PHILADELPHIA – The numbers that were telling were 73 and 42.
The numbers that mattered were 3 and 1.
And although the Flyers came out on the short end of the more important mathematics, they came away from their season opener with a sense of satisfaction, despite not earning a point.
How so? Consider:
Despite losing the game 3-1 to Toronto, the Flyers dictated the play for large stretches of the game. Two-thirds might be a conservative estimate.
Their relentless forecheck forced nine penalties by the Maple Leafs. The Flyers were only 1-for-7 on the power play (and a missed penalty shot to boot) but that’s not indicative of how the Flyers played with the man advantage as they moved the puck well and generated plenty of good scoring chances.
Which brings us back to the initial numbers – 73 and 42.
That is the margin by which the Flyers out-shot the Maple Leafs. No, those are not the number of shots on goal, but rather shots attempted. The Flyers got 32 on goal. Only one went in. the other 41 shots the Flyers generated were either blocked (20) or missed the net (21).
Nevertheless, the combination of such a wide shot disparity and the number of chances the Flyers were able to generate on the power play are a good indicator that the Flyers were simply snake-bitten in the opener.
“Offensively that’s the best we’ve looked in a while,” said coach Peter Laviolette. “But at the end of the day you’ve got to score more than one goal to win a game. We had a lot of chances, but there were plenty of missed shots and shots that they had blocked, it seemed like we had a lot of zone time but you have to give Toronto credit because they made us earn the tough ice and played a solid game defensively.”
The Flyers did dictate puck possession for much of the game – until they fell behind in the third period, which is when Toronto sat back defensively and was able to take away time and space and frustrate the Flyers.
But, until that point, it was quite noticeable that the Flyers were outplaying the Maple Leafs and were it not for Jonathan Bernier playing goal at the top of his game for the Maple Leafs, the game would have been a blowout in the opposite direction.
“I thought we played a good game and we had a lot of great opportunities,” said Vinny Lecavalier, who picked up an assist in his first game as a Flyer. “In the first period, if we went up 2-0 it might have been a different game, but when you can’t score, you can’t score. I thought we had a lot of opportunities to put the game away.”
And the Flyers did, creating a lot of opportunities especially when their top two lines were on the ice.
|Vinny Lecavalier was difficult for the Maple Leafs to contain, and yet, despite all the Flyers chances, they still fell 3-1 in the season opener. |
Lecavalier’s line with Wayne Simmonds and Matt Read was dominant. They constantly had the puck and were getting pucks to the net, but aside for one power play goal that came as a result of a nifty dangle by Lecavalier to set up Brayden Schenn, they couldn’t solve Bernier.
Simmonds had a chance on a penalty shot, but missed going five-hole. Meanwhile, both Read and Lecavalier had three great scoring chances apiece on goal, and still came up empty.
The top line of Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux and Schenn had equal pressure in the Toronto end and posted 19 of those 73 shots, including the lone goal.
“I think we generated a lot of offense in the first period and then they kept going the whole game,” Giroux said. “You know, it’s a tough loss in front of our fans but you know what, we did a lot of good things out there. Most of the game we dominated and we were responsible defensively and a couple mistakes cost us.”
It would have been more ideal for the Flyers to cash in once or twice more on their power plays, and although they didn’t, they still feel there was a lot of good juice in the system and that it would eventually bear more fruit.
“Eventually you’re going to start getting those bounces,” Simmonds said. “Look, Bernier played really well tonight. When that happens you have to just bear down when you get opportunites and try to make them count.”
Nevertheless, the puck movement was crisp, the setups were good, Simmonds and Hartnell teamed up to provide tough screens for Bernier, and to think a second unit consists of such high-end talent as Lecavalier and Mark Streit is off the chain.
Still, the end result is not what the Flyers wanted for their season opener. The goal was to start strong and fast – and there’s still time to do that – but the team can not let the frustration of not being able to beat a tough goaltender one night fester into further frustration.
Instead, the Flyers need to weigh all these positives from the game against Toronto and consider that if they play this way night in and night out, they very well could earn 13 of a possible 20 points every 10 games, and that, friends, is a playoff-worthy pace.
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