There was something different about Thursday morning.

When I drove my kid to school, it was still dark out. There was a slight chill in the air. A radio station called me to go on the air, briefly. I was tasked with staying up well past midnight in order to write a story for the following morning.

Yep. It’s October. Yep, it’s hockey season.

A lot of people in the Philadelphia area celebrated that on Thursday – the start of a new season, where hope springs eternal and visions of the Flyers skating with a silver chalice for the first time in 43 years dance in imaginations from Yardley to Yeadon.

And while turning those visions into expectations is still quite premature, the Flyers did give their fans what they wanted Thursday night. In what is becoming a bit of an (unwelcome) tradition, the Flyers kicked off their season on the West Coast, and much like last year, were rude house guests and spoiled the home opener of their opponent.

And although the Flyers beat the defending Western Conference Champion Vegas Golden Knights 5-2, they didn’t do it with speed or tenacity, but rather with smart positional play (eventually) and goaltending.

Four of the five Flyers goals were fluky or fortunate – but if you are going to be a good team you have to make your own good luck sometimes, and the more impressive aspects of the game were bottling up the neutral zone to take away Vegas’ strength and a really strong effort in goal by Brian Elliott.

Let’s break it down:

1. Moose Tracking

Elliott is the lone goalie on the roster, not injured that is, who the Flyers seem to have confidence in when he’s on the ice.

However, Elliott is not normally a fast starter and is coming off of not one but two surgeries in nine months, so it would be easy to forgive Elliott if he got off to another slow start.

Uh… not the case:

And this was just one of his 23 saves. And it wasn’t even his best – just the best one I could find on the Twitter by the peeps who make these things.

Nevertheless, Elliott was strong, especially low and along the ice. It seemed like that was the Golden Knights’ strategy to beat Elliott, but he was able to do a good job of squaring himself to the shooter, stacking the pads, and making himself look bigger than he is.

The two goals by Vegas were the result of a the Knights taking advantage of a line change by the Flyers and a shorthanded marker by old friend Pierre-Edouard Bellemare after Shayne Gostisbehere turned the puck over to him in the neutral zone following a stick to the groin.

Elliott was really good, especially weathering the early storm of the Knights. In the first period, for the first 13 minutes or so, Vegas looked like Vegas from a season ago. But Elliott kept the Flyers in the game and allowed them to finally take over late in the first and in a dominant second period.

Elliott did get some help from the pipes – including one shot that hit both posts in sequence, but aside from that, it was the kind of effort the Flyers needed from Elliott if they were going to get off on the right foot, and he provided it.

2. Taking Away Vegas’ strength

I won’t dwell on this one too long because I don’t have a lot of video at my disposal to show you, so you’ll have to just trust me on this one, but after some initial sloppiness with turnovers that created high scoring chances by Vegas early, the Flyers really seemed to settle into their systems and game plan and for most of the game, really took away the time and space that Vegas usually thrives in.

The Flyers bottled up the neutral zone and were actually pretty physical against Vegas and prevented them from really taking advantage of their superior speed.

Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny (whom the Flyers really wanted in free agency), had a couple nice shifts together early, but the Flyers really closed them off after that and we didn’t hear from them much at all in their 16-plus minutes of ice time.

It was a smart game plan by the Flyers – likely culled from the work Washington did against Vegas in the Stanley Cup Finals – but no matter where it came from, it was well done.

3. Praise for Hak

I know I am often critical of the coach. Dave Hakstol can take solace that I do that in all sports. I think coaches have more impact on outcomes than most fans recognize.

But when a coach has a good game, he should be equally praised as he is criticized when he has a bad game.

Hakstol had a good night for the Flyers.

It wasn’t just the game plan, which was well-executed. It was the line combinations and the deployment as well.

Let’s start with the lines:

I was not one of the people who thought it smart to drop James van Riemsdyk to the third line with Wayne Simmonds and Mikhail Vorobyev and moving Oskar Lindblom up to the second line.

My reasoning is it really takes what looked to be a scary good offensive-minded line with a great playmaker in Jake Voracek, a great finisher in van Riemsdyk and a burgeoning talent like Nolan Patrick between them and turned it into a line with no finisher and put two power forwards on the same line centered by a rookie two-way pivot.

Ultimately, it might turn out to be the wrong decision, and he may have to go back to JVR on line two and Lindblom on line three, but for this night, it was definitely a success.

Lindblom scored the first goal of the season showing some real patience before shooting, getting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury out of position and making something happen by just putting the puck towards the net:

Yeah, the puck was probably ticketed for sliding completely through the crease had not it hit Nick Holden’s skate… but if Lindblom rushed the shot, Fleury likely makes a save and the Flyers don’t score. By showing patience and forcing the Knights to act first, Lindblom creates the opportunity for the goal.

Of course, Holden misread the play earlier and took the man with the puck (Travis Sanheim) rather than leaving him for Fleury and marking Lindblom, so there was a big breakdown by Vegas here, but good on the Flyers for capitalizing.

In addition, Simmonds had a great game with a pair of goals and looked so much healthier than he did at any point last season. We’ll get to Simmonds’ goals briefly, but neither came as a result of the new combination with JVR and Vorobyev.

Still, the Flyers got a goal from the fourth line as well and really had good balance through the lineup. Hakstol didn’t overplay anyone. The only guys to top 20 minutes of ice time were Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere and Sean Couturier, none of which were a surprise, And every player except Jori Lehtera (10:55) skated at least 11 minutes. That’s good deployment by Hakstol.

The power play scored. The penalty kill didn’t let up a goal and even killed off a 5-on-3. Hakstol had a very good night.

4. Choo-Choo.

OK… here are Simmonds’ goals:

and then….

They don’t look all that different from the kinds of goals you are used to seeing from Simmonds. A lot of trash clean up in the crease.

And that marks five opening night goals in the last two seasons for Simmonds.

He’s going to score if he’s healthy. He just has a knack for it. That’s not what impressed me in the opener. No, what impressed me was his play without the puck. He was really sound defensively. He was physical on the wall (also expected), but the latter was good to see so you know there are no ill effects still lingering from last season.

The one thing you worry about is, he only knows one way to play, and that’s going to make him more susceptible than anyone else to get dinged up.

But, you keep your fingers crossed and just hope, because if he can be the old Wayne Simmonds, look out.

5. Fourth Line magic

Laughton scored the fifth Flyers goal on a nice redirect of a Radko Gudas shot:

But that was just gravy. Laughton and Raffl were excellent on every shift they were on the ice. They controlled puck possession. They created opportunities. And when they didn’t have the puck, they hunted it down.

Then, when the Flyers were shorthanded, they were easily the two most noticeable and active penalty killers.

This is the kind of stuff you want from a fourth line every night.

Now, I’m still not sure how Lehtera fits in… he was pretty invisible, as usual, and I’d honestly like to see Vorobyev with these two and reinsert Jordan Weal onto the third line and see what happens, but, something tells me Raffl and Laughton are going to be impact players all season because of their willingness to grind.

6. JVR

I don’t want to kill the guy in his first game back. He had an assist on Robert Hagg’s goal:

So that was nice…

But other than that, I thought he had a meh game. I didn’t particularly like his 5-on-5 play and he took an unnecessary penalty in the first period when he tripped Erik Haula after kind of gliding toward a loose puck in the corner that he should have been able to get to.

It’s been reported that JVR didn’t have the greatest camp – maybe kind of going through the motions now that he’s been in the league for practically a decade. Nevertheless, the Flyers are going to need better effort from him than we saw in the opener for sure.

7. Quick hitters

♠ The top line was pretty non-existent at even strength. Good thing the rest of the lineup picked up the slack.

♣ Giroux picked up a secondary assist on Simmonds’ power play goal. He took over sole possession of third place on the Flyers all-time assist list moving past Bill Barber. He should pass No. 2 Brian Propp sometime before the holidays.

♥ With two assists himself, Voracek now has 400 in his career. He quietly had a pretty good game himself.

♦ van Riemsdyk’s assist on Hagg’s goal was his 100th point as a Flyer. Hagg had a goal and an assist for his first career multi-point game and Vorobyev picked up his first NHL point with an assist.

8. Gritty update

The overnight mascot sensation made several appearances on TV and social media last night. Here are a few gems for you:

and the topper….

We are living in a new, bizarre world.