Flight Plan Week of 11.14.2010

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 Flyers are playing a similar brand to the type of hockey they were playing when they started the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year. They worked hard, scored key goals, got contributions from different players every night. They rolled with that style right on through to the Stanley Cup Finals and came within just two victories of ending a 35 year drought. The entire team was firing on all cylinders last year and right now, they look the same exact way.

They may not be the best team in the NHL, but they are certainly playing like they are with a big, fat smirk across their collective face every single night. The Flyers take the ice knowing they can beat a team every night. Peter Laviolette was quoted last year in a whole lot of press conferences as saying “I just ask they guys ‘Can we beat the so-and-so’s tonight?’”. And, more often than not, the response he got was shown on the ice as a yes.  Now the Flyers are within one point of being tied for the most points in the NHL, and one win away from statistically being the best team in the league.

The Flyers have to win games either way though and this week, they have a ton of them. Four games in five nights as it were and against tough Eastern Conference opponents too. The Flyers will take on the Ottawa Senators, the Montreal Canadiens, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the league leading in overall points Washington Capitals. It should be a fun week, and hopefully the Flyers can continue playing the way they have over the past nine games in which they have garnered points in all of them, and only missed out on just one against the Capitals.

Ottawa Senators:
11.15.2010 at 7 p.m. in Philadelphia

The Ottawa Senators are currently tied for fourth overall in the Eastern Conference with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and have done so by winning seven of their last 10 games. The Senators have good players up front and a decent back end. Their forwards are obviously their greatest strength so the Flyers will need to shut down their attack to be able to walk away with two points.

The Senators are led by their captain Daniel Alfredsson who has seven goals and eight assists for 15 points. Behind him, they have Jason Spezza who has four goals and eight assists for 12 points, but currently owns a +6 rating, which is pretty good considering the Senators have a -3 goal differential. The senators have a balanced attack though with names like Alexi Kovalev, Peter Regin, Mike Fisher, and Milan Michalek, rounding out their top six forwards. Alexi Kovalev scores a lot of points against the Flyers, so even though they have their work cut out for them, the Flyers will definitely be paying special attention to him.

As far as the Senators defense goes, they are solid if nothing special. Sergei Gonchar leads all Senators defensemen with four goals and eight assists for 12 points. 20 year-old Erik Karlsson also has four goals, but only seven assists for 11 points. The return of Filip Kuba should help as he played his first game of the season coming off back surgery last year and a broken leg in training camp this year.

Between the pipes, it is likely that Brian Elliot will get the start as he owns a 9-4-0 record in 13 starts, with his first shutout of the season in the last game against the Boston Bruins. Elliot currently has a .918 SV% which isn’t that and a 2.58 GAA which isn’t that good especially when you consider the Flyers are currently ranked second in the league in goals for with 58.

If the Flyers want to win this game, they should try to take advantage of Ottawa’s mediocre penalty kill which currently ranks 19th in the NHL with an 82.8% success rate.

Montreal Canadiens:

11.16.2010 at 7 p.m. in Montreal

This is the first meeting between these two teams since the Flyers knocked the giant-killing Montreal Canadiens out of the playoffs last year in the Eastern Conference finals in only five games. That was the second time the Flyers beat the Canadiens in the playoffs in five games in three years, having eliminated them in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals in 2007-2008.

The Candiens will absolutely be out for blood in this game and are playing pretty good hockey this year.  Right now the Canadiens are playing really well defensively so let’s start with looking at their defense. The Canadiens defense is formidable with the likes of Hal Gill, Josh Gorges, Roman Hamrlik, Jaroslav Spacek, and youngster P.K. Subban. Subban made a splash last year during the Candiens’ run to the Eastern Conference Finals, by helping shut down some of the best forwards in the league. He helped limit guys like Alex Ovechkin (five goals, five assists for 10 points) and Alex Semin (zero goals, two assists, for two points) to just 12 points between the two of them in the seven game series. Then the Candiens defense was responsible for frustrating two names you might’ve heard, Sidney Crosby (one goal, four assists for five points) and Evgeni Malkin (one goal, two assists for three points) to just eight points in seven games. This defense corps is very good at shutting top lines down, but the Flyers proved to be just a little too deep and with Andrei Markov possibly again being sidelined for Tuesday’s game, the Canadiens will have their hands full as the Flyers have scored 13 goals in just two games.

The Habs’ offense may be short, but not short on guys who can score. With six of their 13 forwards under 6’0”, the Canadiens’ forwards are definitely small, but they are a feisty bunch who can definitely put the puck in the net.  Tomas Plekanec leads the team with 18 points comprised of six goals and 12 assists. Andrei Kostitsyn leads the team in goals with seven, but is also second on the team with 13 points. Character guys like Brian Gionta, leading goalscorer for much of the playoffs last year Mike Cammalleri, talented playmaker Scott Gomez round out the Candiens forwards and make them a lot like the Noisy Cricket from Men In Black: tiny, but able to pack a huge punch.

Montreal has made it clear they’re going to go with Carey Price. They made that cut and dry by trading Jaroslav Halak for just about nothing as center Lars Eller has just one assist and Ian Schultz has not played a single game with the team.  Price signed a two-year deal late this past offseason worth $5.5 million dollars after which he will still be a restricted free agent. This year, Price has lived up to the hype starting in 16 of the 17 games played thus far. He owns a 10-5-1 record with a very good .923 SV% and a pretty good 2.18 GAA, as well as posting two shutouts. Should he be rested, Alex Auld will take the ice with a 1-0-0 record in his only start this season in which he allowed only one goal and has a .968 SV%.

Tampa Bay Lightning:

11.18.2010 at 7 p.m. in Philadelphia

The last time these two teams met, it was an emotional night for Flyers fans as former Flyers forward Simon Gagne played his first game in Philadelphia since being traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning over the summer for defenseman Matt Walker. The lightning won that game by a score of 3-2 however Gagne had no points on the season coming into that game and went out with a neck injury just four games later on October 21st, still not having registered a single point on the season. He currently has a -8 rating in only six games this year and could play this upcoming Thursday. The lightning will definitely be without one of their star centers and their captain, Vincent Lecavalier.  He is scheduled to have hand surgery tomorrow Monday, November 15th, to speed up the healing process of a fractured hand he suffered during a game against the Washington Capitals on November 11th, which the Lightning lost 6-3. Still the Lightning have the top goal scorer as third-year superstar center has 15 goals and 27 points which is tied for first with Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby overall. Martin St. Louis, Ryan Malone, Teddy Purcell, and former Flyer Steve Downie are the other forwards that have contributed to the Lightning’s nine wins and two overtime losses with as they are sitting in 6th place in the Eastern conference with 18 points.

On the blue-line for the Lightning, other than Pavel Kubina and Mattias Ohlund, there are hardly any well-known names. Second year defenseman Victor Hedman currently leads all Lightning defenseman with six assists accounting for all of his six points on the year. Tampa Bay ranks sixth overall in the league, giving up only 27.8 shots against per game which isn’t bad at all. Unfortunately, they allow have given up 50 goals to this point, putting them in 21st overall in that category and 24th overall in goals against per game which is at a high 3.12 average.

Some of the blame could be placed at the feet of goaltender Mike Smith as he owns a 4-3-0 record, an abysmal .869 SV%, and an awful 3.63 GAA. Dan Ellis, originally slated to be the backup when he was signed in the offseason, has started the same amount of games as Smith with eight, but has a 4-3-2 record, a decent .910  SV%, an okay 2.47 GAA, and two shutouts to boot. Ellis has seen 222 shots in 485 minutes while Smith has seen 221 in 480 minutes. They have both been pulled once as they have both started eight games but played in nine, so this tandem is not great, but certainly capable, and if Ellis gets the nod, then you can bet the Flyers want to get on him as they failed to the last time these two teams met in mid-October.

Washington Capitals:

11.20.2010 at 7 p.m. in Washington D.C.

The Washington Capitals and the Flyers will battle for the second time in two weeks as they will reconvene at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. The Capitals are a team obviously led by their forwards as they’ve scored more goals than any team in the NHL this season to date with 59. They currently have more points than any team in the NHL as well having accrued 25 points in 17 games, and also have a +17 goal differential. They are a big, fast, skilled team, and can score in a number of ways. The names of Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Ovechkin, and Alex Semin typically put fear into the hearts of just about every goaltender in the NHL, but not Sergei Bobrovsky as he played really well allowing only one goal on 13 shots by Ovechkin (6) and Semin (7). The Flyers defense played a major role in keeping those guys to the outside, but will have to be better and this time will get nearly 48 hours rest between games compared to only about 19 or so for the last game.

The Flyers will have to take more of the play to the Capitals defenders as they were outplayed for much of the first and second periods, but really turned it on in the third which was pretty good to see considering the Flyers had played less than 24 hours prior in a hard fought game against a pesky New York Islanders team. The Captials have allowed 43 goals this season, which is five more than the Flyers, and although that doesn’t seem like a big difference, they allow 2.53 goals per game while the Flyers only allow 2.18 goals per game. The Flyers will have to attack the way they have been the past two games and really press the mediocre Capitals defense corps into making plays to get out of the zone if they want to have a chance to win this game.

They also will have to stay out of the box as they were hit with five penalties the last game, of which four were stick infractions. The Capitals scored only two powerplay goals, although one of them turned out to be a game winner on a dubious if not dastardly boarding call by the officials on Sean O’Donnell at the end of the game while the Capitals were already on the man advantage as Chris Pronger sat in the box for four minutes with a high sticking double minor. Washington’s PP ranks just below the Flyers at ninth overall in the league and fourth in the conference with a 21.3% success rate while their PK ranks 10th overall and seventh in the conference at a 85.3% success rate.

This could very well be a special teams battle, but the Flyers have to stay out of the box and do more to get draw penalties by working hard in the offensive zone. Braden Holtby started his first game of the season against the Flyers and allowed two goals on two very stoppable ones of the 25 total shots fired his way. Michael Neuvirth will probably get the start however as his numbers are pretty good so far with a 10-3-0 record, with a .914 SV%, a 2.50 GAA, and one shutout.