The Flyers leave the Czech Republic with a full head of steam following an emphatic season-opening victory against the Blackhawks. But while Travis Konecny and Oskar Lindblom were the stars of the show, the engine pushing the Flyers offense into the stratosphere is yet to receive the credit it deserves.
It’s a new era in Philadelphia. Vigneault’s style of play is already entrenched and it was visible against the Blackhawks. Aggressive forechecking was backed up with a counter-attacking style of play that consisted of smart passing and pace through the neutral zone. The man at the center of it all just so happened to be donning the ‘A’ for the first time.
“It’s exciting. It’s an honor.” Hayes said following the win. “It’s something I’ll take to heart. I think my style of play shows what kind of player I am. Work hard, 200-ft player. Even if I wasn’t an ‘A’ I’d play the exact same way.”
That’s a very accurate summary. Hayes was the key cog spearheading attacking moves and setting the tone for the rest of the team. His intensity won’t show up on the box score, his hold-up play against the boards won’t be credited with a goal, but Hayes played a major role, especially when the going got tough.
Hayes embodied everything that Vigneault and his system stands for. It’s leading by example and especially with a new coach, it can be tough for players to properly get to grips with what’s expected. However, when you have a player at your side who you’ve seen grow under your guidance in the past, it makes that transition easier.
Chicago crept back into the game during the final five minutes. What became a one-goal affair in the final minutes sent Flyers fans into a state of fear. They’ve seen it all before. But something was different this time.
The Flyers dug deep and even deeper when the Blackhawks pulled their goalie. What was the message from Hayes to his teammates?
“Play the right way. Two minutes left, everyone’s blocking shots, getting the puck out of the zone. It’s tough to win in this league. We just wanted to start the right way.”
And they did.
Perhaps one of the biggest contributing factors of all though, was fatigue. Unlike instances that happened time and time again last year, the Flyers didn’t burn out and that’s no coincidence.
Vigneault placed an emphasis on rotation. All four lines saw plenty of work throughout the night which meant in those final few moments, everyone had gas in the tank and was able to pull together.
“I’m used to that.” Hayes said. “I was in New York with him for four years, he likes his 12 guys, his 6 D-men and his one goalie. If everyone’s playing the right way, they’ll play. It enforces accountability. If the fourth line is playing well, it keeps the three other lines on their A-game. It’s a friendly competition.“
Accountability is a key word there. Sure, there were a few turnovers in the early going, but the Flyers stayed out of the penalty box, were excellent on the PK and extremely smart with their transition play. The few errors that were committed were all accounted for and redeemed later in the game with an extra drive by guys like Ivan Provorov.
It’s very early days. It’s a neutral venue. It’s in a foreign country. But we can take a lot from last night’s win. Vigneault’s system looked fantastic against an explosive Chicago team. And his right-hand man, the ‘A’ who is here for seven seasons, is helping him right the Ship.
Mandatory Photo Credit: Kostas Lymperopoulos/CSM via ZUMA Wire/AP Images