Flight Plan Week of 11.27.2011

The Philadelphia Flyers won two of their four games this week. They were able to record comeback victories over the New York Islanders and the Montreal Canadiens, but they lost and were thoroughly outplayed by both the Carolina Hurricanes and the New York Rangers.

It seems as if ever since Brayden Schenn broke his foot by blocking a shot, the rest of the team has been dropping like flies, missing a few games or weeks here or there. Chris Pronger has missed the last four games with a virus, Jaromir Jagr was out with a lower-body injury before returning too soon and re-aggravating the injury on Wednesday, James van Riemsdyk missed a game with a lower- body injury and is now out for a week or two with an upper body injury, Andreas Lilja is out for six weeks with a high ankle sprain, Schenn is rehabbing his broken foot in Adirondack but can’t come back due to cap constraints, Erik Gustafsson had surgery on his wrist and will be out for another three or four weeks, and Andreas Nodl went out yesterday and did not return.

Not all of those players have been regulars or are expected to remain in the lineup every night, but still, all of these injuries to the key parts of this team have increased ice time for other players and is starting to take a toll on this bunch. Luckily, the Flyers won’t play again until Friday when they fly out to Anaheim to play the Ducks and then visit the Phoenix Coyotes the following day in the second meeting between these two teams this season.

Sergei Bobrovsky has been playing pretty well these last three games, giving up only four goals in his last 161:08 of playing time. He did not allow a goal in relief of Ilya Bryzgalov against the Islanders and then was able to keep the Flyers in the game despite a very poor start against the Canadiens. Bobrovsky has improved his numbers to the tune of a 5-2-1 record with a 2.82 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage. He is still looking for that ever elusive first shutout of his NHL career, but as long as numbers in the win column keep going up I doubt he, or anyone else for that matter, cares very much.

Claude Giroux is still leading the team with 29 points, 13 goals, and 16 assists and pretty much single handedly took over against the Canadiens, scoring two goals and proving to be too much to handle on a play that led to Jake Voracek’s fourth on the year and his second game winner. 

Anaheim Ducks:
12.02.2011 at 10:00 PM in Anaheim

The Anaheim Ducks are a team laden with talent and toughness, but they just can’t seem to get it going. Right now, they sit in 14th in the Western Conference and are 10 points back from a playoff spot. They have not seen great production from their top forwards and that is definitely a big part of the problem. 

The ageless Teemu Selanne leads the Ducks in points and assists with 21 and 13 respectively, while Corey Perry is atop the team leaderboard in goals with nine. Selanne also has eight goals to his credit. Beyond those two, the Ducks haven’t gotten what they need out of captain Ryan Getzlaf, Saku Koivu, or Bobby Ryan until recently.  Getzlaf has points in five straight games and seven points over his last seven games. Saku Koivu is also on a roll with five points in his last four games. Ryan scored two goals in his last game.

The problem is that none of them have stellar numbers to this point. Getzlaf has 15 points comprised of four goals and eleven assists and when you factor in that seven of those 15 points were collected over the past seven games, it’s not hard to see how the Ducks are losing way more games than they are winning. Ryan has just seven goals on the year and had not scored a goal in eight straight games before notching two against the Chicago Blackhawks and he and Koivu have just 11 points on the year.

The Ducks have gotten little to no help from their blue line. Second-year defenseman Cam Fowler has 11 points comprised of two goals and nine assists, but he is tied with Getzlaf for the team worst in plus/minus at minus-11. That has to change, especially when you’re a defenseman. Beyond Fowler though, no Duck defenseman has more than seven points as Toni Lydman has seven assists and Francois Beauchemin has two goals and five assists. Former Flyer Luca Sbisa has five helpers on the year, and is only a minus-two on the year and has appeared in every single game for the Ducks. 

Jonas Hiller returned this year after missing the majority of the end of the season, and playing just three games after January due to a bout with vertigo.

His numbers are as unimpressive as the rest of his teammates as he has compiled a 5-9-4 record, an .899 save percentage, with a 3.17 goals against average, though he does have a shutout to his credit. Hiller’s backup, Dan Ellis, has been better. Ellis’  1-3-0 record doesn’t show it, but his .929 save percentage and 2.23 goals against average should probably tilt the scales in his favor sometime soon as per who will be getting the starts. 

The Ducks have lost their last six and even if they win the other two games they have this week, they will still be desperate and will likely try to get out to a good start. The Flyers will have to come prepared to start the game, something they have failed to do in each of their last five games.

Phoenix Coyotes:
12.03.2011 at 8:00 PM in Glendale 

The last time the Flyers and Phoenix Coyotes met, it was at the Wells Fargo Center and took to the final 20 seconds of the game to determine a winner. The Flyers led for the majority of the game on a goal by James van Riemsdyk way back in the middle of the first period.

The Coyotes would tie it up just a little under four minutes into the third before Flyer rookie Matt Read was able to pot the game winner for his sixth of the year. Since that meeting, both teams have held their own as the Coyotes and Flyers currently sit in fourth place in their respective conferences.

The Desert Dogs have won just two games in a row in the entire month of November, and only twice in October. Not only that, three is the most games they’ve won in a row to date and they’ve done that exactly once so far. But as the Flyers saw in the last game between these two teams, they are very good defensively, limiting chances and allowing their goaltender to succeed. They are not a team that scores a lot of goals, but they do get timely ones.

Radim Vrbata leads the ‘Yotes in points with 19 and also in goals with 11. Ray Whitney needs just one more point to tie Vrbata as he has 18 on the year. Beyond those two, it’s really just a bunch of guys who contribute at an uneven pace. Captain Shane Doan has six goals and eight assists for 14 points, while Martin hanzal has three goals and nine assists for 12 points, though he has played in two less games than any of the players above him on this list.

Former Flyer Daymond Langkow has 10 points, but he has played just 14 games thus far, so he has moving at a pretty good clip.  The Coyotes could use some more goals and points from their forward corps, but they are still winning games and haven’t gone on a long losing streak yet and that is due mostly to the stellar play of their defense and goaltending.

Keith Yandle leads all Phoenix defensemen with 15 points and is currently leading all Coyotes players with 13 assists. Oliver Ekman-Larsson leads all ‘Yotes defensemen in goals as he’s notched five thus far and with four assists, he’s brought his point total up to nine. David Schlemko has one goal and six assists for seven points, and Rostislav Klesla has one goal and four assists for five points.

Though they don’t get much production out of the defense, only two Phoenix defensemen are a minus on the year and surprisingly one of them is Ekman-Larsson as he sits at a minus-two, though Derek Morris needs to improve as he is a minus-six. Yandle is even at zero, while Schlemko, Klesla, and Adrian Aucoin are each a plus-five.

Another thing that should be noted is the amount of blocks the defense has been able to rack up as they have 192 between them all, which works out to an average of 32 per man. Klesla leads all Coyotes Defenseman with 45 blocks, though Schlemko is right behind him with 40. Sacrifice like that makes it much easier on the goaltender, though it should be noted that Mike Smith has been great for Phoenix all year and has had to be considering they give up the second most shots in the league.

Mike Smith has been incredible for the Coyotes so far. Smith owns an 11-4-3 record, a  .933 save percentage, and 2.19 GAA, as well as two shutouts in 18 starts. Jason LaBarbera needs to be better as he has a 1-3-0 record, an .893 save percentage, and a goals-against approaching 3 1/2 per game.