Even Strength – Facing off Against a Familiar Foe

After one hundred and thirty long days, Flyers hockey made its return on January 13, 2021. The Flyers took on their interstate rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in the season opener.


Ethan Mack/Canva.com

Welcome to Even Strength, Ethan Mack’s column all about hockey.

One hundred thirty days.

  That’s how long it’s been since the New York Islanders defeated the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Despite the disappointing end of the season, there was plenty to be excited about. The Flyers won a playoff series for the first time since 2012, and the club really seemed to click under first-year head coach Alain Vigneault.

  The wait for the next season was long and dreadful, but when it was announced that the Flyers would battle the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first game of the shortened season, I was immensely delighted. Not only are the games between the rivals usually classics, but it was a chance for the Flyers to show the entire NHL that they are a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

  When all said and done, the Flyers defeated the Penguins 6-3 with a good all-around team performance.

  Philadelphia’s Joel Farabee was the star of the game—scoring a goal and adding 3 assists. Farabee is the first Flyer to score at least 4 points in a season opener since Ray Allison in 1982, who also scored a goal and three assists.

  Erik Gustafsson, who made his Flyers debut, left a great first impression with his performance. On both of the first two power play opportunities, Gustafsson assisted on two scoring deflections by James van Riemsdyk and Nolan Patrick. Gustafsson could be the power play specialist the Flyers have needed since Kimmo Timonen.

  Speaking of Nolan Patrick, this was his first game since April of 2019. The Canadian forward missed all of last season with a migraine disorder. It was good to see Patrick return, as it looks like he hasn’t lost a step.

  Early in the third period, the game was tied at 3, and it looked like it was going into overtime.

  The thought of overtime was erased, however, when Flyers winger Michael Raffl scored from the slot and beat Penguins net minder Tristan Jarry for a 4-3 lead.

  The Flyers dominated from there, as Oskar Lindblom and Kevin Hayes scored 20 seconds apart to turn the game into Philadelphia’s favor.

  However, a recap of a Flyers game wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the goaltender.

  Despite giving up 3 goals, including one where Sidney Crosby batted down a bad pass and poked in an empty netter, Carter Hart played remarkably solid. If anything, Hart once again showed why he’s considered one of the best young goalies in the NHL. There’s a reason why Philadelphians consider Hart the best goalie since Ron Hextall, and if Hart continues to improve his game, there’s no reason to not assume he’ll become one of the game’s very best.

  With only 56 regular season games, each and every one of them matters more. A long losing streak could prove to be even more detrimental than it would in a typical season, and it’s key to play consistent hockey. On top of that, the divisions were realigned to accommodate Canada’s cross-border travel restrictions. There are only four divisions, and teams will play games within their division only.

  The Flyers will play each of their seven division opponents eight times this season. By the end of the NHL season, the top four teams from each division will qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

  That being said, the Flyers need to start out hot. Starting out slow and fighting for a playoff spot could drain Philadelphia. If the Flyers are going on a deep Stanley Cup run, they need to be near the top of the standings throughout the year.

  The Battle of Pennsylvania will continue this week, as the Flyers and Penguins face-off on Friday Jan. 15 at 7:00 PM in Philadelphia.