 games where they trailed. 1-for-15 is not a good percentage.

Granted, most teams, if not all teams, have a losing record when trailing after two, but a .067 winning percentage is pretty darn depressing.

Making matters worse last night, the Flyers were down 2-0 entering that third period. And while they weren’t playing a bad game to that point – Toronto scored both their goals in a 28-second span in the second period, otherwise the game was quite even – for a team as inconsistent as the Flyers, that appeared to be a daunting hill to climb.

And yet they did it – getting the help they needed from some sources that haven’t really been so reliable for them this season.

1. Nolan Patrick

Here’s something you haven’t seen in the last 25 games:

It’s a fine play by Patrick for his third goal of the season. There’s a lot he does well on the play – but mostly it’s skating and outworking a pretty good young player in Mitch Marner.

In all honesty, Patrick, while he hasn’t scored, has been playing some much better hockey over his last six or seven games.

He’s starting to look more confident on the ice. He’s moving his feet – which is a common refrain for young players who get so used to still being productive at a junior level while gliding – and creating opportunities.

And playing with Wayne Simmonds is a help for him. Simmonds does create room for Patrick to operate.

Patrick does still look to pass too often – sometimes he has a wide open shot and tries to get too creative – but again, that’s a product of inexperience and youth. You see that from a lot of young players in the league.

He still has a long way to go, but it looks like Flyers fans are getting their first glimpse of the talent level of their No. 2 overall pick from last season, and that’s definitely a positive.

Now, Patrick may have gotten the Flyers back into the game with such a quick goal to start the third period (it occured at 1:33 of the period), but it was a much-maligned group that actually tied the game for the Flyers:

2. The Penalty Kill

Don’t blink, because this has only happened twice this season:

That is a shorthanded goal. Entering last night’s game the Flyers were tied for the fewest shorthanded goals in the NHL (one) and had allowed the fourth-most in the league against them (seven).

It’s a pretty grim disparity, especially combining it with the fact that the usually passive penalty kill ranks 29th in all the NHL and gives up a goal more than once in every four chances.

But there’s something to note about the PK in the last two games – it’s more aggressive. It’s no longer sitting back and just waiting for teams to come at them.

No one on the Flyers would admit a philosophical change to the PK, but it’s there. Go back. Watch the situations.

They are pressuring the puck and forcing the opposing power play to make quick decisions. There’s no more sitting back and waiting to breakdown.

Killing penalties is one of the hardest things to do in hockey. It takes commitment, energy, and a never-slow-down attitude. But, if you are just sitting back, hoping to block shots and clogging lanes to your goalie, you’re going to get scored on.

So, you have to make the other team work. And the more they work, the less time they are spending shooting the puck on goal.

It sounds simple, but it isn’t. Still, the attacking from a position of defensive posture needs to be a philosophy. A desire. And it hasn’t been for this team all season. It was against the Rangers – and they had a 2-on-1 that failed and led to a goal on the counter rush the other way.

But it worked against Toronto. It tied the game and clearly shifted the momentum back in the Flyers favor.

That’s how you kill penalties, friends. I can’t believe it took the team more than a half a season to recognize it, but they finally did. Now, can they sustain it?

3. Michal Neuvirth

Last night is a perfect example of why Michal Neuvirth is so frustrating to the Flyers.

He flat out stole a game for them with a virtuoso performance in goal. Sure, that second Toronto goal was a bit of a cheapie, sneaking in under Neuvirth’s arm on a fluttering shot from in close, but that memory was cleanly erased with saves like this:

This was the best of a handful of 10-bell stops by Neuvirth. He finished with 29 saves overall, but he was excellent.

And Neuvirth can give you games like this. As hot and cold as he is, when he’s hot, he’s eye-popping hot.

And to be fair, when you look at his numbers, last season aside, he’s more hot than cold.

However, he’s unreliable. You don’t know if he’s going to be hurt, or sick – or what. He’s completely enigmatic. If the guy had any level of consistency, the Flyers would be in a better position. But he doesn’t.

However, if he’s managed properly, the Flyers might get the best out of him yet. His last two starts have been strong. But it doesn’t seem they are willing to lean on him for more than a start here and there.

They need to get him more starts – because Brian Elliott is being overworked into the ground – but if they can get Neuvirth a start a week – and keep Elliott fresh – maybe the Flyers can get onto something with the goalies for the rest of the season.

4. The Rocket

That’s a new nickname for Sean Couturier, courtesy of Simmonds.

Simmonds said now that Couturier has scored 11 goals in his last 10 games, he’s calling him “rocket.” He said to just keep feeding him the puck.

Couturier himself said it seems like every time he shoots the puck it’s finding the back of the net and that his confidence is at an all-time high.

And well, this is why the Flyers won the game 18 seconds into overtime:

Yes, it was his first career OT game-winner. It was also his 26th goal of the season. He’s tied for third in the NHL in that department.

And yet he’s not an All-Star. That’s a joke.

Forty goals is a very real possibility for him now. And the Flyers will need every one of them.

5. More Lindros stuff

– The Flyers are now 6-0 all-time in games in which they retire a player’s number. That’s kind of a weird and quirky stat, but it’s true!

– Lindros scored goals against 99 goalies in his NHL career. Four are still active. They are Roberto Luongo, Cam Ward, Marc-Andre Fleury and Peter Budaj.

– The Flyer who played more games with Eric than any other? Rod Brind’Amour.

– And here’s one for you to ponder – is there another generational talent in the history of hockey who never won a Stanley Cup? Some guys needed help (Brett Hull). Others happened later in their careers (Steve Yzerman). And some are still too young (Connor McDavid). But is Eric the only one who didn’t? I had this conversation with a few people last night, including a player who played with and against Eric, and we couldn’t come up with one. I’d be curious if you can come up with one in the comments.

Kinkead: Does Alex Ovechkin count? Pavel Bure? Marcel Dionne? 

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13 Responses

  1. The Big E was the first person I grew up absolutely loving as a kid.

    His Parents + Scott Stevens kept him from being an all time all time all timer.

    At least the Overwatch league is fucking killing it.

  2. Generational players that never won a cup:
    Pavel Bure
    Alex Ovechkin (still has time)
    Dale Hawerchuk (eh, not really generational but a HOF)
    Sedin Twins
    Tony Esposito
    Pat LaFontaine
    Jerome Iginla
    Henrik Lundqvist
    Joe Thorton
    MARK HOWE
    Roberto Luongo
    Adam Oates
    Cam Neely

    1. In our conversation last night, “generational” was defined as a player who, when drafted, was already being dubbed the next great player and whom their team built a franchise around.

      I immediately said Ovechkin (and there is still time for him) but the former player in the conversation wanted to dismiss Ovechkin because of his position. He said it’s hard to build a team around a winger. He said it’s easier to do so with a center or a No. 1 defenseman (or a goalie, although we really didn’t discuss goalies), but not a winger.

      So I think you have a point with Ovie, although others disagree with us.

      Hawerchuk was also discussed last night and an old-time reporter, who was also part of the conversation, said he had seen a story in the Hockey News in 1985 where all the GMs in the league were polled anonymously as to who in the NHL they would build a team around if they could. The top three in that poll were Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffey and Hawerchuk. So, again, I think that’s a good call, albeit underrated one.

      I have to dismiss the Sedin twins because they were always a package deal. Two players instead of each individually. Both great players. Neither stands out enough on his own though.

      We also talked about Mark Howe last night and decided that as good as he was, he wasn’t considered a generational talent. He was a second round draft pick and then played in the WHA for six years before coming to the NHL. Great player for sure, but not a guy that, at the time, was supposed to transcend the sport.

      The rest of your list is next-tier down type players with the exceptions of Luongo, Thornton and LaFontaine.

      Like I said, we didn’t discuss goalies, but if we did, Luongo would have to be right there. I think Thornton is probably your best answer. LaFontaine isn’t bad either, but he joined a team that was fresh off winning four straight cups, so they had to rebuild, and LaFontaine was their only real star during the rebuild. Eventually, the Islanders were a disaster and La La was traded to Buffalo where he had tw ogood seasons before starting to deal with injuries.

      He’s definitely close. But I think he’s a just miss guy because of the circumstances surrounding his team when he broke into the league.

      But I think you have a few guys who compelling arguments can be made for.

      Thanks!

    1. Drives me nuts. We live in a world where you can evidently get an “epic” burrito. Which I suppose means a burrito that’s as of significant a consequence as Homer’s Odyssey? None of these truly great players are generational. Part of being generational is that you stand out so far above the norm that you only see it every 20 years or so. Would Gordie Howe be considered generational, if the term existed back then? Probably not, because the general level of play was not so far below his level of play. Here’s a guide: Gretzky is generational, Messier is an all-time great. Mario is generational, Jagr is an all-time great. Lindros is probably generational, because he was unique to the league at the time. But you could argue it the other way.

  3. Whoever came up with having Johnny and Rennie fly cover for Bonnie and Carl deserves a bonus check and a Comcast-paid vacation to Walt Disney World. Thanks for not saying anything bad about me, Eric. Makes up for the time you flew to California specifically to piss on my grave.

  4. It was awesome seeing one of the all time Great hockey lines again and even more so seeing legendary multiple 50goal flyer.

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