Flight Plan Week of 12.19.2010

The Flyers are on a five-game winning streak. They’re 7-1-2 in their last 10. They have the highest goal differential in the entire NHL with a +35, which they lead every team in that category by at least nine goals. They have scored an Eastern Conference leading 117 goals in 34 games. And above all, they lead their division, their conference, and the whole league with 49 points. Bottom line: the Philadelphia Flyers are a good team, at least up till now. The Flyers have one more game before Santa comes and they’re looking for a stocking stuffer of two points against a team that they’ve been just okay against in the past few years in the Florida Panthers which is their only game before an eight-day break from action.

Nikolay Zherdev has been smolderingly hot as he has six goals and seven points in his last five games. That is in large part due to his presence on a new line combination with Jeff Carter and James van Riemsdyk who, up till recently, have been having mediocre years. It’s almost as if Peter Laviolette tries to put guys together that are struggling, tells them to play better, and they just do. This line, if it continues to stay hot, could be seen as the Flyers’ second second-chance line. Jeff Carter has five points in his last five games and James van Riemsdyk has four points in his last five.

Florida Panthers:
12.20.2010 at 7 p.m. in Philadelphia

The Florida Panthers are not a great team. They are just okay. But, even though they are out of the playoff picture and figure to remain that way through the rest of the season, the Panthers are the only team in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference to score more goals than they’ve allowed to date with a +2 goal differential. That indicates that they’re only losing games by a goal or two on most nights, and when they win they’re winning by the same margin. The Panthers aren’t real deep up front, but they can score goals if you let them as the Sabres found out by way of a 6-2 loss last Friday.

The Panthers’ best asset has to be goaltender Tomas Vokoun. He is exactly at .500 for the season so far as he owns a 12-12-0 record, has a decent 2.48 GAA, a pretty darn good .921 SV %, and has posted three shutouts. Vokoun is a huge reason for the Panthers having that +2 goal differential and being in the last year of his contract, it looks like he might get dealt at the deadline as Florida GM, and Chicago Blackhawks architect, Dale Tallon will want to try to get some pieces in order to build the Panthers into a winning team. The Flyers’ biggest enemy going into this game however, has to be themselves.

Far too often at this time of year, the Flyers have failed to get points in games right before a break because they are already looking forward to the holidays. To be the best team in the league however, you need to play like it on just about every night and as Peter Laviolette has iterated and reiterated and re-reiterated over the course of this year: that is their goal. The Flyers need to not take this game lightly and get at least a point out of it because 50 points going into the Christmas break would be a pretty good present for their fans, no?