Penguins Can’t Fly: Nine Observations from Flyers 6, Pittsburgh 3

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Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

One game does not a Stanley Cup champion make, but if Wednesday night’s rout of the Pittsburgh Penguins is any indication, the Flyers are well on their way to a deep postseason run. Coming off a training camp that realistically lasted just over a week, with no preseason to work out the kinks, the Flyers confirmed a lot of what we saw last week in Voorhees.

With that, let’s get into some observations from Wednesday night’s season opener.

1. Hop on the Bus, Gus

No, I’m not trying to fully channel my inner Simon & Garfunkel on this one, but perhaps it’s Erik Gustafsson who should be telling the rest of PP2 to hop on the bus. Gustafsson was the only real free agent acquisition made by Chuck Fletcher this past offseason, signing the powerplay specialist to a one-year, $3 million contract. In recent weeks, there had been an outcry on Twitter that Gustafsson’s signing was premature, especially given the free agent market’s last-minute bargain deals including former Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara signing with the Washington Capitals on a 1-yr, $795,000 deal.

Even with hindsight, Chara wasn’t the kind of defenseman the Flyers needed. Sure, adding a future Hall of Famer to the lineup has benefits to a locker room, but Justin Braun already fills that role for the team and admits that he hasn’t needed to step up in the same way Matt Niskanen did a season ago.

No, Fletcher knew that the one thing he could do to improve his team immensely was acquiring a guy who could flip a game on its head with a man advantage. He did it not once, but twice in the first period, ripping two shots from the point that were deflected home, including this one that found the stick of James van Riemsdyk to tie the game at one goal apiece:

One of the initial criticisms of the Gustafsson signing at the time, and even up until recently, was the redundancy of skillsets between him and Shayne Gostisbehere. Ghost had been a game-changing powerplay force for the Flyers earlier in his career, but his reluctance to shoot and inability to get it on net when he did saw him fall out of favor with multiple coaches.

To be fair to Gostisbehere, he had positive moments in camp and appeared to have rediscovered chemistry on the top pairing with Ivan Provorov. It would’ve been interesting to see how Alain Vigneault’s lineup would have shaken out if Gostisbehere – who was announced by the league as unavailable by the league due to COVID protocol – had been available.

Regardless, this is why Fletcher went out and got an insurance policy on the backend. To his credit, Gustafsson heaped quite a bit of praise on James van Riemsdyk and Nolan Patrick postgame for making his job easier. It didn’t go unnoticed by their head coach, who said:

“I like the fact that we shot the puck and had some net presence on the power play. That enabled us to get both those goals. Great job by JVR and without a doubt Erik shooting that puck and finding that lane and getting that puck towards the net was the right way of doing things on the power play. I thought that was a good start for our group.”

2. The Beez Knees

Soccer-turned-basketball-turned-occasional-hockey-guy Kevin Kinkead wrote up a piece about the guy known in the locker room as Beezer, so I’m not going to dive too deep into the significance of the 20-year-old’s four point night, except to point out that the new #86 put in a ton of work in the offseason and proved on Wednesday night he belongs in the Orange & Black’s top six:

As one of only two players on the team to be a repeat guest on the podcast, it’s worth noting that the Snow The Goalie bump is real.

3. The Nolan Patrick Line

When I wrote over the weekend that Nolan Patrick looked exceptional in training camp and could be the key to a Stanley Cup run, the reaction was a mix of hope from half the fan base and “prove it” from the other.

While the results were a bit up-and-down at even strength, Patrick’s line was nothing short of masterful in the offensive zone and absolutely lethal on the Flyers’ second powerplay unit. With just nine seconds remaining in the first period, just six seconds into their second power play opportunity of the game, Erik Gustafsson’s shot from the point clipped the stick of Nolan Patrick, beating Tristan Jarry and giving the Flyers a 2-1 lead:

The goal was originally credited to Gus, but after review the puck clearly came in contact with the shaft of Nolan Patrick’s stick. That marked the first time he’d found the back of the net since April 2, 2019. That’s 652 days. After losing the remainder of the 2018-19 season and all of the 2019-20 campaign with a migraine disorder, it had to feel good for the former #2 overall pick to get rewarded in his first game back.

One of Patrick’s closest friends on the team, Travis Konecny, said that they shared a moment before the game:

I cannot stress enough how much a healthy Nolan Patrick, along with highly-motivated wings James van Riemsdyk and Jakub Voracek, can do to raise this team’s ceiling. The fact that they’re this team’s third line speaks to the team’s…

4. Depth, Depth, Depth

Coaches talk about it all the time, including Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault. A team with real depth, a true ability to roll four lines and three defensive pairs is one to fear. Every single line found the back of the net on Wednesday night.

Oskar Lindblom’s header was the top line’s contribution. Kevin Hayes and Joel Farabee put a goal apiece past Tristan Jarry, capping off a night that saw the second line buzzing throughout. Nolan Patrick and James van Riemsdyk’s power play goals were huge for a second power play unit, 60% of which is comprised of the third line. The fourth line of Michael Raffl, Scott Laughton, and Nic Aube-Kubel got down and dirty to score what ended up being the game-winning goal:

If this team is able to stay healthy, and that’s a big if, the case can be made that the Flyers have the deepest forward corps in the NHL.

5. Oskar Lindblom Uses His Head

Just when it looked like Travis Konecny had ended his goal scoring drought going back to Toronto bubble:

It turned out he really hadn’t. Upon review, the puck actually caromed off the head of Oskar Lindblom, who played his first game at Wells Fargo Center since he was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma in December 2019.

That fact was not lost on head coach Alain Vigneault, who said postgame:

“I would say thought this: my one disappointment in tonight’s game is that Oskar played his first game at Wells Fargo since December 2019 and he did not get a chance to play it in front of Flyers fans giving him the great cheer and love that he deserves after coming back and battling cancer. I thought of that going in. I talked to Oskar a little bit about it after the game. It would have been phenomenal to play this game tonight, Oskar back with this place full of fans and first time he stepped on the ice, he was the starting lineup, I’m sure he would have gotten the cheer that he deserves.”

The man has a way with words. He’s also spot-on. Whenever fans are allowed back in the arena, Oskar and Nolan Patrick are going to get one heck of an ovation.

6. Kevin Hayes Continues His Scoring Ways

On Wednesday’s episode of Snow The Goalie, Colby Cohen talked about the number of people from the organization who noted how ready Kevin Hayes was for camp. He looked motivated. His physical conditioning was improved. It’s as if he felt like he had something to prove following last season’s disappointing Game 7 loss to the Islanders.

Then training camp happened and the man routinely found the back of the net. It was part of why I highlighted the “Kevin Hayes to Score a Goal” market in our Flyers v. Penguins betting preview, where my picks were a perfect 3/3 [pats self on back].

He didn’t disappoint on Wednesday night, scoring the team’s sixth and final goal:

I asked him after the game if getting contributions from younger players like Patrick, Lindblom, and Farabee takes some of the pressure off vets like him, van Riemsdyk, Voracek, and Claude Giroux. He noted that the young guys are the best players on the team and that it’s huge to get contributions from them as they continue to grow into their scoring roles.

7. Solid Special Teams

The Flyers power play was excellent as outlined above, but the penalty kill was also incredibly effective. The PK would have started off the season a perfect 3-3 on kills had it not been for a bad turnover behind the net from Carter Hart and an elite demonstration of hand-eye coordination:

Sometimes a goofy play happens. Hart needs to make a better pass, but Crosby’s one of the all-time greats for a reason.

8. Dystopian Fun

I was fortunate enough to be granted access to cover the game. The view was great:

The fake crowd noise was a bit odd, but not too distracting. The in-arena entertainment, however, highlighted just how strange it is to cover a game without fans:

I do hope that Gritty achieves all of his New Year’s Resolutions:

9. Honoring Frontline Workers

I’m not sure if this was shown on the telecast or not, but just off to the right of Gritty’s stage, behind the Flyers bench was a platform for what is set to be an every-game occurrence at Wells Fargo Center:

The first frontline worker family honored was the Hatheway family. Here’s a bit about them from the team:

“Amanda is a nurse at St. Mary’s Medical Center and Josh, who also works for St. Mary’s, is an EMT and clinical lead for all of the hospital’s emergency room technicians. Amanda provides care for patients through St. Mary’s Home Care Services while Josh services those in the trauma unit. The honored couple will be joined by their young sons, Westin and Carson.”

“Amanda and Josh Hatheway have dedicated their lives to helping and serving others, and during this pandemic, they’ve put their own health and safety on the line for their community. People like the Hatheways deserve to be recognized, and we couldn’t be more excited to give them this special experience with their young boys,” said President of Business Operations, Philadelphia Flyers and Wells Fargo Center, Valerie Camillo.

A great gesture on an excellent night of hockey.

For more Flyers coverage, follow Snow The Goalie on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Also be sure to tune into The Press Row Show as Anthony SanFilippo and Russ Joy provide pregame and intermission coverage of every Flyers home game from press row of the Wells Fargo Center via the Crossing Broad Facebook page, YouTube Live, and Twitter, and their Twitter accounts   

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