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How Flyers are playing an Alain Vigneault brand — and can they sustain it?

How Flyers are playing an Alain Vigneault brand — and can they sustain it?

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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New-look Flyers say get excited with mini statement and a 2-0-0 start

New-look Flyers say get excited with mini statement and a 2-0-0 start

BOX SCORE

The new-look Flyers had themselves some fun in their 2019-20 introduction at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday night.

Kevin Hayes, Sean Couturier, Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov all scored goals, while Carter Hart was as bright as his future in a 4-0 thumping of the Devils.

Head coach Alain Vigneault received a hearty applause during the pregame introductions. He has the Flyers off to their first 2-0-0 start since 2011-12, when they last won a playoff series (see story).

The Flyers' victory spoiled Wayne Simmonds' return to Philly with New Jersey, which has lost its first three games of the season.

• Not a bad time for Hart's first NHL shutout, huh? The 21-year-old made 25 saves to do it in his 33rd career game.

• The building may have been the loudest when Hart made an are-you-kidding-me save with the Devils swarming on a 5-on-3 power play in the final minutes of the middle stanza.

The Flyers' penalty kill, which has been the NHL's second worst since 2014-15, looks better through two games. It survived that 5-on-3 in impressive fashion and the Wells Fargo Center loved it.

"I have to be honest, it's big balls by everyone," Scott Laughton said at second intermission on the Flyers' radio broadcast. "Hartsy made the save of the year already. Everyone is working on the same page."

• Speaking of the penalty kill, Hayes is such a quiet terror when his team is shorthanded. With his size and length, he gobbles up pucks and then quickly transitions them because he's so big.

He nearly scored a shorthanded goal in the second period. He has a history of being one of the league's most dangerous shorthanded threats.

Hayes scored his first goal as a Flyer with a power play marker in the third period. He flexed a little bit and deservedly so. The 27-year-old center is expected to do a lot for the Flyers.

• Another guy that does a lot is Couturier. Twenty-four seconds after Hayes scored, Couturier added one himself, giving the Flyers a comfy 3-0 advantage less than a minute into the final frame.

When Couturier and Hayes are both scoring on the same night, the Flyers will be tough to beat.

• The Flyers struck first with a second period power play goal from Provorov, who needed 12 games to net his first goal last season.

The power play looks noticeably different (and better). There's constant motion as no player is stationary. As the puck moves, bodies move, which creates more effort for the opposing penalty kill.

Assistant coach Michel Therrien has done positive work with the units.

• Konecny put the game out of reach with his third goal through the opening two games.

Last season, it took him 19 games to score three goals. Great signs from the 22-year-old winger so far, a guy that can take the Flyers to another level when he finds NHL consistency.

• The Flyers gave 21-year-old forwards Connor Bunnaman and Carsen Twarynski the rookie treatment in warmups.

Cool moment for those two — not many had the prospects circled as favorites to win roster spots. They went out and earned it.

• The Flyers kick off a three-game Western Canada road trip in Vancouver on Saturday when they play the Canucks (10 p.m. ET/NBCSP).

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Flyers vs. Devils: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

Flyers vs. Devils: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

The Flyers have not started 2-0-0 in a season since 2011-12, when they last won a playoff series.

They can change that Wednesday night when they host Wayne Simmonds and the Devils (0-1-1) in the first game at the Wells Fargo Center for the 2019-20 season.

Let's get into the essentials:

When: 7:30 p.m. ET with Flyers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: Wells Fargo Center
Broadcast: NBCSN for game broadcast; NBCSP for Pregame Live and Postgame Live.
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

• The Flyers lost six of their seven preseason games, including a defeat to Lausanne HC of the National League. Midway through the exhibition slate, head coach Alain Vigneault said he couldn't remember any of his preseason records in 17 years of NHL head coaching.

And he was making a good point. He wasn't too worried about the Flyers, given this is Year 1 under Vigneault and a team grasping a new system can take time.

Even though it was just one game, the Flyers appeared like they had things down in the 4-3 season-opening win over the Blackhawks. After looking like they were behind the play so often early in games during 2018-19, the Flyers controlled pace and sustained possession last Friday. They weren't one and done when they entered the offensive zone and didn't find themselves having to play a ton of defense in their own zone.

"It took us a while, it took us almost the whole preseason," Jakub Voracek said. "But I think we play the system well, we play pretty good defensively. We just couldn’t find a way to score the goals in the preseason, but we did in the season opener. We’re very excited about this year and the years coming up."

• For the first time since being traded in February, Simmonds will return to the Wells Fargo Center. He is now a visiting player. Expect a loud ovation from the fans and a video tribute from the Flyers.

"It's going to be weird," Voracek said. "First time in about eight years to see him against me. I'm sure we're going to get something going."

A little trash-talking between the two?

"Possible," Voracek said with a smile. "We did on a daily basis when we were teammates, so I'm sure it's going to happen when he's on the other team."

• Travis Konecny has six goals in 13 career games vs. the Devils, his most goals against any opponent.

He's coming off a two-goal, three-point season opener, and a fast start could be vital to the Flyers' fortunes this season (see story).

• Jack Hughes, the 2019 No. 1 overall pick, is scoreless through his first two games. Will the dizzying playmaker get his first NHL point against the Flyers? Hughes could give Simmonds a memorable return as the 18-year-old is expected to center the former Flyer and Blake Coleman.

Quotable

Any time you play that first game of the season at home, there's a different feel to it. We feel like we have something to prove. The fans are going to be ready to go. Every season opener, they've been great.

- Claude Giroux

Projected lineup

Forwards

Claude Giroux-Kevin Hayes-Jakub Voracek
Oskar Lindblom-Sean Couturier-Travis Konecny
James van Riemsdyk-Scott Laughton-Carsen Twarynski
Connor Bunnaman-Michael Raffl-Tyler Pitlick

Defensemen

Ivan Provorov-Justin Braun
Travis Sanheim-Matt Niskanen
Robert Hagg-Shayne Gostisbehere

Goalies

Carter Hart
Brian Elliott

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