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Quick Hits: Dissecting the Preseason Opener Debacle

September 26, 2023, 12:39 PM ET [295 Comments]
Bill Meltzer
Philadelphia Flyers Blogger •NHL.com • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The Philadelphia Flyers opened their 2023 preseason slate with a 6-0 blowout loss to the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center in Newark. The Flyers trailed 4-0 before the game was even six minutes into the first period, and Philly never mounted any meaningful pushback throughout the night. In fact, the Devils went to add to their lead with a goal apiece in the second and third periods. For a recap, see the Postgame 5 on PhiladelphiaFlyers.com.

Some observations and thoughts:

* Bright spots from Monday's game were few and far between. One indisputable positive, however, was the simple fact that Sean Couturier started his first competitive hockey game since December 2021 and got through it fine. After two surgeries on his back and missing a season-and-a-half, this was an important milestone. Realistically, it's going to take time for Couturier to regain his timing. The two-time Selke Trophy finalist did make a couple of defensive plays in Monday's game. In the bigger picture, that was the most important takeaway from Monday's game.

* Unfortunately, after Cam Atkinson was slated to play his first game since April 2022, the veteran right winger was a late scratch from Monday's match. The official word from the Flyers is that Atkinson was dealing with lower-body soreness; an issue totally unrelated to the neck surgery that kept him out of the entire 2022-23 season. Hopefully, that's all it is. Wade Allison (four blocked shots) stepped into the Flyers lineup in Atkinson's place.

* I wrote this on X (f/k/a Twitter) after the game last night, and I stand by it: Moving forward, I think the Flyers need to rethink aspects of their early training camp structure. I don't think it was beneficial, at least in the short term, for all camp attendees to be put through four scrimmages apiece in a three-day period directly on the heels of John Tortorella's signature skating test on the first day of camp.

The current Devils, even in a split-squad arrangement (half of the roster was in Montreal on Monday for a game against the Canadiens), are a superior team to the current Flyers. However, the disparity is not as wide as it looked last night -- not between ANY two teams in the NHL. The Flyers had absolutely zero energy from the drop of the opening faceoff until the merciful final buzzer.

If you look at how the Devils structured their early camp, it was (in my opinion, at least) a more sensible way to organize the second, third and fourth days. As with the Flyers, players were divided into three groups. However Flyers had one group per day scrimmage twice and two that scrimmaged once plus a practice/off-ice workout. Meanwhile, the Devils held only one scrimmage per day plus one side practicing (no scrimmage). Combined, each of the Devils' groups had two scrimmages and one full practice over the three-day period. It was a more sensible way to do, as I see it.

Four scrimmages in three days -- with several players who did the double scrimmage on Sunday, right back it again on Monday in an actual game -- was a recipe for Monday's game to be a real uphill struggle to skate against what's already a club with superior team speed. If it pays off in the long term for the Flyers with strong teamwide conditioning on the back half of the regular season schedule, then a low-energy preseason loss would be a trade-off any team would gladly take.

Thing is, I'm not so sure it does pay off enough over the course of the season to justify it. Four scrimmages per group plus a skating test and then a game on day five was overly ambitious in my estimation. And that's not Monday morning (or Tuesday morning, as the case may be) quarterbacking. Even going into the preseason opener, I had some energy-level concerns on the Philly side. It's a temporary situation. There will be opportunities to rest. But it sure was an ugly first game.

3) Joel Farabee was one of the few Flyers who showed some offensive burst in Monday's game. He had three scoring chances during the game. Farabee had been pretty quiet in the weekend scrimmages, so last night was actually a positive step despite not getting on the scoresheet.

4) On the flip side, I was pretty unhappy with Morgan Frost's performance in Monday's game. Other than a first period scoring chance, I thought he was one of the worst players on the Flyers in the exhibition opener (which is saying something, because the team as a whole was collectively awful). I didn't like Frost's game on Monday on either side of the puck. Offensively, he kept overhandling or bobbling, and was taken off the puck several times before he could even attempt to make a play. He forced passes into an empty slot and sent a power play grenade of a pass to Allison that caused Allison to have to absorb a big hit. Defensively, Frost got turnstiled at one point and was part of scrambled coverage on the second New Jersey goal. On faceoffs, he lost a couple of draws cleanly at junctures where the Flyers really could have used instant possession. It was just a collectively rotten night.

5) Young Flyers defenseman Cam York had some really rough moments of his own in Monday's game, both offensively on the power play and below the circles in the defensive zone. Likewise, Emil Andrae and Helge Grans had some tough stretches in the opener. They weren't the only ones, but it would have been nice to see York and Andrae in particular have standout positive performances against the Devils.

6) He didn't very little help in front, but Cal Petersen had a rough night of his own in his two periods on goal for the Flyers in Newark. For one, he misread the play on the first Devils' goal, which turned into a slam dunk. Several times in his two periods of play, his rotation was off or his first-shot mechanics looked far from ideal (even on several of the 19 saves he made on 24 shots). On the positive side, he did make a legitimately really nice stop on Alexander Holtz in the second period and at least settled in somewhat after a burn-the-tapes sort of a first period.

7) Samu Tuomaala, who moved up to Couturier's line, had some good shifts in Monday's game. Matt Brown came the closest of any Flyer to scoring a goal but hit the post against Erik Källgren.
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