On Saturday, September 21st, something had to give for one of these franchises in the preseason as the New York Rangers visited the Wells Fargo Center to face the Philadelphia Flyers. Going into this game, both of these teams had yet to win a game in the preseason. Coming off the heels of a 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins, the Flyers needed to start playing three full periods of hockey. Inconsistency is not a recipe for a winning culture in the NHL, which is a trait of Dave Hakstol’s past. If one thing is for certain, Philadelphia under the watch of Alain Vigneault has shown more heart. After a hearty amount of players were placed on assignment to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, it’s now even more important for final impressions to be made before the regular season begins.
Starting in goal for the Philadelphia Flyers was Carter Hart, who would be relieved by Jean-Francois Berube in the third period. For the New York Rangers, Igor Shesterkin would start and play the entire game. In the first period, the Flyers showed that they were more prepared to dictate the pace of the game and control the puck in the offensive zone. James van Riemsdyk was credited with a deflection goal to give Philadelphia a one-goal lead, but that was soon followed by another deflection goal, this time by Kevin Hayes. Jakub Voracek seemed in command of the offense in the first period, setting up all kinds of scoring opportunities. The first goal by van Riemsdyk was on a powerplay, which had been the Achilles Heel for the Flyers in the preseason.
A sense of purpose was displayed in the first period and that energy transferred into the second period. The Philadelphia Flyers stayed on the attack, creating quality scoring chances. The Flyers were able to match the intensity and keep physical against the New York Rangers out of the gate. Chris Stewart’s fight with Michael Haley in the first period set a brand of attitude Philadelphia continued to display. Carson Twarynski was able to get on the stat sheet with a goal in the second period as he and Stewart created offense. On a two-on-one, Twarynski got a good bounce of the puck off a save by Igor Shesterkin and used the blade of his stick to slap the puck down into the net. Transition offense was a strength in this period for the Flyers.
Previously, Jean-Francois Berube had a tough evening in net against the New York Islanders, which was the catalyst for an overtime loss. In the third period, Berube replaced Carter Hart who had shutout the New York Rangers to this point. Up 3-0, Kevin Hayes had an opportunity on a breakaway to score his second of the night on Igor Shesterkin, but he was denied at the crease. Jakub Voracek would finally collect his first goal of the night on the powerplay, extending the Philadelphia Flyers lead to 4-0. However, Berube was not able to preserve the shutout. Nick Jones squeezed a wrist shot over Berube and under the crossbar while even strength. The Flyers did get their first win of the preseason and remain perfect on the penalty kill. The final score was in favor of Philadelphia, 4-1.
The Powerplay Comes Alive
The one trend that I want to see continue, second to winning, of course, is scoring on the powerplay. For far too long now, the Philadelphia Flyers have been in a funk when on the man advantage. It’s a prime opportunity to get an insurance goal to extend a lead or scratch and claw your way back into a game if you’re down. Seeing a little bit of an offensive explosion from James van Riemsdyk and Jakub Voracek on the powerplay makes me believe that the veterans are finding new wrinkles to succeed under Alain Vigneault. The offense looked more patient and seemed to call smarter shots. There wasn’t much “overpassing.” When a clear shot presented itself, it was taken. That resulted in two goals.
The Alain Vigneault Difference
When the Philadelphia Flyers brought in Chuck Fletcher, dismissing Ron Hextall and Dave Hakstol, there was an uncertain feeling. More questions than answers. No one knew who was going to be taking over the reins of this franchise as head coach. Already, in one offseason and a handful of preseason games, Alain Vigneault has made a believer out of me. All analytics aside, the “eye test” tells you that these players are playing with a newfound desire. One example that I’ve touched base upon before was the relationship Vigneault has shown with Shayne Gostisbehere.
It doesn’t stop with Shayne Gostisbehere. Take a look at the players Chuck Fletcher and Alain Vigneault will have their fingerprints on this season. Kevin Hayes is dishing the puck in one game to James van Riemsdyk, showing finesse and precision. In the next game, he is crashing the net, strategically placing his body to disrupt the goaltender’s vision on the way to being credited with an even-strength goal. Hayes has been here as long as Vigneault has and looks like he belongs in orange and black.
Auditions Are Not Over Yet
In this win against the New York Rangers, I like the tenacity and intensity that I continue to see from Chris Stewart. He is a momentum shifter and I believe that he offers more to the table than just being a goon. Philadelphia could be a city that embraces a player like Stewart because of the kind of player that he has shown himself to be since the preseason opener against the New York Islanders.
A pleasant surprise was Carson Twarynski. He showed good awareness by just taking a shot on the goal rather than passing the puck to Chris Stewart on the two-on-one opportunity. The high motor on him combined with the dedication to finish a play resulted in a goal against the New York Rangers. He threw his weight around the ice too, which is something that is always a plus, especially if you plan on dawning the colors of the “Broadstreet Bullies.”
The Philadelphia Flyers continue the preseason against the Boston Bruins in Boston on September 23rd, 2019 at 7 pm.
Mandatory Photo Credit: AP Photo/Chris Szagola