Flight Plan 12.04.2011

The Philadelphia Flyers won both ends of a back-to-back situation for the second time this season, beating both the Anaheim Ducks and the Phoenix Coyotes, and now sit just three points away from tying the Pittsburgh Penguins, whom they will face later this week, for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. With all the injuries the Flyers have taken recently, especially to their blue line, it’s great to see them able to soldier on and pick up valuable points on the road.

Claude Giroux scored a goal last night, adding his 15th goal and 32nd point on the year, officially tying him for the top spot in the NHL in points with Toronto Maple Leaf winger Phil Kessel and he is also just one goal away from being in a four way tie for first in the NHL in goals. Giroux now has six points in his last five games and 13 points in his last nine.

What’s most impressive about Giroux has to be his compete level game-in-game-out and his consistency to this point in the year as he has only been held without a point in consecutive games only once and for just two games. The Flyers have also gotten good, solid goaltending of late from both Ilya Bryzgalov and Sergei Bobrovsky. Bryzgalov was able to shut the door after giving up three first period goals to the Ducks and gave up just two goals to the Coyotes, while two weeks ago, Bobrovsky was able to come in relief for Bryzgalov and settle things down in a game against the New York Islanders  after which he was rewarded with two starts. Both goalies played both ends of back-to-back games for the first time this year and were solid enough to help the Flyers get six of eight points in those contests.

The Flyers have three games this week, but they don’t pick up again until Wednesday where they will face off against the Sabres in Buffalo, then return to the Wells Fargo Center to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins for the first time in the 2011-2012 campaign, and will cap off the week by hosting the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.

Buffalo Sabres:
12.07.2011 at 7:30 PM in Buffalo

In the first meeting between the Buffalo Sabres and Philadelphia Flyers this year, the Flyers were able to come flying out of the gate scoring three first period goals and never relinquishing that lead as they took the game 3-2 in regulation.  The Sabres currently sit in seventh overall in the Eastern Conference standings and are 4-5-1 in their last 10. The Sabres have not had too much trouble putting the puck into the net as they’ve scored 72 goals in 26 games for an average of 2.76 goals per game, however they’ve also allowed 69 goals to date which has them at just a plus-3 goal differential.

Taking a look at Buffalo’s forwards, they’re currently led by their captain, Jason Pominville, and one of their assistant captains, Thomas Vanek. Pominville and Vanek both have 27 points on the year, and while Vanek is leading the Sabres in goals with 12, Pominville is leading in assists with 18. Next in line is rookie Luke Adam who has nine goals and nine assists for 18 points and Derek Roy who has six goals and 11 assists for 17 points. After those four, there is a pretty severe dip in production as Drew Stafford and Nathan Gerbe each have just 12 points and former Flyer Ville Leino has only 9 points to date and is a minus-three.

From their blue line, the Sabres have gotten a lot of help from off-season acquisition Christian Ehrhoff who has two goals and 12 assists for 14 points. Jordan Leopold has five goals and four assists for nine points and Marc-Andre Gragnani has a goal and seven assists for eight points. Quite frankly, the Sabres defense is not very helpful when it comes to putting points up on the board or keeping points off the board as they allow 31.4 shots per game to get through to the net which puts them in 24th in the entire league in that category. The Sabres have also blocked just 312 shots to date, putting them in 25th in the NHL. They need to sacrifice a little more and help out their goaltenders if they want to have a shot at moving up in the standings and not being in a dog fight for one of the last few playoff spots.

Speaking of goaltenders, the Sabres have two very good goaltenders, despite one of them having a fairly rough year both literally and figure-wise, not to be confused with figuratively. Jhonas Enroth has gotten the lion’s share of the starts as Ryan Miller has been inconsistent or injured for most of the year. Enroth has played in 16 games, started 14, has an 8-5-1 record, a nice .925 save percentage, and a real respectable 2.32 goals against average as well as one shutout. Miller on the other hand, has started only 12 games, been yanked, or removed, in two of them, has managed a 6-6-0 record, .912 save percentage, and a 2.78 goals against average, though he does have a shutout to his credit.

It should be a pretty good game as Sabres Flyers games always are, but if the Flyers can get a lot of pucks to the net and make it difficult for the Sabres’s defense and goaltenders, then they should come out on top.

Pittsburgh Penguins:
12.08.2011 at 7:00 PM in Philadelphia

The Pittsburgh Penguins are currently sitting atop the East with 36 points. They are getting points and goals and good goaltending and playing tough defense and are a good team and have the best player in the league back and are just really, really good. I’m not gonna lie, it’s annoying. Another thing that will absolutely be different about this game from the past four or five years, excluding most of last year of course, is that there won’t be any Mike Richards-Sidney Crosby shenanigans. Those two were always good for some jawing and it was always fun to watch them go at it as both were in their elements, Crosby playing a team he puts up a bazillion points on, while Mike Richards, as one of the top two-way centers in the league, tried to shut him down. Alas, there is no more Richards-Crosby rivalry, but the Penguins and Flyers are still going to be two teams that do not like each other, so count on it being an entertaining game.

James Neal is leading the Pens in points and goals with 25 and 14 respectively as he has appeared in all 27 contests for the Penguins this year. Evgeni Malkin has 24 points, nine goals and fifteen assists, which would be just okay, if it wasn’t for the fact that he has played in only 20 games this year. Pascal Dupuis has eight goals and 13 assists for 21 points, Jordan Staal has 12 goals and six assists for 18 points, and Chris Kunitz has nine goals and six assists for 15 points. That’s a lot of point production from a lot of different guys and that was before Crosby returned. By the way, Sidney Crosby has played in seven games this year and already has two goals and 10 assists for 12 points. No matter which way you slice it, the Flyers are going to have their hands full with this team, especially without Chris Pronger being all mean and surly and stuff around the Flyers net.

The Pens defense has one main offensive contributor and his name is Kris Letang. Letang has three goals and a team leading 16 assists for 19 points thus far, but has not played since November 26 at Montreal where he took a pretty hard hit from Canadiens’ forward Max Pacioretty, which was deemed illegal enough for a three game ban. Paul Martin has nine assists for nine points, while Dave Engelland has one goal and seven assists for eight points. The Pens have also been without Zbynek Michalek since the November 26 game against the Canadiens, but they have continued to win games, losing just one game by one goal since then.

Marc-Andre Fleury has started and finished 20 games thus far. He has a 14-4-2 record, a .923 save percentage, and a 2.11 goals against average to compliment his two shutouts on the season. Backup Brent Johnson has started and finished seven games, has a 2-3-2 record, with an .899 save percentage, a 2.83 goals against average, and no shutouts. Fleury will probably get the start on Thursday, and the Flyers will just need to score on him and shut down Crosby and Malkin and Staal and Neal and Kunitz and Dupuis and everyone else and they can win the hockey game.

Tampa Bay Lightning:
12.09.2011 at 7:00 PM in Philadelphia

The Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers play really weird hockey games together. Sometimes they score enough goals for four games, and other times they stand at the opposite ends of the rink and watch each other for a few minutes. It’s just really, really strange. As far as the Lightning by themselves go, they have a few guys who can score a lot and do and have, but their supporting cast has been a little detrimental to their team in terms of point production as they currently sit in 13th place in the East, are 3-7-0 in their last 10, and have a goal differential of minus-13.

Taking a closer look at the offense, Steven Stamkos is right on point with his three-way-tie-NHL-leading 16 goals and he has 11 assists to boot for 27 points. Martin St. Louis has seven goals and 13 assists for 20 points, Vinny Lecavalier has 10 goals and eight assists for 18 points, Teddy Purcell has five goals and 10 assists for 15 points, and Ryan Malone has five goals and seven assists for 12 points. Beyond them, nobody else on the Bolts has over 10 points and only one defenseman is in that +10 points club. To be successful, the Lightning will have to start getting more secondary scoring from both their offensive and defensive players.

Marc-Andre Bergeron seemingly has all the points for the Lightning defense. His three goals and 17 assists lead the team in both categories, which is good. Now if only he could get any assistance at all as the next closest Lightning defenseman has 11 assists less than he does and none of them have more than six points. That’s just not gonna get you anywhere if you can’t get production from your backend at all. For the record though, the Lightning do block an awful lot of shots as they have 364 blocks to their credit so far. Apparently that’s not enough, as they have absolutely nobody who can stop the puck consistently.

Dwayne Roloson has posted some awful numbers so far. He has started 13 games, played in 15 of them, has a 6-7-1 record, a shutout, and a .887 save percentage to go along with his 3.51 goals against average. His backup Mathieu Garon’s numbers are: 12 starts, played in 15, has a 5-5-1 record, a .915 save percentage, and a 2.48 goals against average and a shutout. The problem really is that neither of them are good enough to carry the team at this point and between the two of them, have allowed 76 goals, and the team without them has allowed four. That’s just too many goals going in the nets. That’s a lot of goals. Through 25 games. 80 goals. That’s a lot. You say the Flyers have 73 goals against, yeah, but they allowed 9 in one game, without that game, they have only allowed 64 and have scored 80. Jeez. 80 goals. Yikes.

Well it should be a really fun, or hilarious, game either way and if the Flyers can figure out the trap or figure out a way to just put the puck in the vicinity of the net a few times, they might be able to win.