As the start of the NHL season evolves, the Circulars really had a rough start in terms of early testing. Their second game of the season was against the new NHL team, a team that there really hadn’t been a movie about as a collective unit except for a small handful of games. Then they faced a team they knew very well, the one that had their number last season with the Boston Bruins.
Saturday’s game against the Florida Panthers, to the casual hockey fan, may have seemed like a game the Flyers would generally win. But these aren’t the Florida Panthers of the past decade. They are a very talented team, and many believe they are in contention for the Stanley Cup.
For two periods, the Flyers not only trailed, but actually led for a decent amount. A costly mistake allowed Florida to equalize before the end of the second, but it gave the Flyers another push in the final period. The opportunity presented itself and ultimately took the wrong direction with a dynamic goal.
The Flyers ended their four-game home stint to start the season with a 2-1-1 record following Saturday’s 4-2 loss to the Panthers, showing signs of promise with their level of competition, but also short of a few games that were certainly there for the taking.
Here are five takeaways from Saturday’s loss.
1. Penalty Kill impresses
If there was one area that was certainly impressive, it was the penalty kill. The Panthers were 1-for-7 on the power play, and even though they struck in the first period, the Flyers had to stand up to keep them in the game.
While we’ll get into why the Flyers were shorthanded so often, this was an area that really hadn’t been tested much at this point in the season. They were 2 for 4 against Vancouver in the season opener, but they were 4 for 4 against Seattle and killed the only power play for Boston in Wednesday’s game. So almost doubling that in one game isn’t ideal.
That said, the PK Flyers were certainly pretty aggressive. In one case, it turned into a shorthanded goal for Cam Atkinson, which continues to make its presence felt at the start of the season. A turnaround at the blue line allowed Atkinson to enter the breakaway intact and score in all five holes of Sergey Bobrovsky.
Despite the only goal conceded with Florida over a man advantage, the Flyers showed signs that their PK was going in the right direction. It comes just in time for their next big test.
2. Hart stays sharp
A key part of your penalty kill is often your goalie. The Flyers did a pretty solid job keeping the shots from reaching Carter Hart on the PK during the match, but Hart had another solid performance.
There wasn’t much Hart could have done on any of the three goals he allowed in the game. Jonathan huberdeauThe first was a high shot from the left circle. Owen Tippett scored from a knockdown of his skate with Hart in the cross crease on the attempt. At Huberdeau’s second goal while on the shorthand, Hart actually made a huge breakaway save before Huberdeau could clear him from Hart.
Otherwise, Hart made 27 saves, good for a .900 save percentage. That’s about average at best by numbers, but Hart certainly kept the team in the game throughout the game, especially against a team that has averaged 4.5 goals per game this season. They only reached four in this game thanks to an empty net at the end.
3. Costly mistakes
Return to Florida’s last two goals with Hart in the goal. Two mistakes involving multiple players turned out to be costly.
Let’s start with Tippett’s tying goal late in the second period. On the one hand, timing is everything. The Flyers had played a solid second period to take the lead on a fiery Florida team. They were less than a minute away from taking that lead in the third period.
That’s when the Flyers front row carelessly returned the puck. Travis Konecny passes through the middle of the attacking zone with all three forwards in depth, allowing the Panthers to counter with numbers. The Flyers are doing a good job on the backcheck, so much so that the Panthers really haven’t had much play.
MacKenzie Weegar has the puck along the left wing on its backhand. The only player with even a possible path to the net was Tippett, and at this point both Rasmus Ristolainen and Travis Sanheim are back. Ristolainen does a decent job of at least removing Weegar’s angle, leaving him with either a straight backhand to Hart or a cross pass. Weegar attempts the pass, and it crosses Sanheim and hits Tippett’s skate, deflecting Hart up and down as he stretches across. Sanheim isn’t even badly positioned here, he’s just passing somehow when he absolutely shouldn’t.
Now on to the shorthanded goal that ultimately turned out to be the game winner. At this point, the Flyers really have a lot of momentum. They killed the remaining 1:45 of a penalty at Ivan Provorov took 11 seconds after Tippett’s goal and killed another penalty less than five minutes later. Now, barely seven minutes into the period, they were on the man advantage themselves.
Keith yandle passes back to the blue line, but misses his mark. It is actually difficult to know who the intended target is, as it drifts between Claude giroux at the top of the point and Sean dressmaker along the right circle. this allows Sam bennett to jump and take control. Giroux is the only man back as Huberdeau joins the race, so Bennett pulls Giroux in and passes to Huberdeau, now on a breakaway. He cuts the backhand and puts it in the net, but Hart extends his left leg and makes the save. The puck follows Huberdeau behind the net, and the Flyers, now a minute into the power play, have tired players on the ice and are unable to come back to disrupt an attempt to follow Huberdeau. He took the shot out of the Harts pad, once again giving Florida the lead.
Mistakes can certainly make a difference in a game, but they are also magnified, especially against a team with so much talent.
4. Lack of discipline
One of the Flyers’ big issues in this game was the time they spent on the shorthand. The Flyers were handed seven penalties in the game, which not only provides a number of opportunities for the opponent, but also disrupts the flow of your offensive pursuit and the ability to roll lines the way you want.
A power play lasted five seconds before Huberdeau scored. Another lasted 1:25 before the Panthers took a penalty.
It’s not just the number of penalties taken, it’s how obvious many of them were. Travis Sanheim’s interference penalty in the first was a flagrant foul. Nick seeler took a similar penalty moments later, though more questionable given the circumstances.
Ivan Provorov’s penalty for tripping late in the second after Tippett’s goal was another obvious call. Nicolas Aube Kubel took another penalty for unnecessary tripping in the third, just after making a positive offensive play to generate a scoring chance.
After Florida took the lead, Nate Thompson took another penalty with 9:46 left to play which was also unnecessary. Thompson’s intention to clear the porch and protect his goalie is admirable, but after taking a shot at Patrick hornqvist, Thompson added two more shots to take the penalty. It’s a place in the game where you can’t put your team down, no matter what your intentions are.
Maybe the Flyers were lucky enough to allow Florida just one in seven power play attempts. It is certainly a key to their victory over Boston that they only took one penalty during the game and will be a key to their game next Wednesday against the murderous Edmonton unit.
5. Keep the pace
Speaking of Edmonton coming up on the schedule, it’s another test against an unbeaten team early in the season. Give the Flyers credit for making this an interesting game. Florida has a lot of potential, and it was definitely a big test. Have the Flyers completely passed him? No, they did not come away with the result in a game that was there to take.
But certainly for parts of the game the Flyers seemed to be in control. The Flyers showed they can play for Boston earlier in the week and can follow Florida that night. They also did it without Ryan ellis in alignment.
It’s definitely a results-driven business, so winning is what matters. But maybe the silver lining here is that the Flyers faced early testing and played in competitive games throughout. Maybe the silver lining is also that there seems to be a lack of satisfaction in just playing games.
“We did a lot of good things. You win this game and it’s a great homestand. You lose this one and it just becomes a correct position, ”Giroux said. “We are at four games of the season. We just have to keep working on our game. We’re not going to win every game. I think it’s important that when we lose one, we respond in the next game.
Kevin Durso is a Flyers Insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers Editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on twitter @Kevin_Durso.