Flight Plan 04.03.2011

Sometime in June, anybody who cares about hockey played in North America will look back on the 2010-2011 season and try to analyze numbers and streaks and teams and players and everything.

All of them will search to find turning points and why a struggling team got it together or why a team that had been good all year fell apart or why a team that was good all year turned it up a notch in the playoffs and won it all. Right now, anything anybody says is purely speculation.

In June however, everything everybody says will be based on things that can occur over these remaining three or four or five games that every team has yet to play before the second season begins. The best part about this whole season is for the 16 teams that have fought and kicked and clawed their way into the playoffs, none of it matters. 82 games were played just to get to this point and by the time you get here, you’re exhausted, you’re beat, you probably just want to go home after a 7 month long marathon and yet, you’ve got to play the most important games of the whole year in a two month span.

Right now, the Philadelphia Flyers have a chance to get things going with four games remaining and only two of them are against playoff teams. 

The Flyers have struggled, again, of late and as a result have fallen out of first place in the Eastern Conference for the first time since the first month of 2011. They are currently one point behind the Washington Capitals and they would do well to win these last four games in order to lock up the top spot, because even if they have played better on the road this season as stated above, the playoffs are a completely different season and it doesn’t matter how good of a road team you’ve been all year if when mid-April rolls around and you can’t find your road game.

The Flyers will play games against the New York Rangers, the Ottawa Senators, the Buffalo Sabres, and finally the New York Islanders to cap off what has been an truly remarkable season.

To date, they have no players who are point a game players and yet, they have the top spot in the league. To date, they have no shutouts, yet hold the most regulation wins in the Eastern Conference. To date, they have seven 20-goal scorers. To date, they have the most goals scored in the Eastern Conference. And to date, the Flyers have been very consistent in getting their points losing all points available just 22 times all year which is only four behind the top seeded team in the league in the Vancouver Canucks. It has been a pretty wild ride and hopefully will continue for about two months and one week longer. 

New York Rangers:
04.03.2011 at 12:30 p.m. in Philadelphia

The New York Rangers are a good, hard-working team. This is just the type of team the Flyers need to face in order to get themselves ready for the playoffs as right now, they could be matched up against them in the first round. The Rangers however, are in danger of losing their hold over the eighth spot in the Conference to the Carolina Hurricanes who sit just one point behind them in ninth place.

There is no room for error for the Rangers, the Hurricanes, or the Buffalo Sabres who all sit within two points of each other right now. The Rangers have also gone 3-6-1 in their last 10 and have lost their last two in a row. They are also coming off two demoralizing losses as one of them came against the Sabres who took the 7th spot and then an embarrassing 6-2 loss to their Atlantic Division interstate rivals, the Islanders. 

With that said, the Rangers have a lot of balance in their offense and count on everyone to chip in and have 18 players with at least one game winning goal. Right winger Ryan Callahan leads the team in that category with four and one of the most talented right wingers in the game in Marian Gaborik is just one behind him with four. The Rangers make no bones about how they get most of their wins though as they often lie on the shoulders of Henrik Lundqvist who currently leads the entire league in shutout victories with 11.

On top of all that, Lundqvist has been pretty much going it alone over the past four weeks as backup netminder Martin Biron has been out with a broken collarbone suffered in a practice. That’s probably part of the reason Lundqvist allowed four goals on 22 shots to the lowly Islanders before being replaced by interim backup Chad Johnson, who allowed two goals on 10 shots in his first NHL action of the season and just sixth appearance ever. 

The Flyers will likely want to repent for sins committed over their last two games as well as for the club’s most egregious defeat of the season at the hands of these very same New York Rangers back on March 6th, a 7-0 loss which also happened to have been nationally televised. 

Ottawa Senators:
04.05.2011 at 7:30 p.m. in Ottawa 

The Ottawa Senators will not make the playoffs and they’ve known that for awhile now. The Flyers will likely have trouble getting up for this team that has been mostly ripped apart by management leading up to this year’s trade deadline.

The Flyers’ last game against these Senators came as a 4-1 loss primarily due to new Ottawa netminder Craig Anderson who was absolutely stellar, stopping 25 of 26 shots including turning away all five Philadelphia power plays. Anderson has posted a 9-5-1 record, two shutouts, a .913 SV%, and a 2.06 GAA since coming to the Senators via trade with the Colorado Avalanche.  

The Senators will be a mentally tough challenge for the Flyers to see if they truly are ready to look at every game as just one game which is what made the club so successful since last year’s run to the Stanley Cup Finals. 

Buffalo Sabres:
04.08.2011 at 7:30 p.m. in Buffalo  

The last time these two teams met, the Buffalo Sabres mounted a comeback and scored three straight goals to gain the lead and topple the Flyers in the first of a back to back with Eastern Conference New York state teams. The Flyers lost the second half to the New York Rangers in an aforementioned, yet absolutely more abysmal, 7-0 loss.

The Sabres are a team that again relies mostly on their speed and everybody to chip in to get their goals, as they have just three players with 20 plus goals on the season and 16 players with at least one game winning goal. Starting goaltender Ryan Miller is currently listed as day-to-day with an upper body injury leaving 22 year old rookie Jhonas Enroth to probably start as he has started the last two games for the Sabres, gaining points for his team in both with a big shutout victory over the Rangers and a 30 save overtime loss to the Capitals.

The Flyers will have to match Buffalo’s speed or find a way to slow the game down and without the services of big Chris Pronger, this  could be a real challenge for this Flyers team as this is yet another playoff opponent who they could likely face in the first round.

New York Islanders:
04.09.2011 at 7 p.m. in Philadelphia 

To cap off their regular season the Flyers will play a team they have not suffered a loss to all season in the New York Islanders.

This is a team that the Flyers just flat out beat just about every time. They don’t always have the better effort of the two, but they always tend to have the upper hand in the goal column over the past three years or so and this year especially, the Flyers have been able to beat the Islanders when they are playing their best hockey of the season and trying to turn things around.

Being as that this is the last game of the season for both team, I think the only thing the Islanders can take away from this game is possibly the Flyers’ bid for the top spot in the Eastern Conference which could be a stepping stone or some kind of building block for next year. The Islanders have gone 3-5-2 in their last 10 and will most likely lose this game as they are a horrendous 13-19-7 on the road this year.

The Flyers will absolutely need to win this game to lock up first place in the Eastern Conference and should do so if they want to end the season on a high note. Of course this game has less riding on it, but is still pretty important when you factor in that the Flyers will have to likely win all of their remaining games to win the conference.