Second-day observations from Saturday night’s 8-2 Flyers victory over the Washington Capitals
1. Go back a couple of months. What would your reaction have been if someone told you that Nolan Patrick would have one goal over his first five games and be playing on the third line; if the much-maligned Andrew MacDonald was playing as part of the first defense pairing; if both Oskar Lindblom and Samuel Morin were playing for the Phantoms and not the Flyers?
Panic. Abandon ship. Right? Instead, those surprises have underlined the improvements made by players such as Scott Laughton and Michael Raffl and the surprise that Taylor Leier has provided. And underlined why, even as the inevitable injuries occur this season, the Flyers are better equipped to remain afloat and not suffer one of those dooming stretches of pointless games.
2. By the way: It’s not always MacDonald’s fault. With an inflated contract, he’s an easy target. And even more so when paired with Ivan Provorov — universally identified as the Flyers leader of the future. But two instances in the first period involving the 31-year-old defenseman underline this point, the first of which led to Washington’s first goal.
MacDonald made a clean and nice play pushing the puck from behind his own net past two forecheckers to Jake Voracek along the half boards. Catching the puck and attempting a transfer to his stick, Voracek instead lost control of it. As the Flyers scrambled back to cover the odd-man advantage created, Jakub Vrana fired an 8-foot wrist shot past Brian Elliott. Positioned in the high slot MacDonald might have seemed out of position. Until you realize why he was there – to mark Alex Ovechkin, who already had three of his team’s seven shots over the first 13 minutes of play.
Later, while shorthanded, MacDonald made a nice play to capture the puck behind his own net, whirled around to launch a clearing slapshot — only to have Provorov step in front of the attempted clear. It caromed off his partner dangerously into the slot, but this time Elliott came up big.
3. At one point this training camp, Robert Hagg seemed to be the loser in the rookie defenseman derby. He had few if any spectacular plays, no multi-point games, no bone-crushing hits along the boards.
He just played sound, fundamental hockey.
As he has for five games this season, allowing Shayne Gostisbehere to be, well, Ghost again. they have been a good pair since they have been together,’’ said Flyers coach Dave Hakstol after Gostisbehere had three assists Saturday. “Hagger is a very quiet, very solemn player and that is not just without the puck. He is real sound with it as well, he does positive things with it. He’s not out there looking for big hits, [but] he’s a heavy body who uses his skating ability and his size to his advantage.’’
4. The Flyers put up eight goals in a game for the first time since a 9-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2011 – the season after they went to the Finals against Chicago. You have to go back 35 years, to Oct. 7, 1982 for the last time they scored eight goals in a home opener. It was against the Quebec Nordiques — the future Colorado Avalanche. It’s the eighth time in their history that the Flyers have done it to Washington – the last occasion came on Nov. 3, 2005 when they beat the Capitals, 8-1, in Philadelphia.
The last time the Flyers had eight or more goals in a home opener was Oct. 7, 1982 when they beat Quebec, 9-5, at the Spectrum. That 48-win team, with Bobby Clarke, Darryl Sittler, Bill Barber, Mark Howe, Pelle Lindbergh, and 23-year-old scoring machine Brian Propp, finished first in the Patrick Division and second in the conference before being upset in the old three-game opening-round format by the New York Rangers.
5. Oh, and the last time the Flyers had three different players with two or more goals? Another good omen. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, Giroux, a rookie at the time, scored along with Jeff Carter and Mike Richards in a 6-2 victory over the New York Islanders on Dec. 8, 2009. That was also the season they went to the Finals.