If this is what NBC was looking for with their Wednesday Night Rivalry Night, then the idea was a huge success. The Philadelphia Flyers effort separated the pretenders from the contenders on Wednesday night at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. This was a wild but intense game, with the Flyers taking it 6-5.
If this were a full season, last night’s Flyers effort in Pittsburgh on the heels of the absolute beating the Flyers laid on the New York Islanders on Monday would go a long way to dispel fears of the Flyers fans of possibly not making the playoffs. However, it’s a short season so the Flyers still have to remain on top of their game. That will be key Thursday night against Florida and going forward the next couple of weeks.
While this was a hell of an effort for the orange and black, the Flyers were not perfect by any stretch, especially after getting off to a tough start. Bad penalties and sloppy play led to an early 2-0 Penguins lead. But in seemingly what was a direct response to captain Claude Giroux’s criticism, the Flyers got down and dirty and swarmed the loose pucks in the crease to bang home a goal to bring it to within 1. Forward Wayne Simmonds followed that with a Gretzky-like goal scorer’s goal to tie it up.
The teams continued to go back and forth, many times on the power play. Every time the Flyers felt they were pulling away from Pittsburgh, something would happen. A defensive breakdown, a double-minor penalty followed by a two-man advantage. It was wild for sure.
The back and forth scoring effort was more due to playing a large part of the game on special teams rather than shaky defense or goaltending. The defense wasn’t tremendous, but it wasn’t why there were 11 goals scored. The officiating wasn’t great but it wasn’t horrible either. The calls especially late in the game were deserved on both sides. The atmosphere was so intense and that surely contributed to emotions getting out of hand and causing guys to take undisciplined penalties. That’s what the Flyers-Penguins rivalry does.
The encouraging thing is the Flyers won the last 2 games on their talent. Forward Jakub Voracek is currently breaking out with 10 points in his last 5 games. Voracek netted a hat trick at the Consol Energy Center and his drive to win after a gut wrenching goal the Penguins scored to tie it late in the game was almost heroic. Voracek’s goal with about a minute-and-a-half left in regulation stood to be the game winner. The look in Voracek’s eyes was something nobody has seen yet. It looked like he understood Philadelphia, and he understood how big this game was and the hunger to win this game was in his eyes every time NBC’s cameras panned in on him.
There’s no guarantee that this momentum will continue but the Flyers have to be pretty encouraged with what they’re seeing with Voracek right now. While many fans were frustrated with the trades of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter in the summer of 2011, nobody can argue that they weren’t fair hockey moves. They were moves that definitely have helped both sides.
When people have criticized the Flyers depth after the trade of James van Riemsdyk in the offseason, they had decent points. Voracek was a good forward but he hadn’t quite reached his potential yet. The same was said to a greater extent about Brayden Schenn, who is also starting to ramp up his play lately. The Flyers hope that will continue and they will prove GM Paul Holmgren right in the long term.
Was the game in Pittsburgh last night the turning point for the Flyers season? If one will exist this season, this one would be as good as any. Here’s hoping rivalry night can live up to what we saw last night in Pittsburgh. Tall order.
Flyers Side Note:
With all of the criticism going around lately about Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette, it would be unfair to leave out the fact that his perfectly timed timeout last night seemed to have a good effect on the Flyers. While surrendering a power play goal after, the Flyers bounced back with a head of steam to tie the game in the following few minutes. Following Giroux calling out the players previously, it appears the coach and his captain are on the same page which is critical to keep the ship headed in the right direction in this abbreviated season.
Justin Johnson is a Senior Correspondent and has been covering the Philadelphia Flyers for The Hockey Writers since the 2008-09 season. Justin has covered all levels of hockey across the United States and Canada. Justin is a graduate of Rider University in Lawrenceville, NJ and currently resides in Southern New Jersey.