Sergei Bobrovsky keeps pushing the envelope as far as what the expectations are for him and what he delivers. It was no different Thursday night in Pittsburgh. It was the opening game in the brand new Consol Energy Center, the venue that replaces Mellon Arena after 50 years in Pittsburgh, which it seems stuck around way too long, and was in it’s prime at the same time Beatlemania was running wild. The new building will be a great thing for Pittsburgh’s economy and attracting bigger events to town. Plus, there’s this kid named Sidney Crosby who will fill the seats too. There was a lot of hype for this nationally televised season opener. The Flyers took the first game of what I believe is the best rivalry in hockey, and took a lot of the wind out of the sails for the fired up Penguins fans. However, it was a great game and great night for hockey. The two teams proved the hype was well deserved as we saw a terrific back-and-forth hockey game with some special goaltending. Sergei Bobrovsky, formerly of Metallurg of the KHL, a kid who turned 22 less than a month ago, seemed to steal the spotlight early. Right off the bat he showed that his post to post speed was very strong and robbed the Penguins of at least 3 excellent scoring chances in the first period. The Flyers as a team needed to play better than they did in the first period. Bobrovsky bailed them out and they played a much better hockey game during the final 40 minutes.
Bobrovsky continues to surprise those in the Flyers upper brass, as well as his teammates, media and the fans. Bobrovsky was thought to be a year or two off from being NHL ready. He was expected to come in and learn the ropes at camp this year, but one of the primary reasons the Flyers decided to go with the Leighton and Boucher tandem this year was because they didn’t want to sign a pricey veteran goaltender to a long term deal if Bobrovsky developed like they thought he would within a year or two. I know it’s very early in the season but it looks like Paul Holmgren and the Flyers scouts definitely got it right on Bobrovsky. What I saw from him tonight was very strong post-to-post speed coupled with tremendous focus. He seemed to have a feel for where the puck was tonight. As little as a day ago, most of the media were convinced that Brian Boucher would be starting. Peter Laviolette obviously sees something special in the newcomer and Bobrovsky will get a chance to display the hot hand he has had since camp. However, I get the impression they don’t want to overload this kid early. Look for Boucher to get into a game soon, if not the St. Louis game.
The Flyers offense in general was very good tonight. The defense looked a bit rusty, and I wonder how much of that had to do with the fact that Pronger was out of the lineup. He’s very vocal with his teammates and fellow defensemen and good at making adjustments during the course of a game, especially against a team like Pittsburgh. There were lots of forwards that stood out but one that I want to talk about is Claude Giroux. Giroux got off to a slow start last year and I think a lot of that had to do with how he was being utilized to start the season by John Stevens. He played much stronger after Peter Laviolette took over as head coach and mixed things up a bit. Giroux saw a lot of ice time where he was centering Arron Asham and rookie James van Riemsdyk. Nothing against those guys, but Giroux’s talent could have been much more explosive with some more experienced scoring wingers. Tonight, he was dazzling. Playing with the newly acquired Nikolay Zherdev on his line, he looked strong all night. His hard work paid off with a dazzling breakaway goal after a turnover by Kris Letang near the blue line. This line got chances all night and I think the breakout year for Giroux is this season. He’s one of the guys will carry the momentum of last year’s playoffs into the season.
The line that I think most Flyer fans were looking forwarding to seeing again was the Leino-Briere-Hartnell line that had magical chemistry in the 2010 playoffs last season. They did deliver tonight. Briere scored the first goal on the power play and I think Ville Leino played a strong game. I think he’s at his best when he has possession of the puck for a good period of time and he was right on the puck several times tonight and I was encouraged by that line’s play. Unlike at some points last year though, I think the supporting lines were on fire at some points of the game too. Especially the Giroux line. It’s very early but keep you eye on this line, because if last year’s playoffs were any indication, the Flyers got a steal in Ville Leino and he may have developed into a much better player at just the right time.
The Flyers next game is Saturday night in St. Louis. The Blues are coming off a disappointing follow-up season to their playoff run and are expecting much better play from their team this season. After making a coaching change in the middle of the season last year, their team played much better down the stretch so the expectation for them is to get back to the playoffs this year. They expect Erik Johnson to mature and play better this year and are counting on strong team defense to get where they need to be. Should be a good game Saturday as both sides have a lot of youth on their teams.
Additional Flyer Notes:
-Claude Giroux had X-rays after the game due to what was said to be a sore ankle after blocking a shot. Paul Holmgren was optimistic that it would not be serious and described it as “nothing.” He is expected to play in St. Louis.
-Chris Pronger missed opening night as he is still recovering from offseason knee surgery. He missed all 8 preseason games as well. He is day-to-day and was expected to be back by now. There was a buzz that there may have been a small setback when I was at the second to last game of the preseason, but the Flyers wouldn’t confirm anything. His practice and skate routine really speaks for itself. If I hear any updates on this I will pass them along.
-Ian Laperriere has been told by two doctors he should retire due to his post concussion syndrome. It will be interested to see what the Flyers do considering they have cap issues and Ian is on the books through the end of next year and is playing on an “over-35 contract”. This is obviously very sad news as Ian Laperriere is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet in hockey. I’m doing some digging on some Laperriere related news and I will be doing a feature story on him soon.
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