Saturday night’s hockey game between the Flyers and Panthers was reminiscent of an old-time, heavyweight boxing match.
No, there wasn’t any fisticuffs, or glove-dropping to get the fans all in a lather.
But rather that it was two talented teams, bringing the game to one another, trading blows, and seeing who could score the most points with the hardest punches.
Both teams scored on the power play. Both teams scored shorthanded. The 5-on-5 play was mostly even, with both goalies coming up[ with timely stops.
In the end, this one would go to the Panthers by a score of 4-2. They are now 5-0-0 to start the season and look every bit like the best team in hockey, if October can be such a time to measure who is most deserving of that moniker.
But, the game was there for the Flyers. It was tied at 2-2 in the third period. The two crucial mistakes for the Flyers occurred when they had a 2-1 lead in the second, and then later when they gave up their first third period goal of the season when a bad pass on the power play led to the shortie for the Panthers.
There were also too many penalties, but part of that may have been a shorthanded officiating crew.
In the end, the Flyers finished a four-game season opening homestand 2-1-1, which isn’t bad, but could have been better. They will tell you they should have won all four, and you can see how that could have happened, so it’s good to know they aren’t settling for a decent start. They are demanding more of themselves, and that bodes well as they head to Western Canada for some Hockey After Dark next week.
The Captain and Cam
The Flyers entered the game Saturday with six players who had registered at least a point in each of their first three games.
That list was winnowed down to two once Game 4 was in the books – and not surprisingly, it was the two goal scorers who kept their fast starts going.
Claude Giroux scored his third goal of the season to tie the score in the second period.
— Hockey Daily 365 (@HockeyDaily365) October 24, 2021
That was a rocket by Giroux, and came from the opposite side from where he is usually situated on the power play.
There’s just something about the way he looks to start this season. He’s always been a fierce competitor, we know that. But there’s a lot of emotion behind every play, and behind every goal for Giroux so far this season.
Every game has always mattered to Giroux – but more often than not, he has internalized it. He would have more of a slow burn. He would save the real emotion for the biggest moments.
But right now, you can see a different version of the Flyers captain. A guy who recognizes where he’s at in his career and wants it even that much more now, as time slowly works against him.
On the Snow the Goalie podcast, my hot take for the season was that Giroux would be a point per game player this season. So far, so good. But my reasons behind that were two-fold. The first being that this is a contract year, and great players make an effort to have really good contract years in anticipation of that next contract. Whether that contract is here (I put it at 90% that it is) or somewhere else, Giroux wants to make sure that it is earned money.
But the second part is likely far more important than the term of his next deal or the salary of it – it’s his Flyers legacy.
Giroux doesn’t want to be remembered simply as a good player who put up points for consistently mediocre or underperforming teams. He wants to add to his legacy something more – a championship would be the most ideal, of course, but keep in mind that except for the Broad Street Bullies, many great Flyers have left a memorable and rewarding legacy that didn’t include a Cup. Giroux probably needs more than one good season and a trip to the Conference Finals, for example, to cement that legacy if there is no engraving of his name into the silver chalice. But, the Flyers were remade and rebuilt this season to start chasing that prize, and you can tell Giroux senses it from now. There are only so many more kicks at the can, and this is probably the best team Giroux has been a part of since 2011-12, so he’s going to go for it.
We should enjoy the ride.
Then there’s Cam Atkinson, who is showing why he was so beloved in Columbus for so long.
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) October 24, 2021
It was Atkinson’s fourth goal of the season already. Scoring a goal per game is not going to be a realistic outcome, but we shouldn’t forget that it was only the last full season before the pandemic that Atkinson scored 40 goals in a season for the Blue Jackets.
He’s an all situations player. He’s going to be on the ice at a lot of key times and have the opportunity to score a lot of key goals. So far, he’s done that in his brief time with the Flyers.
Having him and a goal-hunting bloodhound like Joel Farabee on your second unit really makes the Flyers a deeper offensive team than maybe most of us realized.
He’s also a red light player – meaning when the camera is rolling, he’s at his best. He’s a lot like a former Flyer, something I’ve been touting in the press box since the preseason began and that is now being parroted:
— Russ Joy (@JoyOnBroad) October 21, 2021
(This goal from the Boston game)
In what has been a real positive start for the Flyers offense, it’s hard to say that anyone has looked better than either of these two veteran forwards.
Yes, veteran referee Gord Dwyer was injured in the first period of the game and had to leave the ice, leaving inexperienced ref Michael Markovic to handle things on his own. This was a situation made worse by the fact that one of the linesmen was making his NHL debut.
So, a really competitive and intense game became that much harder to officiate. That’s why you didn’t hear any griping from either side after the game because players and coaches alike appreciated the effort that such a young and shorthanded crew gave considering the circumstances.
Still, the Flyers were shorthanded seven times. That’s too much. Yes, they killed six of those power play chances for Florida and the one goal they did allow, they negated by scoring shorthanded on Atkinson’s goal. Still, some of the penalties were behind the play, or lazy or the result of too much aggression.
Three of those seven minors came from the fourth line. Two from Nate Thompson and one from Nicolas Aube-Kubel.
It should be noted that Aube-Kubel played just 7:19 in the game against Florida, lowest of all Flyers players. Part of that is because he doesn’t kill penalties, so he’s one of the players who gets their shifts taken out of rhythm by too many penalties, but he finished with fewer than Zach MacEwen, who many people would immediately identify as the 12th forward.
Coach Alain Vigneault won’t be happy with two penalties by Thompson, but the veteran center has a little more “money in the bank” as AV likes to say then Aube-Kubel does at this point.
The coach’s patience grew thin with Aube-Kubel taking penalties last season, and with more depth available to the team this season, odds are, that rope is even shorter.
With Patrick Brown finally practicing with the team, do not be surprised if Brown takes Aube-Kubel’s spot in the lineup when the team next takes the ice in Edmonton Wednesday rather than MacEwen.
These Mistakes Need to Be One-Offs, and Not Become Chronic
It’s hard to knock Keith Yandle, who had been sensational through the Flyers first three games with five assists. But, a play like this, which leads to the game-winner for Florida, can’t happen:
— totaltrashsports (@totaltrashspor1) October 24, 2021
Yes, he was pressured by two Panthers, but unless you absolutely know that pass to the far point is going to be played by a teammate and no one else, you have to try and dump it deep. Even if you turn it over, the result is not going to be a 2-on-1 breakaway against only a forward back playing defense.
There are a lot of Yandle detractors out there from previous stops in his career who were experiencing schadenfreude over that turnover – as if it was something Yandle did frequently for them.
That can’t be the case for the Flyers. Look, turnovers happen, but they can’t happen frequently and they can’t be chronic in form either.
Yandle still is on the plus side of the ledger for the Flyers through four games, but that turnover does give you a little bit of pause.
Then there’s this play that Travis Sanheim said he wants back:
Weegs with the flow AND the sauce pic.twitter.com/L3y0SQUpDd
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) October 24, 2021
It’s a soft saucer pace that Sanheim absolutely should get his stick on, but doesn’t. The mistake is late recognition, or a premature adjustment. Really a combination of the two.
Sanheim turns his back to the net looking for a trailer too soon. If he continues to chase the play he likely has a cleaner path to stopping the puck, either catching it on his stick or being in position to block it with his skate or shin pad.
By doing that quick little dosey-do, he’s unable to get back in the proper position in time, and whiffs on the block, allowing a cheap pass to get through and lead to the tying goal for Florida.
It’s those little things that can be the difference in a game between two good teams, and in this one, the best team in hockey (so far) was able to win again because of two, small, mental mistakes by Flyers defensemen.
That’s how thin the line can be between winning and losing.
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