The Philadelphia Flyers prospects dominated early but were unable to protect leads of 1-0 and 3-1 as they fell in overtime to the New York Islanders prospects in a 4-3 decision at the 2017 Rookie Game at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Flyers got goals from James de Haas (shorthanded), Travis Sanheim and Mark Friedman while Mikhail Vorobyev contributed a pair of assists. John Stevens, Arnaud Durandeau and Sebastian Aho countered in regulation.
In overtime, after Connor Bunnaman was unsuccessful on penalty shot and Flyers 2017 first round pick Nolan Patrick drew iron on a shot that otherwise had Islanders netminder Mitch Gillam beaten, Mitch Vande Sompel scored on a 2-on-1 against Carter Hart to win the game for New York at 3:14.
Other than the boxscore, below are five observations that stood out from the first game action of 2017-18:
1. Flyers Fast start - Isles push back
The first period saw the Flyers prospects have considerable success breaking out of the defensive zone, attacking through the neutral zone with speed and setting up a tenacious forecheck against the New York defense. The Flyers took a 2-1 lead to the first intermission and a lopsided 18-8 shot advantage.
Over the remaining 40 minutes of regulation, however, the Isles outshot the Flyers by a combined 26-7 (including a 15-2 margin in the third period). New York did a good job of taking away time and space and the Flyers hurt themselves with some undisciplined play and power play opportunities that ended up stalling rather than building momentum.
Nevertheless, Friedman's goal from the top of the right circle off a nifty setup by Vorobyev sent the Flyers off with a 3-1 edge.
"It was good for my first camp and it was a lot of fun. The crowd was loud. It was awesome to play in front of those many people, but we lost the game. Going into the third with a 3-1 lead, you've just gotta do the little things," Friedman said.
In the third period, it was the Carter Hart show for much of the stanza. New York finally broke through for a pair of goal, including a Durandeau slam-dunk and an open chance for Aho on the tying goal at 18:28 with Gillam pulled for an extra attacker.
The Phantoms played much of the latter part of the game without highly touted defenseman Philippe Myers. According to Flyers general manager Ron Hextall, Myers was removed for precautionary reasons with a lower-body injury. The Flyers rotated five defensemen for the rest of the game.
2. Activating the D
All three of the Flyers goals were scored on plays where the defensemen pinched up on the play. The Islanders' tying and winning goals were also notched by defensemen. In a game where there wasn't much structure in general, the more offensively skilled blueliners on the ice were not shy about jumping into the play.
"I thought there was ups and downs, I thought there were plays that were made. Obviously in a rookie game the structure is obviously off, some of the plays we were making where you expect guys to be there or stepping up on a guy. It is different when you haven't played with these guys and I found that a little bit difficult, but overall I thought there was some good things and some bad things obviously. I didn't like my play in the third with giving up two goals," Sanheim said in assessing his own night.
Friedman did it particularly effectively. He even sped through the neutral zone off a defensive zone faceoff during a 4-on-4. The deceptively strong first year pro displayed some of the underrated physical element of his game on other shift. Sanheim, who had what he deemed an "up and down" performance overall, pinched frequently as well. On his goal, he centered a pass out in front as he moved down past the goal line and the puck bounced in off goaltender Eamon McAdam.
Video: Hear from Morin following Rookie Game
3. Two-way forwards
Oskar Lindblom made multiple strong plays on both sides of the puck, showing off a complete game that included some strong penalty killing work and a pair of nice defensive plays inside the defensive blueline. He forechecked effectively, too, and made a nice play out of the corner (following by going to the net to generate traffic) on the de Haas goal sequence. Likewise, even apart from his two assists, Vorobyev was tenacious in battling through checking to protect the puck and playing a "heavy" game in general. Patrick came close to a goal during a first period scramble and the post he hit in OT but, just as important as the scoring chances, showed his ability to apply back pressure effectively.Video: Hear from Patrick following Rookie Game
4. Solid goaltending play
After combining for a shutout in last year's game, both Alex Lyon and Hart did their part in giving the Flyers a chance to win. Lyon was not tested very often early, but was on top of his angles and stepped up as the Islanders began to assert themselves.
Despite getting tagged for the loss, Hart was actually the Flyers best player for the first 15 minutes of the third period. He remained poised despite waves of traffic in front, a couple of deflection or second-chance opportunities and some chances from the slot.
New York likewise got strong performances in net from both Doylestown native McAdam and Gillam. Bunnaman (several times, but especially on his five-hole attempt on the overtime penalty shot) and Isaac Ratcliffe were among the Flyers who skated away shaking their heads.
5. Morin asserts himself
Whether it was a nice little chip pass off the boards to start the rush, clearing the porch in front of his goalie, doing out several punishing hits or standing up for defense partner Friedman, Samuel Morin channeled his experience as a third-season pro and Rookie Game veteran into being a take-charge player on the blueline. He didn't have a "perfect" game (nobody on either side did, and that's not the nature of hockey, anyway) but he showed why he's in the mix to challenge for an NHL roster spot in the upcoming Flyers training camp.