PHILADELPHIA — It was only one Forcefully entertaining matinee at Wells Fargo Center Saturday, so there’s plenty of time for trends to be altered.
Yes, on a Saturday afternoon Star Wars-themed game (a Bill Murray lounge singer video is always welcome at a hockey game), the Flyers displayed spots of concern and weakness, yet also seem to be a team that for the first time in years doesn’t let that those little flaws slow it down.
In spite of yourself, on the heels of a 4-3 overtime win over the Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights ended by Sean Couturier exactly one minute into the 3-on-3 period, you found yourself admitting that what you just witnessed was … fun?
Fun? Didn’t that used to be a hallmark of a John Tortorella-coached team?
“Oh, I’m out of the way,” the Flyers’ fun head coach said. “I want them to enjoy it. I’m not saying to them, ‘I want you to be careful,’ I just know that it’s such a long year, I just want us to enjoy it now. But we play at 5:30 (Sunday, against Columbus), and I just think we need to be a little flatlined, too. I don’t want us to get ahead of ourselves when (we) win a couple of games in a row, because that’s when you head down the wrong road.”
Face it, the Flyers were a dead-end team the past two seasons. Losses mounted, attendance dropped. The last time they appeared anything like contenders was under Alain Vigneault in 2019-20, an anomaly of a season shortened by a pandemic in which they went 41-21-7 and that ended in a tough playoff series with the New York Islanders.
That postseason included their one winning playoff series since 2012.
But even through those struggles, fans may not have been prepared for the past two seasons in which the club frequently appeared to be a comedy of errors. It seemed no coincidence that Couturier and Cam Atkinson had to watch most of it from the injury ward.
Couturier, a de-facto captain without a C on his jersey, is healthier than he’s been in more than two years. He says those un-funny times are in the past now.
“I think all year, we’ve played some really good teams, we’ve had tough travel, and yet we’ve shown up and made it a battle every night,” Couturier said. “Right now we’re getting results, and they’re paying off. We’re trusting the way we play and we just try to play that way all the time. … We just have to keep it up.”
Not only have Couturier and Atkinson been back on top of their skillful games of late, the Flyers have had generally superb goaltending from maturing Carter Hart, while veterans Travis Konecny and Travis Sanheim have had outstanding seasons and young players such as Tyson Foerster and Owen Tippett have developed.
The impact has been noticeable.
Following a bad home loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Nov. 5, the Flyers left town and promptly lost to the sad-sack San Jose Sharks. But they won the last three games of that trip, the last two against the Kings and powerful Carolina Hurricanes. Then they came home and thrilled what actually was a significantly sized WFC crowd Saturday with an overtime victory over those kingly Knights.
“We played them in Vegas, we were up 2-1, and a couple of goals go in and we lost a point there,” Hart said. “But we came back here (today) with a really strong effort. We weren’t going to let them beat us in our own building.”
Now, at 9-7-1, they trail only the Rangers in the Metropolitan Division with 19 points.
There remains vast room for improvement, something Tortorella wasn’t going to let anyone forget, even in Saturday’s joy.
“Results are important, but I want to see how they handle situations as we go through it,” Tortorella said. “If they stay concentrated and stay together, we’ll win games. How many wins I don’t know, but we’ll win games.”
And maybe have a little fun doing it.
Source: Berkshire mont