After falling short against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Philadelphia Flyers knew they needed to get off to a better start Sunday at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo against the Sabres. The Flyers gave up two goals in the first period to the Penguins and could never make a full recovery. It’s typical for the Broad Street Bullies to fall into holes early in hockey games but against an elite team like the Penguins, their usual comeback scheme wasn’t going to go down easily. New Captain Claude Giroux put the Flyers on the board in a second period where the team seem revamped and energetic. Despite a bounce back second period, the comeback fell short as a strong performance by Marc-Andre Fleury put the Flyers hopes to rest.
Fortunately, the Flyers dismissal start on Sunday didn’t really end up costing them. This time it was penalty trouble. Another poor first period was then followed by a strong second where Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux tallied for the men in orange. Steve Ott’s power-play goal in the first period put the Sabers on the board early and then Thomas Vanek scored on a breakaway in the second period to tie the game as there was confusion between two Flyer forwards that led to the chance. Even though Vanek’s goal was a breakaway, it was still a power-play tally and their deadly specialty teams unit struck again for the game winner in the third period when Tyler Myers blasted a shot by Bryzgalov. Cody Hodgson later notched the insurance marker for Buffalo as he followed up on another Vanek breakaway to knock the puck by Bryz using his foot. The Sabers added an empty netter to take the game 5-2.
There are some concerns so far with this Flyers team and the penalty kill is at the top of the list. With some good personal on the roster, it is a surprise to see them struggle in this department. Two of the Penguins goals including the empty netter were scored on the power-play while three of the Sabers markers were tallied in the same fashion. The Flyers are known for being a nasty team and penalties are going to be a consequence of this action as they are inevitable to avoid. Normally the Flyers can balance out these bad penalties with a lethal power-play but it hasn’t done that so far. While Giroux did notch one with the man advantage today, their units seem to lack chemistry which has caused Laviolette to already make some adjustments. The power-play was 6th in the league last year but hasn’t looked like it this year and only time will tell if this will be a serious problem. The Flyers rely heavily on it so if it fails, there is a high chance the Flyers will do the same It is likely that is it just rust as there is just too much talent not to perform well, but in a shortened season, there is some concern as there is little margin for error. Throughout the first two Flyer games, there have also been several positive trends that should inject some hope into the Flyers Faithful.
Wayne Simmonds has been an absolute gem for the Philadelphia Flyers. Even though he is yet to put up a goal, he looks like a man on a mission and his playing style couldn’t fit any better with a nasty Flyers team. He isn’t afraid to go to the dirty areas and his physicality every shift helps inject life into the team and give them momentum. Simmonds is starting to prove that his performance last year wasn’t a fluke. His 28 goals last year came out of nowhere but he has now established himself as a goal scoring power forward who can take on multiple roles with the team. Peter Laviolette obviously has tremendous confidence in him as Simmonds was one of the Flyers top minute men against the Penguins as he played a whooping 22:07 which was second overall on the team next to top defenseman Kimmo Timonen. He is also a fixture on the first power-play unit where he is positioned in front of the net and provides a great distraction for the goalie. He picked up an assist on Giroux’s power-play tally against the Sabers, getting rewarded for his effort. He also fired a team high five shots on net. When he isn’t frustrating net minders, he is hurting opponents physically as he is never afraid to dish out the body. Against the Pens, Simmonds dished out three hits and then followed that with 2 against the Sabers. Simmonds is a heart and soul player and his fast start is a great indication that he isn’t slowing down any time soon.
The goaltending in Philly is always being talked about and for good reason. Bryzgalov was extremely inconsistent last year and he needs to show the team that he is still the goalie that the Flyers traded for. Throughout two games, he seems to have settled in nicely and no longer looks overwhelmed in the crease. He hasn’t been perfect but he has been consistent which is what the Flyers are looking for. They need a goalie that is going to be solid and not give up any poor goals. Weak goals were the issue last year with Bryz but so far, he hasn’t seemed shaky and can’t be faulted much on any of the goals he has let in to date this year. In addition, he has come up big several times when the Flyers have required him too. When the Flyers were down 2-0 against the Pens, he made several pivotal stops to keep the Flyers in the hockey game. The team isn’t expecting Bryz to just transform back into all-star form this year but they are expecting a consistent netminder who isn’t going to let one goal be the end of him. It seemed in the past that one goal would overwhelm Bryz and he would then crack under the pressure. His play so far is a great indication that he may possibly have put last season behind him. With all the deadly offence in front of him, a solid goalie is all the Flyers need to be a legit cup contender.
The Flyers may still be looking for their first win but there have been some positive signs. The season is still very young and with all the great pieces the Flyers have, they should be able to able to overcome a rough start and get back into the win column.