Flight Plan 11.28.2010

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

After two solid performances to start the week, wins over the Montreal Canadiens and the Minnesota Wild, the Philadelphia Flyers lost two games in the shootout. These two entirely emotionless losses brought them down a peg in the standings in the Eastern Conference and the entire NHL as the Washington Capitals now have sole ownership of the best record and most points in the league. The Flyers also allowed their divisional and cross-state rival the Pittsburgh Penguins to come within two points of the Atlantic Division lead. It’s still early, but points are points and when you lose to a team in your division, it stings that much more when you look down the road.

The Flyers will look to get back on track this week with just two games against the Boston Bruins and the New Jersey Devils whom they surrendered a point to because they just failed to even bother showing up till halfway through the second… again.

Boston Bruins:
12.01.2010 at 7 p.m. in Philadelphia

Well, well, well. Look what we have here. The Boston Bruins had the best lead in a playoff series a team could have going into game four of the 2009-2010 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. Up three games to none. Looking for a sweep. Life was good. Until the Flyers won game four. Then game five. Then game six. And all of a sudden… The series was tied at three games apiece. Just like that. The Bruins came out flying in game seven and jumped out to a quick three-zip lead in the first period when Coach Peter Laviolette called that famous timeout: the one that changed everything. The Flyers tied the game up over the next half a period or so and ended up winning the game in the third period on a power play goal by Simon Gagne. The Flyers completed a colossal comeback and the Bruins were left to bear the bitter taste of defeat in their mouths for the rest of the summer, made that much bitterer by the fact that they had four chances to win a series, and failed all four times.

This is the first game between these two teams since that series ended with a backend sweep by the Flyers, and one would have to suspect that it will be one for the ages as far as regular season games go. The Bruins will have no trouble getting up for this game, so hopefully the Flyers will want to meet that intensity with their brand of hockey that defined a six-game win streak in both the playoffs last year and just a few weeks ago this season. The Bruins are a little different than they were last year however, so let’s take a look at what makes them such a formidable opponent being as that they have 26 points in 21 games and a 12-7-2 record as well as the lowest goals against total in the entire league.

Tim Thomas is a huge reason for the Bruins’ success thus far this season. Thomas leads the league in SV% and shutouts, .951 and four respectively.  With Thomas between the pipes, the Bruins have all but one of their wins this season as he owns an 11-2-1 record. Thomas also has a ridiculously low 1.56 GAA which is bested only by Mathieu Garon who has only played eight games to Thomas’ 15. Needless to say, Thomas has returned to his Vezina Trophy winning form and makes the Bruins a much better team when he is minding the nets. Tuukka Rask has been just okay, but his only win this season came by way of a shutout, so even with his 1-5-1 record and 2.36 GAA, he still has a .935 SV% meaning the Bs just haven’t scored enough goals to win him the games he started and therein lies the problem.

The Bruins are a defensive team. They play a defensive system. They have a great goal differential with a +16, but have scored just 58 goals through 21 games and have the 16th best goals per game in the league with just 2.76 goals averaged per 60-65 minute contest. The Flyers on the other hand have the league’s third best goals per game average at 3.44 and have scored more goals than any team in the NHL through 25 games with 86 goals for.  The Flyers absolutely need to find their scoring touch against this Bruins team, and it will be difficult seeing as that they have a great defense corps led by Captain Zdeno Chara who has 10 points (four goals, six assists) and a +11 rating.  Rounding out the Bruins defense are Johnny Boychuk, Matt Hunwick, Mark Stuart, Andrew Ference, and former-Flyer Dennis Seidenberg.

Though the defense is obviously the strongest part of the Bruins’ makeup, this doesn’t mean they don’t have guys who can score. Summer trade acquisition Nathan Horton (eight goals, 10 assists) is co-leading the team with Milan Lucic (10 goals, eight assists) with 18 points and twice-former-Flyer Mark Recchi isn’t far behind with 15 points (four goals, team leading 11 assists).  Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Michael Ryder, and Blake Wheeler all have helped put points on the board as well and pose threats. One player to watch would be 2010 first round, second overall draft pick Tyler Seguin as he currently has four goals and four assists good enough for eight points.

Either way, this should be a great game given all the history (forgive the pun) from last year and hopefully will provide a good subplot.

New Jersey Devils:
12.04.2010 at 1 p.m. in Philadelphia

The Devils showed up for the whole 65 minutes, the Flyers didn’t. It’s as simple as that. That’s why the Devils got two points and the Flyers were lucky to walk away with one for the second day in a row. One would think that Captain Mike Richards’ words would be more than that, just words, after losing to the Calgary Flames because they didn’t get up for the game the day before. One would think that this team would actually get up for the next game from the drop of the puck or at least sometime during the first period. Nope.  Richie called the team out in the post-game interview against the Flames and boy did they not respond at all. It was a subtle quote, but an all-important one. After losing the point, somewhat because of a controversial call, mostly because they just didn’t show up, Richards said that “it would’ve been nice to get it, but at the same time I didn’t think we played well enough to deserve it.” That’s the truth.

Call or no call, they didn’t play for a whole 65. They didn’t even play for 30. This has to change. It’s had to change since three years ago, but now it really has to change and it will. Richards is a smart captain, and he definitely sent a message to the team that they didn’t receive when they played the Devils last week.  You can bet that when these two teams face off this week, that the Flyers will be ready to go. They have some time to regroup and work on some things and after having lost two games the same way for mostly the same reasons, this team needs to get their act together and realize that if you don’t come to play from the drop of the puck, you don’t get two points, no matter what team is on the other bench.

The Devils are having all sorts of trouble and the Flyers would do well to capitalize on it this time. Hopefully they’ve learned their lesson.