Flyers haven't scared Penguins … yet

Flyers haven't scared Penguins … yet

The Flyers' postgame reaction Friday night was considerably subdued.

There was no take-that, how-do-you-like-me-now vibe.

Claude Giroux, whose voice never leaves that even-keeled pitch of his, offered no more than "for all your doubters out there, there you go."

Dave Hakstol bluntly said he didn't give a darn about making a statement to the outsiders.

The Flyers had just gone from a 7-0 Game 1 loss to a 5-1 Game 2 win. They not only stemmed the tide, but they completely turned it. Still, nobody rubbed the fulfilling redemption in anyone's face when the opportunity felt prime for it.

Maybe that's because the challenge has just begun.

What the Flyers showed Friday night was they can beat these Penguins. They hadn't done it in over a calendar year, since March 26, 2017. They had lost their previous five matchups with Pittsburgh by a combined score of 27-11.

So, yeah, the Flyers needed to prove something Friday and did so boisterously.

But one triumph, no matter how lopsided or sweet, is no vindication to the naysayers. To really prove something would be showing they can do it again, in fact, four times, a feat the Penguins haven't allowed in their last eight postseason series.

If the playoff opener was just one game to the Flyers, then so was the Game 2 victory. Just one game of potentially seven against the two-time defending champs.

"We introduced ourselves into this series," Hakstol said.

An introduction, but the next chapter needs to be written.

Just how difficult will it be to churn out those pages?

The Penguins lost consecutive games only twice since Jan. 1, a stretch of 42 regular-season contests. In Pittsburgh's previous eight postseason series en route to a pair of Stanley Cup titles, it lost back-to-back games only three times and trailed after three games only twice.

None of this should take away from what the Flyers accomplished in Game 2 and the importance of it. The Flyers said they expected to win, a belief that never wavered. A convincing result like the one Friday night on the heels of a haymaker can only fuel that belief inside the Flyers' locker room.

The belief now comes home.

Are the Flyers ready to erase more doubt? A Game 3 win would put the champs against the ropes in Philadelphia. First, the Flyers must land another punch.

They connected in Game 2 and the Wells Fargo Center will be their next chance.

"It gets pretty loud there," Sidney Crosby said Saturday to reporters. "I think any building at playoff time is going to be loud and tough to play in, but that's part of the fun of playing in the playoffs — different atmospheres, the high stakes, things like that — that's why we play the game."

The Flyers still have three more games to win. Despite the history, they're all even with the Penguins. That's something, but not everything.

James van Riemsdyk can change everything for Flyers

James van Riemsdyk can change everything for Flyers

As the Flyers plodded through a 4-7-0 start, there were issues abound.

They even felt endless.

And while the problems piled and the panic spread rampant, nobody seemed to remember James van Riemsdyk.

You know, the guy that scored 36 goals last season and signed with the Flyers during the summer for five years, $35 million. The guy that the Flyers have been without since the first period of the season's second game, when he suffered a lower-body injury after taking a puck to the knee.

The van Riemsdyk reunion was the biggest reason the Flyers would be different this season, why they were expected to make their largest stride of the Ron Hextall era.

But there was an outside sense that van Riemsdyk wouldn't have made much of a difference during the Flyers' season-opening funk — almost as if his absence didn't factor into the struggles whatsoever or his presence couldn't alleviate the bleeding.

All of which is ridiculous.

JVR is not just a piece, he's a big-time player. The Flyers will start to feel that soon, possibly this week, and the production speaks for itself.

His 36 goals last season were tied for 13th in the NHL, ahead of names like David Pastrnak, Auston Matthews and Sidney Crosby. His 65 goals over the past two seasons are tied for 15th with John Tavares. And he has 136 goals in 365 games since the start of the 2013-14 season, despite playing just 40 contests in 2015-16. The only players with more goals in 365 or fewer games are Evgeni Malkin (153 goals, 326 games), Nikita Kucherov (147 goals, 365 games) and Steven Stamkos (140 goals, 291 games).

When the Flyers went 2-5-0 from Oct. 13-27, they had trouble scoring with just 15 goals, tied for 25th in the league. They were a perimeter team and a player like van Riemsdyk would have changed those trends.

The Maple Leafs last season set franchise records with 49 wins and 105 points. In victories, van Riemsdyk had 42 points (25 goals, 17 assists). In losses, he had just 12 points (11 goals, one assist). Toronto was drastically better when van Riemsdyk was scoring at even strength and on the power play.

This season, from Oct. 13-Nov. 4, the Flyers' man advantage went 2 for 28, which was 30th in the league at 7.1 percent. Even with the team's 5-0-1 stretch, the power play is still 28th in the NHL at 13.8 percent.

Imagine what the Flyers can do when the man advantage is clicking? Van Riemsdyk possesses that game-changing ability as one of the more skilled and proficient net-front players in the league. 

When the Flyers were scrambling and trying everything to ignite their power play, van Riemsdyk would have been a simple solution. In fact, the Flyers' man advantage wouldn't be in this trouble had van Riemsdyk been healthy.

Of course, aside from offense, the Flyers have had other worries, too. However, van Riemsdyk's size alone at 6-foot-3, 217 pounds is impactful in multiple ways. He's not the defensive liability some deem him as, nor is he a one-dimensional player.

Recently, the tune has shifted a bit on the Flyers.

Don't be surprised if van Riemsdyk changes the whole narrative.

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Where does James van Riemsdyk fit on red-hot Flyers?

Where does James van Riemsdyk fit on red-hot Flyers?

VOORHEES, N.J. — Sitting with the fourth-liners in their white practice sweaters, James van Riemsdyk looked like a neon golf ball in a bucket of Titleists.

JVR was the only Flyer wearing a yellow sweater on Monday as the odd man out still working his way into game shape. Before too long, van Riemsdyk will be reintegrated onto one of the Flyers’ four lines.

Right now, the only logical spot for JVR once he’s cleared to return is on the Flyers' third line, which speaks to how well this team is performing at even strength. Van Riemsdyk would in all likelihood bump Dale Weise, who’s been playing some of his best hockey since joining the Flyers in 2016.  

Without van Riemsdyk, the Flyers have already posted 56 goals (3.35 per game) through their first 17 games this season, which is currently tied for ninth best in the NHL. Last season, they had scored 50 goals at the 17-game mark. Even more impressively, the Flyers have put up that much offense with a rather ineffective power play that ranks 28th in the league.

At the moment, the second line appears to be an untouchable group with Oskar Lindblom, Nolan Patrick and Jakub Voracek producing quality scoring opportunities almost nightly. That trio has manufactured six goals and 12 assists since the game in Anaheim that kick-started the Flyers’ 5-0-1 stretch.

“You could tell in practice today the pace was really high and we were enjoying it," Voracek said. "It’s a little bit different than the beginning of the year.

“It all depends on how the players are playing. Sometimes you can have the depth and not everybody can perform the way you want them to be. Right now, the way we’re going I think we’re playing good hockey. The special teams’ numbers aren’t where we want them to be, but we’re winning games, so we’re playing good 5-on-5.”

It’s essentially the same roster during the second half of last season with the younger players, most notably Lindblom and Patrick, a little more experienced now. A better indication of their scoring balance is that, according to Corsica Hockey, the Flyers have tallied 40 even-strength goals, tied for fourth in the league, and they’re starting to dominate at even strength.

Claude Giroux hasn’t budged from the remarkable numbers he put up in 2017-18. In fact, Giroux is currently outpacing his point total from a season ago. The captain is currently on pace for a 106-point season after claiming the NHL’s third star of the week honors. Sean Couturier has also shifted into another gear following a slow start that may have contributed from his delicate workload in training camp.

“I’d say since that Western trip, that’s where it all started,” Couturier said. “As a line I think we moved better, we supported each other and since then that’s when I’ve started to feel pretty good.”  

Two weeks ago, the Flyers were desperate to get van Riemsdyk back on the ice. Now as one of the hottest teams in hockey, it’s a matter of working van Riemsdyk back into a role that works for the entire team without disrupting the cohesion that’s currently working.

“The key for any player is you want to carve out a good role where you’re comfortable and a situation to help the team have success,” van Riemsdyk said. “Especially being a new guy, that’s obviously a process and there’s different combinations that will get tried.”

Right now, it’s definitely a good process to have.

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