Flight Plan week of 01.16.2011

The Philadelphia Flyers did pretty decently on last week’s road trip going 2-1-0.

Their loss to the Boston Bruins was a bit hard to swallow but the team were absolutely able to wipe it from their memories by the time they arrived in Atlanta to face the Atlanta Thrashers the next day and won by a decisive 5-2 score. 

The Flyers have four games this week and have five games coming up in their next eight days. Normally this would be a good thing for a team that clearly plays better when they have a bunch of games together rather than having a bunch of time off between games, but the issue comes with who these games are against. The Flyers have two potentially low or no emotion games smack dab in the middle of three high emotion games.

The first two games this week are against the New York Rangers and the Washington Capitals and the game next Sunday will mark the return NBC’s Game of the Week as the Flyers faceoff against the Chicago Blackhawks in a 2010 Stanley Cup Finals rematch game, the only meeting between the two clubs this season. Anyone who follows this team knows that they will be up on their skates for the Rangers, Capitals, and Blackhawks, but with the other two games this week against the Ottawa Senators and the New Jersey Devils, opponents who are both out of the playoff picture and continuing to fall further out of the running for a spot in the top eight in the East, the Flyers may have trouble putting forth their best effort against those teams.

Alas, the Cup is won in June and not in January and well the Flyers will probably continue to play like they have been all season, up and down within games, but fairly consistently both winning and getting their points.

Danny Briere was not elected as a representative for the Flyers to go to the 2010-2011 NHL All-Star Game in Raleigh, North Carolina, but I’m not sure anyone really cares all that much being as that he has been just about the hottest player in the Eastern Conference, if not the league, over the past two weeks registering six goals and five assists for 11 points in his last six games.

The only Flyer going to Raleigh with Head Coach Peter Laviolette is one Claude Giroux who finally broke a 10 game goalless drought with a goal against the Atlanta Thrashers.  Another bonus is that domineering and devious defenseman Chris Pronger is on his way back sooner rather than later most likely as he has resumed skating with the team but hasn’t been cleared for contact drills just yet. Pronger probably won’t be back with the team in a game until after the All-Star break unless they go into some sort of small tailspin over the next few games and give up five or six goals a game to the Rangers, Capitals, and Senators, so I would wager the earliest he sees ice-time in a game is either in the game against the Blackhawks or the last game before the All-Star break which will see the Montreal Canadiens come to town.

New York Rangers:
01.16.2011 at 7 p.m. in New York

The Rangers, as unbelievable as it may seem, are just six points out of the top spot in the Atlantic Division and therefore the Eastern Conference as the Flyers have maintained their lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins which is currently at a whopping one point, though with two games in hand as it were. 

The Broadway Blueshirts get their points and have put together a pretty good season thus far as Head Coach John Tortorella has pushed all the right buttons and may have gotten some help from the other two teams, the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders, in the Atlantic Division being so bad.  Not to take anything away from the Rangers though, they have fought through some tough injuries and have stayed right in the race for the Atlantic and the East and will more than likely be in the playoffs.

The Rangers have relied primarily on their hard working attitude and their depth at all positions to win games as well as their netminder Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers have no players with over 40 points on their team, but quite a few players who have twenty plus points and that is generally why they’ve been winning games. 

They feature seven players with 20 or more points and six players with 10 or more goals.  The thing about the Rangers is they really only have two superstars and while one of them can’t score goals in Lundqvist, the other is oft-injured, though electric when available, Marian Gaborik.

Now…about those injuries.  Gaborik hasn’t been as imperative to the Rangers as a whole this season as he’s missed a good bit of time (14 games overall) and the Rangers have managed to win games without him as well as Vinny Prospal and Chris Drury. Drury and Gaborik have returned to the lineup, but Prospal has suffered a setback in his rehab process and will likely miss more time.

The most recent Ranger to go out was Alex Frolov who will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. Ryan Callahan, who had been having a real good season, broke his hand back on the 15th of December in a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. In lieu of all of these injuries to forwards, the Rangers dealt defenseman Michal Rozsival to the Phoenix Coyotes for Wojtek Wolski and that should help soften the blow of losing Frolov a bit. With all of these guys going in and out of the lineup, the one steady and sure scorer the Rangers have had is Brandon Dubinsky who has put up 17 goals and 21 assists for 38 points.

Lundqvist has been good for the Rangers as he is tied for the league lead in shutouts with Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins, both goalies have held the line for 60 minutes six times this season.  Lundqvist also has a 19-14-3 record, a 2.27 GAA, and a .922 SV%.

This should be a pretty high energy game for the Flyers as they probably want to make a statement as to who the best team in the Atlantic Division is.

Washington Capitals:
01.18.2011 at 7 p.m. in Philadelphia

The Washington Capitals have had an up and down season to say the least this year though they have remained right in the running for both the Southeast and Eastern Conference Crown.

They are 5-2-3 over their last 10 games and have 55 points which is second to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 57, though the Caps have played one less game than the Lightning so that makes things very interesting. When you look at the Southeast it’s funny because the Capitals have hit some harder times than usual this season as the other teams in the division have gotten better, and that might be a definite plus for them and a huge minus for everyone else in the Conference.

The Capitals have not faced much adversity in the regular season and when you couple that with a first round exit last year, if the Caps make the playoffs and don’t win the division, I don’t think there should be too many teams lining up to face them in the first round.

Washington boasts three big names on their roster and oooh boy are they big. Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Ovechkin, and Alexander Semin are three of the best players in the league. Although Ovechkin is the leading scorer on the team with 45 points, he has not been as much of a force as far as goal scoring is concerned this year as in years past. For the first time in his career in the NHL he is on pace to score less than 40 goals during the regular season, but will still likely wind up being a point a game player. Part of the reason his totals have dropped is that Backstrom’s point totals have tailed off a bit as well, he only has 40 points in 45 games which is irregular for him considering for the past two seasons he has averaged more than a point per game.  Semin rounds out the top three threats on the Capitals and is currently their leading goal scorer with 18 goals.

After those three, point production from everybody drops off significantly, but the Capitals get key goals from key players when they need it and that’s why they win games. Jay Beagle, John Carlson, Matt Hendricks, and Brooks Laich each have two game winning goals and there are eight other players with one game winning goal to their credit. Ovechkin has five himself. Former Flyer Mike Knuble is lurking just around the corner, too.

I would look for this game to be a pretty high tempo game, but it’ll probably be more of a defensive battle than you would think given the talented scorers on both teams.

Ottawa Senators:
01.20.2011 at 7 p.m. in Philadelphia

The Ottawa Senators have hit some really hard times all season long. They just can’t win games at all. Head coach Cory Clouston was probably the main reason that this team was able to get to the playoffs last year, but it seems his players have not gotten the message this year.

The Sens currently have 40 points and sit in 13th place in the Eastern Conference overall. They are only one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs and two points behind the Buffalo Sabres in the Northeast Conference, the problem is that they are all out of the playoffs by at least eight points right now.  Ottawa is just 3-5-2 in its last ten and are tied with the Edmonton Oilers for the second ugliest goal differential in the entire league at a minus-38.  It’s just unbelievable that they are just 10 points out of the 8th spot despite having allowed so many more goals than they’ve scored.

The Senators currently have no players over 30 points and only four players with 20 points or more. Captain Daniel Alfredsson has just 27 points (14 goals, 13 assists) while young defenseman Erik Karlsson is second on the team in scoring with 26 points (eight goals, 18 assists). Jason Spezza and defenseman Sergei Gonchar both have an even 20 points and it just gets worse from there. To have only two offensive players who’ve registered over 20 points, 45 games into the season isn’t gonna win you a whole lot of hockey games. You better hope your goaltender is capable of shutting teams out, a lot and the Senators don’t have any help at all in net.

Four goalies have played in net for the Senators this year, three guys have started games, and the one with the lowest goals-against is Robin Lehner with a 2.55 GAA. He has started one game so far and has one win to his credit as well, but his .882 SV% is pretty bad.  Brian Elliot owns a 12-15-5 record, has recorded three shutouts, but his .900 SV% doesn’t give the Senators too good a chance at winning games and his brutal 3.09 GAA is just plain awful. Pascal Leclaire has won four games, lost seven in regulation, and one in overtime to go along with some equally disastrous numbers like his .908 save percentage and his 2.83 GAA. Mike Brodeur has fared no better than any other goalie who has been between the pipes for Ottawa this season as he has not started a game but in his 64 minutes, he has accrued a .885 SV% and a 2.81 GAA. Needless to say that the Senators could probably put a cone in front of the net and it might do better than any of the aforementioned four.

The Flyers might not be able to get up for a team that stinks this badly, but even if they don’t really play all that hard, they can probably get a win here and for all intents and purposes should.

New Jersey Devils:
01.22.2011 at 1 p.m. in Philadelphia

The Devils have not done a whole lot better under new old coach Jacques Lemaire. They’re still at the bottom of the barrel in the league with 27 points. They have just 12 wins. They have a minus-53 goal differential.

Do I really need to preview this game for you? If the Flyers don’t win this one, it’s a really bad sign, even if they’re conserving their collective energy for a revenge game against last year’s Cup Champs. They need to earn two points from this game, no if’s and’s or but’s… Maybe some butts, but only if they lose because if they do, I’d bench everyone.