The Philadelphia Flyers grabbed four points in the standings this past weekend as they defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs, 7-4, on Saturday night and the Winnipeg Jets, 4-3, in an exciting overtime victory last night. The storyline that evolved yesterday was that recently called-up goaltender Rob Zepp, 33, would make his NHL debut in net for the Flyers. Zepp was originally drafted by the past incarnation of these Jets (that would be the Atlanta Thrashers) in 1999. He was again drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2001. After bouncing between the Florida Everblades (ECHL) and Lowell Lock Monsters (AHL), the Hurricanes’ two minor league teams, from 2001 to 2005, Zepp left North America for Europe, playing two years in the Finnish SM-Liiga and seven years in the German DEL for the Berlin Polar Bears. This was the very team for whom Claude Giroux and then-Flyer Daniel Briere played while waiting for the 2012-13 NHL lockout to end. Zepp’s exceptional play the last few years began to attract attention back across the pond. This summer, ten years gone from North American hockey, Zepp returned to it when he signed with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on a one-year deal.
After compiling an 8-5-1 record in Allentown, PA, Zepp found himself called up to the Phantoms’ big club as the Flyers’ #1 goaltender, Steve Mason, suffered an injury in practice on Friday. Early indications were that Flyers backup Ray Emery would get the starts in both road games this weekend, but by yesterday morning that idea was shelved and Flyers coach Craig Berube decided to let Emery rest after facing the Leafs, allowing Rob Zepp to start his very first NHL game at the young age of 33. This made Zepp the first rookie goalie to start his NHL career at that age since 1926(!). Anyone who put good numbers in Europe and continued his success in the AHL should surely be considered for NHL duty when needed, right? Perhaps Zepp has led the way for others to
Zepp was given a lead to start the game as Jake Voracek continued his torrid pace and opened the game’s scoring on a 2-on-1 with center Giroux. Soon, Zepp and the Flyers ran the risk of being trampled underfoot as first Matt Halischuk (on a missed offside call) and then Dustin Byfuglien scored to put the Jets ahead, 2-1, before the first period ended. Mathieu Perreault scored the lone goal of the second period to put the Jets up by 2. The Flyers, undaunted, continued to work like they did on Saturday to come from behind and defeat the Leafs. Sure enough, a pair of goals from veteran Vinny Lecavalier in the third period knotted the game and salvaged at least a point for the game. Zepp would be tabbed to work overtime in his NHL debut, but it did not last long and he did not see a shot. That is because the Flyers got the puck into the Jets’ zone. Defenseman Byfuglien, who had administered some punishment to Giroux earlier in the game via a dangerous high hit, skated behind his own net with the puck to start the Jets’ breakout. That was spoiled by Giroux, who got his revenge by removing the puck from Byfuglien’s stick. Voracek retrieved the disc along the boards, stepped out front, and deposited it behind Jets netminder Ondrej Pavelec for the victory. The scoreboard read a mere 10 seconds had elapsed since the puck dropped to start the overtime, but no one on the Flyers cared. They cared about two things: garnering the second point for the game and winning it for the feel-good story of the 33 year-old rookie Zepp. Pictures of Zepp holding the game puck with “1st NHL WIN” written upon it appeared soon after on social media, with the Flyers’ official Twitter account leading the charge.
The Flyers are off today, but get right back to action in their last game before the three-day Christmas break as they visit the Minnesota Wild in St. Paul, MN. They probably need to win 3 of their 4 remaining games in 2014 to be considered to be in the playoff hunt still. If not, then General Manager Ron Hextall may consider the Flyers out of playoff contention and begin plans to sell at the NHL trade deadline on Monday, March 2, 2015. Of course, he could make moves at any time, but it is easiest to sell parts near the trade deadline when contending teams are looking for pieces that could put them over the top or add some insurance to their roster as they prepare to make a playoff run.
For now, though, the Flyers are content to be part of a feel-good story. They will long remember making yesterday a Celebration Day.
Happy Hockey and Happy Holidays,
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