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Flyers ‘find a way,’ beat Devils 5-2 in season opener


Head coach John Tortorella came into camp with a mission to “get this thing back on the rails,” and that push began with a 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils in the season opener, with a Wells Fargo Center crowd that ended up far more electric than most would’ve expected.

Wade Allison, Travis Konecny, Morgan Frost, and Tanner Laczynski – names that have been hurt, names that have struggled, names that the Flyers are banking themselves on – all got on the scoresheet, while the rest of the lineup threw the body around without hesitation and kept the crease clear for goaltender Carter Hart as he stopped 35 of 37 shots.

The Flyers were much meaner, much more aggressive, and played a much more complete game of hockey than nearly anything from the apathetic mess that was last season.

They skated hard, they finished checks, crashed the net. As much as most fans didn’t want to hear it from GM Chuck Fletcher and then Tortorella after he got hired over the summer, the Philadelphia Flyers were genuinely tougher to play against and the immediate effort was rewarded with a 1-0-0 start.

“They played hard,” Tortorella said postgame. “It’s a ‘find a way’ league. Nothing is perfect. Not all minutes are perfect. Sometimes it’s ugly, sometimes it just looks awful, but it’s a ‘find a way league’ and we found a way to win.”

Shy of the halfway mark in the first period, Ivan Provorov threw the puck on net from the point and the rebound fell right at Allison’s feet. He slipped it home, let out a roar, and fist pumped so hard he nearly threw himself off his skates.

The first Flyers goal of the season, which tied the game 1-1, took 8:24 to register. The celebration? That felt years in the making.

“Felt good,” Allison said. “Felt real good.” 

On the bubble of cracking the Flyers’ roster for years but always stopped short because of injuries, the 25-year-old Allison was, finally, fully healthy and finally here.

Halfway through the second, Provorov caught the puck streaking up the boards in the neutral zone and beat Tomas Tatar for it to get it moving the other way. The Devils were completely caught in transition. Kevin Hayes flipped the puck over to a Konecny streaking toward the net with only defenseman Brendan Smith standing in his way. He unleashed a shot from the slot that flew right under Mackenzie Blackwood’s glove. 2-1, Flyers, and for Konecny, who lost his scoring touch last season and has the club looking toward him to become more of a leader, a hopeful sign that he might have it again.

“I think for me it’s just quality shots, like where I’m shooting from,” Konecny said. “I wasn’t trying to shoot from the outside tonight. I was trying to get to the middle. I was trying to get around the net more instead of being outside, trust my linemates to make the plays and the D to get their pucks to the net and I’ll be at the netfront.”

Then came a perfect cycle not even 30 seconds later. James van Riemsdyk retrieved the puck on the half boards and careened it down to Laczynski behind the net, who then found Frost in front to finish the sequence off. 3-1, Flyers, and a huge first goal for the 23-year-old on a one-year ‘prove it’ deal after never quite reaching the expectations that came with his first-round draft status.

“Let’s go Flyers!” chants broke out and carried through the crowd, organically and enthusiastically for the first time in a long time.

“That’s what you love to hear as a player,” Allison said. “It gives you an extra advantage out there. Fans here are crazy, it’s unbelievable. So that was awesome. Really cool to me.”

Early into the third, on the power play from a Miles Wood hooking call, Konecny came scorching into the zone again but flailed on the initial rush to the net. Once the Flyers’ special teams unit settled around the Devils’ diamond penalty kill, Konecny, with all kinds of space at the top of the right circle, fired a shot that beat Blackwood again.

Yeah, that scoring touch might be back. 4-1, Flyers.

“It’s always nice to get a couple early, but more importantly I just love our work ethic,” Konecny said. “I think one of the cool things is our lineup has a lot of young guys in there and it really doesn’t matter who you are so long as you’re doing the right things. They weren’t scared to make plays because they know everyone’s backing them up and playing them hard so that’s what sticks out to me.”

Alexander Holtz scored the opening tally for the Devils after being left all alone on the left side of the ice skating in off the rush, and Damon Severson made it 4-2 midway through the third with the New Jersey pressing. 

Admittedly, it did start to look a bit scary. Go back to last season and the Flyers maybe blow that lead. But Hart stayed steady and so did the skaters in front of him.

“I thought the first goal was a bad goal, but then I thought he was outstanding,” Tortorella said of Hart’s performance. “He gave us an opportunity, made key saves at key times. For a guy who hasn’t played any exhibitions, exhibitions are important for goalies just to see the traffic that people squeak through them and all that, didn’t see any of that. But a big reason why we were able to find some good minutes when we were struggling in other minutes, he held us there. So I thought he played very well.”

Laczynski sealed things for good when he knocked in an empty-netter with 1:59 remaining, the first goal of his NHL career. As time expired, the fans all stood in cheers and applause. This season probably won’t see the Flyers go all that far, but Thursday night at least stood as a celebration of hope. Hope and better days ahead, for however long it may take to get there.

“We want to create an identity,” Tortorella said. “I envision what I’d like to see it be, but we gotta go through the steps to get there.

“I think in this league, if you’re true and you’re honest and you play hard, you find a way to get in the win column more often than not.”


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