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Matt Niskanen stood in front of his locker, blood caked on his lips and goatee, his nose about three times the size as normal, with 15 fresh stitches and a pair of cotton spindles up his nostrils to prevent further bleeding.
He told the gathered media “It’s not as bad as it looks.”
We’ll get into his contributions to the Flyers’ 6-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings in a bit, but I told you that story to tell you this one:
Flyers coach Alain Vigneault used Niskanen’s take on his injury as a way to talk about the Flyers’ seemingly easy victory.
“Nisky said it looks worse than it is,” Vigneault said. “Well, we didn’t look real good at the beginning, but we found a way to get it going. That probably summarizes a bit of our game.”
In other words, the final score is not as good as it looks.
Hey, it was a game all about appearances for the Flyers (14-7-5, 33 points) who leapfrogged both Pittsburgh and Carolina into third place in the Metropolitan Division, a far cry from where they were exactly one calendar year prior when general manager Ron Hextall was about to be fired.
The Flyers didn’t look good for 40 minutes, and still had a lead. Two defensemen took pucks to the face. And that collection of veterans who have appeared to be struggling – well, they’re all scoring now.
Shayne Gostisbehere, back in the lineup for the first time after being benched for three games, scored a goal. Kevin Hayes, who has only been able to score in the past dozen games when there’s no goalie in front of the net, scored. Jake Voracek had a three assist game. Heck, even James van Riemsdyk got a goal in garbage time.
And yet, despite a five-goal victory, the Flyers were badly outplayed in the first period (which they ended up leading 2-1 heading into intermission) and for much of the second period (the Flyers lead actually grew to 3-1).
“To be honest, I think they were the better team for two periods,” Voracek said. “It’s always, I wouldn’t say hard to play against those teams but obviously they got nothing to lose, you know, in the standings. It’s really sometimes you don’t expect something happening on the ice, what they do, when they swing away and they kind of move around with all five guys in the zone. Sometimes you have a little trouble with that, but we got to move and stay patient. We got to find a way to win the game. Kudos to us. Kudos to us for doing that and sticking with it until the third period.”
Jake called it a “mindset,” that the Flyers are playing with right now. He said it’s something this team hasn’t had for a long time.
“AV holds guys accountable, you know what I mean,” Voracek told me when I asked him to elaborate on it further. “If you don’t have that ‘mindset’ then you aren’t going to play. It’s easy. You have to have that mindset to play the right way and to be successful. Tonight wasn’t pretty but I’ll take playing not pretty and winning over putting up 55 shots and coming up short.”
Positive things are happening for the Flyers in an unexpected fashion, but one in which we all should recognize are ways that things happen to good teams sometimes. When you play consistently, and with accountability, you can have games like this against a last place team like the Red Wings.
This wouldn’t have been the norm 12 months ago.
“You have to be able to evaluate your game individually and you have to be able to evaluate your game as a team,” Vigneault said. “We know that Carter [Hart] kept us in this game early – and goalies have to do that sometimes – and then we got going.”
It started with Hart. It ended with JVR. Up next is a team that has been absolutely pathetic at home of late. Let’s cycle through this rapid fire.
Carter Hart was the difference maker in a 6-1 win