A First Time for Everything
It was the first game of the 2010-11 season.
It was the first game in the CONSOL Energy Center.
It was Sergei Bobrovsky’s first career start.
It was great.
When the Flyers took the ice on Thursday night, the unknown was about to become known. Every team and their fans feel the nervousness that comes with the season opener. For Flyers fans, there were many reasons to feel nervous. Chris Pronger wasn’t available for the game, the team’s anchor all of last season and the driving force in their playoff run. How could the team make up for his absence? Would newcomers like Andrej Meszaros and Sean O’Donnell fit on the team’s blue line? Sergei Bobrovsky was tabbed the starter midday Thursday, the KHL product that had played brilliantly in the preseason. Could he possibly replicate his play against Crosby and pals? Although it’s only one game in the rear view mirror, some of the nervousness has disappeared. There were some negatives to take away from the 3-2 victory, but it definitely accentuated the positive and provided encouragement moving forward.
Bobrovsky was everything I thought he could be, and hopefully, what he will be. He was simply fantastic in the first and second periods, stopping the first 24 shots that the Penguins threw his way. The first period was much more impressive, as the team had more than their fair share of problems clearing the defensive zone. He sprawled every which way, kicking aside shot after shot, displaying the athleticism that Goalie Coach Jeff Reese and Head Coach Peter Laviolette have raved about. Whether he was lighting in a bottle on Thursday or not will be revealed down the road, but in the youngster’s first career start, he didn’t look overwhelmed.
The defense certainly missed Pronger’s presence on the ice, but that goes without saying. Any team would miss the presence of one of the best defensemen in the league. However, Matt Carle, Braydon Coburn and Kimmo Timonen were consistent as always, and Andrej Meszaros, Sean O’Donnell and Oskars Bartulius performed admirably as well. I still love the way that Meszaros performs in the offensive end of the ice, and as long as O’Donnell and Bartulius aren’t sticking out like sore thumbs, they’re a tremendous improvement in the final defensive pairing. Meszaros did take a late penalty on Sidney Crosby, but for the most part, he played pretty well. When Pronger returns, it will most likely be Meszaros and O’Donnell filling out the final defensive pair, which is a pretty good luxury to have. Paul Holmgren sought out players to field a much better third pair than last year, and it looks like he may have gotten his wish.
The first two tallies of the Flyers’ season both came in the second period. Danny Briere christened the new arena with a power play goal that was redirected off of a Mike Richards pass. The most encouraging thing was that the pass came immediately off of a faceoff, which have been a sore spot for the Orange and Black in the past. Blair Betts added the second goal in on an odd man rush following an unsuccessful power play. James van Riemsdyk displayed his improved speed, racing down the ice and firing a wrister at Marc-Andre Fleury. Darroll Powe had great position on Fleury and the rebound found its’ way to Betts’ stick for the easy goal. Heading into the third period up 2-0, the Flyers gave up a quick goal to Tyler Kennedy which was from a difficult angle. Bobrovsky was out of position, which may or may not have been the result of a skate malfunction during the play. The brand new arena was pumping, the Penguins had all the momentum as they drew a power play off of Andrej Meszaros’ roughing minor penalty. However, Claude Giroux stole a lazy pass in the Penguins’ zone and proceeded to separate Fleury from his athletic supporter as he scored the third goal. Pittsburgh would score almost immediately afterwards on a point shot that Bobrovsky never saw, and the Flyers managed to survive the rest of the way for the win.
One game is one game. That holds true for the season as well as Bobrovsky’s magnificent performance. Any fan of anyone except the Flyers is hoping that Bobrovsky simply caught lightening in a bottle. Perhaps the Penguins just didn’t have much of a scouting report on his style of play. Maybe it was the ultimate aberration against a team that was too excited for the first game in their new arena. However, every Flyers fan is hoping otherwise. There’s a chance he could be the real deal, the ultimate answer to the seemingly never-ending question at the goalie position in Philadelphia. There’s a chance he could be he first intimidating goalie for the Flyers in the last twenty years.
As was saw Thursday night, there’s a first time for everything.