NHL Global Series

Remember what Alain Vigneault said at his introduction? This Flyers season opener felt different

Remember what Alain Vigneault said at his introduction? This Flyers season opener felt different

Flyers fans know this song and dance.

Win the season opener and optimism begins to flow through the veins.

This team looks legit — what a start.

In the previous three seasons, the Flyers won their opener. The victories were rather convincing, too, coming by a combined score of 14-7.

That was probably the most convincing the Flyers did in those seasons. The Flyers went on to miss the playoffs in two of those three years. And in 2017-18, the year they made the playoffs, the Flyers squeaked into the tournament on the final day of the regular season and were then outclassed by the Penguins during the first round.

So, following Friday’s 4-3 win over the Blackhawks to open 2019-20 (see observations), the Flyers will understand if their fans aren’t popping confetti and reserving time off for a parade down Broad Street.

Alain Vigneault and company will have to do more than win just one game to make believers out of the fan base. On April 18, the day of Vigneault’s introduction, the head coach and general manager Chuck Fletcher were not oblivious to the franchise’s current state.

"I understand people's disappointment, but I would say that's all behind us,” Vigneault said. “Chuck is here, he's new. I'm here, I'm new. Nothing I can do about what happened in the past — I can focus on the present and hopefully make the future what we all want it to be. I'm going to be on high alert, I'm going to work my butt off to get this done and I’m very confident that it's going to work out."

While it’s true that Friday was no more than one game, the first of an 82-game gauntlet, there were perceptible differences to the Flyers than in recent years past.

They at least looked different.

Kevin Hayes, a 6-foot-5 center, was hard to miss. Fletcher has raved about Vigneault’s presence in a room, the track record that exudes experience and demands respect. The 27-year-old Hayes has a presence, too, the way he changes the game on the power play, penalty kill and down the middle of the ice.

Matt Niskanen, a savvy defenseman with a Stanley Cup and 125 postseason games on his résumé, ate up 20-plus minutes, which included time on the power play and penalty kill. Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere, the guys last season, played fewer minutes than their average ice times in 2018-19.

This is impactful versatility Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux and the Flyers didn’t have last season. Giroux played just 17:31, didn’t score and the Flyers put up four goals for a victory in which they were in control. The 31-year-old captain played fewer than 17:31 minutes only twice all of last season.

Couturier didn’t have a point, either, and saw 19:21 minutes. Last season, the do-it-all center played fewer minutes just six times.

In fact, Giroux, Couturier, Hayes, Jakub Voracek and James van Riemsdyk all went scoreless Friday.

And that wasn’t a problem.

The Flyers had three new voices behind the bench and new efforts on the ice.

The team won a season opener Friday, just like it did the past three seasons.

No doubt, Flyers fans know this song and dance. 

But this one felt a little different.

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Travis Konecny wows, Flyers kick off Alain Vigneault era with win over Blackhawks in NHL Global Series

Travis Konecny wows, Flyers kick off Alain Vigneault era with win over Blackhawks in NHL Global Series

BOX SCORE

The curtain opened on the Alain Vigneault era Friday in Prague, Czech Republic.

And the first show was a good one. 

The Flyers beat the Blackhawks, 4-3, in the NHL Global Series at O2 Arena. In Vigneault's Flyers head coaching debut, his team received goals from Travis Konecny (two), Oskar Lindblom and Michael Raffl.

Impressively, the Flyers have won their last four season openers by a combined score of 18-10. Of course, though, fans will keep things in perspective given the team has missed the playoffs in two of those three seasons.

But 2019-20 at least has a different look with Vigneault and assistant coaches Michel Therrien and Mike Yeo, along with general manager Chuck Fletcher, who brought in Kevin Hayes, Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun.

Time will tell just how the different the final result will be for the Flyers (see story).

• Let's start with Carter Hart.

How refreshing is it to go into a season knowing that the goalie in net is truly the future?

The 21-year-old wasn't at his best Friday and had some trouble protecting the Flyers' lead, but he made enough timely stops.

In two career starts against the Blackhawks, Hart has two wins and 68 saves on 72 shots. Pretty good.

• Konecny hasn't always been the fastest starter. In 2018-19, he had two goals through 15 games. In 2017-18, he had two goals through 23 games.

In the 2019-20 opener, with the ink still wet on his new contract, Konecny needed just two periods to score his first two goals. The second marker was filthy and gave the Flyers a 3-1 lead.

So, missing those first three days of training camp was no big deal, huh?

The loud start is an encouraging sign for the 22-year-old who should have 30 goals on his mind. He was on the second line Friday with Sean Couturier and Lindblom. The group was dynamic.

• Speaking of Lindblom, he was all smiles after this goal. The 23-year-old became the beneficiary of a fortuitous bounce to give the Flyers a 2-1 lead in the middle frame.

Going back to last season, Lindblom has five goals in his last six games. If he scores 20-plus goals in his second full season, the Flyers will win a lot more games.

• Hayes and Niskanen had nice debuts.

Hayes, a 27-year-old center, used his big body and is a real presence out there at 6-foot-5. Niskanen, a 32-year-old defenseman with a Stanley Cup, was a plus-1 in 20-plus minutes. He broke up a dangerous 2-on-1 led by Patrick Kane as the Flyers were nursing a one-goal lead. Like Hayes, Niskanen also plays on both special teams units. Strong, versatile additions.

• The power play isn't exactly Ivan Provorov's strength. Working on the second unit during the second period, Provorov lost the puck in his own zone trying to ignite an entry. It's not that Provorov isn't a skilled puck mover, but Travis Sanheim might be a better option on the power play. There's so much to like about him getting up the ice and working the point.

Last season, Provorov played 127:24 on the man advantage and had two assists. Sanheim, on the other hand, played 84:21 power play minutes and had two goals and three assists.

• Even without Nolan Patrick (migraine disorder), the Flyers look deeper at forward. Raffl scored an important goal in the third period to provide a 4-2 cushion.

Raffl will give consistent effort on the Flyers' fourth line. If he's scoring goals, it's a major bonus.

Something to consider:

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Travis Konecny scores Flyers' first goal of 2019-20 season in NHL Global Series

Travis Konecny scores Flyers' first goal of 2019-20 season in NHL Global Series

It's always fun to predict who will score the first goal of a new Flyers season.

In 2016-17, trying to do so was truly unpredictable. Boyd Gordon netted the Flyers' first marker. He played 13 games with the Flyers and it was his only goal while wearing the orange and black.

This season, the first goal went to a guy that's going to score many more with the Flyers: Travis Konecny.

The 22-year-old dynamo, fresh off signing a new six-year, $33 million contract, blasted home a first period goal Friday against the Blackhawks in Prague, Czech Republic (see video above).

Konecny was a restricted free agent all offseason and missed the first three days of training camp because he didn't have a new contract. Despite missing some time, the winger vowed he would be ready for the season opener — and showed it Friday.

Oh, and then he did this:

The 2015 first-round pick has been a productive player in season openers with five points (two goals, three assists) in four games.

Here are the Flyers' first goal scorers over the past six seasons:

• Travis Konecny — 2019-20
• Oskar Lindblom — 2018-19
• Claude Giroux — 2017-18
• Boyd Gordon — 2016-17
• Matt Read — 2015-16
• Sean Couturier — 2014-15

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