The numbers last season weren’t pretty.
The Flyers yielded the NHL's third-most goals per game at 3.41.
They had a minus-37 goal differential.
And they rode this carousel of slow starts. Following games, players were often left scratching their heads trying to explain why they dug themselves another hole, resulting in another loss and repeated phrases about accountability.
One of the more glaring statistics to the 2018-19 season in which the Flyers fell glaringly short was the team’s minus-31 goal differential in the first period. The Flyers allowed 94 goals during the opening frame, second worst in the league, while scoring 63. They were far too frequently chasing the play and trying to survive in their own zone, which led to arduous uphill climbs in the second and third periods.
But maybe it didn’t always boil down to the Flyers simply not getting up for a game. That would be a lot of games in which NHL players inexcusably just went through the motions for one-third of a contest.
Sometimes, an aggressive, north-south method can naturally create better effort.
On Wednesday night, with Flyers fans wanting reasons for why they should believe this season will be different, everyone watched what can be a staple of Alain Vigneault’s system when it’s clicking.
Work, work, work, until you fully drain the opposition.
That style leads to extended time in the offensive zone, added pressure on the opposing netminder and, eventually, goals.
The Flyers thoroughly outplayed the Devils in the second period of a 4-0 win, giving the club its first 2-0-0 start since 2011-12 (see observations). While Vigneault’s group scored only one marker and held just a 1-0 lead at second intermission, in many ways, the Flyers landed a slew of punches to put New Jersey into a stagger.
“After a pretty even first period, I thought in the second we really wore them down,” Vigneault said. “Had some great chances.”
At the end of the middle frame, Carter Hart made the Flyers’ effort stand up with a magnificent save as the penalty kill quelled a 5-on-3.
Less than a minute into the third period, the Flyers pounded home two more goals and had obtained what eluded them so much last season: Control of the game.
“Carter kept us in that lead,” Vigneault said, “and we were able to come out in the third and continue on what I thought we had done in the second and just take the game to them.”
The Flyers outshot the Devils, 15-7, in the second period despite racking up eight penalty minutes. They did what Vigneault wants to see and that’s dictate tempo with force, not finesse.
“In the second, I thought we kind of took over,” Sean Couturier said. “We got a lot of chances, except for penalty troubles. We carried that into the third and we got rewarded for our good work in the second.”
Devils head coach John Hynes agreed.
“The second period, we didn’t get out of our own end enough,” he said. “We got hemmed in with some execution things and weren’t able to get in the offensive zone and have some pressure like we had the first period.”
Two games into the 2019-20 season, the Flyers have played on their terms.
Keeping it up will be the next challenge.
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