When the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers took to the ice on Friday evening in Prague, the Flyers were considered the home team and played with a comfort level like they were back home.
The 4-3 victory over Chicago may have well taken place at Wells Fargo Center, as the Flyers appeared to be just as comfortable with O2 Arena, outshooting the Blackhawks 38-31 in handing new coach Alain Vigneault his first victory behind the Flyers’ bench.
The Flyers were led by a pair of goals by Travis Konecny, with Michael Raffl and Oskar Lindblom adding the rest of the scoring. Patrick Kane tallied three points on the night, keeping the Blackhawks in the game with a pair of assists and a goal.
Let’s take a look at a few takeaways from the opener.
Defense Looks Too Familiar
Last season, the Blackhawks allowed the second-most goals in the league and ranked 31st in the penalty kill. In what looked like a carry-over from the 2018-19 campaign, the Blackhawks defense put an all too familiar performance on the O2 Arena ice in their season opener.
Two-time Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith didn’t seem to be up to speed for the new season, uncharacteristically failing to gap up allowing Konecny to drive around him and bury a backhander past Corey Crawford to surrender the Flyers winger his second goal of the game.
But the defense as a whole was clearly an issue.
“Ultimately we just didn’t manage the puck well,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “We turned way too many pucks over and that’s where we exposed ourselves defensively. There’s going to be times in the game where it’s not going your way. I don’t think we made many plays, especially in the second period.
Colliton tried to mix up the pairings on the defensive end in an attempt to get something to work, teaming Keith with Slater Koekkoek and Erik Gustafsson with rookie Dennis Gilbert. The pairing of Olli Maatta and Brent Seabrook remained, but none of the combinations seemed to stem the Flyers attack.
Patrick Kane Is, Well, Patrick Kane
With a goal at the 2:07 mark of the final period that gave the Blackhawks a glimmer of hope, Patrick Kane picked right up where he left off last season with a three-point performance in the opener, well on his way to matching his 110 point total from last year. He added assists on Alex DeBrincat’s one-timer on the power pay while picking up the assist off a pass to Alex Nylander to tally the first goal of the season.
“I like that we fought back,” Kane said. “It was 3-1, they were dominating the game and we could’ve easily just folded up and called it quits, but we fought back and made it a game and came close to tying it up.”
Turnovers – Capitalize
Two of the Flyers’ goals were a direct result of Blackhawks turnovers. After Gilbert misplayed a puck at the Hawks blue line, which led to Konecny’s first goal, the Keith miscue led to his second. The Flyers had 31 scoring chances compared to the Hawks’ 15, which is definitely a problem.
According to Natural Stat Trick, the Flyers had 37 scoring chances for, while giving up just 18. Add to that the 16 high-danger scoring chances, credit Crawford for keeping what could’ve been a runaway, close.
“We were turning pucks over at the blue [line], not getting the changes we needed, all the little things we talk about that help you conserve energy,” Jonathan Toews said. “You get one good shift, you feed off it. We weren’t doing that. We let them take control of the game.”
Corey Crawford: Solid, but Maybe a Shot for Lehner
Stopping 34 of the 38 Flyers shots, Crawford put in a solid performance with some good saves. Konecny’s first goal to Crawford’s glove side was point-blank. But Raffl’s wraparound in the third period was not pretty, catching him off-guard and he wasn’t to his knees for the block until the puck was long into the net.
While Crow was solid in Prague, but not lights-out, it may be a good idea to give new face Robin Lehner a shot in Thursday’s home opener at the United Center.
Without having come out with a clear starter in net, and Colliton’s knack for making everyone wait until just before game time to announce his starter, it may be a good time to have Lehner show everyone what he’s got.
At The Dot – Do Better
The Hawks did not have a good night with faceoffs, winning only 22 of 58 – 37.9%. That has to improve.
With seven days to chew on this showing before the home opener against the Sharks, the Hawks will also have seven days to readjust to their home time zone as well as the United Center’s harder surfaced ice – the O2 Arena ice was an issue all week.
Also there’s a chance injured defensemen Calvin de Haan and Connor Murphy could return and help to shore up that defense.
Scott brings several years of local hockey coverage with the Kankakee Daily Journal to the Hockey Writers, along with coverage of NCAA Hockey, Softball, Basketball, and Soccer with HEROSports. He is also a regular contributor to FloSoftball and Coach & Athletic Director Magazine.