It wasn’t a great start to the season for the Philadelphia Flyers but the best hockey teams can overcome the obstacles and find their confidence. Nothing seemed to be going right for the team despite the fact they were playing pretty solid hockey. To make matters worse, first line winger Scott Hartnell suffered a foot injury and we now know he will be out 6 to 8 weeks. Brayden Schenn got suspended for a game and the team found out that defenseman Andrej Mezaros will be out for a month. The often injured defenseman can be an offensive force at times but the injury bug has bit him again. Mezaros suffered a shoulder injury in the second period of the game against the New York Rangers. Even though they lost their first three games, they bounced back with that crucial win against the Rangers and hoped to bring that same momentum and confidence into the weekend.
A lot of the Flyers players had been doing the right things but unfortunately, hadn’t been getting the results. This all changed on the weekend. The Flyers started the weekend off in Florida where they took on the always surprising Panthers. The team got a nice surprise of their own Saturday when it was revealed that Daniel Briere would be in the line-up. The star forward was a gem in the playoffs last year where he put up 13 points in 11 games. He is always known for his playoff production but his regular season numbers declined last year. In 70 games through 2011-2012, he only notched 49 points despite seeing loads of ice time. With the departure of Jagr and now the injury to Hartnell, Briere is going to have to prove he can step it up, even if the Stanley Cup isn’t on the line. A wrist injury he had suffered while playing over in Germany had kept him out of the line-up till Saturday.
The team got off to a blazing start Saturday when they torched the Florida Panthers in the first period. They scored three goals and looked incredibly dangerous. The Flyers looked to have that fire that was missing in previous games. The type of passion and motivation that makes the men in orange one of the most feared offensive teams. The power-play struck early when Timonen took a feed from Giroux and scored a goal on Jose Theodore from the blue line. It was Timonen’s first goal on the year and is a great sign for Flyer fans. With Pronger out and now Mezaros injured, the offense from the blue line is going to depend heavily on the ageless Timonen. Wayne Simmonds didn’t get a point on the goal but his presence in front of the net made it near impossible for Theodore to see the puck. Simmonds has been fantastic for the Flyers and his solid efforts don’t always show up on the score sheet. Sophomore Matt Read would score the second goal of the game for his Flyers as he utilized his wicked shot to put another one by Theodore. Read led all rookies in goals last season and his terrorizing shot is a great reason for that. Towards the end of the period, rookie Tye McGinn would get rewarded for going to the net as he redirected a Brayden Coburn centering attempt. All three goal scorers put up their first tallies of the year in that first period against the Panthers. McGinn is already becoming a fan favourite in Philly with his fight against the New York Rangers and now his goal against the Panthers. He is a gritty player who is never afraid to drive to the net and get physical.
Matt Read would strike again in the second period when he batted a puck out of the air to give the Flyers a commanding 4-0 lead. We all know he has a wicked shot but it was nice to see he also has some crafty hand eye coordination skills. Defenseman Luke Schenn would factor onto the score sheet later on when he put the Flyers up 5-1, right after Mueller put the Panthers on the board. It was his first as a Flyer and added on to his tremendous game. He also had an assist, 11 hits and was a plus 2. The goal scoring onslaught continued in the third period when Matt Read capitalized on a power-play opportunity to complete his hat trick. Ruslan Fedotenko would later put in his first as a Flyer to put them up 7-1.
Ilya Bryzgalov was unbelievable for the Flyers against the Panthers. He came up with several huge saves to prevent Florida from trying to crawl their way back into the game. He is starting to prove why he was signed to that massive deal. One might think Bryz is to blame for those first three losses but if one actually watched the game, they would know that goaltending wasn’t the issue. He has clearly found his form but don’t be too confident yet. Last year, he has consistency issues so we can’t judge him yet. He must maintain this elite level of play and not alternate spectacular games with terrible ones. He showed magnificent mobility against the Panthers and great anticipation skills as he made several second period saves on what seemed like sure goals.
Claude Giroux continues to dominate hockey games. His spectacular vision and determination has made him very effective at both ends of the ice. He notched two helpers on Saturday and now has 4 points in 5 games. His play is inspiring to the entire roster and G should have no problem maintaining a point per game pace. The game against the Panthers was Mike Knuble’s first of the season after just recently signing with the team. He put up an assist while logging 14:23 minutes of ice time.The Flyers continue their road trip against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday.