There comes a time in every team’s season where they are met with adversity, a challenge which you have to overcome in order to become successful. How you deal with these problems defines your mettle, it shows how much you can handle before you break.
The Flyers last Thursday were bent to the point of exhaustion with the massive accumulation of injuries that had piled up, Radko Gudas, Shayne Gostisbehere, Nolan Patrick, Andrew MacDonald, and Sam Morin were all on the shelf for the day’s tilt with the second best team in the NHL, the St. Louis Blues. This left the Flyers without three of their top six defensemen, as well as Morin, who was tapped as the first defensive replacement in case of injury. That left the Flyers management in an unenviable situation, having to call up not one, but two AHLers to fill in the gaps.
Those two players ended up being Will O’Neill, and Mark Alt. Let us start with the younger Alt, who was drafted back in 2006 in the second round by the Carolina Hurricanes, however he never played a game for the ‘Canes, and was signed on a two way deal last year. He has been a solid presence for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms for the past few years, playing on the top two pairings and being a reliable stay at home presence for some of the more offensive Flyers prospects such as Shayne Gostisbehere. Will O’Neill, however, is a bit more intriguing of a story.
O’Neill came to the Phantoms in 2016 as some AHL insurance, after playing the last year with the Wilks-Barre Scranton Penguins. O’Neill, 29, is a long time AHL Veteran, playing with three different teams in seven years since he was drafted in 2006. Speaking of that, O’Neill is also unique in the way he entered the league, being drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers, yes, THOSE Atlanta Thrashers in the seventh round. O’Neill never played for the Thrashers, but he joins an exclusive group of players, that grows ever smaller, who had been part of the Thrashers organization who are still active today. He topped off his long and peculiar road to the NHL with his debut on Thursday, 11 years after being drafted.
So the Flyers were left less than optimal. They had a combined 276 NHL games played between their six defensemen, of which Brandon Manning made up more than half of on his own. The Flyers were not going to get an easy ride either from their opponent. Coming into Thursday, the Blues had only lost two games out of their previous 13 to start the year, and with dynamic forwards such as Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Steen, and former Flyer Brayden Schenn, it seemed like Michael Neuvirth and the Flyers would be in for a long night.
But for some reason, it wasn’t.
In an impressive show of resilience, the Flyers stood tall and were able to shutout one of the best offensive teams in the NHL 2-0, behind a near-perfect 33 save performance by Michael Neuvirth, and a master class defense by a team who rose to the occasion under considerable adversity. Brandon Manning started the scoring with a blast past Jake Allen, and that was all that the Flyers would need, as they battened down the hatches and held the 1-0 lead until Claude Giroux slotted the second tally into an empty net.
In my opinion, this was the most impressive win the Flyers were able to pull off this season. They came in absolutely depleted, with five roster players injured, against a team with some of the best depth in the entire league and an elite goalie, were able to not only hold them off, but actually pull out a shutout as well. If the Flyers could come to play every night with the intensity and pride they showed against the Blues, they could be a team to be reckoned with, especially when they become healthy.
Featured Image: KaitlynFP//Flickr Creative Commons.