Flight Plan is a new column that will take a more in depth look at the Flyers’ upcoming opponents every week here at Flyers Faithful.
The Philadelphia Flyers will face two teams this week going in opposite directions: the Anaheim Ducks and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Both teams are gritty and fast, but are supposed to be rebuilding. The Ducks had a tough opening week whereas the Maple Leafs are the only team in the Eastern Conference that remains undefeated through their first few games of the season. The Flyers look to finish up their longest home stand of the season by winning these last two games and thereby, improving their home record to a winning one. They’ll also have to clean up their super sloppy play and awfully apathetic attitude towards playing a full sixty or more minutes thus far if they want to take the four points available to them this week.
10.21.2010 at 7 p.m. in Philadelphia
The Ducks are a dismal 1-3-1 to kick off the 2010-2011 season. They have been outscored 20-9 through five games. Newly signed Defenseman Toni Lydman is the only player with a plus rating, as he was out with double vision and played his first game for Anaheim in Atlanta this past Friday. They are also pretty banged up missing defensemen Andy Sutton and right wing and former Flyer Joffrey Lupul. They currently lead the league in both Penalty minutes per game and Penalty minutes overall, and they are second only to the Flyers in minors taken. Needless to say, the Ducks have about one or twenty things to work on.
The Ducks, though being outscored by such a seemingly high margin, actually do have some firepower. Freshly-extended, two-time 30 goal scorer, Cherry Hill native Bobby Ryan skates on a line with Cory Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. Of course they also have 40 year-old Teemu Selanne, 37 year-old Jason Blake, and 35 year-old Saku Koivu who all had 40 or more points last year. Clearly this is a team that can, if you let them, hurt you offensively.
Defensively, the Ducks are really missing Scott Niedermayer who retired this past offseason. For all intents and purposes, the Ducks have an older defense corps. Sheldon Brookbank, Toni Lydman, and Paul Mara are all in their early 30s, while everyone else is either over 34 or under 25. One bright spot however is young 2010 12th overall draft choice Cam Fowler has performed admirably and, having played an average of over 20 minutes a night so far, has only a minus two rating earned during a game against the St. Louis Blues last Monday. Considering how often the Ducks have been scored on this season so far, that’s not bad at all for an 18 year-old who beat out 20 year-old, former 19th overall choice and Flyer, Luca Sbisa for a roster spot this season.
In goal, the Ducks have Jonas Hiller. He has started all five games this season and has been pulled once. He has a GAA of 4.06, a .904 SV%, and has allowed 19 goals on 198 save attempts. Curtis McElhinney is a 27 year-old career backup and has never started more than 14 games in any NHL season. Hiller is a good goaltender, but he is not getting the support he needs from the team around him and put in a bad position with how often his team is shorthanded, so those numbers are slightly deceiving.
Either way, this should be a hard-fought, gritty, dirty game, with a lot of penalties so make sure you keep count.
Toronto Maple Leafs:
10.23.2010 at 7 p.m. in Philadelphia
The Toronto Maple Leafs are 4-0-0 though four games. They are second in the league in average goals for per game with an even 4.00. They have scored 16 goals and have outscored opponents 16-9. They have revamped their roster in big ways and seem to be firing on all cylinders. They have a really good group of talented wingers in Colby Armstrong, Phil Kessel, Nikolai Kulemin, Clarke MacArthur, and Kris Versteeg and one of the best backend brigades in the NHL in Francois Beauchemin, Carl Gunnarssson, Tomas Kaberle, Mike Komisarek, Dion Phaneuf, and Luke Schenn. Behind that cast, the Leafs have a potentially good if not great goaltending tandem in cup winner Jean-Sebastian “Giggy” Giguere and Jonas “the Monster” Gustavsson. No matter how you look at it, in just his second year as GM in Toronto, Brian Burke has put together quite a team on paper.
Of these five, Nikolai Kulemin is the only player who was originally drafted by the Leafs. Of the four remaining, Phil Kessel is the only one of them who was with the Leafs at the beginning of last season. Clarke MacArthur and Phil Kessel lead the team with six points apiece. MacArthur has five goals and Kessel has four. If the Flyers hope to beat the Leafs on Saturday night, they will absolutely, positively need to shut these two down, but will also have to keep an eye on guys like Versteeg and Armstrong who are very capable of putting the puck in the net.
If the Flyers have the best defense corps in the league, the Leafs just might have the second best. Between the beginning of last summer and this fall, Toronto has added Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin through free agency and made the biggest deal of any team last season by trading for Calgary Flame defenseman Dion Phaneuf. Phaneuf was run out of Calgary after having a bad start to the season last year, and never recovering. In 26 games last season for the Leafs, Phaneuf had two goals and eight assists, and was only a minus two on a bad team. Phaneuf was named captain over the summer and is most certainly a force to be reckoned with when he is confident, and thus far he and head coach Ron Wilson certainly have their team playing with a heaping helping of confidence.
Jean-Sebastian Giguere has a Stanley Cup ring. Jonas Gustavsson’s nickname is “the Monster”. That’s all you need to know. Trust me.
Toronto was a decent team on paper, but ended up being a bad team last season. This season, they’re a better team on paper and a better team on the ice as well. That’s the new NHL for you. The Flyers will have to contain the Leafs’ forwards as best they can, press the defense, not take bad or lazy penalties, and more than anything, they need to match the Leafs’ intensity in even strength play where Toronto has scored 13 of their 16 goals this season. This will be a tough game, but if the Flyers can stay out of the box and shut down Kessel and MacArthur, they should get the two points.
Check back next week for another Flight Plan.
-Stats and information taken from NHL.com