PHILADELPHIA – Call it coincidence if you will, but in their initial competition since general manager Chuck Fletcher called for a “higher compete level,’’ the Flyers won their first game since last year.
On top of that, team governor Dave Scott said he was “angry’’ and “sick of losing.’’
You think the players’ ears weren’t burning after those comments filtered down to the locker room?
Well, Saturday afternoon’s game against the Los Angeles Kings started off promising enough, with the Flyers taking a 3-2 lead into the final minute. They had played with energy and, indeed, seemed to be playing at a higher compete level.
Then the Kings pulled their goalie, scored the tying goal with 38 seconds left, and it looked like the Flyers might be completing a full month without a win.
But, for a change, the Flyers showed a little fortitude, got an overtime goal from Scott Laughton and finally took home a 4-3 victory at a half-empty Wells Fargo Center due to the blizzard.
Anzi Kopitar scored the tying goal for the Kings but Laughton converted the rebound of a Cam Atkinson shot at the 2:22 mark for the winner.
The victory finally ended the Flyers’ team record 13-game (0-10-3) winless streak which started exactly a month ago.
Laughton confirmed Fletcher’s message got through to the players.
“I think so,’’ Laughton said. “Today was a good step forward. That first period we had a lot of energy. I think our team kind of fed off that. Guys wanted the puck on their stick. We played a pretty good game and we have to keep building on that. Like Chuck said, we need to bring that compete (level) and physicality. When you play top guys like that, you need to make it hard on them.’’
Atkinson led the way for the Flyers with a pair of goals. In the third period, with the Flyers’ Oskar Lindblom in the penalty box, Atkinson scored on a breakaway at 9:06 for a 3-1 lead. The Flyers needed that one because the Kings scored on the same power play just 45 seconds later on a shot by Arthur Kaliyev.
High energy is a big part of Atkinson’s game and he was a truly emotional leader in this game.
“There are still areas we need to improve on,’’ Atkinson said. “But a win is a win. It’s been a long time coming. We can feel good about ourselves for a little bit but there’s still a lot of work to do.’’
Philadelphia got off to a quick start for a change. Gerry Mayhew gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead when he converted a nifty pass from defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen at 9:33 of the first period.
Atkinson made it 2-0 at 9:24 of the second. Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick had trouble controlling the rebound of a Claude Giroux long shot and couldn’t get set for Atkinson’s putback try.
The Kings finally got on the board with 4:45 left in the period. The defense pairing of Cam York and Keith Yandle appeared to get its signals crossed at the blue line. That led to a two-man rush with Viktor Arvidsson getting a shot past Carter Hart.
At the end of regulation time, the Flyers could have blinked. But they didn’t.
“I thought the guys did a pretty good job all the way to the empty net (goal) there,’’ interim head coach Mike Yeo said. “There was no hesitation. Once overtime started, the guys didn’t feel sorry for themselves. They went back on the attack. They were dangerous every shift they were out there.’’
>Ratcliffe makes good first impression
Rookie left wing Isaac Ratcliffe made his NHL debut with the Flyers and he had impact on the game, with a couple of bone-rattling hits and one or two decent scoring chances.
“I thought he played great,’’ Ristolainen said. “He’s a big boy, can skate. He made a lot of good plays today, I really enjoyed watching him.’’
Added Yeo: “I thought it was a really good first showing for him. You’re hoping a young kid can come in and show similar things that he can bring (from the Phantoms). Especially with a big body (6-foot-6, 200 pounds) like that. His physicality, he put that on display tonight. We don’t want him to just be a runaround player, you have to play the game. I thought he thought the game well. I was happy with what we saw from him first game.’’
Pretty much all of Ratcliffe’s family was in attendance.
“It was pretty exciting,’’ Ratcliffe said. “I’ve been looking forward to this day since I was three years old. I just tried to go out there and bring energy.’’
Prior to the game, the Flyers honored defenseman Keith Yandle with his recent new ironman record by playing in his 965th consecutive game. There was a video tribute, recorded messages from former and current Flyers teammates including Kevin Hayes, Claude Giroux and Cam Atkinson. Also, team general manager Chuck Fletcher presented Yandle with a crystal commemorative. Yandle’s family was on the ice for the pre-game ceremony.
>Blizzard, Part 2
Saturday’s game was the not the first time the Kings have brought a blizzard with them to Philadelphia, albeit with this storm not being a direct hit. Los Angeles was the opponent on March 14, 1993 when blizzard conditions broke two of the large concourse windows at the Spectrum near the end of the first period, forcing the cancellation of the game during the subsequent intermission. The game was replayed in its entirety on April 1, with the Kings winning 3-1.
Because of the storm, the Flyers made several nice gestures for Saturday’s game, including free parking, selected free food and all spectators in the upper bowl getting invited to sit in lower bowl seats due to limited overall attendance.