Flyers Drop the Puck on Preseason

The Philadelphia Flyers were there for the final goal of last season and they were there for the first goal of this preseason.  They hosted the New Jersey Devils at the Wells Fargo Center (formerly the Wachovia Center) to open the 2010-11 preseason, and this time they won—and in a shootout no less.

It was no surprise Michael Leighton got the start in goal for the Flyers, while Johan Hedberg, acquired in the offseason from the Atlanta Thrashers, got the start for the Devils.

The first period looked like it would be all Flyers.  They established a strong forecheck and a cycle game.  And Darroll Powe tapped in the first goal of the night off of a nifty shot and rebound from Claude Giroux.

The first fight came when Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond took offense to a hit Matt Walker threw on a linemate just nine and a half minutes into the first period.  Jody Shelley would later get a shot to fight Leblond in the third period.

Jeff Carter made it 2-0 in the first off of a golf chip from the slot.

The Devils got their first marker from a tip-in, when Oskars Bartulis failed to tie-up his man in front of Leighton.

Going into the second period, the Devils got their engines going and matched the Flyers intensity.  They began splitting the Flyers defense and scored two goals to take the lead off of bad rebound control by Leighton.

Going into the third, both teams made goaltending changes.  New Jersey switched to Mike McKenna, who floated between the Tampa Bay Lightning and their AHL affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals, last season.  The Flyers changed to their rookie out of the KHL, Sergei Bobrovsky.  Both goalies saw decent action, but it was McKenna who faltered on a missile from Danny Briere to tie the game at 2-2.

There was no decision in regulation and none in overtime.  In the shootout, both goaltenders were good, but Bobrovsky was dazzling, allowing just a single goal to trickle in from Jason Arnott, while McKenna allowed goals from both Giroux and Mike Richards.  The game winning goal went to Richards.  The winning goaltender was Bobrovsky and the loser was McKenna.

No Ilya Kovulchuk, no Zach Parise, no Travis Zajac, no Martin Brodeur, no Chirs Pronger, no Matt Carle, no Scott Hartnell.  It’s only a preseason game, and it’s difficult to gage the outcome with key players out of the lineup.

The Flyers had the clear advantage with home ice and more veterans in the lineup, but there were a number of positives to take out of the game.  Nik Zherdev put on a clinic with his hands.  He had instant chemistry on a line with Richards and Carter, and the Devils gave him respect after only seeing one or two of his tricks.  Giroux even showed the same magic he had from the playoffs.  And James van Riemsdyk, is looking beefy along the boards.  JVR is looking a lot tougher that he did last season.

Having Shelley take some of the burden off of Ian Laperriere will be a big help.  It’s not certain where Bill Guerin will fit in, especially since Ville Leino is still out with an injury.  He could benefit the team on the scoring end and another character player couldn’t hurt down the stretch.  Powe would unfortunately be waived, but with Powe’s skating legs and forechecking he could easily crack the top nine of a lineup like the Thrashers, Blackhawks, or Islanders.

Without Pronger and Carle the defense was out of sync and there were some lapses, especially in the second period.  But Kimmo Timonen played a great game.  Each year it seems age and size should be catching up with Kimmo, but not this season.  Andrej Meszaros looked to be the key piece to the defensive depth.  He stopped some key rushes and made a few hits.  Meszaros even helped out on the offense.  Sean O’Donnell didn’t have a huge impact, but his sense of calm with and without the puck was a benefit.  Walker helped out joining the rush, making same major hits, and a fight.  Braydon Coburn is the puzzling one.  He can play a forgettable passive game or he can add some snarl and play like an all-star, like in the playoffs last season.  Against the Devils he had plenty of bite in his game.  Bartulis looks to be the odd man out.

Still in question is the goaltending.  Leighton had a decent night.  He made several decent stops keeping his head up and staying square to the shooter, but his rebound control and recovery remain in question.  It’s possible he’ll improve before the regular season begins, but he’ll probably be dependent upon the defense for aggressive porch clearing and rebound support.  Conversely, after a period, overtime, and a shootout, the highly touted rookie from Russia is definitely and unequivocally FAST!  He didn’t have a lot of action, but the saves he made were spectacular and without him that overtime would never have happened.  He won’t make the Flyers this season, being the team is up against the salary cap and he’s technically the highest paid goaltender in the organization.  Look for Bobrovsky in a season or two after he’s refined his game and learned the North American style.

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