Rob Zepp waited a long time for this one. After 13 years of toiling through various affiliated and European leagues, the 33-year-old netminder finally made his NHL debut. And since it’s the Christmas season, you had to know the story didn’t end there. After erasing a two-goal deficit in the third period, an overtime goal from Jakub Voracek gives Zepp his first NHL victory, and the Flyers a 4-3 overtime win against the Jets on Sunday night – a story Zepp will drive his grandchildren nuts with one day.
They say you’re only as old as you feel, which is a phrase Rob Zepp can certainly relate to. The Flyers used a pair of third period goals from Vinny Lecavalier to ensure the journeyman goalie would have at least a point to show for when looking back at his debut.
But 24 seconds into the overtime period, Jakub Voracek’s wrap-around game-winner gave the Flyers a two-game win streak, making Zepp not only the oldest Flyer to make his goaltending debut, but the oldest in league history to win a debut since 1926.
Zepp became the eighth oldest goaltender in the 97-year history of the National Hockey League to start in his debut last night. He didn’t get much help in the first half of his storybook night, but the Flyers took off in the second half.
In fact, Zepp only needed to stop two pucks in the third period and overtime combined as the Flyers erased a 3-1 deficit to stun the Jets, 4-3, in overtime at MTS Centre. — Frank Seravalli, Philly.com
It wasn’t easy for the recent call-up. The Jets tested the newbie out of the gate, peppering him with several shots before Claude Giroux gained control for a two-on-one rush, which was finished off by Voracek to give Philadelphia an early lead.
“I did not feel like myself in the first 10 minutes of the game,” Zepp said afterward.
Zepp extends to rob Scheifele with his skate http://t.co/mMYoENwoiP
— Christine Thompson (@Christi16863498) December 22, 2014
Zepp’s comfort level would noticeably grow as the game moved on, though. But after giving up three unanswered goals, it was Zepp’s spectacular save on Mark Scheifele in the final seconds of the second period that made it possible for the team in front of him to force overtime in the following period.
The Jets would break in the man of the hour with goals from Matt Halischuk, Dustin Byfuglien, and Mathieu Perreault. But the heroics of Lecavalier and Voracek leave their valiant efforts as nothing more than a future trivia answer.
To their credit, though, the Jets do walk out of this blown game with at least a single point.
Byfuglien the Bully
When it comes to throwing the body around, getting under his opponents’ skin, and/or serving as a lethal scoring threat, Dustin Byfuglien is up with the best of them. On Sunday, the nine-year veteran did just that – all of the above, that is.
Byfuglien made all five of his credited hits count, including a borderline dirty hit on Giroux. The Minneapolis native took advantage of a long leash, which wasn’t exclusive to his smashing of Giroux’s head.
While shorthanded, Byfuglien hacked at Brayden Schenn’s stick, causing it snap in half – an automatic penalty that was not called. But despite five total power play opportunities between the two teams – with Philadelphia receiving four of them – Winnipeg’s lumberjack skated with what appeared to be free reign. Byfuglien was even seen further annoying Schenn after the occurrence by sarcastically agreeing with his frustration, while patting him on the back before the following faceoff.
Giroux and Schenn were just one of the handful of Flyers that Byfuglien forced to pay the toll for playing the puck along the boards – or with their heads down. In all, the 29-year-old claimed the heads of Giroux, Schenn, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Michael Raffl for his mantle.
But just as it always happens in the movies, the good guys always come out on top, and often at the expense of the villain. As it turns out, it was a Byfuglien turnover that led to Voracek’s game-winning goal (in tribute of Zepp). And with the two sides overflowing in frustration – Philly’s for Byfuglien’s actions – a war of words ensued between the 265-pound defender and Flyers head coach Craig Berube.
The Jets defenseman had just turned the puck over to Jakub Voracek for the game-winning goal, so he probably was already agitated. Also, Byfuglien had drilled Flyers star Claude Giroux with a few hits during the game, which may have left some lingering ill will. — Chris Peters, CBS Sports
A short gif was collected below of the exchange. Notice too, Byfuglien’s “Who, me?” act. Textbook. That’s a veteran who’s good at his job.
— theScore NHL (@theScoreNHL) December 22, 2014
While no one likes seeing a player take a run at one of their own – especially their captain – Byfuglien exuded exactly what the Flyers lack at the present moment. The former Stanley Cup winner can be considered the complete package with his size, physicality, agitation, and two-way skills that lean towards the offensive side.
In other words, Flyers fans hated him on Sunday night, but would unmistakably love him if he were in orange and black – if we’re being honest, that is.
Tidbits from Manitoba
Jake Voracek Watch
With yet another multi-point performance on Sunday night, Jake Voracek stayed ahead of Dallas’ Tyler Seguin, despite the former Bruin depositing two goals on top of an assist against Edmonton. Seguin may have 25 goals on the season to Voracek’s 14, but it’s the 25-year-old Czech who’s currently holding the carrot. Man, that Crosby guy is really falling behind.
What a comeback by Flyers. Come back to win after being down 3-1. Jake Voracek 2 more goals, leads NHL with 44 points. #Flyers
— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) December 22, 2014
More from Lecavalier
Speaking of multi-goal performances, did someone call for Vinny Lecavalier? Say what you will about the 16-year veteran’s contract, or overall fit in Craig Berube’s simplistic system. It’s good to see a class act get rewarded for staying disciplined and hard-working. Lecavalier’s tallies marked the first time his name was announced for the feat since Nov. 1st against Florida.
Ya know, Vincent Lecavalier has played some really solid hockey since he's been back in the line up. #justsaying
— jsaquella (@jsaquella) December 22, 2014
Two for the Money
With wins now in Toronto and Winnipeg, the Flyers upped their road record to 5-9-3. Sunday night’s thriller was the first time all season the Flyers have won consecutive games on the road. That’s a good thing now, right?
That's twice in as many nights the #Flyers erased a 2-goal deficit on the road. Showing some mettle so far on 8-game road trip.
— Eric Goldstein (@ericesponda) December 22, 2014
Merry Christmas, Minnesota
The Flyers will take their newfound identity as road warriors to Minnesota for a meeting with the Wild on Tuesday. Of course, the memory of Jason Zucker’s game-winning goal with under a minute left in regulation on Nov. 20th is branded on the mind. But at 16-12-3, the Wild are severely underachieving. Their 2-3-0 record against the Metropolitan Division make the wasted point or two from November even more painful.
— 🇺🇸Shaun (D) #BlackLivesMatter (@MrMonroe17) December 22, 2014
The Flyers suffered a 2-0 shutout defeat in their last visit to the city that has the highest complaint count for NHL officials. But hey, you can’t please everyone. Just ask Dustin Byfuglien.
Andy is a contributor for The Hockey Writers, covering the Philadelphia Flyers. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from Walsh University. He enjoys spending time with his family, golfing, and reading. He is married with a daughter. You can follow Andy on Twitter @ADudones.