By David Strehle
NHL Hot Stove Managing Editor
The Philadelphia Flyers were able to hold off the Vancouver Canucks, 5-4, in a wild home-opener at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday night. It was a see-saw affair, where Philadelphia built an early lead and looked as though they might run away with the game, only to see Vancouver come back time and time again.
Meszaros celebrates game-winning goal in the third period. (Photo by Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)
The Flyers had brandished a lethal power play in the preseason, but had managed just one man advantage marker in 12 opportunities in the first two contests of the regular season. That all changed in the first period tonight, as Philadelphia used the power play to build a 2-0 lead.
Claude Giroux opened the scoring at the 7:14 mark, when Chris Pronger’s shot around the boards hit a stanchion and popped right to Giroux, who was alone in the slot. He was able to snap a quick shot past a surprised Roberto Luongo for a 1-0 Flyers lead.
“It hit the partition and came back right in the front and it caught me by surprise obviously,” Luongo said after the game. ”I wasn’t exactly sure what he (Giroux) was going to do with it, and I was caught leaning.”
Just under five minutes later and on the fourth Philadelphia PP of the evening, Pronger would do the honors on the second goal. With Wayne Simmonds stationed directly in front of Luongo, Pronger’s blueline drive sailed right past the screened Vancouver netminder. That made it 2-0 at 12:12 of the opening period.
The Canucks would use a man advantage of their own to get on the board, as Mikael Samuelsson was able to put a backhander on a rebound past Ilya Bryzgalov to cut the deficit to 2-1 with 3:25 remaining in the first.
The Flyers would restore their two-goal lead a little over a minute later, as James van Riemsdyk pounced on a rebound and flipped it over a fallen Luongo to make it 3-1 at 17:48.
Philadelphia used the PP to outshoot Vancouver 14-9 in the first, but the Canucks would carry play for much of the middle frame; as well as the remainder of the contest.
Henrik Sedin brought the visitors back to within one at 6:41 of the second. The Flyers defense had all kinds of trouble with trying to clear a bouncing puck, and it ended up on Henrik’s stick in close at the edge of the left circle. He made no mistake in putting a shot over Bryzgalov to make it a 3-2 contest.
Just tw0 minutes later, Philly was able to add to that lead again. Jakub Voracek took a pass from Sean Couturier at the left circle and ripped a wrister over Luongo’s shoulder for a 4-2 lead with 11:28 left in the second. It was Voracek’s second goal of the year, and the assist was Couturier’s first NHL point.
But Vancouver was buzzing, and Chris Higgins was able to sneak a rebound past Bryzgalov as the Canucks swarmed the Flyers cage to bring Vancouver to within one again at 4-3 heading late in the period.
Jaromir Jagr came close to giving the Flyers some breathing room in the final 20 seconds, but Luongo made a spectacular glove save to keep the Canucks within striking distance heading into the third.
Vancouver had two PPs in the first period and none in the second, but it was a steady Orange-and-Black parade to the sin bin in the final stanza. Five Philly penalties gave a dangerous Canucks man advantage unit all kinds of time with which to work in the third. Vancouver furthered the momentum they had gained by outshooting the Flyers 14-6 in the second by sending 17 more shots Bryzgalov’s direction in the third, as the five Flyer minors tilted the ice in the Canucks favor.
“Yeah, five power plays in the third is going to give them a lot of momentum,” Pronger said after the game. ”In the first we had our fair share of power plays, then in the second period we got a little lax and started turning the puck over. It gave them some momentum, and it carried over into the third.”
“You look at their power play and it’s scary good out there,” Pronger said of Vancouver’s unit. ”They’ve all been together, some of them since birth (said while smiling with an obvious reference to the Sedin twins).”
Peter Laviolette agreed about the danger of giving a team like the Canucks that many chances with a man advantage, but was encouraged by the play of his penalty killers. “Well, I think that the penalty killers, they did a good job,” the coach said. ”That’s a talented unit. Both units are talented for Vancouver, but especially their first unit.”
After van Riemsdyk was denied a scoring chance on a partial breakaway when he was hooked from behind but no call was forthcoming, he said something that he said was not directed at the referee. ”There was a little bit of a misunderstanding there,” the winger said of his outburst being mistaken as something said of the officiating.
He was given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and it led to Daniel Sedin roofing a wicked angle shot over Bryzgalov’s shoulder and under the crossbar from just inside the left goal line to tie the game at 4-4 at the 3:39 mark.
After acknowledging that it was a stupid penalty and he is keeping his mouth shut from now on, van Riemsdyk was asked what he had said. ”We won’t get into that,” he laughed, obviously relieved the team was able to pull out a big win.
The triumph was made possible by defenseman Andrej Meszaros, who took a perfect feed from Danny Briere to net the game-winner. Briere made a nice move at the blueline to get some open space at the top of the right faceoff circle, then stopped and spotted Meszaros cruising down the slot. Briere put a pass right on the tape, and the defenseman ripped a shot over Luongo’s glove hand and into the top corner at 4:40.
That was all Bryzgalov would need, although the penalties made for a good amount of Vancouver chances through the rest of regulation time.
Bryzgalov ended the night with 36 saves, many of the tough variety. ”They have very good, skilled players, and when they put in on the power plays, especially when there are a lot, they create some chances and they have some chances to score a goal,” the first year Fyers goalie said. ”I think we’re lucky that we were able to kill that many penalties in the third period.”
Taking a Flyer: The Flyers record in home openers is now 26-12-6, and they have won their last three, as well as four of the last five. The team is 10-4-2 in home openers since moving from the Spectrum to the building currently called Wells fargo Center…Earlier in the day, Phantoms winger Stefan Legein was traded to the Los Angeles Kings - along with a sixth-round draft pick in the 2012 draft – in exchange for future considerations. The move brings the number of Flyers player contracts to 49, which allows the team to keep Couturier past the 11th game if the team so chooses. That option would mean that the 18-year-old would be remaining with the club the rest of the season, as he is not eligible to be sent to Adirondack…Speaking of contracts and young players, the club is at the upper cap limit, and will still need to clear approximately $1.7 million if they want to recall forward Brayden Schenn from the Phantoms. Just when it looked like he had made necessary roster moves, Holmgren had a bit of a curveball thrown at him when the League reversed the Montreal Canadiens waiver pickup of center Blair Betts when he failed a physical with the team and was sent back to Philadelphia…Tonight’s visit by the Canucks was the first to Philadelphia since a 3-0 shutout of the Orange-and-Black on December 3, 2009, a game which marked the final in John Stevens’ head coaching career with the Flyers. Laviolette was named his successor the next day…The Flyers blocked 27 shots in the game; Kimmo Timonen had seven, Max Talbot five, and Giroux four…Bryzgalov had a scoreless streak of 126:53 snapped on Samulesson’s first period goal…With the tremendous amount of PPs in the game, Couturier played 7:28 of his 17:45 TOI on the penalty kill…Talbot played 9:02 of his 16:12 on the PK…After having the first four PPs of the night, Vancouver ended up having more. The Canucks were 2-7, Philadelphia was 2-5…The Canucks outshot the Flyers 40-27, including 33-13 over the final two periods…Philadelphia, which had struggled mightily in the faceoff circle in the first two games of the season, won nearly half tonight (34-71) for their best percentage of the young campaign…When asked if he thought Vancouver’s style of play caused his team to take too many penalties, Laviolette was very clear. “I don’t think so,” he said. ”A lot of those penalties were a creation of our own judgment on what we did. I don’t necessarily think that what they did factored into any of it.” Laviolette said his squad needs to exercise better discipline. But he did find positives. ”The penalty kill was one, our resiliency was another, protecting the lead in the third. Bryz got a heavier workload tonight than he had in the pervious two games and I thought that he mastered, so there were some positives to take from that.”
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