The setting was pretty. The actual games, not so much.
The National Hockey League’s two outdoor games at Lake Tahoe at least gave television viewers some eye candy in the background as the Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights squared off on Saturday before the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins realigned on Sunday.
There were certainly issues, as the Saturday game needed an eight-hour intermission in between the first and second periods as sun glare factored in too heavily to produce a decent product, and the game was resumed at 9 p.m. local time, which meant East Coast viewers had to tune back in at midnight to catch the rest of the game. The Flyers and Bruins were pushed back five hours on Sunday to avoid the same circumstances. Things only got worse from there for the Flyers, as they suffered a 7-3 loss to the Bruins and have yet to defeat their East Division rivals in five tries so far this abbreviated season.
But some positives can be taken out of the weekend for both the league and the Flyers as they board their plane rides home.
First, it wasn’t ideal how it played out, but the NHL should be given some credit for stepping out of its comfort zone and trying to do something fun during a year that has produced little joy.
With no spectators permitted, the league seized an opportunity to play two outdoor games on the 18th Fairway of Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course. It will probably be marked as a failure for the aforementioned obstacles, not to mention NBC having to move the games off of its main channel both days. Nothing against the Washington Capitals and New Jersey Devils, who were moved into Sunday’s time slot, but it’s doubtful the network got the numbers it was expecting from a Boston-Philly matchup in the cold mountain air.
After pulling off a successful bubble playoffs last season when everything looked grim, we should give the NHL a mulligan for at least trying to do something different.
As for the team in orange, the undermanned Flyers will head back to Philadelphia after another beating at the hands of the Bruins. This, too, can be brushed off pretty easily. It’s well known at this point the Flyers were without five of their top nine forwards and were forced to play two natural defensemen at forward positions just to fill a healthy roster.
Forwards Claude Girioux, Jakub Voracek, Travis Konecny, Oskar Lindblom and Scott Laughton and defenseman Justin Braun were all unavailable after they were placed on the COVID-19 protocol list. That group of six players represents more than a third ($29 million) of the team’s salary this year.
Maybe the Flyers weren’t four-goal underdogs to the first place Bruins, but they were certainly a longshot to win the game.
Here are the positives: First, the Flyers are still in decent shape at 8-4-3 through roughly a quarter of the season and sat tied for third in the division after the weekend with games in hand on the other teams. Their schedule lightens up a bit with the Rangers and a back-to-back with the Sabres this week.
Secondly, you can point to a couple of Flyers in James van Riemsdyk and Joel Farabee, who have quietly pieced together an impressive start to the season. Farabee scored his eighth goal of the season on Sunday in his 15th game, matching his output last year that was achieved in 52 games. He will celebrate his 21st birthday on Thursday, so the Flyers have to be happy that Farabee is finding his groove at such a young age.
Van Riemsdyk also potted his eighth goal of the season in Lake Tahoe. You can factor in some luck, as JVR’s goal on Sunday was an attempted pass that caromed into the net off a defender, and he certainly is due for a regression, shooting a career-high 24.2 percent this year, which is double his career average (12.1). But to his credit, van Riemsdyk has been rounding out his game and had 13 assists in his first 15 games, which is an outstanding mark for a goal scorer who normally struggles to reach the 20-assist mark in most full seasons. Through Sunday, JVR was 11th in the league in scoring and eighth in points per game, accumulating 21 points in 15 games (1.4 points per game). The closest he has ever come to producing a point per game through a season was in the 2013-14 season, when he scored 61 points in 80 games (0.76 points per game) for the Toronto Maple Leafs. ••