Flight Plan Week of 12.12.2010

As of writing this preview the Philadelphia Flyers have gotten five of the six points available through three of the four games thus far this week and will try for seven of eight against the Boston Bruins today. Unfortunately, the Flyers should have gotten all six of the points available however they coughed up a third period lead for the second time in two weeks and this was a little bit more distressing. The Flyers had a two-goal lead going into the final stanza and they even extended it to a three-goal lead when they promptly fell apart and allowed the San Jose Sharks, who are strong up front, to tie the game by scoring three unanswered third period goals.  Mike Richards almost scored at the end of overtime, but the goal was waved off as it was ruled it crossed the line after the period expired and the Flyers lost in a shootout for the third time this season. The good news is they got a point and of course you can’t win every game in an 82-game season, it’s just too long and too brutal of a road to even consider that happening, but when you’re up 4-1 with less than 15 minutes to go in a game, you have to win it and it’s just unacceptable.

The Flyers have their most important stretch of games in the past few weeks this week with games coming against playoff caliber teams. Two of the three games are against top teams in the Eastern Conference as the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Montreal Canadiens have been very good thus far this season, and especially good lately. The New York Rangers have hung in there, but they are still a pretty strong team as they currently have 35 points and are tied for the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference.

The good news this week is that Claude Giroux seems to be off his little skid with four points in his last five games, and points in three of his last five. Danny Briere now leads the team in goals with 16 and Mike Richards has taken the lead in points with 29. Briere also leads all forwards with a +16 rating and his line with Scott Hartnell and Ville Leino has a combined +46 rating and are responsible for 30 of the Flyers’ league leading 103 goals. The Flyers also have the best goal differential in the league with a +28.

Pittsburgh Penguins:
12.14.2010 at 7 p.m. in Philadelphia

To say the Pittsburgh Penguins have been on a tear is a vast understatement. They have won 11 straight and have done it on the back of one of the best players to ever play the game in Sidney Crosby. Playing against the Penguins can be a task, and it has been for the past few seasons, but playing against the Penguins while their captain and best player is even more of a chore. Crosby has points in every one of his last 17 games and during that run, the numbers are just plain staggering: 20 goals, 15 assists for 35 points. Over that period he has added 14 points to his plus-minus rating as well which shows he, and the team, are on top of every aspect of their collective game.

Marc-Andre Fleury seems to finally have regained his touch as well, and when these two guys are playing their best hockey, the Penguins are just one guy short of being nearly unstoppable. Fleury has won his last 10 starts for the Penguins, has a SV% of .941 over this stretch, and has allowed more than two goals just once meaning that he has a GAA of 1.59 over that period. If we excluded the one game where Fleury allowed four goals, Fleury’s GAA would be lowered to an unbelievable 1.34.

Facing the Penguins is always a good test for the Flyers and being as that the Penguins are now in sole ownership of the top spot in both the Eastern Conference and the entire league, it should be an even more important game because if both teams win or at least get points in their next game, these two will be playing for the lead in Atlantic Division, the Eastern Conference, and the NHL.

Montreal Canadiens:
12.15.2010 at 7:30 p.m. in Montreal

The Canadiens are leading the Northeast Division and with a win could move up to second in the Eastern Conference, despite only having 38 points to the Flyers’ 41.  The Candiens are 6-3-1 in their last 10 and are an interesting team. They rely on defense much more than offense as was seen in the prior to meetings between the Flyers and Habs where the Flyers were shutout in the first game, and then came dangerously close to being shutout for a second time in a game which mirrored the first in many ways. The Flyers were frustrated by the stalwart defense of the Canadiens after being outplayed and outshot in the first, launching a good amount of shots at netminder Carey Price (30 through two periods of play), yet remained unable to solve him until late in the second period. Ville Leino scored and the Flyers never looked back, scoring three unanswered to beat the Canadiens in regulation by a score of 3-2 at home in the Wells Fargo Center.

The Flyers will need to play a similar game, but if they got off to a better start, they would be better for it. They keep saying they realize that there are good teams in this league and they need to play from the drop of the puck to the final buzzer, but still take periods off all the time and rarely start a game with a lot of jam. The Canadiens have proven in both of the games this year, that they are a really good first period team and can shut teams down if they don’t get up for them.

New York Rangers:
12.18.2010 at 1 p.m. in Philadelphia

The Rangers are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games and have been playing pretty good hockey all season long, but have probably flown under most people’s radars who follow the Atlantic Division closely largely due to the fact that the Flyers and Penguins have been so good and the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders have been so bad. The Rangers, as mentioned above, have 35 points and are sitting in fifth place in the Eastern conference, but are more likely going to be in sixth place soon enough as the Boston Bruins have three games in hand over the Rangers. The Rangers score a fair amount of goals, they have 88 to their credit this season, but they give up a lot of goals against as they’ve allowed 80 and only have a +8 goal differential.

Henrik Lundqvist has been better recently, but had been having a sort of tough start to the season. Lundqvist seems to have been finding his groove as he now has four shutouts in 22 starts, a 12-10-1 record, a SV% of .917, and a GAA of 2.54. Former Flyer Martin Biron has been a steady backup posting a 5-2-0 record, a modest .911 SV%, and a decent 2.38 GAA in just 8 starts. Part of the reason the Rangers have allowed so many goals is they have been racked by injuries and are starting to get some of their guys back now. The 0ft-injured Marian Gaborik has played just 17 games, but has 17 points in his 17 games including two hat-tricks, however Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan have carried the team in Gaborik’s, captain Chris Drury’s, and Vinny Prospal’s absence posting 30 and 29 points respectively to lead the team in that category. Dubinsky leads the team with 13 goals, but not far behind is 25-year old center Brian Boyle with 11 goals.

The Rangers are a good team who can and will beat you in a number of ways, so the Flyers definitely need to take at least this game and the game against the Penguins if they want to continue to prove that they are amongst the elite teams in the NHL.