Not without four starting forwards and with an offense averaging just one goal per game.
Not with a defense and goaltending that had been widely criticized without anyone ever having seen them play together.
Not with a special teams that was stuck in first gear, unable to score on the power play and unable to kill penalties.
And to top it all off, the New York Rangers were coming to town. The same team who had the best record in the East last season, had won eight straight against the Flyers and was the choice by most experts to win the Stanley Cup this season.
So why even play the game, right?
Which goes to show why all the pre-game blather is just something being done to catfish the populous, while the game on the ice tells the true story.
And this is one the Flyers are happy to tell, because they played a character game of the highest order.
With a shorthanded roster, the Flyers tightened the screws, focused more on the defensive part of their game, and played with unbridled grit and determination and stunned everyone save themselves with a 2-1 victory over the Rangers, their first win of the season.
Missing Scott Hartnell, who will be out of the lineup for upwards of two months with a broken bone in his foot and Brayden Schenn who was suspended for one game for a hit in New Jersey, and also without Danny Briere (wrist) and Zac Rinaldo (thigh) again, the Flyers found it within themselves to score a power play goal and kill off the biggest of penalties.
They also clamped down on the Rangers and limited them to just 19 shots in the game, and Ilya Bryzgalov stood tall, playing a fourth straight solid game in net to snap the three-game skid to start the season.
Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek scored the goals for the Flyers (1-3-0, 2 points)
“I think everybody wanted to win and nobody wanted to be in the position that we were in,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “I said yesterday, the only way we were going to get out of it was to go to work to fix things and chip away at it.
“I thought we played a really strong game. We showed up and skated hard and worked hard and took care of our own end. We had some good zone time in the offensive end too. We’re still not getting the production we’re looking for but we took better strides against a really tough, defensive team.”
All true, but the pivotal point in the game came-midway through the third period.
After seeing their two-goal lead cut in half on a power play goal by Taylor Pyatt with Braydon Coburn in the box, the Flyers suddenly found themselves faced with the daunting task of being two-men shorthanded for a full two minutes after Tye McGinn took a double minor for high-sticking and Nick Grossmann followed that with a hooking penalty shortly thereafter.
Yet, the Flyers killed it off, primarily behind the trio of Sean Couturier, Max Talbot and Braydon Coburn.
Couturier had an especially excellent kill, first lagging the puck the length of the ice and tying it up along the boards to let precious seconds drain off the penalty clock, then he sprinted back into his own zone, thwarted a Rick Nash scoring attempt by lifting his stick and later diving to knock the puck out of the zone.
“That’s huge,” Talbot said. “That’s what killing penalties is all about. We definitely have the character here to do it and tonight it showed. We needed a game like that. It gives us confidence since it’s the beginning of the year.
“The power play, penalty kill, and special teams haven’t been as good as we wanted them to be so I think that it’s great for our confidence to kill that five-on-three and to get goals on the power play as well.”
Simmonds snapped a lengthy goalless drought for the team that spanned parts of seven periods when a shot by Nick Grossmann deflected off a Rangers defenseman and then Simmonds skate and past Henrik Lundqvist to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead.
Voracek stretched the lead to 2-0 when the Flyers power play had all five guys touch the puck in a flurry that ended with Voracek poking it into the net.
“We played a very good hockey game,” Voracek said. “We didn’t give them much and we played very well defensively. Some bounces went our way, which was about time because we didn’t have much luck the game before.”
No they didn’t. And they got some tonight, but they only needed a little because Bryzgalov was sharp again. Four games in, his goals against average is now at 2.52 and his save percentage is .910 – an excellent start considering what he’s faced so far.
But Bryzgalov didn’t want to talk about himself, instead heaping praise on his teammates.
“I like the way the team played tonight and I think we deserved the win tonight,” he said. “Guys played unbelievable tonight and the team looked sharp in [front of] the crease tonight. There was great sacrifice made with guy blocking the shots, and nobody cheats. I can’t say enough words - it was just a great game tonight.”
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