The rust was evident, especially in the early going. But the Philadelphia Flyers got better as they went along, skating out of Wells Fargo Center with a 6-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins to open their 2020-21 NHL season on Wednesday night.
Joel Farabee woke up Thursday morning as the NHL’s leading scorer, thanks to a goal and three assists on the night. After changing his jersey number from 49 to 86 — a number he’d worn in his youth hockey days — the 20-year-old sophomore looks like the switch helped him channel 2019 scoring champ Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who’s sitting out this season following hip surgery.
Five other Flyers also picked up their first goals of the season: James van Riemsdyk, Nolan Patrick, Michael Raffl, Oskar Lindblom, and Kevin Hayes. New defensive acquisition Erik Gustafsson set up two first-period power-play goals, and Carter Hart made 31 saves to record his first win of the year.
In his first game as Pittsburgh’s No. 1 goaltender following the offseason trade of Matt Murray, Tristan Jarry managed just 19 saves.
A See-Saw Battle Until The Third
It was the Penguins who struck first. At 5:12 of the first period, an unguarded Mark Jankowski took a pass from behind the net while just outside the goal crease, then snapped the puck high over Hart.
The Flyers took a 2-1 lead into the dressing room after 20 minutes, thanks to two similar-looking power-play goals. At the net front, van Riemsdyk managed to get his stick on Gustafsson’s shot from the left point for a deflection that Jarry couldn’t handle. Then, when Mike Matheson was whistled for a cross-check with just 16 seconds left in the period, it took only eight seconds for the same group to connect. Patrick won the offensive-zone draw, then cut to the high slot as the puck went back to Gustafsson. This time, the 22-year-old got the tip, for his first goal since March 9, 2019.
Pittsburgh re-tied the game on a power play early in the second period, when Sidney Crosby reminded Hart that his hand-eye coordination is unparalleled.
Crosby with an assist from Hart 👀 pic.twitter.com/3o8pgGYLPq
— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) January 13, 2021
Farabee and Brandon Tanev then traded goals before the Flyers put the game away for good. At 5:37 of the third, Raffl’s tally proved to be the game-winner. Lindblom and Hayes later added insurance markers, scoring 20 seconds apart.
Oskar Lindblom Solid In His Return
Lindblom’s goal was originally credited to Travis Konecny. But even though last season’s leader struggled to produce offense in the playoffs, he was happy to see the scoring play changed.
— FlyersNittyGritty (@FlyersKnitty) January 14, 2021
“It would’ve been nice, but it is actually Oskar’s goal,” Konecny said after the game. “So that is better than me getting one. If you watch the highlight, it goes off Oskar’s head and in the net. I would rather him get one tonight. It is well deserved.”
The goal was Lindblom’s first since Nov. 30, 2019, before he was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma. The 24-year-old also chipped in effectively when he was away from the puck, finishing the night with three hits and three blocked shots in 14:39 of ice time.
“My one disappointment in tonight’s game is that Oskar played his first game at Wells Fargo since December 2019 and he did not get a chance to play it in front of Flyers fans giving him the great cheer and love that he deserves after coming back and battling cancer,” Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said after the game. “I thought of that going in. I talked to Oskar a little bit about it after the game. It would have been phenomenal to play this game tonight, Oskar back with this place full of fans and the first time he stepped on the ice, he was in the starting lineup. I’m sure he would have gotten the cheer that he deserves.”
Nolan Patrick Also Looks Good
Vigneault coached Lindblom for two months before he was sidelined last season. Wednesday was his first time seeing Patrick in a game situation after he missed all of 2019-20 with his migraine disorder.
“He hasn’t played at all in — must be since April, the year prior to me getting here,” Vigneault said. “He hasn’t played in quite some time. But I see him walking around. I see him walking around with a jump in his step and a smile on his face. There is no doubt that he is happy to be back. Every day that he is around our team and on the ice and with his teammates, he gets better. Where that will lead, only time can tell.”
With Vigneault deploying his forwards fairly evenly, Patrick played 14:06 and was solid in the faceoff circle, going 8-for-14. He finished the night as a minus-two. He and his linemates van Riemsdyk and Jakub Voracek were on the ice for both of Pittsburgh’s even-strength goals.
“There is no doubt both guys got a big cheer from their teammates prior to the game,” Vigneault said. “Nolan coming back and stepping on the ice and just playing the way he has played since the first day of training camp. Those are all positive signs for those young men. It is definitely positive sings for our team.”
With an abbreviated training camp and no preseason games, it may take some time for defensive systems to gel.
Hart will get another start when the Flyers take their second crack at the Penguins. Philadelphia’s four-game season-opening homestand continues Friday at Wells Fargo Center.
Three players were scratched from Wednesday’s lineup: forward Morgan Frost and defensemen Mark Friedman and Shayne Gostisbehere. Gostisbehere was included on the NHL’s list of players unavailable due to Covid-19 protocols, which was released Wednesday.
No specifics are provided. Players can be on the list for a number of reasons. They may have delivered a confirmed or unconfirmed positive test, or be required to self-isolate due to symptoms or being a close contact with someone who has tested positive.
Also, the Flyers have recalled three players from Europe, and assigned them to the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms:
- D – Linus Hogberg from HC Vita Hasten (Allsvenskan)
- RW – David Kase from HC Karlovy Vary (Czech Extraliga)
- RW – Maksim Sushko from Minsk (KHL)