By Ryan Waterman
Nearly six months after the Flyers season came to a crushing end at the hands of the bitter rival Pittsburgh Penguins, the orange and black took the ice tonight as they began a new chapter in franchise history. For the most part, the Flyers returned the same team, but managed to use some of their financial flexibility to address a massive scoring need, by bringing back a familiar face in James Van Riemsdyk.
With a lot of buzz surrounding tonight's game, both teams took the ice hot, and full of energy. The Golden Knights, coming off of a Stanley Cup Final appearance, made some key additions in Max Pacioretty and Paul Statsny, and well, we've already touched on the Flyers. The energy in the T-Mobile Arena was palpable, although nothing compared to the biggest fight in UFC history set for Saturday between Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurgmagamedov.
Vegas drew first blood, as rising star Jonathan Marchessault found twine at the 6:37 mark of the opening period. Things looked to be shifting in the Knights' direction following that goal, as they became the more physically urgent team with the crowd fully behind them. However, the turning point for Philadelphia was actually a self-inflicted wound. A tripping call that sent James Van Riemsdyk to the sin bin at 8:08 of the first period set up the Flyers penalty killing unit for what would be a game-changing kill. Just over a minute following the conclusion of JVR's offense, rookie Oskar Lindblom found the net with one of the prettiest moves you'll see. Philadelphia secured the upper-hand at the 18:43 mark on a puck that Wayne Simmonds was able to poke past Marc-Andre Fleury.
The second period saw what was seemingly a continuation of the first, as the Flyers connected on the power-play just under three minutes in to secure a 3-1 lead. Not even five minutes later, the Fly Guys found twine twice in 66 seconds to establish a shockingly dominant 5-1 lead that would stay intact until the middle of the third period when former Flyer Pierre-Edouard Bellmare was able to slide a short-handed goal past Brian Elliott.
While it's important to not overreact to one game, this was a promising start to the season for the Flyers and their fans. Not only did the team put in a complete effort as a unit, but they appeared to display a much clearer sense of chemistry. Entering a season in which many believe they're primed to take the next step, it's vital that they gel together if they have any hopes of success.
Perhaps the most important takeaway from tonight's outing was the great performance put together from goaltender Brian Elliott, who turned away 23 of the 25 shots he faced. Every Flyers fan is well aware of the organization's trouble with netminders dating back to the end of the Hextall Era. It's been a constant carousel ever since, with many failed options. Elliott has struggled at times in his tenure, but tonight was certainly a promising bright spot. He seemed very in-tune with the feel of the game, and was in the zone the entire night.
Defensively, fans and coaches have to come away happy. At times last season, there were questions surrounding the Flyers defensive effort, and if they were willing to put in the work. Tonight, I believe they silenced all critics. They were swarming to the puck, they were making the "dirty plays" in the corners, and there was no fear of physicality. If they can carry around this type of swagger throughout the season, this could be a different Flyers team than we've seen.
Offensively, I came away incredibly impressed. Not for the fact that they scored five times, but for the sheer fact that there was effort and urgency. They were constantly crashing the net, and getting bodies in front of Fleury. Fighting for loose pucks, setting up screens, putting in the extra effort, it was an excellent offensive performance from the orange and black. Consistency is obviously key, but this was a promising outing from the offense.
Next up for the Flyers are a trip to the Mile High City, as they go to battle with the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday Night. Brian Elliott and Co. will look to carry over their momentum, and begin the season 2-0.