No fans and their first game action in 140 days — apparently, no problem for the Flyers.
All things considered, Alain Vigneault's bunch put on a positive exhibition performance Tuesday to record a 3-2 OT win over the Penguins at Scotiabank Arena in the Eastern Conference's hub city Toronto.
The Flyers' tune-up to the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament marked the club's first game of any kind since March 10. The 2019-20 NHL season was suspended March 12 because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes and Scott Laughton netted the Flyers' goals. Laughton scored the overtime game-winner off a sweet lead pass by Travis Konecny.
The OT winner, courtesy of Scott Laughton! pic.twitter.com/2NpfXFecYJ— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) July 28, 2020
Carter Hart played the opening two periods and Brian Elliott finished the deal in the third period and extra session.
NBC Sports Philadelphia's standout trio of Jim Jackson, Keith Jones and Taryn Hatcher was on the call from the Wells Fargo Center.
Dynamic trio is back. pic.twitter.com/mvxepVVwFi— Jordan Hall (@JHallNBCS) July 28, 2020
Next time the Flyers take the game ice in Toronto, it will truly matter.
Let's get into some observations from the exhibition:
• Two of the biggest positives to come from the game: the Flyers left it healthy and didn't show a whole lot of rust.
They emphasized that they were pleasantly surprised how quickly chemistry and timing came back during training camp.
There were no glaring negatives Tuesday and the Flyers have the round robin to continue ironing out any wrinkles.
• A quotable on the aspect of no fans and the arena setup:
I don't think for me that it's any different whether there's nobody in the stands or 18,000 — usually my players can hear me most of the time. When you're behind the bench and you're in the flow of the game and you're coaching and you're making adjustments and you're giving feedback, you don't really notice the fans during the game and I think that as players, you're focused on what you have to do.
I looked at the setup a few times before warmups tonight and it looks real good; I think everybody is going to get used to it.
• Hart made 11 saves on 12 shots. The goal he allowed was a clear look in close for Conor Sheary as the Flyers were slow in retreat.
Elliott also fared well with 13 stops. The goal he surrendered was a rebound marker by Jason Zucker.
Both goalies will play in the round robin. One would think Hart gets the first game, Elliott plays the second and Hart takes the third (depending on the game's implications).
Hart will be the No. 1 guy when the first round begins Aug. 11.
Carter Hart said the screens in the stands is an adjustment for a goalie and line of vision. pic.twitter.com/95zIDMcuxS— Jordan Hall (@JHallNBCS) July 28, 2020
Carter Hart will play Sunday vs. the Bruins.— Jordan Hall (@JHallNBCS) July 29, 2020
Alain Vigneault said there's no doubt Brian Elliott will get one of the games in round robin. TBD on which one.
• Joel Farabee is fighting for a lineup spot and possibly one in the team's top six. He didn't get a chance to show himself a ton Tuesday in lesser minutes (8:56). He didn't do anything to really hurt his chances but the second line of Laughton, Hayes and Konecny (which often clicked in the regular season) played well, which doesn't exactly help Farabee.
The veteran Nate Thompson played down the middle and was good on the penalty kill. The Flyers have a good decision on that 12th and final forward. More looks to come in the round robin.
• Couturier, the new dad, got the Flyers on the board in the first stanza.
DAD POWER!— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) July 28, 2020
Coots strikes to tie this game up. pic.twitter.com/dRYuAj0I7b
• Third-pair blueliners Justin Braun and Robert Hagg were among the healthy scratches with Morgan Frost, Andy Andreoff, Connor Bunnaman, Andy Welinski, Alex Lyon and Kirill Ustimenko.
The Flyers know exactly what they have in Braun and Hagg: two steady, stay-at-home guys who make life easier by killing plays and keeping the puck out of the defensive zone.
What the Flyers might not have as strong a read on is Shayne Gostisbehere, who has had to undergo arthroscopic surgeries on both of his knees in 2020.
Gostisbehere moved well during practices and scrimmages in training camp. Everyone knows his capabilities offensively when he's elusive and transitioning the puck with his legs.
A week ago, he said he felt "10 times better" compared to how he felt during the regular season.
"Just having a clear mind going into any sort of play," he said. "Not thinking is this movement going to hurt or is this going to hurt. Just having a clear mind and focusing straight on hockey. Making those plays, making those reads and trusting myself."
Gostisbehere had an assist and looked pretty good in 18-plus minutes. Building confidence will be important moving forward.
Vigneault is going to continue to get a look at the pieces to his lineup. Gostisbehere is pushing for a spot come Game 1 of the first round. If the Flyers struggle early in a series, especially on the offensive side of things, Vigneault could look to call Gostisbehere's number.
"I liked Ghost's game tonight, I thought he tried to make some plays with the puck," Vigneault said in a video interview. "But obviously like the rest of our group, it was his first game in a long time. Made some good plays; there are some battles for that starting lineup on [Aug. 11] that are going to happen here throughout the next couple of weeks. Tonight was our first game and I expect us to get better every day."
• Hayes was noticeable for all the right reasons. He was his alert and defensive self by picking off a pass to give the Flyers a 2-1 lead in the opening frame.
"T.K. and Scotty had a good forecheck, they were on them," Hayes said of the play.
The 6-foot-5 center is an X-factor for the Flyers in this tournament.
We missed seeing this.— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) July 28, 2020
A turnover from Malkin and Hayes gives the Flyers the lead! pic.twitter.com/87hku4qZgf
• How about Egor Zamula?
Regarded by many as a top-50 NHL prospect, the 20-year-old got his first taste of pro hockey by playing in Tuesday's exhibition game. His appearance was particularly impressive just because he hadn't played a hockey game since Jan. 5 with Russia in the title game of the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.
The Flyers were permitted to play 13 forwards and seven defensemen, so they were able to closely monitor his minutes. Zamula will have to improve his strength and decision-making in his own end.
It would be surprising to see him crack the lineup during the playoffs (maybe the round robin if the Flyers are out of it by Game 3). But he's here and gaining valuable experience; that's a real positive for both Zamula and the Flyers next season.
Egor Zamula a few days ago played against Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in NHL 20.— Jordan Hall (@JHallNBCS) July 29, 2020
He said when he saw them up close, for a little bit, he felt he was still in a video game.
• During the United States and Canadian national anthems, the Flyers and Penguins stood together to convey their solidarity in the fight against injustice and racism in society.
Very cool moment.
Three-time Stanley Cup champion Sidney Crosby and 20-year-old rookie Joel Farabee. Pretty cool. pic.twitter.com/kz1YhBKp7F— Jordan Hall (@JHallNBCS) July 28, 2020
• The Flyers open their three-game round-robin slate Sunday against the top-seeded Bruins (3 p.m. ET/NBC10).
In the round robin, the fourth-seeded Flyers can climb and go no lower than their current standing ahead of the first round.
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