Flyers shut out Maple Leafs in preseason opener

It was a predictable moment, though the dance did not involve two typical partners.

Midway through the third period, Tom Sestito pummeled former Flyer Joffrey Lupul into the ground. The massive fighter who is vying for a roster spot in Philadelphia squared off against Toronto’s underperforming scorer.

It was not exactly a marquee matchup. Nevertheless, it was an landmark moment.

Though Lupul has not donned the Orange and Black since being traded for Chris Pronger in the Summer of 2009, he was still part of the Center City crew that ran this team. Unlike many others who went on to play for different teams, Lupul was still seen as a comrade, a buddy to Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. The moment he fell helplessly to the ground during Sestito’s “I-wanted-to-destroy-something-beautiful” barrage of fists was a concrete reminder that those days are long gone.

Nonetheless, it was a sit-on-the edge-of-your-seat moment during an otherwise rote 4-0 preseason-opening victory by the Philadelphia club over the Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre.

A new era is upon the Flyers, one that — if this small sample size is an accurate representation — promises to be more aggressive and more physical, mixing equal parts skill and grit on offense.

Maybe it’s a modern day version of the formula from the Cup-winning teams. What’s old is new and what’s new is old.

No player exemplified this change better than Wayne Simmonds, who was acquired from Los Angeles in the Mike Richards trade. Simmonds flew up and down the ice tonight, hitting bodies (though the official event summary shows no hits), blocking shots, wreaking havoc in front of the net, and even scoring a power-play goal.

Simmonds will not only become a fan favorite but he might also be the poster boy for the Flyers’ new-look offense and, if tonight is any indication, things may not be nearly as bad as many feared.

The Sestito/Lupul bout also marked a change of seasons for hockey fans, one where we cease to unite under the umbrella of the sport we love, siding back with the team that we call our own instead. Suddenly, folks fell back on their old ways of attacking the Flyers for being dirty or the Leafs for, well, being the same ol’ Leafs.

Though the hyped faceoffs of brother vs. brother never materialized, this fight reignited an old rivalries that had been packed away for the summer or pushed aside to cope with the unfortunate tragedies of the offseason. Such feuds are, in effect, a part of hockey and hockey is back.

But it’s only back in preseason form, which is to say that the stars are hardly playing and the fringe players are playing as hard as they can.

Games like these open up opportunities for guys like Matt Read and Sean Couturier to dominate while James van Riemsdyk is more likely to focus on shaking off the rust. These games give coaches a chance to tinker and fine tune their lines and systems while they see who can make the most out of limited opportunities.

Read certainly made the most of his chances tonight and the case could be made that he was the best player on either team. He picked up right where he left off last season, when he had 13 points in 11 games with the Adirondack Phantoms.

His performance tonight had many singing his tune. Where he was once a player with decent potential who needed more AHL seasoning, some beat writers were suddenly convinced that he would make the big squad this year.

It’s hard to say which side of this equation is the right one after only one game — or even after only 12 games — but, if it’s the latter, then Paul Holmgren hit a home run by signing this former college standout.

Let’s hope that’s the case.

In many ways, Read appears to be the offensive equivalent of defenseman Erik Gustafsson, another college standout who dominated the competition in limited time during his first season with the Phantoms. Both players have high potential and could be NHL regulars. It’s just a matter of fitting the right pieces in the right spots, assuming there are any spots still available.

Bullet points:

  • Sergei Bobrovsky picked up a shutout tonight, something the Flyers were unable to do in the previous 108 games. Today is also his birthday.
  • Bob looked supremely confident in net tonight. He was much more composed and patient.
  • Brayden Schenn went 9-for-16 (56%) in the faceoff dot tonight and he lead all Flyer forwards in short-handed time on ice. He picked up an assist on Simmonds’ power-play score.
  • Adam Mair won an abysmal 16 percent (1-for-7) of his faceoffs.
  • The defense looked solid tonight from the top down and Matt Carle played a particularly good game, though none of the players were really tested.
  • Harry Zolnierczyk has some decent upside and looked good in tonight’s game as well as in the rookies game against the Capitals last week.
  • Zac Rinaldo and Sestito both played good games. Rinaldo showed off his skills with a nice goal and Sestito made some good plays.

Video courtesy of FlyersinHD.