Flight Plan Week of 01.02.2011

The Philadelphia Flyers had a week that has been pretty uncharacteristic of this team through the 2010 part of the 2010-2011 Season as they’ve allowed a ton of goals. In just three games, they allowed 15 of their total 102 goals against.

Part of that can be contributed to the fact that one of their top four defensemen is out as Chris Pronger has a broken foot, and part of it can be contributed to Michael Leighton making his first start and shaking off some of the obvious rust he’s accumulated by missing much of the preseason and all of the season up till recently. Most of it is because they have just not played well enough in their own end to win games.

They haven’t been strong on the puck, they haven’t been moving their feet enough to get to loose pucks, and when playing high powered offensive teams like the Vancouver Canucks or teams with capable scorers like the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks, you’re going to give up chances and those teams may get goals and well they did get goals… A whole bunch of them.

With the Pittsburgh Penguins holding just a two point lead in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference standings, the Flyers could have taken advantage of two Penguins losses and moved into a tie for first with one game in hand if they had one either the game against the Canucks or the Ducks, but they couldn’t manage to put together a winning effort. With the Ducks game it’s a little bit understandable because they played less than 24 hours before and had a little bit of travel, but in all fairness, when you have a chance to take advantage of a team in the standings that’s above you and not only losing games but not playing well at all, you should really try your damndest to win a game.

The only notable thing to happen this past week was probably that Michael Leighton won his first game in the nets for the Flyers, though he did it in unimpressive fashion by not only allowing four goals, but four questionably soft goals including one that looked like Patrick Kane’s Stanley Cup Winner’s close relative. Oh and I guess we can mention that Jeff Carter is still very much on a hot streak with six points in his past five games, and a goal in each of his last two which moves him into a tie with Claude Giroux for second on the team with 16 lamp-lighters.

Detroit Red Wings:
01.02.2011 at 5 p.m. in Detroit

The Detroit Red Wings are banged up. They’re missing Pavel Datsyuk,  Dan Cleary, Mike Modano, and Patrick Eaves. That’s a whole lot of offense missing from a roster and that would totally explain why the Red Wings are leading the entire NHL in goals for with 131. They’re a very balanced team who drafts extremely well and well, that makes them dangerous. They’re also tied with Pittsburgh for the league lead in points, but have the edge as they have more goals and have two games in hand, much like the Flyers. If the Flyers win their game Sunday against the Red Wings, it would be a potential three-way tie for the league lead and depending on how many goals are scored by either team, the Flyers could have the tie-breaker. The Flyers have 128 goals and would need four in that game to take the league lead, and it will be tough as the Red Wings have one of the best defense corps in the NHL led by Bobby Orr’s only real rival Nicklas Lidstrom.

Lidstrom is the captain of the team and for good reason as he’s 40 years of age and as he’s proving this season, that doesn’t make one bit of difference. After a lot of talk about possibly retiring this past summer, Nicklas Lidstrom leads the Red Wings defense in scoring with 36 points (11 goals, 25 assists) and he’s looking just as good as he’s ever looked in his career.  It doesn’t hurt to have guys like Niklas Kronwall who is known for laying out players with huge hits or Brian Rafalski who is one of the best puck-moving defensemen in the game.  Jonathan Ericsson, Ruslan Salei, and Brad Stuart round out this blue-line bunch and they’re all guys who just about every team in the NHL would love to have on their squads.

Now the Red Wings offense isn’t in the best of health with all of those guys out that are listed at the beginning of this game preview, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have guys capable of putting the puck in the net.  Henrik Zetterberg is just incredible and he is leading the team with points with 43 (13 goals, 30 assists).   Johan Franzen is leading the team in goals with 17 and he has 13 assists as well to bring his point total to 30.  Franzen is a big man who makes his living around the net much like fellow Swede and Red Wing Tomas Holmstrom who has picked his game up lately and has six points in his last five games contributing three goals and three assists to his total of 19 points (10 goals, 9 assists). The name of the Red Wings game since the mid 90s has been puck possession and it’s a good strategy since it’s hard for opposing teams to put the biscuit in the basket when they have to run around the rink trying to get said biscuit to put in said basket.  But with all of the puck movers and puck handlers and puck putter-inners the Red Wings also have two good puck stoppers.

Jimmy Howard may not see a ton of rubber, but he sure does stop it enough to win games because he has a 20-6-3 record. That works out to be 43 points of the 53 points Detroit has accumulated through their 38 games. Nevermind his .909 SV% and 2.66 GAA, he stops the puck when he needs to and the Red Wings can rely on him to win games for them.  Howard also has two shutouts. Chris Osgood has a 4-3-2 record with a .903 SV% and a 2.84 GAA which are really mediocre, but in all fairness, we’re talking about a guy who has 400 wins, 50 shutouts, and three Stanley Cup wins to his credit, two of them coming as a starting goaltender, but all with the Red Wings and that means they obviously have plenty of confidence in him between the pipes.

The Flyers will most likely have to grind out a win here and they usually are pretty good at winning those types of games since Peter Laviolette has become the head coach of the team.

New Jersey Devils:
01.06.2011 at 7 p.m. in New Jersey
01.08.2011 at 1 p.m. in Philadelphia

This is the only home and home the Flyers have had and will have this season and it couldn’t have come against a better team. The Flyers absolutely own the New Jersey Devils, but most teams do this season. So much so in fact that the Devils, although taking way too long to do so, have fired rookie coach John MacLean and replaced him with a familiar face in last year’s coach Jacques Lemaire. Regardless of how bad the Devils have been this season, the Flyers could really use all four of these points and would do well to win both of these games so that they can at least make it seem like they want to stay atop the standings, at the very least, in their own division. Although you don’t play to win the Cup in January, you play to win it in June, it’s admittedly easier to do when you don’t have to get as many wins in enemy territory.

The Devils have Ilya Kovalchuk and Martin Brodeur. That’s really all the Flyers should worry about because there’s clearly no chemistry at all on this team and with Zach Parise likely to miss all of this season with a knee injury, everyone else is pretty inconsequential. Going into detail about just how bad this team is seems pretty unnecessary so we’ll just say that the Flyers should win these two games unless they don’t get up for them, which wouldn’t be a surprise at all either.