Friday night’s 7-0 loss to the Washington Capitals was a tough game for the Philadelphia Flyers. It was marred by an ugly incident, a line brawl which featured Flyers goalie Ray Emery leaving his crease and pummeling Washington netminder Braden Holtby, who already stated he did not want to fight.
Emery pummeled him anyway.
"I said basically, ‘protect yourself,’” Emery explained to Frank Seravalli of the Philadelphia Daily News. “He didn’t really have much of a choice.”
The game was a disgrace for the Flyers, and to almost everyone not wearing a Flyers uniform, the fight was an even bigger disgrace.
There was plenty of negative fallout from this incident to be sure—and not just negative articles in the press.
Two Flyers players were injured, as Vincent Lecavalier suffered a facial contusion and had to sit out Saturday’s game while newly acquired Steve Downie suffered a concussion and was hospitalized as a result of his fight with Washington's Aaron Volpatti.
But did some good come out of this debacle for the Flyers?
If you ask the coaching staff or the members of the team, the line brawl in the third period of Friday’s 7-0 defeat helped sow the seeds of Saturday’s 1-0 win over the New Jersey Devils.
Emery made 14 saves and recorded his first shutout of the season in the victory. Brayden Schenn scored the only goal of the game. More importantly, Philadelphia played a smart and disciplined hockey game on Saturday—the polar opposite of its dreadful performance just 24 hours earlier.
The players and coaches were quick to credit Friday’s fisticuffs as a reason for their ability to bounce back and play well on Saturday.
“It’s not that hard to stay focused after a game like last night,” Emery told Steve Lepore of the Associated Press. “You challenge yourself and you could see it in the whole team that we were embarrassed. We were gonna show how much we wanted to play tonight.”
“There’s a reason that stuff happens last night in the game. They care. They’re mad and they’re frustrated. I know what they’re feeling. I’ve been there. I knew they’d be ready,” head coach Craig Berube told Lepore.
Berube also expressed his confidence in Emery, saying, “He’s been a winner and battler his whole life. I knew he’d have a good game.”
Defenseman Hal Gill also felt that Friday’s drubbing was a turning point for his club. “A 7-0 game, you get the message,” he told Dave Isaac of the Courier-Post. “It’s a results business and you’ve got to get results.”
Even CBC commentator and former NHL coach Don Cherry chimed in on Friday's game, noting that the crowd in Philadelphia and the Flyers themselves were energized by the brawl.
“They’re getting hammered at home 7-0 and someone said 'we’re going down fighting,'” Cherry said on his Coach’s Corner segment on Hockey Night in Canada. “It might do them some good. I know they’re going to get criticized. The crowd was cheering because they were going down fighting.”
The key question becomes how much of a difference this incident makes. Do the Flyers just eke out one win against the New Jersey and then resume their early-season slump, or do they really pull together for the long haul and start on the long road back to respectability?
It’s one thing to be unified for a day, it’s another to become a cohesive team for a season.
“When you’re slapped around like that, it’s a response,” general manager Paul Holmgren told Bruce Arthur of Canada.com. “Do I have an issue with it? Probably not, it’s a response.”
“They care,” added Berube. “They’re frustrated. That’s basically what it boils down to.”
Whether they care enough to make a difference in the long run is what will determine if any good comes out of this ugly incident.