Flight Plan Week of 11.20.2011

The Philadelphia Flyers were on a pretty good run, collecting points in eight straight games. That streak dated all the way back to October 27 when they played the Winnipeg Jets in a wild game where 17 goals were scored and the Flyers ended up losing 9-8.

As fate would have it, their most recent loss in regulation would also come at the hands of the Jets, by a score of 6-4 on Saturday. For some reason, Peter Laviolette cannot win games against either the Jets or the Atlanta Thrashers, doing so only once in his tenure as the head coach of the Flyers.

Either way, the Flyers will have to regroup fairly quickly as they have four games next week. The journey begins at home on Monday against the Carolina Hurricanes, then heads to Long Island to play the New York Islanders on Tuesday before a return to the Wells Fargo Center to play the Montreal Canadiens on Black Friday afternoon. It ends in Manhattan for a Saturday matinée at Madison Square Garden in their first meeting all season with the New York Rangers.

Jaromir Jagr did not play yesterday or most of the prior outing due to a lower-body injury (believed to be a groin issue). Brayden Schenn is still out with a broken foot, though he has been practicing with the team in anticipation of being cleared for play.

Two players who are on absolute fire for the Flyers are Claude Giroux and Matt Read, who is making a real strong bid for the Calder Trophy as the NHL Rookie of the Year.

Giroux has 16 points in his last 10 games including 10 assists, and he has 26 points overall, and if not for a stellar performance in a 7-1 rout of Washington by Leafs winger Phil Kessel, he’d hold the overall points lead despite having played one less game. Read, meanwhile, has six points in his last four games and five of those are goals, notching two game winners. He pretty much single-handedly got the Flyers back into the game yesterday, scoring goals three and four before making a pass that was too hot to handle for Giroux coming out of the Flyers defensive zone which led to a Nik Antropov empty netter.

Although Scott Hartnell isn’t really putting up consistent points in his last five games, he does have four points in his last two, and is a plus-9 on the season, tying rookie Sean Couturier for the team high.

Carolina Hurricanes:
11.21.2011 at 7:00 PM in Philadelphia

The Carolina Hurricanes have lost three straight since they last played the Flyers and have been shut out in two consecutive games. The ‘Canes are 0-2-0 against the Flyers this year and have been outscored 10-4 in those two contests.

Carolina ranks 23rd overall in the NHL in goals for with 46 and are 29th overall in goals against having allowed 67 and their minus-22 goal differential is the worst in the Eastern Conference. That is a recipe for disaster and the Hurricanes find themselves in 14th place in the East as of today. It’s not an impossible feat to get back into the playoff picture, but it gets harder by the minute as they sit six points out as of right now and seven of the 13 teams who are looking down on them have played fewer games as has the one that is currently below them.

Not too much has changed since the last time these two teams met as the leader in points for the ex-Whalers is still sophomore Jeff Skinner with 18 (7G, 11 A). Jussi Jokinen is the next closest forward as he has 12 points (3G, 9A). Chad LaRose has 11 points (5G,6A), and Tuomo Rutuu has nine points and is currently tied with Skinner for the team lead in goals with seven.Eric Staal, the captain of the Hurricanes, has just eight points in his 20 games this season (four goals, four assists), and is a league worst minus-18.

Defensive contribution has been pretty much the same as former Flyer Joni Pitkanen still leads all Carolina defensemen with eight points (3G, 5A) despite not having seen game action since November 11. Jay Harrison has seven points (1G, 6A), while Tim Gleason and Jamie McBain still both have five assists for five points. Tomas Kaberle has just four points, though he does have  three goals on the year, tying him with Joni Pitkanen for the lead amongst Hurricane blueliners.

Cam Ward has gotten just about as little help as any goaltender in the league. He sees 32.4 shots per game, good enough for 26th in the NHL. With that in mind, he has a 6-8-2 record, a 3.27 goals-against average, a .904 save percentage, and a shutout to his name. Former Flyer and fan favorite Brian Boucher is still looking for his first win on the season as he has an 0-3-1 record, a 3.31 GAA, .877 save percentage and no shutouts, though in his last three outings his save percentage numbers have been .923, .909, and .950 as he has allowed just two goals through 127-plus minutes.

The Flyers should get a win here, but they could use a 60-minute effort which they did not even come close to in their last game against the Jets.

New York Islanders:
11.23.2011 at 7:00 PM in Long Island

The New York Islanders are in last place in the Eastern Conference with just 13 points, though they have played three less games than the Hurricanes. This will be the first meeting between the two squads this season, and while the Flyers have lost just once in regulation their last nine games, the Islanders have won just twice during that same stretch.

The Isles’ most recent setback came at the hands of the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins yesterday, who unleashed a 6-0 whipping at Nassau Coliseum after the Isles took a big 4-3 win over Montreal.

The Islanders have not seen near the offensive production they were hoping for from their young core after nearly two months of play as they have scored the fewest of any NHL team with 35. Meanwhile, they have allowed less goals then a slew of teams and sit in 20th overall, with 55 goals against.

Leading the Islanders at almost a point per game pace is John Tavares with 16 points, he is also atop the Islanders stat sheet with eight goals. P.A. Parenteau is the next closest Isle in terms of points as he has 14 (3G, 11 A). Matt Moulson has 11 points (6G, 5A). Frans Nielsen has nine points (4G, 5A) while Michael Grabner has seven points, five of which are goals.

Production from the defense other than off the stick of Islanders captain Mark Streit has been hard to come by. Streit has 11 points (2G, 9A), while no other defenseman for the Isles has more than three points.

The Islanders have had four goalies suit up for them this year — and this is not generally a recipe for success.

Evgeni Nabokov has the most starts with eight and in those eight games he has gone 1-5-0 with a 2.83 GAA, .910 save percentage and no shutouts. Al Montoya and Rick DiPietro have each played in six games while Montoya has had six starts, Dipietro has had four. Montoya has a 2-2-1 record thus far, earning a  2.43 goals against average, a .926 save percentage, but he also has no shutouts.

DiPietro has somehow gotten to a 2-2-2 record despite giving up more than 3 1/2 goals per contest and an .886 save percentage. And the fourth goalie to suit up for the Islanders, playing just 40 minutes, allowing three goals in the process is Anders Nilsson as he currently has a 4.50 goals against average and a .824 save percentage.

Maybe all the Flyers need to do is show up for this game, and if they do that they can walk away with two points.

Montreal Canadiens:
11.25.2011 at 3:00 PM in Philadelphia

The last time the Montreal Canadiens and Philadelphia Flyers met, the Canadiens gave up the first goal and then tallied five unanswered markers and went on to win 5-1 at the Bell Centre.

Since then, the resuscitated Canadiens have come off life support and fought their way back to a four way tie for the seventh and eighth playoff spots in the east, though they have played two more games than every team above them in the standings.  Including that big 5-1 win, the Canadiens have gone on to lose just three games in regulation and have gained points in nine of 12  games. One of the reasons they have been successful is that they’ve started to put the puck in the net.

Montreal currently sits in 12th overall in the NHL in goals for with 53. They are in 13th in the NHL in goals against with 47. For them to be successful, the Canadiens rely on their defense and goaltending to get the job done on top of scoring timely goals.

They have gotten pretty good production from their top forwards at this point in the season as Tomas Plekanec is rolling along at a point per game pace, leading the Habs with 20 points in 20 games and topping the team’s leaderboard in assists as well with 15. Max Pacioretty has 17 points in his 20 games and leads Montreal with nine goals, while Brian Gionta has 13 points (7G, 6A). Eric Cole, a big free agent signing from this past offseason, has notched 12 points (6G, 6A) while David Desharnais, in his first stint as a regular in the NHL, also has 12 points. Mike Cammalleri has started to get going since returning from injury as he now has 10 points (four goals, six assists) and has points in three consecutive games.

The Montreal blue line has not contributed as much as head coach Jacques Martin would like, but they are helping a little bit. Josh Gorges and P.K. Subban each have eight points (1G, 7A each) while Yannick Webber has seven points and leads all Habs defensemen with three goals (four assists). The Canadiens would benefit greatly from a few more points from their back end, but are again without their leader in Andrei Markov who has not touched the ice this season due to another knee injury and will not play until at least December.

Some really good news for the Canadiens, and really bad news for everyone else, is that goalie Carey Price has started to return to form. Price has, in 17 starts and 17 games played, racked up an 8-6-3 record, procured a 2.16 goals against average, a .917 save percentage, and posted two consecutive shutouts.

Price is in the midst of a streak where he has not allowed a goal in over 127 minutes. His backup, Peter Budaj, has had only three starts and has a 1-2-0 record, 2.33 goals against average, and a .922 save percentage.

New York Rangers:
11.26.2011 at 2:00 PM in New York

The New York Rangers are just two points back from the Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins, despite having two games in hand on the Flyers and three on the Pens.

John Tortorella’s club is coming off their first loss of any kind in eight games. Prior to a 4-0 loss to the Canadiens, the Rangers had won seven straight and outscored their opponents 26-11. They also sit atop the entire NHL in goals against, with just 36 goals allowed, though they are one of only three teams having played only 17 games.

The top forwards for the Rangers have been scoring and atop the ledger in both points and goals is star winger Marian Gaborik with 15 points, including nine goals. Brad Richards, the big free agent forward signing in the offseason, has posted just 13 points to date (6G, 7A). Captain Ryan Callahan has been chugging along at a decent pace with 11 points but has been pumping them in as eight of those are goals. Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, and Derek Stepan each have 10 points (Dubinsky and Anisimov each have one goal and nine helpers, while Stepan has three goals with seven assists).

Beyond that, the Rangers offense has not been all that consistent and they will need to see some more production if they are to match up against teams with more firepower, at least in the regular season.

In the absence of Marc Staal, who is still out with post-concussion syndrome, the Rangers have looked to Dan Girardi for some blue-line production and he has given it. Girardi has eight points thus far, three of those are goals (five assists), meanwhile Ryan McDonagh has seven points and notched three goals as well (four assists). Michael Del Zotto has six points (two goals, four assists) and Jeff Woywitka has four points (one goal, three assists). Though they haven’t gotten a ton of production, it’s still pretty decent, and balanced in their top two defense pairs.

What the Rangers really rely on to win games is their goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist. King Henrik has been everything and more for this team so far this season — as he has since arriving in the NHL in 2005.

Lundqvist has started 13 games, posting a 2.13 goals against average with a .933 save percentage, all with only having one shutout to his credit thus far. His backup, former Flyer Marty Biron, has started four games and played in five. His numbers are near immaculate: 3-1-0, 1.68 GAA, and a remarkable .937 save percentage along with one whitewash.

No matter what happens to the Rangers in the intervening time, they will give the Flyers one of their toughest challenges thus far this season, especially if they are still fairly hot going into this game.