PHILADELPHIA – It’s only been four games but the Flyers might be onto something here.
Previous wins against Columbus and Vancouver could have been discounted because of the quality of the opponent.
But there was no getting around the reputation brought in by the high-octane Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
This game was viewed as a litmus test for the rebuilt Flyers and they managed to pass the early challenge with flying colors, skating their way to a 4-1 victory.
Can Atkinson led the way with a pair of goals.
It was a game where the Flyers pounced on mistakes by the Oilers, a team which usually generates its own turnovers to score goals.
Once again, goaltender Carter Hart was on top of his game. He didn’t surrender a goal until late in the second period, a marker which ended his shutout streak at 96 minutes, 55 seconds – dating back to last Saturday afternoon’s game at Ottawa.
The Flyers, now 3-1, were skating in a close-checking affair until they scored a shorthanded goal right after an Oiler goal made it 2-1 late in the second period.
With Atkinson in the penalty box, Sean Couturier executed a nifty steal of the puck from Oilers superstar Connor McDavid. Couturier sent a pass to defenseman Sean Walker. The Flyer cruised in on goaltender Jack Campbell and lifted a high shot into the net.
The Flyers’ overall coverage of the Oilers’ quicksilver offense, led by McDavid, seemed to be what impressed Philadelphia coach John Tortorella the most.
“That was the key to the game tonight, us not being stubborn in the neutral zone,” Tortorella said. “Just being clean through here and giving us a chance to forecheck. When they did have the puck, I thought our coverages were sound. You start running around looking for him, that’s when he finds other people. We just stayed patient in the most dangerous parts of the ice.
“That’s where he’s going to be to make a play. I just liked our concentration as far as with the puck.”
Walker said he was confident the puck would find the back of the twine.
“Yeah, I guess that’s the right mindset,” Walker said, “that you’re always trying to score. Obviously, with a shorthanded rush, you don’t want anything going back the other way But I took my chance. It was a good shot and I’m glad it went in.”
Joel Farabee got the Flyers on the scoresheet first with a goal at 15:50 in the first period. He worked a give-and-go with rookie Bobby Brink. Brink could have shot the puck but paused and then found Farabee open for the putaway.
“Either play is a good play,” Brink said in an intermission interview. “I had a little break there but I kind of just saw a little hole in the defender there and ‘Beezer’ is wide-open back door. It’s the kind of pass you have to make.”
Farabee was pleased with the play Brink made and motioned his appreciation.
“It’s always nice to get one like that,” Brink said. “But he made the great play to start with. Him (Farabee) sliding it through there on the two-on-two was a high-level. . .a great play.”
Even though Brink is still a rookie in the NHL, he’s seen enough of Edmonton to know they’re a dangerous team.
“You just can’t make a mistake when those guys are on the ice,” Brink said. “If the play is in question, you just have to make the smart play, make the safe play and I think we did that in the first period.”
The Flyers made it 2-0 at 2:54 of the second period. Owen Tippett skated sharply out of the left corner and spotted Atkinson at the doorstep. Tippett’s backhand pass was right on the money and Atkinson made no mistake, shoveling the puck high into the net.
Edmonton finally got on the board at 15:23 of the period. McDavid pivoted and found Zach Hyman open in front and the sharpshooter lifted the puck over Hart’s outstretched glove. But the Flyers got the Walker goal and then a second one from Atkinson on a break-in early in the third period to put it away.
Atkinson is off to a quick start and that’s a bit of a surprise because he did miss an entire season due to back surgery. The Flyers couldn’t be happier.
“I thought we played really well,” Atkinson said. “All lines contributed. We wanted to stay on the attack from the start, kind of follow up how we ended the last game (a 2-0 win over Vancouver). Our PK (penalty kill) was strong. I think from the start of training camp we knew we had four pretty solid lines, we’re just trying to find chemistry. I think we did a pretty good job of that tonight keeping their top guys off the scoreboard.”
Couturier’s play to Walker comes as no surprise. He won the Frank J. Selke Trophy for the NHL’s best defensive forward a few years back and that’s a talent the Flyers have missed the past couple seasons.
“I think we did a good job taking his (McDavid’s) time and space away,” Couturier said. “We were disciplined. I think overall the team effort was great tonight.”
Couturier has been making plays like that steal of McDavid for more than a decade now.
“I think it’s just good sticks, having bodies in the right lanes,” Couturier said. “I was just coming back in the middle, trying to have an active stick. Maybe caught him a little off-guard. I saw ‘Walks’ taking off. Just made a patient play and he made a heck of a shot there.”
Flyers defenseman Marc Staal suffered an upper body injury during a collision with Edmonton’s Warren Foegele in the first period and did not return to action. . .The Flyers have an unscheduled off day on Friday before heading to Dallas for a Saturday night game against the Stars.