Every team in the NHL will go through lulls in their season where they won’t win games. They can play their best hockey of the season and still not get the bounces. For the Philadelphia Flyers, that isn’t the case. They’re playing terrible hockey. They’re not working harder than the other team. They’re not shutting teams down when they need to. They’re not scoring key goals. They’re not clicking on the power play. They can’t break out of the zone. They don’t get better, but worse as the game progresses. They just can’t keep their focus and right now they do not have the identity they’ve had since last season’s final regular season game. If you weren’t aware, that identity is of a team that thrives on adversity. A team that just won’t get down, even when every single odd is stacked so high against them, it would eclipse the Comcast Building. A team that won’t die until you kill them and have at least two medical professionals declare them dead AND get an autopsy report. That’s the Flyers team that most people who follow this league have come to know over the past year and they have about 18 games to get that identity back.
The good news is that Kris Versteeg seems to have found a groove playing with Mike Richards and the two combined for two goals against the Toronto Maple Leafs and were on the ice together for Versteeg’s third goal in two games yesterday on the power play against the Buffalo Sabres. Hopefully they can turn things around this week as the Flyers are extremely busy with four games in six days starting with the New York Rangers then moving on to the Edmonton Oilers, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and finishing up with the Atlanta Thrashers next Saturday.
New York Rangers:
03.06.2011 at 12:30 p.m. in New York
These two teams met exactly two weeks ago and played a game that was nationally televised on NBC for the Game of the Week. In that contest the Flyers got the upper hand on the New York Rangers, but only slightly, and eeked out a 4-2 victory. The Flyers held a two goal lead in the third period and let the Rangers score a goal late in the third to bring them within one before Kris Versteeg scored his first goal with the Flyers on an empty net. The Rangers are also in a bit of a funk recently and for a team that has consistently won games pretty much all year with a depleted lineup, they haven’t done as well recently going 5-5-0 in their last 10. They also hold only a one point lead on the Carolina Hurricanes for the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference, though they’ve played one more game than the Hurricanes, and a two point lead on the Buffalo Sabres who currently sit in ninth and have played three less games than the Blueshirts.
Bottom Line: the Rangers need these two points a lot more than the Flyers do and anyone would be a fool to not think they’ll come with everything they have, especially having not beaten the best team in the Eastern Conference once this year in four tries. For the Rangers, not much has changed in who leads the team as Brandon Dubinsky still has the most asssists and points with 24 and 43 respectively while Brian Boyle has taken over the goal lead being the first Ranger to hit the 20 goal plateau with 20 markers on the season. The Rangers are pretty balanced and rely on an uptempo forecheck to get the job done as well as just to flat out outwork their opponents. Their performance also lies heavy on the shoulders of Henrik Lundqvist who is right now the only option for the Rangers as Martin Biron is out for awhile with a broken collar bone. Lundqvist has eight shutouts to his credit as well as a .921 SV%, a 2.33 GAA, and 26 wins.
The Flyers need to try to get back to their old ways for this game and grind out a win here in New York to try to gain momentum for a week where they should pick up at least six out of the eight points available to them.
03.08.2011 at 7 p.m. in Philadelphia
The Edmonton Oilers currently, and almost all season, are dead last in the Western Conference standings and are only second to the Ottawa Senators as the worst team in the league. But don’t let that fool you as quite a few teams have lately. The Oilers have been playing their best hockey of the season lately and have a very young, and very talented roster. Right now, they’re led by the oft-injured Ales Hemsky with 42 points in 47 games while two other players have racked up as many points in many more games. Those two players are Sam Gagner and 2010 NHL Entry Draft first overall selection Taylor Hall. Hall leads the Oilers in goals with 22 which isn’t bad output on a bad team in your first year of professional hockey, especially when you’re only 19 years old.
The Oilers also have found some stability in 24 year old goaltender Devan Dubnyk who has won four of his last six starts and has given up more than three goals just once in those six games. For a team that doesn’t play a whole lot of defense (the Oilers have allowed 194 shots, or 32.3 shots per game in that six-game span) and is real young, that’s not bad and as the Oilers continue to rebuild, it would appear Dubnyk could be their guy.
This Oilers team will be a team to watch over the next few years and it should be, if nothing else, an entertaining game to view.
Toronto Maple Leafs:
03.10.2011 at 7 p.m. in Toronto
The Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Flyers by sheer will last game as they surprised the Flyers by overcoming two one-goal defecits and notching the final tally to win by a score of 3-2. The Flyers were outworked from the first period on and it was the start of the Flyers current three-game slide. The biggest problem for the Flyers in this game was staying out of the box as they racked up 18 minutes on the man disadvantage and although they did not give up a marker while shorthanded, the toll was taken as the Leafs took full advantage of the tired bodies that had been out there way too much during that game. The time on ice for the normal penalty killing crew members was high and reads like this:
Blair Betts: 10:24 (6:55 of which was shorthanded)
Matt Carle: 20:52 (3:11 of which was shorthanded)
Braydon Coburn: 20:16 (5:09 of which was shorthanded)
Claude Giroux: 22:09 (5:39 of which was shorthanded)
Ben Holmstrom: 8:06 (4:33 of which was shorthanded)
Chris Pronger: 22:31 (7:46 of which was shorthanded)
Mike Richards: 20:43 (5:13 of which was shorthanded)
Kimmo Timonen: 23:42 (6:55 of which was shorthanded)
Andrej Meszaros does log minutes on the penalty kill usually, but he was in the box for six minutes of shorthanded time against so his numbers on the PK were cut to just 1:40, though he still managed to log 19:23 of total ice time.
It should be noted however that the Leafs, although not red hot as some teams like the New Jersey Devils and San Jose Sharks have been, have been good enough lately to get points in nine of their last 10 games though posting only a 6-1-3 record over those games. They have also gotten within striking distance of a playoff spot and sit just four points out of eighth in the Eastern Conference race right now. Also a big plus for the Leafs down this last stretch here has been the play of James Reimer as he has allowed 23 goals in his last 546:36 of playing time which equates to a 2.52 GAA and his save percentage over that span has been a good .916. That’s good enough to give the Leafs a chance to win and they’ve been taking advantage of it for the most part.
The Flyers would probably like to have that game last week back so they should be fired up to play the Leafs.
03.12.2011 at 7 p.m. in Philadelphia
The Thrashers have been in a tailspin for awhile now. They’ve gone from a team with a shot at making the playoffs, or even a run, to a team with a shot at a lottery pick. They are 3-6-1 in their last 10 and have dropped to 11th in the East looking at a six point gap between them and the eighth and final playoff spot. This kind of thing is to be expected however when you have a team that was flirting with an even goal differential for much of the first half of the season. Without a way to tighten up defensively, when the goals stopped going in, the Thrashers started losing… Big time. Right now the Thrashers have allowed 30 more goals than they’ve scored and sit just three points ahead of the New Jersey Devils in the standings. That would be unbelievable had you looked at the standings 20 games ago, but alas, here we are and the hope of hockey becoming more prominent in one of the places it desperately needs to in order to stay there is shrinking by the hour.
As far as the team is concerned, Andrew Ladd has retaken the top spot on the Thrashers with 50 points and currently has 25 goals as he is absolutely having the best year of his seven year NHL career thus far. Dustin Byfuglien has been moved back to defense and has been great all season long as he sits just one point behind Ladd with 49 and has 19 goals to boot. Tobias Enstrom has a team high 40 assists and has potted eight pucks as well for 48 points on the year. Beyond those three, it’s a pretty balanced roster as six players have scored over 10 goals and five players have over 30 points on the year.
Ondrej Pavelic has somehow managed to keep his head above water this year as he has a .919 SV%, a 2.66 GAA, has posted an 18-18-8 record, and notched three shutouts. The problem for him is that when he doesn’t play, the pucks won’t stop going in. Chris Mason has an incredibly poor 3.43 GAA, a ghastly .896 SV%, a bad 9-10-3 record, with no shutouts. Peter Mannino, a call-up, in 73 minutes allowed five goals on 36 shots earning him a lowly .861 SV% and an Old-Yeller worthy 4.11 GAA. While not all of the goals may have been his fault, you can’t allow five goals on 36 shots in 73 minutes if you want to have any chance of playing in the NHL, even on a team like the Thrashers who has a spotty at best defensive game.
Either way, the Flyers should be primed to get two points in this game if they take it seriously as they have not lost to the Thrashers since last year where they lost every single contest between the two teams.