Flyers Ruin Penguins Home Opener with a 3-2 Victory

By: Tim Brennan

The defending Eastern Conference champs made a statement last night when they came to face their cross-state rival Pittsburgh for the first game ever to be played in the newly constructed Consol Energy Center. Not only did the Broad Street Bullies claim victory in Pittsburgh’s home opener, they also did it with a new rookie goaltender who absolutely stole the show.

It came as a shock to everyone that Brian Boucher was not named as the starter for Thursday night’s game, seeing as starter Michael Leighton is currently nursing a back injury. The Flyers usually go with the veteran goaltender in a situation such as this but instead went with Sergei Bobrovsky, a 22 year old Russian native who played the last 4 years in the KHL for Metallurg-Novokuznetsk and was signed by Philly in May. Due to a great pre-season in which the youngster allowed only 8 goals in 7 games, Bobrovsky was selected as the second goalie instead of Johan Backlund.

Bobrovsky stopped 29 shots in his NHL debut and kept Philadelphia ahead in the score when the Penguins put on some serious offensive pressure. The first period was a huge test for the rookie goaltender, as he faced 15 shots behind a sloppy defense. The Flyers didn’t seem to be in sync during the opening period of play, with Pittsburgh gaining odd man chances and one time opportunities in the slot time after time.

It wasn’t until the second period when Danny Briere scored the game’s first goal that the Flyers finally settled in. Philadelphia tallied six seconds into a powerplay as Mike Richards point shot was redirected in by Briere, who was standing to the left of the goal mouth. Later in the period, Blair Betts gave the Flyers a 2-0 lead when James van Riemsdyk’s shot careened off Marc-Andre Fleury and hit Darroll Powe, who was charging towards the net for a rebound. The puck kicked out to Betts, who buried it into the empty goal.

But Pittsburgh struck back in a big way with the start of the third period. Tyler Kennedy put one home just 44 seconds in to give Pittsburgh their first goal in the brand new arena. The Penguins worked the puck around in the Flyers zone until Paul Martin skated towards the net and sent a cross ice pass to Kennedy, who fumbled at first, but then fired a snapshot to the far side post after Bobrovsky slid out of the crease.

Philadelphia would counter however when Claude Giroux intercepted a pass and went in on a breakaway, deking Fleury out of his pants for a shorthanded marker, putting his team up by two. The Flyers didn’t even have a chance to settle in when Alex Goligoski skated down low and tipped a shot from the blueline by Zbynek Michalek for a powerplay goal. Bobrovksy fought off the Penguins scoring chances in the final minute of the game, coming up big and making key saves when the team needed it. Both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin ended the game with zero points, making Bobrovsky’s debut a huge success.

Even though the Flyers beat Pittsburgh, it could have been a whole different story. Aside from Kimmo Timonen and Matt Carle, the Flyers defense looked sloppy and ran around way too much in their own zone. It didn’t help that Philly’s forwards couldn’t get the puck out of the zone to begin with but the defense wasn’t making good decisions, throwing the puck blindly up the boards or making weak breakout passes that were being picked off. For the most part, the Flyers were having a rough time staying with their man, often drifting away to go after the puck carrier, which led to entirely too many wide open back door plays which were either squandered by Bobrovsky or the post. The physical presence wasn’t there either as the defense resorted to pokechecks before bodychecks. That might have something to do with towering d-man Chris Pronger sitting on the sidelines with a knee injury.

The Flyers first line was the most disappointing of all, with captain Mike Richards, goal scorer  Jeff Carter and pest Dan Carcillo skating around as if it were still pre-season. All three didn’t put much effort into playing defensively, or offensively for that matter. The Penguins top line ran over them all game and it’s no wonder why they combined for just 4 shots. The Flyers need this line to get jump started or they are going to have problems during the rest of the season. The Briere-Leino-Hartnell line seemed to be clicking, which is great for Flyers fans especially after the enormous success the line had during last year’s Stanley Cup run. The combo of Giroux and van Riemsdyk led to some of the team’s best chances and were the team’s best forwards, while newcomer Nikolay Zherdev had a lackluster evening. Even the fourth line chipped in, with Blair Betts putting one on the board and Darroll Powe setting the pace with several big hits.

If the Flyers want to continue to dominate as they did during the playoffs last year, they need to get their act together because this game could have easily been a victory for Pittsburgh. They have an opportunity to improve upon their performance Saturday night against the St. Louis Blues.

To view highlights of this game, click below.

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