Flyers fans know this song and dance.
Win the season opener and optimism begins to flow through the veins.
This team looks legit — what a start.
In the previous three seasons, the Flyers won their opener. The victories were rather convincing, too, coming by a combined score of 14-7.
That was probably the most convincing the Flyers did in those seasons. The Flyers went on to miss the playoffs in two of those three years. And in 2017-18, the year they made the playoffs, the Flyers squeaked into the tournament on the final day of the regular season and were then outclassed by the Penguins during the first round.
So, following Friday’s 4-3 win over the Blackhawks to open 2019-20 (see observations), the Flyers will understand if their fans aren’t popping confetti and reserving time off for a parade down Broad Street.
Alain Vigneault and company will have to do more than win just one game to make believers out of the fan base. On April 18, the day of Vigneault’s introduction, the head coach and general manager Chuck Fletcher were not oblivious to the franchise’s current state.
"I understand people's disappointment, but I would say that's all behind us,” Vigneault said. “Chuck is here, he's new. I'm here, I'm new. Nothing I can do about what happened in the past — I can focus on the present and hopefully make the future what we all want it to be. I'm going to be on high alert, I'm going to work my butt off to get this done and I’m very confident that it's going to work out."
While it’s true that Friday was no more than one game, the first of an 82-game gauntlet, there were perceptible differences to the Flyers than in recent years past.
They at least looked different.
Kevin Hayes, a 6-foot-5 center, was hard to miss. Fletcher has raved about Vigneault’s presence in a room, the track record that exudes experience and demands respect. The 27-year-old Hayes has a presence, too, the way he changes the game on the power play, penalty kill and down the middle of the ice.
Matt Niskanen, a savvy defenseman with a Stanley Cup and 125 postseason games on his résumé, ate up 20-plus minutes, which included time on the power play and penalty kill. Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere, the guys last season, played fewer minutes than their average ice times in 2018-19.
This is impactful versatility Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux and the Flyers didn’t have last season. Giroux played just 17:31, didn’t score and the Flyers put up four goals for a victory in which they were in control. The 31-year-old captain played fewer than 17:31 minutes only twice all of last season.
Couturier didn’t have a point, either, and saw 19:21 minutes. Last season, the do-it-all center played fewer minutes just six times.
In fact, Giroux, Couturier, Hayes, Jakub Voracek and James van Riemsdyk all went scoreless Friday.
And that wasn’t a problem.
The Flyers had three new voices behind the bench and new efforts on the ice.
The team won a season opener Friday, just like it did the past three seasons.
No doubt, Flyers fans know this song and dance.
But this one felt a little different.
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