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October 17, 2023

Five thoughts: Egor Zamula scores his NHL first in Flyers' home-opening win over Canucks

Egor Zamula notched his first career NHL goal, Sean Couturier scored his first since December 2021, and Carter Hart recorded the shutout.

With the sports complex fully loaded, the Flyers hosted their home opener Tuesday before the storm of the Phillies' run in the NLCS and the Mexico-Germany soccer match, squeezing out a 2-0 win over the Canucks to stand at 2-1-0 early into the season. 

Here are five thoughts from the victory...

Zamula's First

The puck fell to Egor Zamula's stick at the blue line with all kinds of space and time, and then he remembered what head coach John Tortorella had told him.

After waiting for Conor Garland's block attempt to send him sliding away, Zamula stepped into the high slot and threaded a wrist shot straight through traffic that Thatcher Demko couldn't track. The Flyers went up 1-0 early, and Zamula had his first career NHL goal.

"Dream come true, you know?" Zamula said postgame. "It's unbelievable.

"Torts says from D to shoot the puck more, so I tried to shoot, and it was a good shot by me."

The 23-year old defenseman played in Columbus last week, sat against Ottawa on Saturday to give Emil Andrae a shot, then was inserted back into the lineup Tuesday night.

And two games into the season, he's held up well, and with a key play in each to show for it – his poke check that lead to Joel Farabee's goal against the Blue Jackets and then his opening tally on the Canucks.

His ice time was still kept pretty moderate on the third defensive pairing with Nick Seeler, skating 15:31, but he did look comfortable out there working from the left side.

He used his size and range at 6'3" to get in the way of plays, drive puck carriers to the outside, and clear the puck out on a few hairy situations in front of the Flyers' own net – like the Vancouver possession that lasted several minutes after his goal in particular (more on that later) – all while showing flashes of some solid anticipation offensively to try and generate a chance off the rush, with a great one late in the second when he got a shot off crashing in from the right with Ryan Poehling and Garnet Hathaway.

"He's got some good offensive instincts," Tortorella said of Zamula. "Still a little bit too much around the boards to me with him, but I think he has the ability to make plays. He just has to get enough confidence to look through the play and find an open guy instead of throwing it around the boards."

Zamula has been a project within the Flyers' development system for a few years now, and though it is a small sample size, he's looking the part of an NHL defenseman right now, which is a nice surprise early.

Ice Tilt

OK, so immediately after Zamula's goal, the Canucks had the Flyers pinned down in their own zone for about three minutes. Somehow, Vancouver didn't score on that even with the Flyers struggling to do anything about it. Props to Carter Hart for staying strong between the pipes – he saved 25 of 25 shots for the day to get the shutout – and to Petterson for eventually (finally) icing the puck for a break.

He probably wants that one back though, because the Canucks gradually unraveled after that.

The Flyers escaped the first, then had the ice tilting downhill for them in the second – outshooting Vancouver 22-3 for the period (again, somehow, no one scored, which is a credit to Demko) – and in the third, things started getting chippy...

But the Canucks had little going for them by that point, and Hart and the Flyers just stayed the course to hold on for the shutout win.

"The second period was probably the best period we played this year," Tortorella said. "Really, quite honestly, the best period we've played in quite a while. Just how fast we played, I think we developed 15-16 scoring chances and their goaltending was just terrific.

"I just like the way we moved the puck, more importantly, I liked the way we go open so we could move the puck quicker."

First Time, Long Time

Late in the first, a stretch pass from Owen Tippett and then a chip from the offensive blue line by the left boards from Cam Atkinson sprung Sean Couturier straight to the net on the breakaway, which left Vancouver's Elias Pettersson slashing at him to try and break up the scoring chance.

It worked, but only with a delayed penalty call for the slash and a penalty shot awarded to Couturier. 

And on the attempt...

That was gross.

And Couturier's first goal since December 10, 2021.

"I've had too much time to think about it and work on it," Couturier said of his shootout move. "Just glad it worked."

An Early (Brutal) Wakeup Call

Couturier didn't skate in Monday's open practice, and Tortorella later said it was because he was "banged up," though none of it was related to his back. Still, given his injury history, it was understandable to be concerned.

He was fine, however, skating out there for warmups and remaining in the lineup Tuesday night.

Morgan Frost, on the other hand, he was a healthy scratch, and in a suit instead of a uniform for pre-game introductions. He didn't look all that thrilled about it.

Frost centered a line with Owen Tippett and Cam Atkinson through the first two games against Columbus and then Ottawa, but wasn't all that noticeable in either after going on a decent offensive tear from December onward last season.

If it's a wakeup call, well, three games into the season, that's troubling. For the home opener too though, that's brutal.

"Other guys are playing better," Tortorella said. "There's not too much science to my thinking as far as lineups."

Tough Draw

It has to be acknowledged first and foremost that the Flyers were caught in a real jam here. 

With the NLCS and the Mexico-Germany soccer match both running simultaneously down at the sports complex, the Flyers made the smart call to move their start time up to 6 p.m., but Philadelphia's attention was clearly elsewhere. 

For a home opener, it was a sparse crowd, and even though the fans did get gradually into it on the way to a win, I think the loudest cheer of the night was on the update for Trea Turner's home run across the street. 

It's a weird position to be in, and obviously, yeah, everyone's understandably focused on the Phillies right now. 

But it also painted a picture of how far the Flyers really have to go with this rebuild and re-establishing their standing within Philly sports

It's going to take a while. 

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