Unlucky or Understated? Thoughts on Canucks 5, Flyers 4 (SO)

Photo credit: © Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

For all the changes the Flyers made to their roster this offseason –and there were seven guys in the lineup on Opening Night on Friday that didn’t play for them last season, with three others who were not there because of a minor injury, a visa issue and the Covid-19 protocol– there is only one name that truly matters for the Flyers that will determine if they are going to be a good team again this season, as they were in 2019-20, or if they are going to be mediocre-to-bad, as they were in 2020-21:

Carter Hart.

It’s pretty cut and dry for this team. Get quality goaltending – and they’ll be fine. Get subpar goaltending, and, well, major changes are coming, and likely starting with the coaching staff.

For one night, Hart was a little bit of everything for the Flyers. He looked really good at times –specifically the third period and overtime– and he looked shaky at times, particularly in the second period.

The end result was a come-from-behind 5-4 shootout loss to Vancouver, earning the Flyers one point, a good point considering how sideways the game went for 20 minutes, but a point that still leaves you wondering where the Flyers top goalie is coming off such a disastrous season.

When you really break it down, Hart wasn’t a problem on three of the four goals the Flyers allowed, and on the fourth, an argument can be made that it was unlucky for Hart and the Flyers just as easily as an argument can be made that it was incredibly preventable by the Flyers goalie.

But if we’re taking cues from the head coach, who was often a lot more critical of Hart last season after games, and whose system that he runs is reliant on a goalie he can trust, Alain Vigneault was quite supportive of Hart’s performance in the opener.

“Unfortunately, I think Carter got a little bit unlucky on two of those goals,” Vigneault said. “Those are things that happen. Keep working hard and the breaks will come your way.”

Encouragement. That’s new.

Yet, it’s understandable. Vancouver’s first goal was a snipe by Vasili Podkolzin, that was created by sloppy defensive play in front of Hart.

The shot beat Hart to the glove-hand short side, a location that became the bane of Hart’s existence a season ago, but still, it was a nice shot on a play that could have been defended better.

The second goal was a power play goal for Vancouver that bounced hard off the end wall and came back toward the goal, hit both of Hart’s skates and trickled in. It was frustrating. It was one of those goals that you say, “This doesn’t happen to a goalie who is locked in,” and maybe it doesn’t. But, it was an unlucky goal, no matter how you slice it.

It was, however, this fourth goal that made so many fans cringe, but which the Flyers defended as simply a bad break for Hart:

If Hart stays put and doesn’t start looking around for the puck, the referee likely blows the play dead, assuming the puck is frozen. But Hart’s uncertainty makes the referee believe, for just an instant, that the puck is probably loose somewhere and maybe will be carried into the net by Hart himself.

Travis Sanheim does Hart no favors by going for the puck rather than taking the man out of the play, and that allows J.T. Miller to simply tap it in to make it 4-2.

Should Hart play that weird angle shot better? Yeah, probably. Is he a little unlucky too? Yeah, probably.

The point is, good goalies don’t let that puck into the net. Especially not after the Flyers had just seized the momentum in the game on a goal by Cam Atkinson, his first as a Flyer.

To his credit though, Hart rebounded and was money for the Flyers in the third period and in overtime. He stopped Canucks star center Elias Pettersson twice in OT, including this one:

Pettersson would get him back in the shootout, reminding us all how nice he would have looked in a Flyers jersey had the Flyers selected him rather than Nolan Patrick with the second pick in the 2017 NHL draft (Pettersson went No. 5).

In the end, Hart made 35 saves – which is good. His save percentage was .897. That won’t cut it for a full season, but within the confines of this game it was OK.

Nevertheless, the Flyers are going to need him to be even better going forward if they want this season to be a success.

Other things of note from the opener:

Lack of Discipline

Four minor penalties in the same period, including a pair that gives their opponent a two-man advantage can’t happen. Especially penalties of the variety that took place Friday.

Travis Konecny took a high-sticking penalty well behind the play. Max Willman, who made his NHL debut for the Flyers, took an unnecessary cross-checking penalty late in the period.

Ivan Provorov had a delay of game penalty for flipping the puck over the glass, which is one of those try-to-avoid-it-if-you-can type of penalties. And then somehow, someway, the Flyers had a bad change while shorthanded that resulted in a too-many-men on the ice penalty. Those happen at 5-on-5, which is frustrating enough, but how do they happen when you are shorthanded? That’s a woeful lack of attention.

Take this element of the game away, and the Flyers likely win comfortably against Vancouver.

The resiliency is still there

Down 4-2 late in the third period, the Flyers found some of that come-from-behind magic that they tried to rely on too frequently a season ago.

This time, it was successful enough to earn them a point in the standings.

First it was Konecny, scoring a much needed goal:

Konecny struggled much of last season, but especially down the stretch, and then he also had a hard time potting a goal in the preseason. So, to get one this soon this season, is really a weight off his shoulders.

Then there was the captain:

What’s not seen on the play is Giroux called for the puck from Sean Couturier who had it on the far side. He wanted Coots to bank it off the end boards to him on the other side.

But, his first intention was not to shoot:

“I was going to pass it in front of the net but the puck was flat so I thought I would just shoot on it,” he said. “It’s  a tough move for a goalie to move side to side, and it went in. I’m happy I did that.”

Tidbits

Finally, here are some notes provided by the Flyers award winning PR staff:

  • Tonight marks the first time in Flyers history that their season opening game was decided by a shootout.
  • It was also the first time since the 2015-16 season that the Flyers season opening game was decided past regulation (Oct. 8, 2015: 3-2 OTL @ Tampa).
  • The loss snapped a streak of five straight season opening wins for the Flyers, but the Flyers extended their point streak to seven straight season-openers with the shootout loss.
  • Ivan Provorov led all players in the game in ice time, logging 29:23, while Ryan Ellis was second at 28:20.
  • The Flyers defense recorded a total of five points, all assists, in tonight’s game, with Keith Yandle (2a) and Ryan Ellis (2a) leading the way.
  • Claude Giroux scored a goal in a season opening game for the fifth time in his career… He also had the most shots of any player in the game (8) and went 79 percent on face-offs (11-for-14).
  • The Flyers record in home openers is now 30-17-7, while their season opening record is now  26-19-9.
  • Max Willman made his NHL debut tonight – he recorded one shot on goal and logged 9:30 of ice time.

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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