Flight Plan Week of 12.05.2010

The Philadelphia Flyers had just two games this past week. The Flyers were shut out by the Boston Bruins, in the first meeting of both the season and since last year’s historic playoff series, and beat the New Jersey Devils by a score of 5-3. This week the Flyers will continue their busy schedule with their fourth four-game week this season against some very hungry teams in the New York Islanders, the San Jose Sharks, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and a rematch against the Boston Bruins. Since the Flyers had been on a short skid of late that they ended against the Devils, they have allowed their cross-state rivals the Pittsburgh Penguins to lead the division and tie the Washington Capitals for the top spot in the Eastern Conference with 38 points a-piece. The Flyers have a game in hand though and will try to make it a three-way-tie for tops in the East when they square off against the Islanders today.

Flyers Captain Mike Richards has been super hot of late, scoring eight points in his last eight game. Meanwhile Danny Briere and Claude Giroux are tied for the team lead in goals as they both have 13 on the season. Rookie Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was honored by being named Rookie of the Month for November.

New York Islanders:
12.05.2010  at 1 p.m. in New York

The New York Islanders are a young team and have showed that in going 14 straight without a victory before finally defeating the New Jersey Devils by way of a shutout and a score of 2-0. You know things are bad when a defenseman leads everyone on the team in points and that player happens to be James Wisniewski for the Isles with a grand total of 15 points. Yikes. This is the third meeting this season between the two and the Flyers have won both of the last two contests, one convincingly and the other with a whole lot of hard work and perseverance.  There has been some rough stuff between the two clubs leading to a three-game suspension to Danny Briere. Briere didn’t play the last game, so we’ll see if there are any lingering feelings between he and Frans Nielsen.

San Jose Sharks:
12.08.2010 at 7 p.m. in Philadelphia

The San Jose Sharks have not been the same team they were in years past this season as they are currently last in their division with a 12-9-4 record and 28 points. The Sharks have a good team but haven’t been on top of their game lately as they’ve only had three wins in-a-row once this season. For a team that has regularly been a contender for the President’s trophy, this is an interesting and probably somewhat concerning development for the Sharks who are a heavily offensively gifted team.

The top line for the Sharks this year is yet again the Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau line who have a combined 62 points thus far. Heatley is leading the team currently in goals and points with 12 goals and 26 points, while Marleau has 11 goals and 11 assists for 22 points. Joe Thornton always has a bagillion helpers and he leads the team with 18 assists and has banged in six goals to put him at 24 points total. Those are pretty good numbers for one line, but their problem is keeping the puck out from behind their goaltender as they have also a combined +/- rating of -18 as Heatley is the only plus player with just a +1 rating. Ouch. What really hasn’t helped the Sharks is their defense.

The Sharks defenders are either young or old. Dan Boyle and Niclas Wallin are the true veterans of the squad as they are 34 and 35 respectively. Douglas Murray and Kent Huskins are the only two in their prime-age for defensemen at 30 and 31. Everyone else is 23 or 22 and that group consists of Justin Braun, Jason Demers, Derek Joslin, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Demers is out with an upper-body injury and he leads the group with a +4 rating. Both Boyle’s and Wallin’s +/- are just plain bad as they are a combined -13. While Wallin is a -7 he only has one point on the season. What’s more disconcerting is that Boyle, an extremely offensive defenseman, has three goals and 16 assists for 19 points total and yet is a -6 on the year. When your defensemen do not have good +/- ratings it’s a bad sign, so they will really need to clamp down in order for the Sharks to have any chance against a Flyers team who is so deep at forward.  The goaltenders for San Jose have not been much help and are familiar faces for the Flyers as one is a former-Flyer and the other was just good enough to prevent them from winning the Stanley Cup in last year’s playoffs.

Antero Nittymaki has gotten more starts with 15 total and in those games he owns a good 8-3-3 record, an okay .910 SV%, and a decent 2.34 GAA. Those numbers are good enough for a Sharks team which has such a proficient offense, but Antti Niemi is a different story. Niemi had really good numbers last year. For the Blackhawks Niemi was 26-7-4, had a .912 SV%, 2.25 GAA, and seven shutouts. He allowed just 82 goals in 39 games. This year however, Niemi has not had the incredible Blackhawks defense of last year to lean on as he has played 11 games, has a 4-6-1 record, a pitiful .886 SV%, a brutal 3.46 GAA, but has one shutout to kind of save face.  Needless to say, Paul Holmgren has to be pretty happy he didn’t think too hard about signing Niemi in the off-season.

The Flyers will need to score goals to win this game and will have to try to slow the big guns that San Jose has.

Toronto Maple Leafs:
12.09.2010 at 7 p.m. in Toronto

The Maple Leafs have been much more up and down this season than they were last season where it was pretty much just all down. In their last 10 games they are 4-5-1 and are currently sitting at the bottom of the Northeast Division with 22 points. They are currently out of a playoff spot by 9 points and four spots as they are tied with the Florida Panthers for 12th in the conference. The three teams they trail are the Ottawa Senators, the Buffalo Sabres, and the Carolina Hurricanes. The Flyers won the first meeting between these teams by a score of 5-2 back on October 23rd, but both teams have gone in completely different directions as the Flyers have established themselves as one of the best teams in the league and the Leafs have just gotten worse as the year has progressed here. The Maple Leafs’ biggest problem is they allow a lot of goals and do not score nearly enough. They have a -18 goal differential as they have scored just 52 goals and have allowed 72. This team has a whole bunch of good names, but it just looks like there’s no chemistry between them.

At forward, the Maple Leafs are led by Clarke MacArthur who has 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists). Beyond him there are a whole slew of names that you should recognize as Mikhail Grabovski who has 16 points (five goals, 11 assists), Kris Versteeg who has 15 points (eight goals, seven assists), and Phil Kessel with 14 points (10 goals, four assists). These are good players, but one thing that Danny Briere mentions all the time is that you can’t force instant chemistry, either you have it or you don’t and it looks like this team just does not. The other problem is that beyond their top two lines, the Maple Leafs are getting very little assistance and scoring depth is a crucial element in the NHL now.

On defense the Maple Leafs have a real good core but only Mike Komisarek has a plus rating at +1. Tomas Kaberle and Luke Schenn are hanging around with an even rating of 0, but everyone else is in the minus column. That list includes Francois Beauchemin (-3), Carl Gunnarsson (-1), Dion Phaneuf (-6), Keith Aulie (-2), Korbinian Holzer (-1), and Brett Lebda (-11). Phaneuf, the Leafs’ Captain, has been out for a month with a leg injury he suffered November 2nd in a game against the Ottawa Senators. Lebda has been a healthy scratch eight times this season and that -11 rating does not help his case.

Both of Toronto’s goaltenders haven’t been very good as Jean-Sebastian Giguere has a 6-5-2 record with a .893 SV%, and a high 2.82 GAA. Meanwhile Jonas Gustavsson has a much worse record at 3-7-2, but better numbers as he has a .910 SV% and a 2.66 GAA. They have had a good amount of help from their defense as they only see 28 shots per game, but hardly any help from their offense as they score just 2.12 goals per game which is bad enough for 29th in the entire NHL. The Flyers can score goals and would do well to do that this game as Toronto doesn’t keep the score close very often.

Boston Bruins:
12.11.2010 at 7 p.m. in Boston

The Bruins shut the Flyers out by a score of 3-0 in an unreal performance by former, and contending this year if he keeps it up, Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas, which is just 10 days prior to this matchup.  Thomas was everything and more in the last game as he stopped all 41 Flyer shots and absolutely robbed Andreas Nodl on a one-time effort as just about the whole net was yawning at him. Thomas leads every goalie in the league in every category except wins with a spectacular .956 SV%, a lower than low 1.46 GAA, and five shutouts to boot. The Flyers will need to beat Thomas if they want to win this game and if you recall, the Flyers were shut out once before this season by a hot goaltender in Carey Price only to face him again just six days later and were able to finally get one and another and another, beating the Montreal Canadiens by a score of 3-2. Hopefully the Flyers can solve Thomas and will walk away with the win this time.