Flight Plan week of 02.06.2011

Consistent.

If you’re a Philadelphia Flyers fan, over the past four years, you have never seen that word associated with the team you love. “Up and down” or “streaky” or “just plain bad” at times “unbelievably good” at times, but never were any of the teams over the past four years “consistent”.

This team is the definition of consistent. They don’t win too many games in a row, they don’t lose too many games in a row, but they consistently show up and consistently get their points and that’s why they have the most wins of any team in the entire NHL right now.

They are, if nothing else, consistent.

And most of that is probably due to the fact that they’re confident, not cocky (well maybe a little). The Flyers believe they can win every game largely because they expect to win every game and vice versa.

You go back to that place last year in May when the Flyers were down and out against the Boston Bruins, 0-3 in a seven game series and somehow since then, they’ve just been the most resilient and consistent and confident team in the entire league. The only problem this team has is that they very rarely dictate the game. They let other teams get comfortable in a style and then they apply their game to the team they’re playing. That’s fine in the regular season, but when they get to the playoffs they absolutely must dictate the games like they did after they went down 0-3 against the Boston Bruins.

When you look at it though, aside from confidence and consistency, expectation and belief, the Flyers are successful this season because of their depth at all positions.

Right now the Flyers have one player at 50 points (Claude Giroux), three players with 40 or more points (Danny Briere, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards), two players with 30 or more points (Scott Hartnell, Ville Leino), and four players with 20 or more points (Matt Carle, Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, James van Riemsdyk). They also have two 20 goal scorers (Danny Briere, Jeff Carter), and  six guys with 10 or more goals (Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, Ville Leino, Mike Richards, James van Riemsdyk, Nikolay Zherdev).

With all that depth, matching up against this team is a nightmare especially now that the Carter-Giroux-Zherdev line has started to click. Over the past five games, these five have combined for 18 points and seven goals including a game winning goal against last year’s Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. The Flyers now have two lines that are real scoring threats in this line and the Second Chance Line of Hartnell-Briere-Leino , and the fact that Mike Richards’ line with Andreas Nodl and van Riemsdyk is able to put pucks in the net as well as play against the best lines opposing teams throw out there is just a bonus.

Carter and Giroux have found some chemistry of late and Carter has 9 goals and 14 points in his past 11 games while Giroux has only three goals but 14 points as well in that span. If they can continue to be consistent and develop chemistry, the Flyers could be well on their way to another deep post-season run. Another note on Carter is that he is Flyers forwards leading +21 and that is largely due to his play in the Flyers last 11 games where his +/- rating is a combined +13. Giroux is a +12 in that span.

The Flyers have two games this week: one against the (as of now) eighth place in the Eastern Conference Carolina Hurricanes and one against the Los Angeles Kings who, since playing the Flyers last, had completely fallen off the map but recently have gotten back on track and are 6-3-1 in their last 10 and now are sitting in the eighth place in the Western Conference.

Carolina Hurricanes:

02.10.2011 at 7 p.m. in Philadelphia

The Carolina Hurricanes have finally gotten into the playoff picture and are sitting in the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference. They are tied with the Atlanta Thrashers and have 58 points and by beating them in overtime, took the last remaining spot in the Conference from the Thrashers who had held it for the majority past few weeks. 

The Hurricanes are 5-5-0 in their last 10 and have scored 28 goals over that period. They are a high tempo team and have a good amount of weapons.

Right now team Captain Eric Staal has a team leading 53 points, 26 goals, and 27 assists. Under him there are two players with 40 or more points, two with 30 or more points, and four with 20 or more points. The Hurricanes also have seven players with 10+ goals, though only Staal has more than 20 goals.  Tuomo Rutuu and 18 year-old rookie Jeff Skinner are the guys with over 40 points as they both have 41. Rutuu has 12 goals and 29 assists while Skinner’s stats are more balanced as he has 18 goals and 23 assists.  The Hurricanes are deep at forward and can be very opportunistic. Their issue is that they don’t play great defense and leave former Conn Smythe winner Cam Ward to do most of the heavy lifting.

Ward has a decent 23-17-5 record, two of those 23 wins were shutouts, he also has a .920 SV% but a sorta high 2.72 GAA. The Hurricanes allow 33.9 shots per game which is bad enough for 28th in the league. Ward has to stop a lot of rubber that comes his way and he does a pretty good job of it. The Hurricanes have Justin Peters backing Ward Up and he is not a very good second option as he has a 3-4-1 record, a dismal .879 SV%, and an abysmal 3.88 GAA. You’re not going to win too many games if your goaltender is giving up almost 4 goals per game and stopping just 88% of the pucks coming his way. 

Carolina allows 3.02 goals per game and score 2.92 goals per game which probably largely accounts for their minus-5 goal differential. Having a negative goal differential is usually a bad sign and that seems to be the trend in the Southeast Division as only one team in the Washington Capitals has a respectable plus-13 goal differential.

The Tampa Bay Lightning, though they lead the division and are currently second overall in the Eastern Conference, have only a plus-1 goal differential, while the Florida Panthers have a minus-1 and the Thrashers are looking at a minus-20. YIKES!

However, it’s interesting to note that while the Atlantic Division last year had four teams vying for a playoff spot, this year the Southeast Division has four teams vying for a playoff spot.

In the two meetings this season, the Flyers have gotten both W’s and have scored a total of 11 goals against the Canes. The last game was an 8-1 drubbing and the Canes will probably want to atone for that aberration, so look for them to be a whole lot more competitive.

Los Angeles Kings:

02.13.2011 at 3 p.m. in Philadelphia

The Western Conference continues to have a logjam from spots four through 14 as those teams in spots four (Nashville Predators ) and 14 (Columbus Blue Jackets) are separated by only 10 points. One bad skid and one good skid means a world of difference and right the eighth and 12th spots are separated by only 4 points meaning just about every game, teams are going from being in the playoff picture to being on the outside looking in. 

As of this writing the Los Angeles Kings are on the inside looking out as they have sole possession of the eighth and final playoff spot.

The Kings and the Blackhawks are the only teams with a positive goal differential from spots six through 15 in the West, though most are close to even.   The Kings have good balance on their roster at all positions and are buoyed by a good young defense corps as well as two good young goaltenders though one is obviously having a much better year overall in Jonathan Quick.

Quick, in 39 games played in, has a 24-14-1 record, has recorded five shutouts, has a good .921 SV% and a real good 2.14 GAA.  Jonathan Bernier has had a rough season so far going 5-8-1, attaining a pretty bad .899 SV%, and owning an equally bad 2.84 GAA.

The Kings have a very impressive young defense corps that is largely responsible for Quick’s stats.  Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson, and Alec Martinez are all under 25 and are playing pretty good hockey right now. Johnson is an offensive Defenseman and leads all Kings defensemen in points with 37 (five goals, 32 assists).  Doughty is having a down year from last year, but he is still contributing as he has notched 28 points thus far and leads all Kings defensemen with six goals. The Kings depth up front though is often disregarded but they have a good amount of it.

Right now the Kings are led by center Anze Kopitar who has 50 points (16 goals, 34 assists).  Beyond him, the Kings have four players in double digits in goals, and a few forwards with 30 or more points, four to be exact.  Former Flyer Justin Williams is the only other King with more than 40 points as he has 42 points (19 goals, 23 assists). While the Kings will rarely wow you with offensive skill, they have a good amount of gritty guys who know how to find the back of the net. Dustin Brown, Ryan Smyth, and Jarett Stoll may not be household names, but they are all plus players right now and have scored over 14 goals.

The other thing to look at is who wins games for the Kings and well, just about everybody does.  The Kings have 11 roster players with at least one game winning goal and though Kopitar leads them with 5, it’s apparent that they have a lot of guys who can score key goals for them.

Expect the Kings to put forth a better defensive effort this game and really try to do a better job of denying easy access to the tough areas of the ice as they practically let the Flyers run all over them the last game in a 7-4 win which was Michael Leighton’s only appearance this season with the team.