On Dec. 3, a day that has previously been discussed in depth and referred to as Eric Semborski Day, the Flyers played host to the Blackhawks for an afternoon game in Philadelphia. As many readers may be aware, NHL teams often host a trip for the players’ fathers during the season, and this was the day that trip started for the Flyers.
As they’ve done all three times I’ve seen them this season, the Flyers wore their 50th anniversary jerseys, which are white with gold accents. The dads were huddled around the locker room after the game, each in the gold-tinted sweater which corresponded with their son, except for Wayne Simmonds’s father, Cyril. He had on a standard white road jersey, and I asked Cyril Simmonds where his gold was. “I ain’t worried about the gold. Just worried about the win.”
It was clear from that quote that Cyril had imparted an ethic and a spirit in Wayne that has made him such an effective and winning player, and that continues to drive the Flyers through a brutal Metropolitan division.
The Flyers, of course, have a great deal in common with the Blues. They came into the league at the same time, and developed an identity as the Broad Street Bullies in the 1970s that made them an inseparable part of the Philadelphia sports landscape.
Where they differ is in, unfortunately, perhaps the most important statistic – championships. The Flyers have two, winning the Stanley Cup in 1974 and 1975. They have yet to return to the promised land, however, and can commiserate with Blues fans over brutal playoff losses to both the Red Wings and Blackhawks.
This year’s version of the Flyers is built around speed and youth. Dave Hakstol is in his second season as head coach, having taken the leap from North Dakota, where he coached a few guys you may have heard of – Chris Porter, Jonathan Toews and T.J. Oshie, among others. Hakstol’s goal has been to harness the potential of high powered offensive players, and he’s begun to accomplish that.
Philadelphia has three players in the top 20 of league scoring – Simmonds, captain Claude Giroux and winger Jacob Voracek. Their defensemen have quick strike capabilities. Mark Streit, Michael Del Zotto and Shane Gostisbehere are all well known for their puck moving abilities, and rookie Ivan Provorov is a force at both ends of the ice.
Provorov, the seventh overall pick in 2015, is remarkably poised for a 19-year-old defenseman. He was also one of the very few Flyers whose father was not present at the game against Chicago, as Yaroslavl, Russia makes for a hell of a commute. Provorov did, however, assure gathered reporters that has dad was not about to let the time zones hold him down.
“He watches every game back home. Today was a little easier because it’s only 9 p.m. back home when the game started, so I think my whole family was watching,” Provorov said, before noting that many Flyers games don’t start in Russia until the middle of the night. “He’s up at 3 or 4 [a.m.], then he takes my brother to practice at 6,” said Provorov, highlighting the devotion that so many hockey families are familiar with at all levels of the game.
The Provorov family would have a great deal to celebrate, as Ivan scored twice in short order in the second period to put the Blackhawks into a hole from which they wouldn’t recover. It marked the first multi-goal game in Provorov’s young career, and the two goals in 31 seconds were the fastest two by a rookie in Flyers history. They helped erase his previous game against the Blackhawks, where he put up a stunning -5 in a 7-4 loss on Oct. 18.
Provorov also made an important save on a controversial play that perhaps should have resulted in a Chicago penalty shot. A loose puck squirted down goalie Steve Mason’s arm but was swept out by Provorov, though likely covered in the crease.
In the media elevator after the game, long time NHL referee Kerry Fraser was telling everyone within earshot of his impeccably coiffed dome that Provorov’s cupping motion is a penalty, as opposed to an acceptable sweeping motion. It’s hard not to trust a guy with hair that good.
The Flyers’ ability to generate offense from their defense proved to be a valuable tool against Chicago’s Scott Darling, who seemed to be wearing down and showing cracks as the game progressed. A great many shots were unleashed from high in the offensive zone, forcing Darling to struggle to control rebounds or fight through difficult screens.
Given that the Flyers will apparently be opposing Carter Hutton and likely be seeking to simplify their strategy in a road game against an unfamiliar opponent after a long break, it would be fair to expect them to employ a similar strategy against the Blues.
Travis Konecny, a high speed forward who was also drafted in last year’s first round, proved to be a similarly disruptive presence. His abilities seemed to challenge the bigger and slower Chicago defense, and on several shifts, Konecny seemed to be playing keep away as the Blackhawk defensemen chased him around their defensive zone. The Blues would be well served to avoid falling into that trap, as Konecny’s speed has yet to translate into an imposing physical game that will be able to challenge a positionally sound and stable opponent.
It might be fair to say that the Flyers, with lower expectations coming in to the season than the Blues, are still the envy of many eyes in St. Louis. They have youth, speed, and explosive scoring, and the Blues will be forced to quickly shake off the Christmas rust if their intention is to stay in what will certainly be a difficult game.