NEWARK, N.J. — It was just a matter of time before this new-look Flyers team was forced to take matters into the hands of someone else not named Wayne Simmonds.
To have the fortitude to serve and protect in a way Simmonds was called upon to do so many times before.
Friday night's 6-3 win over the Devils proved to be that first game in which the team’s mettle would be tested (see observations).
“Simmer is one of those guys you don’t want to mess with,” Travis Konecny said. “Teams probably look at us differently. We’re still the same team in that we stick together. I think Simmer left a lot of that with us and taught us young guys to stick up for your teammates.”
You’ll have to forgive the Devils, more notably fourth-line winger Kurtis Gabriel, if he somehow mistook the Prudential Center for one of Newark’s poorly lit alleyways.
Five minutes into the game, Gabriel unloaded an all-out assault into Nolan Patrick, checking from behind and launching him face-first into the glass. NBC Sports Philadelphia Flyers analyst Chris Therien called it "the dumbest hit I’ve seen all year."
It was certainly one of the most irresponsible ones.
A hit so flagrant that it resulted in a five-minute major, forcing Patrick to leave the game and head into the dressing room as part of the NHL’s concussion protocol.
“That’s obviously the way that guy plays," Patrick said. "He’s in the lineup for that reason, to do that I guess. The best way to respond is to beat them, which we did."
One could make the convincing argument that Gabriel should have received a match penalty and been immediately ejected from the game, but he was allowed to return after serving the five minutes.
Once the Flyers scored two quick goals in the third period, it was time to settle another score, and that’s when Patrick went into retaliation mode and delivered an open-ice shoulder-to-chest hit that leveled Gabriel, but didn’t appear to be contact directed at the head.
The refs missed this late and dangerous hit behind the play by Nolan Patrick on Kurtis Gabriel pic.twitter.com/QcYCkd9viO— Devils Red Alert (@DevilsRedAlert) March 2, 2019
Of course, as you might expect, Devils coach John Hynes saw Patrick’s retaliatory hit differently than the guys on the other bench.
“I’m sure it’s going to get reviewed," Hynes said. "Blindside hit to the head."
Not long after Patrick’s third-period hit, the tension grew and erupted in Patrick, Gabriel, Sami Vatanen and Damon Severson getting hauled off for roughing penalties, the fallout of a Konecny crosscheck.
“If you look at tonight, there were a few scrums. Guys stuck up for one another,” Sean Couturier said. “There were five-man units in there as battles. It’s good to see and it’s what good teams do. We've got to keep doing that.”
From a crosscheck to a gut-check moment for the Flyers, who were tested for the first time since trading their emotional and spirited leader Simmonds, who would have cleaned up the mess by dropping the gloves or doing what he needed to do to ensure order was restored.
Teams may look at the Flyers differently, but Friday night, they showed there's still a price to be paid (see highlights).
“It was just a matter of trying to protect ourselves,” Konecny said. “Patty is one of my good buddies and I’m going to stick up for him any time someone is messing with him. That’s what it is. Everyone’s just sticking together and we’re a close team. It’s not going to fly with us.”
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