Flyers 5: Takeaways from Tuesday’s Flyers-Devils Game
Over the weekend, the Flyers may have snapped their 10-game losing streak and gotten back on the right track just a bit with a pair of wins. But there was still one streak they hadn’t snapped. The team entered Tuesday’s game with five straight losses on home ice, including the 7-1 loss to Tampa Bay that preceded Alain Vigneault’s firing and the 7-5 loss to Colorado that capped off the whirlwind day.
On this night at Wells Fargo Center, that streak came to an end as well, and in a very convincing fashion. The Flyers, who had lost twice to the New Jersey Devils during the losing streak, avenged those two losses with a 6-1 rout in their third straight win.
This game had a little bit of everything, from another offensive surge for the Orange and Black, hats thrown on the ice, a consistent physical effort, a low-key solid night in goal, but it was also overshadowed by the reality that the sports world faces.
Here are five takeaways from Tuesday’s game.
1. Taking Care of Business
With the win on Tuesday, the Flyers extended their streak to three games. Yes, just eight days after making the decision to fire their head coach, the Flyers have not only snapped the losing streak after a couple more games, but strung together three wins in a row.
Does that mean anything? No, not yet. Just because the Flyers have won some games doesn’t suddenly change things. It won’t for some time.
That said, unlike the two wins on the road, this wasn’t just your average victory. The Flyers did manage to score goals in both of the games over the weekend, but also still relied on goaltending or spent too much time in their own zone with the other team dictating play. Neither of the efforts in the two games in Vegas and Arizona could be classified as dominant.
This was different though. This was a straight-up blowout from start to finish. Even when the Devils seemed to be getting momentum, first getting on the board to make it a 3-1 game in the second, then getting a power play that could have cut the lead to one, they turned the tables and grabbed a key shorthanded goal.
The thing to remember here is that the Flyers are facing teams that fall into the same boat as Arizona. New Jersey was one point ahead of the Flyers in the standings entering Tuesday’s game. They had lost eight of their last 10 games, the only two wins coming against the Flyers. This was as much of a team struggling as any other in the league. And the Flyers flat-out dominated the game.
With games coming up against Montreal, ranked 31st in the league, and Ottawa, ranked 30th in the league, there are more opportunities for the Flyers to build on this winning streak. Five games in a row is definitely a possibility, especially if they replicate that result.
It may not mean anything. The Flyers may go right back to being the same team against the NHL’s elite teams as soon as the schedule gets tougher again. But there’s something about building some momentum and confidence and coming into games against teams like Washington and Pittsburgh, on the schedule for next week, when you are on a five-game winning streak as opposed to a 10-game losing streak. You just never know.
2. Hats Off
There are some nights where the puck just seems to follow you around. If you are a goal-scorer, that can be a dream scenario. It was on Tuesday for Cam Atkinson.
Atkinson’s night began in receipt of a nice pass from Rasmus Ristolainen. The defenseman had the puck with lots of space and fooled everyone into thinking he was shooting before dishing backdoor for Atkinson. That goal was Atkinson’s 10th of the season, joining Claude Giroux in reaching double-digits.
In the second period, with the team up 2-0 entering the period, Atkinson had two great chances to score. He exited the penalty box and immediately got a breakaway, but was stopped by Mackenzie Blackwood. He got another breakaway later in the period and couldn’t quite get the shot off. Then while shorthanded, he finally got his chance. This one wasn’t a breakaway, more a two-on-one, but Atkinson had plenty of space and fired a rocket for his second of the night.
In the third, Atkinson scored a goal to complete the hat trick that was very fitting of his style. After giving the puck off to Giroux, Atkinson simply went to the net and the captain connected. It was Atkinson’s 12th goal of the season, vaulting him into the team lead by a pair of goals, and also his seventh career hat trick.
3. All Smiles
They say winning is contagious, and on a night like this, you could see how winning a couple of games and getting the better of the opposition on this night was starting to allow the Flyers to have some confidence and enjoy the game a lot more. Maybe it was also that, outside of Atkinson, more Flyers players snapped goalless droughts.
Travis Sanheim opened the scoring in the first with his first goal of the season. Before Atkinson’s second goal of the game in the second period, Justin Braun picked up his second goal of the season. Following Atkinson’s shorthanded tally to make it 4-1, he came up with a turnover and quickly fed Oskar Lindblom, who scored his second goal of the season as well.
In Lindblom’s case, and even Sanheim’s to a degree, scoring goals should be a little more commonplace. It’s been a rough season in that regard and, collectively, the team has struggled to score goals outside of a surge to start the season and the last four games over the last week. But when Braun, who had all of 29 career goals in his 12-year career entering Tuesday’s game, it leads to a lot of excitement and smiles.
Even after the game, you could sense a lot of relief from the Flyers. They had not only won a game on home ice, they had delivered a dominant performance that was fun to watch. That can go a long way in the room as well.
4. To The Max
As the third period progressed, the Flyers had a comfortable 5-1 lead in the game. Max Willman was on the ice with Giroux and Atkinson as the Flyers picked up their sixth goal. Willman got an assist, the first of his career, and his second point in the last three games.
Willman did a lot more than just get an assist on the final goal of the night. His speed was evident on the shift that led to Atkinson’s hat-trick goal. Throughout the night, his physicality was there – a total of four hits on the night, second to only Ristolainen – and most of those hits were certainly not light. Willman also had three shots, one blocked shot, and a takeaway, all in his 11 minutes of ice time. Not bad at all.
Willman is really only in the picture at the moment because of how decimated the Flyers are with injuries, whether it be the two periods the team played without Kevin Hayes, the current absence of Derick Brassard and Joel Farabee, even the pre-training camp injury to Wade Allison, each of which opened up a possible spot for him to be in the lineup. Whatever the situation may be, Willman seems to have embraced the opportunity.
“He’s showing me something right now,” interim head coach Mike Yeo said. “When I had a conversation with him as far as moving him up to that line, it was a great opportunity for him, but I wanted to make sure he understood what he needed to do. He’s chipping pucks in, he’s forechecking, he’s being physical, he’s recovering pucks, he’s shooting pucks, he’s playing well defensively. He’s not complicating the game. It’s not like he’s trying to toe-drag guys at the blue line and that’s why he’s having success. To me, it looks like he’s a guy who’s starting to figure out what his identity is as a player and how he can be successful in this league.”
This was only Willman’s 11th game of the team’s 27 on the season, but given the uncertainty of players’ health in the coming weeks in regards to injuries and otherwise, Willman could really carve out a place for himself in the lineup for a longer term.
5. Dose of Reality
It’s no secret that COVID is wreaking havoc on the NHL and other professional sports leagues around North America. The NFL has numerous cases. The NBA had to postpone games. The NHL has also had to postpone games.
Prior to Tuesday night, the only times COVID really crossed paths with the Flyers in this current season was when Patrick Brown was listed in protocol prior to joining the team after being claimed off waivers at the start of the season and their recently postponed game against the New York Islanders, which was in regards to the Islanders outbreak.
But in Tuesday’s game, the Flyers were already facing an opponent with multiple players in protocol. The Devils were without Nico Hischier, Ryan Graves, and Christian Jaros as a result.
About midway through the first period, it became noticeable that the Flyers were short a forward, with various combinations on the ice. Morgan Frost was the missing player. There was nothing overly suspicious about his few shifts on the ice that made an injury seem like a possibility, but when he didn’t return for the second period, clearly something was up.
Following the game, the suspicions were confirmed. Frost was removed from the game due to joining the long list of players now in COVID-19 protocol.
For now, Frost is the only Flyer on that list, but there could certainly be more joining given the rapid spread of COVID among various teams in the country. It marred what was otherwise a pretty perfect night for the Flyers, a strong win over a divisional opponent and a three-game winning streak.
But now, the Flyers are all on watch as they practice on Wednesday and head to Montreal for a game on Thursday. It doesn’t help matters that the Devils, with three players already in protocol, had another player out of the lineup with what was listed as a non-COVID illness and several others playing through illness, among them, netminder Mackenzie Blackwood.
“Blackwood was probably one of our sickest guys and he decided to give it a go and give it everything he had,” Devils head coach Lindy Ruff said. “He was probably exhausted after two periods. All you can ask is give it what you have. You can't expect anything else. You have some fatigue, you get sick, you’re missing some players. It started off pretty good for them but some of our puck play hurt us.”
This could only make the situation worse. It will be something to monitor over the coming days, especially as the Flyers figure out what their next steps are with a player entering protocol.
“Obviously, we’ll have some of these conversations. When that happened tonight, we’re aware of what’s going on around the league and everyone’s health is at the top of our list of what’s most important as well as making sure we take the right precautions,” Yeo said. “We’re obviously going to have some discussions about that and see. I’m not sure what the league’s going to do. I’m not sure what we’re going to do. When that happened, obviously it caught my attention, but at the same time, we were pretty immersed in the game, so we don’t really have much on that right now.
“All I know is that I was told he had to be removed for COVID protocol and that we’ll know more tomorrow.”