Maybe they were motivated by some perceived disrespect aimed at their recent four-game winning streak against some struggling teams.
Or perhaps they were tired of losing the second half of a back-to-back situation – they entered Monday night’s game 0-6 in those decisions.
But the top reason for their 4-0 victory over the Sabres at KeyBank Center in Buffalo most likely was the goaltending of rookie Sam Ersson.
It was Ersson’s first NHL shutout and the Flyers’ first shutout win of the season.
Ersson, who ran his record to 4-0, was particularly sharp in the second period when he stopped all 12 Buffalo shots, including a handful for the TV highlight shows.
One night after the Flyers were unceremoniously dumped by the Toronto Maple Leafs to the tune of a 6-2 score, the Flyers played with much more structure, discipline and energy.
Morgan Frost, guilty of a pair of turnovers resulting in Toronto goals on Sunday night, turned things around, making at least three strong defensive plays to break up potential Sabre scoring chances.
And defenseman Tony DeAngelo, who was benched for the second and third periods of the Leaf game after committing four giveaways in just seven minutes of play, looked much more like himself in this game.
Coach John Tortorella said it was important the Flyers were able to put Sunday night’s performance behind them. The team played well for a major portion of the game but Ersson was there to come to the rescue when it didn’t.
“We were good for most of the game,’’ Tortorella said after the game. “They turned it up on us a little bit and that’s where ‘Ers’ played well. It’s a 4-0 game but they had chances, too.
“Overall I thought we played well. We were on our toes. I thought it was a good rebound game.’’
Ersson is making a good case for staying with the team, even when designated backup Felix Sandstrom eventually is eligible to return from a two-week conditioning assignment. Ersson’s composure has really stood out so far.
“I think that’s what has been impressive about him,’’ Tortorella said. “He’s very calm and gets about his business. It helps the team. I’m so happy for him. It’s a small sample, from Carolina (Dec. 23) to here, he’s grown. He’s a big part of the win tonight.’’
Several times Tortorella has mentioned Ersson was the best goaltender in training camp/preseason but part of that was due to an injury to starting goaltender Carter Hart. Now Ersson is getting to show what he’s made of in games that count.
This performance was especially impressive because the Sabres are the top-scoring team in the NHL.
“You look forward to the challenge,’’ Ersson said. “You want to play a big role so this was a fun game to play. They’ve got a lot of skill players. We did a good job keeping them off their power play.’’
Ersson nearly had his first shutout at Anaheim on Jan. 2 but the Ducks scored with 39.6 seconds left in the game. He admitted he was thinking about a shutout in the Ducks game and Monday night it came true.
“I thought about not letting in a last-minute goal again,’’ he said with a smile.
Philadelphia roared out of the gate to a 3-0 lead in the first period. That was important because the Sabres have been red hot, entering the game with eight wins in their last nine games.
The Flyers picked up a goal from the fourth line for a second straight game. Zach MacEwen ended a 27-game drought when he converted a Patrick Brown pass just 2:04 into the game. The night before, Brown set up Nic Deslauriers for only his second goal of the season.
Getting a goal from the fourth line always picks up the energy level on the bench.
“It’s huge,” Noah Cates said. “You know they’re on the body. For them to bang one in gives us a ton of momentum.”
Travis Konecny ran his league-leading active point streak to nine games with assists on the Flyers’ second and third goals.
Konecny got the puck to Travis Sanheim, whose outlet try hopped over defenseman Owen Power’s stick and right to Joel Farabee. It was clear sailing for Farabee, who wristed a shot past goaltender Craig Anderson at 13:31.
At 14:58, Konecny was on board with the play when Farabee blocked a Buffalo clear attempt. Cates punched in a short shot off the rebound of Konecny’s shot at 14:58.
As for Ersson, he was brilliant in the middle frame when the Sabres awakened from their first period slumber and the Flyers started getting a little loose with the puck.
The biggest saves came against Tyson Jost at 2:11, Rasmus Dahlin at 6:10, Dylan Cozens at 8:01, Jost again at 11:34 and Alex Tuch at 12:40.
“Honestly, he’s the only reason we’re ahead after that period,’’ Konecny said at the second intermission. “We were horrendous that period.’’
Wade Allison scored at 1:56 of the third period. It was his second goal in the last three games.
Scott Laughton won the faceoff on the Allison goal, got the puck to Kevin Hayes for the feed. It was a set play. The Flyers seemed to execute like that all evening.
“It was a good start,’’ Laughton said of the opening minutes. “Get a couple early. Obviously it makes it easier when you’re not chasing the game. Ers’ first shutout so congrats to him. He played great, a special moment for him.’’
The Flyers return to action on Wednesday when they play host to the Washington Capitals in the first of a back-to-back set, which will end on Saturday in D.C. . .The Flyers’ three-goal first period was a first for this season. . .James van Riemsdyk played in his 900th NHL game. . .Flyers have scored at least four goals in six of their last seven games.