Flight Plan week of 02.13.2011 One Day Removed

The Philadelphia Flyers finally get a win after a long layoff, beating the Carolina Hurricanes after four days off and how do they follow it up after another little layoff? A second shutout loss in just 12 days at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings.

Granted, this team has shown it plays better when they have a bunch of games packed into the schedule, but they should probably realize that teams looking up at the standings, and there are a lot of them, are going to be coming every game from about two weeks ago on out. 

The Flyers offense has also run a bit dry of late potting only eight pucks in five games. They probably just need to simplify the game and have their coach not tinker with something that isn’t broken, but who am I to say anything? After all I’m just a little old blogger writing weekly previews of the team for free (and fun of course).

However, the big news now is that the Flyers have dealt for Forward Kris Versteeg and that should help out Mike Richards get going or at least shut some other lines down going down the stretch here.

If anything, this loss should firmly cement in head coach Peter Laviolette’s head that his “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality is probably for the best.

The team may not be generating as many scoring chances as he would like or scoring a whole lot of goals or even playing all 60 minutes of a hockey game, but if they’re winning, why would you play with it? Another thing this loss could have done is make Laviolette realize that he should probably never dress Dan Carcillo and Jody Shelley on the same night without pulling Andreas Nodl out of the lineup for Nikolay Zherdev because if your concern is that the offense isn’t getting going, well you probably shouldn’t go ahead and take one of the most gifted offensive players on your team out.

In all fairness, Zherdev does have a combined three points in three games after his coach enforced absences this season so maybe there’s some good that’ll come of it and besides, it’s only two points in a game against a Western Conference team so  I guess in the grand scheme of things if you’re gonna try things like putting Claude Giroux between Mike Richards and Jeff Carter (who pretty much all looked like they had no idea where they were supposed to be all game) I suppose that’s a good time to try it. Now with the addition of Kris Versteeg, the Flyers have even more depth at forward and are certainly able to roll three lines no matter who he ends up playing with.

Either way, this week should be a good test as the Flyers face two Southeast Division teams in the hunt in the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Carolina Hurricanes, and one team just slightly out of it in the Florida Panthers — who currently sit seven points out of a playoff spot with 55 points good enough for 11th place in the East.

Since nobody is scoring all that much I guess we can talk about how the combined efforts of Sergei Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher have allowed just five goals in their last four games, of which each has started two. Your guess is as good as mine who will be in the nets the next game as both goalies seem to be on top of their game right about now and that’s a good thing when you’re not getting goal support.

The one thing I will say is that the Flyers have one thing going for them in that they are deep enough at each position it seems that when one part of their game isn’t going as well as they’d like, another part is going well enough to keep them competitive and possibly even win games like they did three out of the last four.

Tampa Bay Lightning:
02.15.2011 at 7:30 p.m. in Tampa Bay

The Tampa Bay Lightning have had the Flyers number all year, beating them in each and every one of the three meetings between the two teams this year and you gotta wonder if the Flyers are finally gonna wake up and play this team like it matters.

I don’t have any crystal ball or tarot cards but I’m hoping that I’m right in saying that they’re actually going to take this one seriously and instead of letting the Bolts set their lightning quick pace (cheesy, I know), the Flyers are going to do what they did to the Chicago Blackhawks a few weeks ago and play a very passive style and confuse the living daylights out of a team that seems to just know exactly what to do every time they see guys in Orange and Black on the rink opposite them.

And if losing all three games this season to this team isn’t enough motivation for the Flyers, perhaps the fact that the Lightning are only four points behind the Flyers in the standings will be enough to get their wheels turning a little quicker.

The Lightning are 8-2-0 in their last 10 and have been just as up and down as they have all season in their past five games, beating both the Carolina Hurricanes and the St. Louis Blues by a score of 4-3, then losing games to both the Washington Capitals and the Buffalo Sabres by the undesirable scores of 5-2 and 7-4 respectively and of course the Bolts beat the Flyers 4-0 just last two Tuesdays ago. 

The Lightning are at an even zero when it comes to goal differential and they’ve been around that number all year long. Typically that’s a very telling stat, but the fact that they’ve scored 172 goals in addition to allowing 172 goals is a pretty crazy number that could obviously go either way, and it has for them as they’ve also racked up 73 points in the process.  Their offense, at times, can be very potent and that’s mostly attributed to their top two lines and it’s stars: Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, and Steven Stamkos.  Lecavalier has put up respectable numbers this year.

In 40 games, Lecavalier has notched 12 goals and helped on 14 others for 29 points. Not bad when you consider he broke his hand in November and was out a month. Martin St. Louis has been phenomenal all season long and most of Stamkos’ success, much like last year, can be contributed to St. Louis’ contributions. St. Louis has 20 goals and 46 assists for 66 points on the year. The little guy who is extraordinarily generously listed at 5’8” 176 lbs also has five game winners.

And then there’s league leading goal scorer and point getter Steven Stamkos. He only has 40 goals on the season and 34 assists for 74 points, in just 56 games. He also has six game winning goals. St. Louis has no goals in any of the three games against the Flyers this year, but he has put up nine points in assisting guys, like Stamkos who has five goals, in those same three games.

That’s just a staggering number so I have to repeat it here. Nine points. Three games. That’s three points a game. Though the offense isn’t always churning for the Lightning, sometimes they have to rely on other guys, like say recent acquisition Dwayne Roloson.

Roloson was still around when guys, or at least one guy, didn’t wear helmets as he played his first games in the NHL as the last guy to not wear a helmet in the league in Craig MacTavish played his last. Roloson was 27 years old then. Now he’s 41. But Roloson didn’t look too old a few weeks ago when he shut the Flyers out, stopping 38 shots in a game where the Flyers were completely asleep from beginning to end. In fact, since coming to the Lightning, Roloson has all four of his shutouts this year and has posted pretty good numbers from his record of 9-5-0, to his SV% of .913, even to his GAA of 2.63.

All in all, if the Flyers wanted a game to prove they can beat any team in the East, this is the team to do it against being as that they haven’t yet. Hopefully they come out with a concentrated effort and can shut the Bolts down for the first time all season.

Florida Panthers:
02.16.2011 at 7:30 p.m. in Sunrise

The Florida Panthers are a deceptively tough team to play against. Though being in 11th place, they actually have only allowed two more goals than they have had scored against them. The Buffalo Sabres are the only other team not in the playoff picture who have a similar goal differential at just one click better with a minus-1. 

The Flyers have split the season series with the Panthers thus far as they won the first game 5-2 and then lost the second game 5-0. The Flyers only put 25 pucks on net during that pre-Christmas debacle and were shut out by goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who is probably the biggest reason why the Panthers have allowed just 148 goals against this season.

Vokoun owns a 19-18-4 record while posting five shutouts, a .922 SV %, and a pretty good 2.52 GAA.  His backup, Scott Clemensen, has a 5-5-3 record with a .919 SV% and a 2.46 GAA. This tandem has been good for the Panthers and obviously Vokoun is one of the best goalies in the league. He has been on bad teams for most of his career, glimpsing playoff hockey just twice in his time in the NHL and going out in the first round on both occasions.

Survey says, as it has said for the past two years, that he may be dealt by the trade deadline if GM Dale Tallon can find a good return for the goaltender as the Panthers are absolutely in a rebuilding phase. Then again, there aren’t too many teams that can take Vokoun and give something back without upsetting team chemistry or actually even need a goalie, but if the Panthers are unable to ship him out, then they’ll have missed out more than likely because he more than likely won’t re-sign with the Panthers after this season as he is a UFA.

The Panthers don’t have a lot of offensive or defensive talent to speak of, but they do have five players with 10 goals or more, and one of them is Stephen Weiss who co-leads the team with David Booth and Mike Santorelli in goals with 15, is co-leader in assists as well with defenseman Dennis Wideman with 22, which accounts for his team leading 37 points. Pretty low number since Weiss has played 54 games this season. Wideman is second on the team in points overall with 30, then Santorelli clocks in with 29 points as he has 14 assists accompanying his 15 goals, and the aforementioned Booth has helped on 13 of his teammates goals for 28 points overall.

The biggest problem is that all of these guys in this paragraph are in the red when it comes to rating and are a combined -42 on the season. That’s a tough number to stomach when you’re looking at the top scorers on your team.  But the Panthers did just trade right winger Michael Frolik and goaltending prospect Alexander Salak in exchange for the Blackhawks’ Jack Skille, Hugh Jessiman, and David Pacan. Skille has yet to register a point with the Panthers yet as Frolik is yet to register a point with the Blackhawks as well. However, Skille has seen his ice-time increase from not a whole heck of a lot to nearly 20 minutes a game, which could see him become more productive.

The Panthers always come to play against the Flyers and it should be a good game.

Carolina Hurricanes:
02.16.2011 at 8 p.m. in Raleigh

The Carolina Hurricanes currently sit in 8th place in the East and need all of the points they can get currently. They have 62 points and are a mediocre 4-4-2 in their last 10 but have won two key games against their Eastern Conference and Southeast Divisional rivals, the Atlanta Thrashers, in the past two weeks.   The Hurricanes boast a pretty good offense but are pretty bad defensively and rely way too much on All-Star goaltender Cam Ward as they allow 34.0 shots a game, even which is 30th, or dead last, in the entire league.

Ward owns a good 24-18-7 record, posting two shutouts on the way to those 24 wins, holding a decent .920 SV%, and a high 2.72 GAA.  Those numbers are still good enough for the high-powered ‘Canes to win games being as that they have a whole bunch of guys that can score.

The Hurricanes have a lot of depth at forward and make no bones about that. They are an offensive team and play an up-tempo style on most nights.  The ‘Canes are led by Captain Eric Staal in both goals, 27, and points, 56, and his 29 helpers are second only to winger Tuomo Ruutu who has 30 assists on the year.  Staal is followed by rookie Jeff Skinner who has 21 goals and 24 assists for 45 points. The above mentioned Ruutu has just 13 goals to go along with those 30 assists for 43 points and left winger Jussi Jokinen has 12 goals and 26 assists for 38 points though he is out with a lower body injury and is not expected back for a bit. Erik Cole also has 16 goals and 18 assists for 34 points.

The ‘Canes also have three forwards with 20 points or more and seven forwards with at least 10 goals.

In the last game, there was a bit of physicality and nastiness between Flyers Defenseman Braydon Coburn and rookie Center Jeff Skinner so we’ll see if there are any hard feelings lingering between those two or the teams when they come together next Friday night in North Carolina.