Flight Plan Week of 11.06.2011

The Philadelphia Flyers have been inconsistent in the early going, but mostly trending up — which is why they are sitting in the fourth overall slot in the Eastern Conference, just three points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the #1 seed. There are good and bad trends with every team and perhaps a little unexpectedly, the good for the Flyers lies in their scoring.

As of right now, after only 14 games, the Flyers have managed to pot 56 goals which is tops in the league. In fact, they’re the only team in the NHL to have scored at least 50 goals. That’s pretty good considering that was a huge question in certain sectors going into the year given that they lost a bunch of offense in the offseason.

What has been ailing the Flyers is team defense and, in a shocking development, goaltending.

The tandem of Sergei Bobrovsky and Ilya Bryzgalov has not been as spectacular between the pipes as everyone thought they would be thus far. To be fair, it’s not entirely their fault and, as Peter Laviolette has pointed out quite a bit in the past two years, goaltending is a function of how well your team plays and not the other way around.

With that said, it does help when a team can count on its netminder to shut the door with just a few minutes remaining like Bryzgalov did the other night against Thomas Vanek when the Flyers won 3-2 over the Buffalo Sabres. That’s the difference between Michael Leighton, Brian Boucher and Bryzgalov: when the Flyers hold a lead and really need to have a game locked down, Bryzgalov has been able to do so all but one time so far this season.

Unfortunately that ability to be clutch has yet to be quantified, and doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. The result is that both goalies’ numbers have been unimpressive to this point.

In 11 appearances including 10 starts, Bryzgalov has a 6-4-1 record, an .893 save percentage, a 2.94 goals-against average, and one shutout. Bobrovsky has posted a 2-0-1 record in four starts, an .883 SV%, 3.44 GAA and no shutouts.

None of that comprises a recipe for the Vezina Trophy, but with a lot of hockey left, things could turn around.  It’s already looking up as team captain Chris Pronger seems primed to make his return fairly soon after a pretty serious eye injury has held him out of the last few contests.

After a whole lot of hockey in the last two weeks, things will chill out for the Flyers as they only have one game in the middle of this week against the Lightning –  a club whom they were only able to beat once all of last year and had to go to a shootout on the road to do it.

Tampa Bay Lightning:
Wednesday 11.09.2011 at Tampa Bay

The Tampa Bay Lightning are a fast, uptempo team with a great transition game and it gave the Flyers fits last year. They couldn’t seem to get up for this team or just got walked all over because the Lightning were the better team in all of the games except one, and even in that game the Flyers couldn’t not hand the Bolts a point.

This year, the Bolts struggled out of the gate and lost five of their first six games, though they did gain points in three of them (one win, two OT losses). Since that time, the Lightning have gone on to win five of their last seven including two shutouts.

Tampa Bay has a few guys the Flyers need to look at trying to shut down and they all have piled up points in the first month. The Lightning are a balanced team right now, but who else but Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos would be leading the forwards for this group?

Both of those premier players have 13 points (St. Louis has three goals and ten assists while Stamkos has nine goals and four assists) and have some of the best chemistry in the league, and that element is even more apparent when they play the Flyers. Last year, St. Louis had 10 points in four games against the Orange and Black, while Stamkos had seven points and five goals. St. Louis is also a team high plus-six while Stamkos is a plus-five. If the Flyers want to have any hope of winning a game against the Lightning they need to shut those two down.

The eternally young Vincent Lecavalier has racked up 11 points (six goals, five assists), as does Teddy Purcell (four goals, seven assists), and Ryan Malone boasts nine points (three goals, six assists). It’s not all great news as former Flyer Steve Downie is a team worst minus-nine and has just two points in 13 games.

Now with all that firepower up front, what’s really interesting is that the Bolts are led in scoring by a defenseman. Marc-Andre Bergeron has recorded 15 points so far (two goals, 13 assists) — higher than all other NHL rearguards.

The rest of the Lightning defense has not been contributing as much as head coach Guy Boucher might like as no other defenseman has more than four points. A real problem though, is that three of the Lightning’s six regular defensemen are in the minus column and another guy is even on the year, which has to change if they’re going to stay competitive again.

The Lightning also sport two pretty good goaltenders. Dwayne Roloson has simply not been as good as he was last year. “Rolie the Goalie” has posted a 3-3-1 record in seven starts and eight appearances overall, with a .886 SV%, and a  3.71 GAA, though he has managed to record a clean sheet.  His backup/ counterpart has been faring much better. Mathieu Garon has worked his way to a 3-2-1 record, .921 SV%, a 2.43 GAA, and a shutout. Those are great numbers considering the Lightning give up 32.1 shots per game. Without any help, both of those guys will be beat, battered, and burnt out by the turn of the New Year, but such is life in the Southeast Division.

Either way, if you’re looking for fast-paced, post-lockout NHL action, definitely catch this game. If you’re the Flyers, you better come to the game with your defense and goalies at the ready because otherwise, you will get lit up like a Gulf Coast sky in an August thunderstorm.