PHILADELPHIA — The Flyers have something to prove.
The team’s mission to deem their 25-23-8 finish last season a fluke became the focus of the new-look squad, so much so that the “something to prove” mantra became a part of the team’s branding.
However, in their 5-4 shootout loss to the Canucks on Friday, the Flyers showed they have some more proving to do.
The first period showed flashes of their 2019-20 season, when the Flyers finished sixth league-wide in goals for (232). They dominated possession, peppering 13 shots on goalie Thatcher Demko and pulling ahead 1-0 early. It seemed like the Flyers had shocked the Canucks, who only managed to put a meager five shots on net in the opening period.
However, some of the Flyers’ biggest flaws of the 2020-21 season reappeared in the second period when the team allowed two power-play goals and goalie Carter Hart let in four total. While a stellar effort late in the third evened the score 4-4, they couldn’t find the back of the net in overtime and fell in a shootout. The Flyers conceded a loss in the opener for the first time in six seasons.
In his first start of the regular season, goaltender Carter Hart looked to move on from his poor 2020-21 finish, in which he posted a .877 save percentage and a 3.67 goals against average. Hart wasn’t tested early in the night against the Canucks, who only put five shots on net through the first period.
In the second period, Hart struggled to keep the puck out of the Flyers’ net. His most alarming goal allowed came at 17:07 in the second period when Elias Pettersson’s shot sat on the goal line and Hart couldn’t find the puck lodged beneath his skate. Center J.T. Miller poked the puck out from beneath Hart and into the net, putting the Canucks up 4-2. The timing of the goal, too, proved challenging for the Flyers — winger Cam Atkinson had just pulled the team within one goal of tying the game five minutes prior.
Hart did, however, have a short memory. He dazzled in overtime, making multiple saves on Pettersson and stopping the Canucks on six shots. He singlehandedly kept the Flyers in the game, who only managed two shots on goal in the overtime period. In total, Hart finished the night with a .897 save percentage.
Among the nightmares from last season that the Flyers would like to leave behind was their poor penalty killing. The club finished next-to-last in penalty killing percentage (73.05 percent) through the 2020-21 regular season.
This offseason, general manager Chuck Fletcher brought in pieces to help the Flyers bolster their special teams units, including Ryan Ellis, Keith Yandle, and Atkinson. The early returns, however, were not stellar against the Canucks. Early in the second period, winger Travis Konecny was called for high sticking. Pettersson scored less than a minute into their man advantage with Ellis, Nate Thompson, Sean Couturier, and Ivan Provorov on the ice to put the Canucks up 2-1.
The Flyers went on the kill again nearly five minutes later, and three-quarters of the way through their second shorthanded stint of the night, they were caught with too many men on the ice. The Canucks capitalized on the Flyers’ sloppy special teams, as winger Alex Chiasson jammed in a shot from Miller. In total, the Flyers killed two of four Vancouver power plays.
Before Monday night’s game against the Canucks, the Flyers’ fourth line of rookie left-winger Max Willman, center Nate Thompson, and right-winger Nic Aubé-Kubel had never played together as a trio. Regardless, the line looked comfortable and physical in their debut. Thompson, Willman, and Aubé-Kubel’s contributions to the team’s aggressive forechecking helped the Flyers maintain possession of the puck and establish a lead early in the game.
After the first period, Thompson and Aubé-Kubel combined for four hits, several of which were delivered in the Flyers’ offensive zone. Late in the first period, Thompson even made an effort at the blue line to keep the puck from trickling out and to extend the Flyers’ offensive opportunity. However, three penalty kills in the second period took the fire out of the team’s forecheck.
Last season, the breakout of winger Joel Farabee was one of the lone bright spots to an otherwise disappointing Flyers season. He led the team in goals, scoring 20 (38 points) in 55 games played. His development was so promising that he earned a new contract in the offseason.
Against the Canucks, Farabee showed he wasn’t leaving his goal-scoring ways in the past. He registered the first goal of the regular season early in the first period. Just as the Flyers’ man-advantage expired, with the second power-play unit still on the ice, Ellis sent the puck from the point to Farabee, who was positioned at the top of the right faceoff circle. Farabee then fired a one-timer toward Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko, the puck deflecting off of defenseman Tucker Poolman and into the net.
“We have a lot of new guys, just trying to get that chemistry going,” Farabee said. “I thought this past week of practice, our power play was really moving the puck around so it was really nice to get one there.”
The Flyers move on to the second game of their four-game homestand on Monday against the expansion Seattle Kraken at 7 p.m. (TV coverage on NBC Sports Philadelphia). Led by former Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol, the Kraken are 1-1-0 after a loss to the Vegas Golden Knights and a win over the Nashville Predators. With defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen day-to-day with an upper-body injury, Monday could mark his first regular-season game as a Flyer if he’s cleared to play.
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