Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Flyers escape with home-opening win over Canucks

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor

For all the talk about altered chemistry, new looks and diminished expectations in the short term, this year's edition of the Philadelphia Flyers already seem to be well ahead of any predicted curve.

With so much roster turnover, games in the early going are certain to be on the razor's edge; that's where the new goaltending savior -- Ilya Bryzgalov -- is supposed to do what he was paid handsomely to do. When that doesn't happen, it's a relief to know that someone, anyone, will be there to pick up the slack.

That's what happened on Wednesday night, in the 2011-12 home opener against the defending Western Conference champion Vancouver Canucks.

Having blown three two-goal leads by the early portion of the third period, the expectant throng of 19,632 were saved from a gloomy evening by Andrej Meszaros, whose tally at the 4:40 mark of the third period was the difference in a 5-4 victory.

Only 61 seconds after Daniel Sedin beat Bryzgalov for the visitors' second power-play goal of the night, Meszaros exploited a hole in the left side of the rink, accepted a cross-ice pass from Danny Briere and fired over the shoulder of Roberto Luongo for the deciding score.

It capped a wild night which ultimately saw the surprising Flyers move to 3-0-0 to start the year for the second time in three seasons.

Bryzgalov played well, despite giving up all four goals. He withstood Vancouver surges over the final 40 minutes and stopped a total of 36 shots.

None of what eventually occurred might have transpired if not for a bounce early on which could be considered lucky or unlucky, depending on whose bench from which you saw it.

Philly's second power play of the opening period was in danger of going by the wayside until Chris Pronger's dump-in ricocheted off the end boards to the left of Luongo, and kicked right out into the slot. Claude Giroux, who finished with three points on the night, was ahead of the pack and easily walked in alone and scored on the forehand and under the crossbar at 7:14 of the first.

Pronger then surprised Luongo with a long shot from the point, one whose path into the net was aided by a Wayne Simmonds screen, for a 2-0 Flyers egde on another advantage at 12:12.

Even when Mikael Samuelsson potted a rebound from the top inner edge of the right circle at 16:35 and the Canucks began to assert themselves, the home team didn't lose their cool.

With 2:32 remaining in the first, Giroux halted a Luongo clear at the right point near the benches, and slipped the disc all the way back to James van Riemsdyk. The 22-year-old had his initial shot smothered, but roofed the rebound and the Flyers led 3-1 at intermission.

Then, the Presidents' Trophy winners began to play like they were the best in the NHL a season ago and threw into doubt everything the Atlantic Division winners built up.

Vancouver closed to within a goal at 6:41 of the second stanza, as an unlucky bounce in front of Bryzgalov kicked into the slot. Alex Edler managed to get his stick on the puck in a scrum, and Henrik Sedin converted inside the left post.

Voracek provided a brief respite from the onslaught when he ripped a wrister under the crossbar off a slick dish by Sean Couturier at 8:32, but Higgins caught Bryzgalov leaning off the right pipe and converted a short-side score with 4:29 to play in the period.

Daniel Sedin then knotted the score during a van Riemsdyk unsportsmanlike conduct call, making it 4-4 with 3:39 gone in the third.

Suddenly, and finally, the partisan crowd fell silent. Thankfully, it was not for long because of Meszaros.

Regrettably, the game was a lot closer than it should have been due to an imbalance of power plays. While the Flyers enjoyed the first four of the contest, the Canucks were granted five in a row in the third.

It helped to have Bryzgalov make the saves he needed to make when it counted most, with Vancouver's 31-13 shot advantage over the final 40 minutes -- including a 17-7 margin in the third.

Notes: Prior to the game, the Flyers honored fallen former defenseman Brad McCrimmon, who perished in the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl airplane tragedy last month...In the press box during the remembrance were former teammates, now scouts, Mark Howe, Bill Barber and Dave Brown, who all stood during a moment of silence...This marked the third time the Flyers have opened their home schedule against the Canucks -- all wins -- in 1973, 2000 and tonight...10 different Flyers recorded at least one point...Five Vancouver players notched two points including both Sedins...Former captain Mike Richards returns to Philadelphia with the LA Kings on Saturday.

No comments: