Flight Plan: Week of 11.21.2010

Flight Plan is a column that will take a more in depth look at the Flyers’ upcoming opponents every week here at Flyers Faithful.

All good things must come to an end and so did the Philadelphia Flyers’ run of gaining at least a point in the standings over 10 games in a three-zip loss to the Montreal Canadiens, which was also the first time the Flyers high-powered offense failed to find the back of the net this season. During those 10 games the Flyers went 9-0-1, scored 44 of their 75 goals on the season, and limited their opponents to just 17 goals in that span. Not to mention that they were all against Eastern Conference opponents, so one would like to think that those 19 of 20 points they picked up should help out down the road, especially in March and April.

Monday will mark the fourth time in as many weeks that the Flyers have had four games during a given week, and will start against the Canadiens. The Flyers will then take on two Western Conference teams in the Minnesota Wild and the Calgary Flames before finally getting to take their first crack at the just-plain-terrible New Jersey Devils.

It should be an interesting week, and I would direct the majority of your attention to the first game of the week, as it could be a continuation of a chapter started last Tuesday in the Flyers rivalry book when the Habs come to the Wells Fargo Center for the first time this year.

Make sure you buckle your seatbelts, we may hit some major turbulence.

Montreal Canadiens:
11.22.2010 at 7 p.m. in Philadelphia

The Canadiens frustrated the Flyers from the drop of the puck in first meeting of the season between the two teams. To completely shut down a team who had scored a combined 18 goals through their previous 9 periods of play, is quite a feat in the NHL regardless of whether said team had played the night before and might have been due for a loss.  Either way, credit is given where credit is due and the Canadiens shut the door on the Flyers from the get go, playing very well in front of Carey Price who did just about everything but score a goal himself against a team he has had very ordinary numbers against in his career.

The big storyline from this game however, were the words exchanged between Flyers captain Mike Richards and Canadiens rookie defenseman P.K. Subban. Richards was quoted after the game, and after the Philadelphia reporters and beat writers had all gone, as saying something to the effect that Subban “hasn’t earned respect” and that “hopefully someone on their team addresses it, because I’m not saying I’m going to do it but something might happen to him if he continues to be that cocky.” Subban countered saying something to the effect that he “has a lot of respect for all the players in the league” including Mike Richards but that he’s “still trying to make a name for himself, and he’s always played the game this way so as long as his teammates and coaches are happy with what he’s doing, he’ll continue doing things that way.”

Much has been made of this little back and forth between these two through the media, and it should be interesting to see where it goes, if it goes anywhere, but I would bet that if Richie doesn’t drop the gloves, someone will on Monday night.

Minnesota Wild:

11.24.2010 at 7 p.m. in Minnesota

The Flyers take on the Minnesota Wild for the first time since the preseason meeting on September 24th that the Flyers won in the shootout courtesy of Nikolay Zherdev scoring both in the game and the game winner in the shootout. The Wild find themselves a point out of a three-way tie for the eighth playoff spot (like that really matters cause it’s November), and could certainly use the win over an Eastern conference opponent as they are currently 2-4-1 in inter-conference play.

The Wild are a defense first team with a very good goaltender in Niklas Backstrom. Backstrom, in 15 starts, has posted an 8-5-2 record, with a .932 SV%, a 2.11 GAA, and one shutout. He has established himself as one of the better netminders in the league over the past few years and is more than capable of stealing games for the Wild. He recorded a career high in shutouts just two years ago with eight in 71 starts. The guy is talented and the Flyers will have their work cut out for them if they end up facing him and want to score. Of course the alternative is Jose Theodore who is fresh off a 41 save performance against the Detroit Red Wings to backstop the Wild to a 4-3 OT win over the 2007-2008 Stanley Cup Champions and top team in the Western Conference as the standings stand right now.

The Wild’s defense isn’t too shabby either. With names like Cam Barker, Brent Burns, Nick Schultz, and Greg Zannon, they have a solid defense corps. Marek Zidlicky is the oldest member of this blueline bunch at the tender age of 33 while Nick Schultz is the most NHL and Wild tenured player of this group with 626 games over parts of nine seasons, all with Minnesota. They don’t score a ton of points for this team, but Brent Burns does have six goals and five assists for 11 points this season.

The Wild’s offensive group is a little less talented than the Flyers but still have some pretty big names. Most notably Martin Havlat who leads the team with 17 points (three goals, 14 assists), and Mikko Koivu who is one of the league’s best two-way forwards and is not only second on the team in scoring with 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) but also leads the entire team with a plus six rating. But what you want to pay particularly close attention to, as I’m sure Peter Laviolette will, is the special teams element of the Wild’s game.

The Wild own the NHL’s second best power play success rate which is roaring along at a 26.3% clip and have scored 20 of their 46 goals on the man advantage which is good enough for second in the league as well. And for the team with the most penalty minutes in the NHL, the Flyers would do well to keep as far away from the box as possible unless they take somebody with them to the sin bin. The Wild also have the eighth best penalty kill success percentage at 84.7% having only allowed 13 power play goals on the 85 times they’ve been shorthanded this year.

Calgary Flames:

11.26.2010 at 1 p.m. in  Philadelphia

The Flames should be a much better team and I bet their fans are really sick of hearing that. With names like Mikka Kiprusoff, Jarome Iginla, Jay Bouwmeester, Alex Tanguay, Robyn Regehr, Matt Stajan, Cory Sarich, Olli Jokinen, and Nickas Hagman, it’s a wonder why this team is 14th in the Western Conference with 17 points and only 8 wins through 19 games. To the Flames’ credit they have only a -1 goal differential for being so low in the standings and have scored 58 goals.

Uncharacteristically of starting goaltender Mikka Kiprusoff, he has allowed a ton of goals this season, 48, which would account for his really poor .904 SV% and super high 2.83 GAA. Kiprusoff is usually amongst the league’s best in all categories, but it could be him showing his age as he is 34 and since 2005-2006 has not started less than 70 games for the Flames.

The Flames defense has been subpar also, as they have allowed 59 goals through 19 games as a team.  Jay Bouwmeester is obviously the big name on the backend for Calgary and he has lived up to the hype with a plus seven rating, though his numbers have been lower than ever as he posted a career low in points last year with 29 scoring just three goals and having only 26 helpers as well as posting -4 rating. Mark Giordano led all Flames defenseman who started 2009-2010 with the team with 11 goals and 19 assists for 30 points and was a +17. Either way, the Flames’ defense is still pretty good on paper, just they can’t seem to keep the puck out of the net on the ice.

The Flames’ offense is made up of a pretty good group of forwards including Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen, Rene Borque, and Alex Tanguay who is leading the team with 17 points (six goals, 11 assists).  Iginla has six goals and two assists for eight points in his last four games; suffice it to say he’s on a hot streak. The Flames can obviously score goals, they just have trouble keeping the goals against them to a minimum which definitely works to the Flyers’ advantage.

New Jersey Devils:

11.27.2010 at 1 p.m. in New Jersey

What can you say about the hell that the New Jersey Devils have endured thus far this season? Should we start with the fact that they are in a massive cap crunch and were fined $3 million dollars by the league for attempting to circumvent the cap with their contract offers to superstar winger Ilya Kovalchuk? Or the fact that they have just 12 points and five wins through 20 games? How about that they’ve lost their leading scorer for the past two seasons for three months in Zach Parise to a knee injury? Maybe that Martin Brodeur is out right now with an arm injury? I don’t know, there’s just way too many problems for this team to be any type of good at this point in the season even though, on paper obviously not on the ice, this is a pretty-well put together team.

The Devils have names like Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias, Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbruner, Travis Zajac, and Dainius Zubrus and have only scored 36 goals and have a league worst -29 goal differential. They certainly have the firepower as Kovalchuk is a proven 40 goal scorer, Elias has scored over 20 goals eight times in parts of fifteen seasons with the Devils, Arnott has scored 20 or more goals 12 times in his career, and Zajac has scored 20-plus goals in each of his last two seasons. Needless to say that they have to put the puck behind some goaltenders to win some games and they need to start fast as points become increasingly important with every period that goes by the boards.

The Devils’ defense initially looked like it would be in elite company as Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder were added over the summer to a corps that already had Andy Greene and Colin White. Every single one of these guys is a talented top 4 defenseman on every team in the NHL. Why this unit with Martin Brodeur in the nets has yielded 65 goals, is beyond me and just about every other hockey aficionado. It just makes no sense as to why this team is this bad. Sure they have cap trouble, sure they have injury issues, but they should have a good enough team to have more than five wins on the season.