Officially, it was just an exhibition game.
But upon further review, Tuesday’s preseason tussle between the Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins looked at times like the real thing.
Both teams tried to make up ground for missing 139 days of hockey due to the COVID-19 pandemic, while at the same time get ready for games that count in a few days.
When the game at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto ended with a Scott Laughton breakaway goal at 2:40 of overtime for a 3-2 Flyers win, Philadelphia players and coaches sounded satisfied that the effort achieved its intent.
The Flyers played some rather crisp hockey given they had not competed since mid-March.
Coach Alain Vigneault made it clear he wanted his team to play like the game meant something, even though it really didn’t.
“You’re playing your first game in a long time,’’ Vigneault said in a Zoom teleconference session. “My expectations, when I analyzed the game, I really liked our first period.
“I thought we executed quickly and made some high percentage plays with the puck. As the game went on, our play didn’t slip but wasn’t as effective. These next three games (in the round robin) are going to help our group.’’
Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes also scored for the Flyers. Goalie Carter Hart played the first two periods and Brian Elliott finished up in the third period and overtime.
“I’m happy we got this first game out of the way,’’ Vigneault said. “It was a typical September, early October game where players are looking for their game shape, tempo. But I think we’re going to move in the right direction.’’
If nothing else, this game should get the Flyers a bit more prepared for the first round robin game against the Boston Bruins this Sunday.
“I thought the pace was pretty good,’’ Couturier said. “There might not have been as much emotion as there usually is between these two teams but I’m sure once the playoffs get going, it will ramp up quickly.’’
Hayes looked in mid-season form. In addition to his goal on a steal from Evgeni Malkin, Hayes also hit two goal posts and also stood out on the penalty kill.
“The pace was higher than training camp,’’ Hayes observed. “The emotion was a little different (with no fans in the stands). It’s something we’re all going to have to get used to. I think as the games get more important, the emotion will pick up.’’
Hart said this was a good chance to get a tune-up.
“For us, it was nice to get in a game, it’s been a long time,’’ Hart said. “Nice to get things rolling, feel what it’s like to be in a game. This is an environment we’re not used to, no fans. . .we’re all in this bubble. So it’s different but we’ll adjust. This game was good for us to see what it’s going to be like and I think we played well tonight.’’
Added Shayne Gostisbehere: “It was good to see what it’s going to be like. It’s different but it’s good to get at least one game in before everything starts.’’
>Gostisbehere says knee feels fine
Gostisbehere got in a lot of ice time and looked none the worse for wear. He’s had a pair of knee surgeries this year and there are questions as to how well he’s recovered. This was a good test.
“I’m definitely a hundred percent right now, I feel good,’’ he said. “Probably the healthiest I’ve felt in a couple years. I’m happy to contribute in any way I can. It’s just good to be healthy, out there having fun and winning, too.’’
>Show of solidarity
During the playing of the national anthems, both teams stood side-by-side in a show of solidarity.
Coaches and players said this was a good gesture. Even Vigneault stood next to Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan.
“I think all we were trying to do tonight was show our support (for the recent rights movements),’’ Vigneault said. “I thought everybody could show it.’’