Flight Plan week of 03.27.2011

Two out of three ain’t bad… If you win that is.  

Unfortunately for the Philadelphia Flyers, they lost two of their three games this past week as they continue to struggle with consistency issues within games and positionally. The Flyers, as a team, played one of their better games in the second half of the season against the Washington Capitals, however the performances by both starting goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and relief goaltender Brian Boucher were lackluster to say the least.

Still, the Orange and Black were able to skate off the ice with one of the two available points to them and kept their lead over Washington in the standings, despite losing in the shootout. Then on Thursday, Sergei Bobrovsky was everything and more for the Fly Guys as he stoned the Pittsburgh Penguins leftways and rightways and upways and downways and sideways and slideways to give his team a chance to win. Unfortunately, another point went by the wayside as he was beaten in the shootout for the team’s second consecutive shootout loss.

Finally, yesterday the Flyers were able to beat a New York Islanders team who will not make the playoffs this year by a score of 4-1. And while Bobrovsky was sharp again, allowing just one goal on 37 shots, the team didn’t exactly turn in their most energetic and forceful effort of the season.

On the upside, sophomore skater James van Riemsdyk got himself within one goal of the 20-goal mark with his first NHL hat trick. Jeff Carter also notched his 34th goal of the season and Claude Giroux added two assists to bring his point total to 70 on the season. On JVR’s third goal, the Flyers were able to capitalize on their only power-play chance of the game so maybe that’s a sign things are looking up for both van Riemsdyk and the power play as it’s been terrible all year long. 

The Flyers will have to sharpen their game up in a hurry this week as they play the Boston Bruins at home today, the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, the Atlanta Thrashers at home on Thursday, and then their final game against divisional opponent the Devils in Newark on Friday.

It should be a pretty good benchmark week as the Flyers play two possible later round playoff opponents and a team they have struggled with the last two seasons, to see if the kinks are really getting worked out or if there needs to be some major readjustments going into April.

Boston Bruins:
03.27.2011 at 7 p.m. in Philadelphia 

The Bruins have been up and down for the better part of the last two weeks as they’ve gone 3-4-3 in their last 10. Claude Julien’s club made some real big moves going into this year’s trade deadline, adding much sought after defenseman Tomas Kaberle from the Toronto Maple Leafs, center Rich Peverley from the Atlanta Thrashers, and center Chris Kelly from the Ottawa Senators although none of these additions have really had too much of an impact on the scoresheet thus far. 

Kaberle, despite becoming the Bruins top scoring defensemen as soon as he was dealt, has only six points (one goal, five assists) in 16 games for his new team, while Kelly has only two assists for two points in that same amount of time, and Peverley has added two goals and two assists in his 15 games as a Bruin. These may prove to be valuable additions come playoff time, but right now, they’re not helping the Bruins too much in the box score. 

On the upside for the Bruins, their goaltending has been spectacular both of late and pretty much the whole season as Tim Thomas has allowed 22 goals in his last 10 games and Tuukka Rask has allowed 27 goals in his last 10 but also racking up a five game win streak in the process including winning six of those games and helping the Bruins get points in seven of those games.

The big thing about both of these guys allowing less than three goals per game on average over their last 10 appearances in net is that definitely gives their team a chance to win as they’ve averaged 3.03 goals per game over the course of the year. It helps that they don’t see a ton of shots, but at the same time, Rask and Thomas are both quality goaltenders and have and will steal games as they both have a number of shutouts for their team as eight of Thomas’ 31 wins are by way of blanking the opposition while Rask has two shutout wins out of 10 total.

The Bruins will beat you if you don’t show up and can play to any style or tempo, so it’s important for the Flyers to try to get their game together against a team like this.

Pittsburgh Penguins:
03.29.2011 at 7 p.m. in Pittsburgh 

The Pittsburgh Penguins have a character team and showed that not only this past Tuesday, but the majority of the second half of the year as they’ve been without captain and leading scorer Sidney Crosby since early January. They’ve also been without their second best skater in Evgeni Malkin since early February as he played just one game after returning from a lower-body injury to go right back out for the rest of the year as he tore both an MCL and an ACL. 

The Penguins have not only remained competitive but have been able to keep the race for the Atlantic Division uncomfortably close as they currently sit just four points back from the Flyers, though they have played just one more game than their cross-state rivals. 

This will be the second time these teams have met in less than a week and there should be plenty of motivation on the Flyers’ side after they lost a game for which they largely didn’t show up, and needed their rookie goaltender to bail them out on numerous occasions throughout. It’s unfortunate that they had to let Sergei Bobrovsky weather the storm as the Flyers were outshot by a 31 to 20 margin including registering just five shots in the final period and no shots at all in overtime. The only goal that went by Bobrovsky during playing time was on a wicked wrist shot by Pittsburgh forward Tyler Kennedy as he sniped the short side corner on the Penguins first power play of the game. Eventually the Flyers went on to lose in the shootout as they never really got their game going even though they should have had plenty of motivation to try to close the game out in regulation or in overtime.

The Flyers will need to beat the Penguins in this last regular season meeting between the two teams if they want to show that they’re capable of knocking off another top contender for the Stanley Cup this year. 

Atlanta Thrashers:
03.31.2011 at 7 p.m. in Philadelphia 

The Atlanta Thrashers are still able to make the playoffs as they sit in 11th place with 74 points, but would need the New York Rangers, the Buffalo Sabres, the Carolina Hurricanes, and the Toronto Maple Leafs to lose the majority of their remaining games as well as winning the majority of their own remaining games.

It’s going to be pretty tough to say the least, but it’s a little bit easier because they are playing the Flyers on Thursday as they’ve beaten the Flyers two of the three times they’ve faced them this season. The Thrashers have a lot of talent at all positions though and will be a good challenge for the Flyers to see if they actually care about maintaining their number one overall position in both the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division.

The Thrashers’ biggest contributors are Andrew Ladd who leads the team in points and goals with 54 and 27 respectively. Dustin “Buff” Byfuglien is pretty close behind with 51 points and he is tied with Tobias Enstrom who also has 51 points despite playing only 68 games to Byfuglien’s 73. Bryan Little is currently third on the team in points with 43 and Evander Kane is third on the team in goals with 18. The Thrashers do have some balance on the offensive side of the puck though as they have nine players with 10 or more goals and eight players with 30 or more points as well as five of those players garnering over 40 points. 

The Flyers should beat the Thrashers, no questions asked, but will likely succumb to lazy play and a lazy attitude towards teams that are more than likely out of the playoff race, which is a shame because someone should really tell these guys that two points are two points no matter how you slice them.

New Jersey Devils:
04.01.2011 at 7 p.m. in New Jersey

 The New Jersey Devils are one of the hottest teams in the league despite going 4-5-1 in their last 10. They’re not completely out of the race for the eighth spot in the East but they, like the Thrashers, would need a lot of teams above them, including the Thrashers, to lose while they win most of their games going forward.

That’s not to say that they don’t have a lot of things to be proud of this year being as that they were without their perennial leader over the past three years in Zach Parise for just about the whole season as he played just 12 games before going out with a torn meniscus. The first half of the year for the Devils was so terrible that I wouldn’t even bother previewing the games really because it was almost a given two points anytime any other team faced them, but they’ve really come on during the second half largely due to the defensive style that coach Jacques Lemaire has instilled and the revitalized play of Ilya Kovalchuk.

Kovalchuk has had a down year, no doubt, but is the Devils’ leader in probably the most important category for a pure goal scorer in that of his 27 goals overall, nine of them have decided a game for his team and have put a tally up in the win column.  The only guy above him on the team in terms of points is Patrik Elias who has 53 points to Kovalchuk’s 52.

Another big help for the Devils in the second half has been the improved play of both goaltenders Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg. Brodeur has six shutouts on the season but has added three of them since January 20th while Hedberg has three shutouts and has added two of them in his last five starts. In fact, you don’t see a whole lot of goals being allowed by either goaltender in their last 10 starts as Brodeur has allowed three just two times and Hedberg just once over that span. It’s a pretty remarkable turnaround for a team who was absolutely awful for the first half of the year. 

The thing about the Devils is they play a playoff-style of hockey whose bedrocks are blocking shots, limited chances, and tight checking. They’ll either beat you 2-1 or they’ll lose 2-1. The Flyers should really get down to business as it’s one of only five regular-season games in April for them.