The feeling outside the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday afternoon was cold and breezy. It felt like a typical January afternoon. However, inside the Wells Fargo Center, it felt like coming home after being away for far too long. It felt warm, it felt right, and it just felt good. The Flyers finally returned to their home ice, in front of 19,994 of their closest friends. The atmosphere was that of a playoff game. It was electric, intense and passionate. Flyers hockey was back and it felt good.
Once the puck was dropped however, the lockout once again showed its ugly head. The Flyers did not have their legs right from the opening faceoff. It wouldn’t take long for the Flyers to be down also. Braydon Coburn’s interference minor led to a power play goal from a deflection of the stick of Tyler Kennedy just 4:40 into the game to give the Penguins an early 1-0 lead. Just 2 minutes and 40 seconds later, James Neal buried a shot off the faceoff to make the Pittsburgh grow to 2-0.
It took until 5 minutes to go in the first period until the Flyers really got their legs going. The Flyers started moving their feet, skating hard and winning battles. They slowly were getting back into head coach Peter Laviolette’s system, which requires constant pressure and energy.
At the start of the second period, the new appointed captain of the Flyers, Claude Giroux, began to elevate his game and dominate the ice. Just 23 seconds in, Giroux took a perfect saucer pass from Scott Hartnell and put the puck between the legs of Marc-Andre Fleury to cut the deficit to 2-1. That would be the only goal the Flyers had, but it wasn’t because of a lack of effort. The Flyers, for the most part, outplayed the Penguins during the second and third period. Getting many chances, but failing to capitalize. Pittsburgh added an empty net goal late to make it 3-1.
The game was also plagued by some very close calls by referees. One that stuck with many Flyer fans was an offside call against Claude Giroux, in which Giroux took an outlet from Scott Hartnell. It seemed Giroux was onside and the whistle was blown rather late, but the play was very, very close. If onside, Giroux would have been one on one with Fleury and who knows where the game would’ve gone from there. As they say, hockey is a game of inches.
The game was really lost because of the Flyers inability to capitalize on five power play opportunities. “The power play wasn’t bad, we were moving the puck well,” captain Claude Giroux said. “At the end of the day, you got to find a way to put it in.” Scott Hartnell was not too happy with the start of game and he voiced the same opinion as many fans did. “(It was) a disappointing start for sure. I don’t know if you want to chalk it up to not playing for eight months, but we had no legs that first period.” That seemed to be the overall take from many other players as well.
The game was not without bright spots for the Flyers though. First round draft pick Scott Laughton looked like he belonged in the NHL with solid play in both the offensive and defensive zone. Many agreed that he was one of the Flyers best players on the ice today. Claude Giroux picked up where he left off in the playoffs last season, with the only Flyers goal. Ilya Bryzgalov was very solid after two early goals and the Flyers will need him to be that way for the remainder of this shortened season.
The Flyers now must move on quickly. Two big points are up for grabs in Buffalo against the Sabres on Sunday afternoon at 12:30 on NBC. It will be very interesting to see how the Flyers respond to such a quick start after an emotional game.
Regardless of today’s outcome however, Flyers hockey is back. It’s good to see the boys again.Tags: Claude Giroux, Ilya Bryzgalov, NHL, Peter Laviolette, Philadelphia Flyers, Scott Hartnell, Scott Laughton