The Philadelphia Flyers kicked off preseason hockey against the Boston Bruins Saturday, Sept. 24, at Wells Fargo Centre. A 2-1 victory over the Bruins after a tough three days of training camp is a good start for head coach John Tortorella’s Flyers. Unfortunately, the victorious high didn’t last long after Tuesday evening when they lucked out in Buffalo, losing 2-1 against the Sabres. Here are a few observations regarding the Flyers’ defensive stand-points from the first two preseason games.
Sandstrom and Grosenick Battling for No. 2
Goaltending is going to be a pivotal point for the beginning of regular season play, especially for Felix Sandstrom and Troy Grosenick, whose efforts look to aim towards backing up Carter Hart.
Game one against Boston had Sandstrom looking sharp. The goalie made his NHL debut with the Flyers on Dec. 30, 2021, but quickly rejoined the Leigh Valley Phantoms. Playing a total of 27:20, he opened the game between the pipes for the Flyers on Saturday. The team spent the majority of the first period in the penalty box, with four penalties keeping Sandstrom alert during the penalty kill. He managed to stop all 17 shots he faced, including a sneaky rebound from Jakob Lauko just six and a half minutes into the first. He played well, answering with quick saves to multiple shots, and is really showing that he’s a front-runner in the battle to secure a roster spot behind Hart.
Troy Grosenick entered the game in the second period and played 29:50 of ice time. He played strong and battled it out against the Boston squad and stayed sharp during a small opportunity for A.J. Greer. Grosenick allowed a goal from Jakob Lauko to enter in on the high slot, stopping a total of 14 shots out of 15. He started the game Tuesday evening against the Buffalo Sabres, where he allowed surrendered two shots of 14 during the 40-minute session.
The pair are currently going head-to-head for the No. 2 position. In a Flyers post-game interview Grosenick, who played for Boston’s AHL affiliate — the Providence Bruins — last season and had a .933 save percentage, was asked about the competition, where he commented:
“You’re always competing against your teammates anyways, no matter if it’s training camp, the American League, or the NHL. That’s what makes teams better, that friendly competition and pushing each other…when the other guy’s in the net you’re supporting him.”
Samuel Errson was also in for the last 20 minutes of play against the Sabres and gave a solid effort. Surely, competition from a goaltending aspect isn’t a bad thing for the Flyers going into a new season, and all three netminders are looking sharp.
Flyers Penalty Kill
It’s no secret that Philadelphia has been a team struggling with the penalty kill in recent seasons. In 2021-22, the Flyers had a penalty kill percentage of 75.5, finding themselves near the bottom of the league. One of the biggest questions when the news that Tortorella would be taking over as head coach was, could he turn around this struggling penalty-killing team? With the help of assistant coach Brad Shaw running the penalty kill, this was a question all Flyers fans wanted an answer to.
On Saturday against the Bruins, they got their first taste of penalty killing with four penalties in the first period alone. The units seemed to run seemingly smooth, with Morgan Frost, Artem Anisimov, Cam York, Jackson Cates, and Egor Zamula, amongst others, seeing plenty of ice time. Overall, there were 12 shot attempts from the Bruins’ power play during the first period, which also included a two-man advantage over the Flyers group at one point.
On Tuesday against the Buffalo Sabres, the Flyers only faced three penalty kills the entire length of the game, all of which were successful; a very good look for a team who has seemingly struggled in the past. It’s too early to say whether the success on the penalty kill will remain moving forward, but so far, so good.
Defensive Zone Struggles Against Sabres
Among some good news, there’s always room for improvement, especially Tuesday night at the Key Bank Centre against the Sabres. A good start quickly grew sloppy in the second 20 minutes of play. The Flyers had what looked to be an incredibly tough time clearing the puck out of their zone, allowing for Buffalo to get some quality shots. Eventually, the second-period mess allowed for Sabres’ Brandon Biro to fire a shot from the circle, pulling them ahead to gain the lead and ultimately take the win.
Consistency is going to be a key aspect if this team wants to have a more successful year than the previous. The Flyers need to play a clean and hard game in their zone. Too many turnovers and sloppy puck possession will not benefit them moving forward. Defensive struggles such as the ones played out on Tuesday evening could result in a deficit considerably worse than just one goal in the future.
So far, there’s been some good and some not-so-good in the defensive standpoints of the game for the Flyers. But fans can only hope things can progress in a positive way for the team. It’s still early, but definitely an exciting point of the year for everyone as the Flyers continue into the preseason.
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MacEwan University journalism student covering the Philadelphia Flyers. Part-time Oilers fan.