Flight Plan Week of 10.30.2011

The Philadelphia Flyers split their four games this week.

After a big win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Flyers dropped a bad one to the Montreal Canadiens where they looked all sorts of out of sorts against a team who was desperate for a win. Then, the Flyers continued looking discombobulated up until the end of the second period against the Winnipeg Jets in a crazy 17-goal back-and-forth shoot out at the Wells Fargo Center, the Jets barely getting out of dodge with a win they should have had locked up.

Wrapping up the week, Philadelphia was able to get back to what made them successful in the first three games of the season, playing tough defense and scoring goals in bunches in a 5-1 win over Brian Boucher and the visiting Carolina Hurricanes.

If the Flyers continue to make it easy for teams in their defensive zone by blowing coverage in front of their net, not harassing defensemen at the point, generally just not being physical, in addition to subpar goaltending, they will not be a good team.

Their strength is in speed, skating, and team defense and if they are able to start playing a little more cohesively on the defensive side of the puck, the offense will come because they did manage to score 18 goals in their last four games.

 In other news: the Scott Hartnell/Claude Giroux/Jaromir Jagr line which struggled initially is simply sizzling as it has combined for 23 points last week.  t Hartnell is actually the hottest Flyer on paper as he has scored nine (4G, 5A) of his 11 (4G,7A) points on the year in the last four since being joined with Giroux and Jagr — who each have seven points during this stretch. Giroux is at the top of the Flyers stat board right now with 15 points (7G, 8A) in just 11 games.

On the injury front: Danny Briere is out with what is listed as a minor upper-body injury, Chris Pronger is out with a real scary eye injury, and Brayden Schenn broke his left foot and was placed on LTIR since he will be out four to six weeks.

The Flyers have three games this week where they will potentially see two familiar faces. Up first, Ville Leino and the Sabres in Buffalo on Wednesday, then a return home to play the New Jersey Devils the next night, and finally Jeff Carter might make his first appearance in Philadelphia as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets (who also have former-flyers Vinny Prospal and RJ Umberger) on Saturday.

Buffalo Sabres:
Wednesday 11.02.2011 at 7:30 PM in Buffalo

 The Buffalo Sabres started out fast with wins in five of their first six games, but have gone on to lose three of their last four, including a home-and-home series sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and dropping one to the  surprising Florida Panthers who received a major makeover in the offseason.

 It’s always a big lift for a team when their top guns are producing as Thomas Vanek leads all Sabres with 15 points (8G, 7A) in 10 games and Jason Pominville has 14 points (5G, 9A) in the same amount of time. Ex-Flyer Leino has just two points in his first 10 games with his new team and his minus-4 is second only to another offseason acquisition, defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, who has a team worst minus-6.

Leino has seen his ice-time dip from 17:34 in the first game against Tampa of that home-and-home to 15:56 in the second half of it, then to 11:10 in a win against the Blue Jackets, and a season low 9:35 in just 14 shifts. Not exactly what was expected from a guy due to make an average of $4.25 million per year over the next six years.

Luckily, the Sabres have gotten contributions from lots of forwards including rookie Luke Adam who has nine points 3G, 6A) and Brad Boyes and Nathan Gerbe with six points apiece (2G, 4A each). 

Though the Sabres aren’t getting a lot of production out of their blue-line corps, every little bit helps, and on most nights they have been able to shut the opposition down, allowing just 22 goals in 10 games so far, and allowing more than three goals in only two games. Ehrhoff’s seven points leads all Buffalo defensemen making his team-worst plus-minus all the more puzzling (especially given that he has just two power play points to date), while Tyler Myers and Marc-Andre Gragnani both have three assists for three points. Jordan Leopold has two points (one goal, one assist), Andrej Sekera also has two points (two assists), and the only offseason acquisition not to register a single point is Robyn Regehr, though he is even on the year.

There is one big reason why the Sabres don’t allow that many goals and will be the Flyers’ toughest test in net on the year so far.

Ryan Miller has started eight games and is the owner of a 4-4-0 record, with a nice 2.14 goals-against average, a sparkling .930 save percentage and a shutout. His backup, Jhonas Enroth, has started two games, has a 2-0-0 record, with a very good 2.00 GAA, a stunning .946 SV%, and no shutouts. Both goalies are tough tests for different reasons and the Flyers will have their work cut out for them, regardless of who plays in net.

New Jersey Devils:
Thursday 11.03.2011 at 7:00 PM in Philadelphia 

The New Jersey Devils are currently just one point ahead of the Atlantic Division bottom feeding New York Islanders. Under new head coach Peter DeBoer the Devils are 4-4-1, but have allowed just 24 goals in nine games. It’s a broken record year after year, but the Devils’ problem really is scoring as they have only been able to record 20 goals thus far. 

The forward lines are led by Patrik Elias who has eight points thus far (4G, 4A), while Ilya Kovalchuk has six points and is tied with defenseman Bryce Salvador for a team worst minus-five. Newly-appointed captain Zach Parise has five points (4G), and Petr Sykora has five points (1G, 4A). The Devils are currently playing without their best playmaking center in Travis Zajac, who will be out of commission for some time with an Achilles tear. Prior to this year, Zajac had missed just two regular season games in his entire NHL career and is obviously sorely missed in terms of offensive production.

Complicating matters, the Devils are getting hardly any production from their defense. Second-year defenseman Mark Fayne and veteran Andy Greene lead all Devils d-men with four points (two goals, two assists for Fayne and four assists for Greene who is a team-best plus-four), while Henrik Tallinder and Anton Volchenkov each have one assist. Rookie Adam Larsson remains scoreless through nine games and apparently will be staying with the Devils through the whole campaign. 

The Devils have a pair of old goaltenders as Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg are 39 and 38 years of age respectively. Hedberg has gotten the lion’s share of the work so far as he has started eight games, has a 4-3-1 record, a good .924 SV%, and a decent 2.28 GAA as well as one shutout to his credit.

Brodeur, who has been just okay statistically the last few years, has started only two games thus far, has an 0-1-0 record, a 3.00 GAA, a .900 SV%, and no shutouts. To be fair, he has been slowed by a shoulder injury.

The Flyers should take this game as long as they don’t look past it.

Columbus Blue Jackets:
Saturday 11.5.2011 at 7:00 PM in Philadelphia

The Columbus Blue Jackets have been brutally bad to start the new season. They have the worst record in the NHL with just three points in 11 games due to their 1-9-1 record. Scott Arniel’s club has been playing without some pretty key pieces as Carter has been out of the lineup for the last six games with a fractured foot, Radek Martinek has been out the last four games with a concussion, and James Wisniewski has appeared in just the last three games after receiving a hefty eight-game suspension for an illegal hit on Minnesota Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck.

That’s not easy for any team to overcome, but the Jackets should not be off to their worst start in franchise history either way.

Prospal leads all Columbus forwards with 10 points (5G, 5A), while captain Rick Nash has nine points (3G, 6A), but after that it gets ugly. Umberger and Antoine Vermette each have four points (1G, 3A for Umberger and 4A for Vermette). Center Derek Mackenzie has just three points (two goals, one assist), but is a team-best plus five. Carter had three assists in five games before going out with that foot injury, and it’s a given that he would love to be back in the lineup to face some of his old mates.

The Blue Jackets as a team are not getting great offensive production as they have only scored 25 goals, but the biggest problem is their inability to keep pucks out of their net. 

In terms of their blue-line core, the Blue Jackets have gotten decent production as Aaron Johnson and Grant Clitsome both have five points, while Fedor Tyutin has four points. Kris Russell has three points while Wisniewski has two points in three games and is a plus-one. Wisniewski is expected to anchor the blue-line for the Blue Jackets and has held up his end of the bargain in his first three games as he has played 85:25 so far.

Columbus’ issues in net are plentiful. After a great rookie campaign in which he took home the Calder Trophy, Steve Mason has gotten notice for all the wrong reasons. Mason has had GAAs of 3.06, 3.03, and currently is in possession of a 3.33 GAA for this year and has allowed 32 goals in 10 games. A 1-8-1 record, with an .885 SV% and no shutouts won’t get you much in the way of support, especially when he’s only faced an average of 29.1 shots per game which ranks 11th for shots allowed in the entire NHL. He will have to be better if the Blue Jackets are to get anywhere near the playoffs.

Allen York has started one game and appeared in just one other and he is the owner of a 0-1-0 record, a 3.93 GAA, and an .892 SV%. Curtis Sanford has also played for the Jackets, a total of 18:02 and was able to stop all three of the shots he faced.

If the Flyers can put the puck on net, apparently it will probably go in, so they should take this game handily unless they decide to pull that same kind of nonsense like in last Thursday’s loss against the Winnipeg Jets.