Flight Plan Week of 10.9.2011

The Philadelphia Flyers have started this season off with two solid wins over the Boston Bruins and the New Jersey Devils. To get out to a 2-0-0 start, is a good thing especially considering how those games were won. The Flyers were able to do two things that seemed either incredibly difficult or downright impossible last year. For one, they were able to get a lead in the first period after going down by one and then held on to win by a single goal for two periods. Secondly, they were able to get a shutout. Both of these wins have shown resilience and commitment to a system, not to mention a whole lotta chemistry.

There is clearly something there between Jaromir Jagr and Claude Giroux, but more importantly, something between Giroux and James van Riemsdyk as well. Giroux’ second goal of the season off a one-time feed from the big American winger, was purely a matter of two players knowing what the other was going to be and what they were going to do. It was a cycle play that had van Riemsdyk send Giroux a pretty pass through the legs of former Flyer forward Danius Zubrus, and as soon as it reached Giroux’ stick, it was in the back of the net. When that line gets going, as if it hasn’t already, they will be one of the most exciting lines in hockey. It’s also a good thing when your other lines contribute as rookie Matt Read, Wayne Simmonds, and Jakub Voracek all have goals already this year for their new team.

This week the Flyers will face their toughest tests so far with games at home against two potential Western Conference Finalists in the Vancouver Canucks and the Los Angeles Kings, who may have a face or two that Flyers fans will recognize.

Vancouver Canucks:
10.12.2011 at 7:30 PM in Philadelphia

What a way to start the season. The Flyers have been scheduled to face both of last year’s Stanley Cup Finalists within a week of each other. The Canucks have one of the deepest squadrons in the NHL at every position. The Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, are some of the best offensive forwards in the league and when you combine that with one of the best two-way centers in the game in Ryan Kesler, well that can spell trouble for just about any team. The Sedins routinely reach the 80 point mark, last year however, Henrik put up 94 points (19 goals, 75 assists), while Daniel posted a career high in all three scoring categories with 104 points, 41 goals, and 63 assists. Kesler on the other hand was a goal-scoring machine as he tickled the twine 41 times and wound up with 73 points overall (32 assists).

The Canucks also had plenty of support from their other cast members as six other players scored 10 or more goals, 10 players scored over 20 points, and two of them had an even 50 points on the year. Roberto Luongo was also able to keep the puck out of the net as he ended the year with a 38-15-7 record, a 2.11 GAA, and a .928 SV%. Even though he’s a bit of a head case, last year was a career year for the 32 year-old and he deserves the amount of praise he’s been given as a top-tier goalie based on those numbers.

The Canucks are a team that is capable of turning on the burners as much as they are capable of cutting teams off. Their defense corps led by Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa, is very deep and talented. Rounded out by the likes of Keith Ballard, Alexander Edler, Sami Salo, and second year defenseman Christopher Tanev, the Canucks defense is probably only a click or two under the Flyers’ as far as skill is concerned, though the Flyers defense is better at moving the puck.

Either way this should be a great game and the Flyers will likely have to grind out a win and keep the Sedins from working their magic in the offensive zone.

Los Angeles Kings:
10.15.2011 at 7:00 PM in Philadelphia

The Los Angeles Kings and the Philadelphia Flyers made one of the biggest trades in either team’s history over the summer. The Flyers parted with their captain of three years in Mike Richards for a big 6’2” winger in Wayne Simmonds and a potentially elite forward in Brayden Schenn. During the summer, the Kings also added former Flyer forward Simon Gagne who Richards has played with and together they make a dangerous combination on either side of the puck, in any situation. Richards was able to score a goal and notch the game winning assist in the Kings season opener against the New York Rangers over in Sweden. The hope in getting Richards of course, is that he will help take some of the offensive and defensive responsibility from one Anze Kopitar and that seems to be working thus far as Kopitar has already scored three goals and added a helper for four points in two games. Gagne assisted on one of those three goals scored by Kopitar, and given Gagne’s skill level, it comes as no surprise that he will likely see time on the power play as well as on the first and second lines.

The one knock against the Kings probably comes against their third and fourth lines. There is a significant drop off after their top six in ability to put the puck in the net. But for all that the Kings lack up front, they more than make up for in goal and on defense as they have one of the better defense corps from top to bottom and have two great young goaltenders.

The Kings have just two defensemen on the roster over 30 in Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi, while everyone else is between the ages of 21 and 28. The thing is that though they are young, the Kings defense is comprised of names like Drew Doughty, Matt Greene, Jack Johnson, and Alec Martinez. Obviously the two names that jump out of that group are Doughty and Johnson as both have already been selected for Olympic teams and bring two different skill sets. Doughty is an all around defenseman and has an incredibly high hockey IQ while Johnson is tough and capable of contributing a ton of points. Johnson had five goals and 37 assists for 42 points last year, while Doughty had 11 goals and 29 assists for 40 points even. Getting that much production from your blue line is a problem every team in the NHL wishes it had, especially from two kids who are 21 and 24. Johnson needs to improve on the other side of the puck however as he was on the ice for a ton of goals against his team and wound up with a -21 player rating and for a defenseman, that stat is extremely hard to look at.

There may not be a team with a better tandem of goaltenders under the age of 26 in the NHL. Jonathan Quick earned the starter job last year as he posted a 35-22-3 record, along with a 2.24 GAA, a .918 SV%, and six shutouts. Bernier was pretty good too, as he posted an 11-8-3 record, a 2.48 GAA, a .913 SV%, and three shutouts. Both of these guys are capable of shutting the door and will if the Flyers don’t press them to make tough saves.

If the Flyers can execute their game plan and system the way they have these past two games, get in on the forecheck, cycle the puck, and play tough team d, they will likely have themselves a win over their former captain and his new teammates.