Flight Plan: Playoffs Still Within Reach

Image courtesy of Amy Irvin (http://www.Facebook.com/38Photography)

The Philadelphia Flyers took a four game win streak, their first of the season, into Winnipeg yesterday. They scored the first goal and, after a few shaky minutes at the beginning of the first period, completely took over registering 13 shots in the primary stanza, limiting the Jets to just four through 20 minutes of play. Winnipeg roared out of the gates in the second and notched four goals on just 12 shots, while Philadelphia could only muster five all period. Newly acquired backup goaltender Steve Mason saw his first action as a Flyer, stopping all seven shots he faced in the third period. The Flyers are in 11th place in the Eastern Conference with 37 points and are five points behind both the New York Rangers and New York Islanders for eighth and final playoff spot. This week, the Flyers will visit the Islanders and the Buffalo Sabres, while host the Ottawa Senators. You can find tickets to any and all Philadelphia Flyers games here: http://www.tiqiq.com/nhl/philadelphia-flyers-tickets/?publisherid=1260333

The Flyers, in addition to trading Michael Leighton and a 2015 third-round draft choice for Mason, dealt Harry Zolnierczyk to the Anaheim Ducks for Jay Rosehill, a conditional 2014 seventh-round draft pick to the Detroit Red Wings for defenseman Kent Huskins, and claimed Adam Hall off waivers from the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Orange and Black have also added to their injured list as Braydon Coburn and Andrej Meszaros are likely lost for the season with shoulder injuries, Max Talbot is definitely lost for the season with a broken leg, and Zac Rinaldo will miss time with a high ankle sprain. Danny Briere is still experiencing concussion symptoms, but defenseman Nick Grossmann could return to the lineup soon.

New York Islanders on 04.09.2013 at 7:00 PM in Long Island:

The teams have split the season series thus far, but the Islanders have the edge in the standings, as they currently reside in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, despite being tied with the Rangers, with 42 points. The teams have two games remaining in 2013, so the Flyers at this point do not control their own destiny, but can move towards that with a win on Tueseday. In order to beat the Islanders, they will have to contend with a very good group of forwards in John Tavares (40 points), Matt Moulson (37 Points), Brad Boyes (29 Points), Frans Nielsen (23 Points), Kyle Okposo (17 Points), and Michael Grabner (17 points). They will also have to beat Evgeni Nabokov who is 18-11-4, with a 2.64 goals against average, a .906 save percentage, and three shutouts. If they can keep a lid on the Isles’ first two lines, and get a few pucks past Nabokov, there is no reason they can’t climb within three points of a playoff spot.

Ottawa Senators on 04.11.2013 at 7:00 PM in Philadelphia:

Ottawa is a resilient team. They have had no better luck this year than Philadelphia has in terms of injuries, but have taken the blows to their roster in stride, instead of throwing up the white flag, and are in sixth place in the East with 44 points, just two points behind the fifth place Toronto Maple Leafs. While they haven’t had a ton of production, they have balanced lines, play a sound defensive game, and receive steady goaltending on a nightly basis, regardless of who is between the pipes. While usual starter Craig Anderson was out, Ben Bishop and Robin Lehner shared the net and guided the Senators to their current spot in the rankings. When Anderson was slated to return, the Senators had a decision to make and sent Bishop to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for rookie Cory Conacher (24 points) and a 2013 fourth-round draft pick. Conacher has no points for Ottawa yet, but was a plus-two in his first game for the Sens in a 4-2 loss to Buffalo and is technically their highest scoring player at the moment. The Senators rely on many to get the job done on the score sheet. Veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar (two goals, 20 assists) and center Kyle Turris (eight goals, 14 assists) have led the way with 22 points each. Captain Daniel Alfredsson isn’t far behind with 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists), while rookies Mika Zibanejad (six goals, 12 assists) and Jakob Silfverberg (eight goals, eight assists) have 18 and 16 points respectively. Craig Anderson could start, and if he does the Flyers will have their hands full as Anderson is 8-4-2, with a 1.49 goals against average, a .952 save percentage, and two shutouts. If they face Lehner, it would be a challenge as well as he is 3-3-4, with a 2.34 goals against average, and a .934 save percentage. If the Flyers want to beat the Sens, they’ll have to likely play a solid defensive game and capitalize on their chances as they were able to do in the first meeting between the two teams.

Buffalo Sabres on 04.13.2013 at 3:00 PM in Buffalo:

The Sabres are just one point behind the Flyers in the Standings with 36 points. That means the Sabres could overtake the Flyers by next Saturday and this game could be even more meaningful than it already is, as the Flyers need the points to get back in the playoff hunt. The Sabres  gave up two veteran defenseman in Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold, who were dealt to the Los Angeles Kings for a pair of second-round draft picks, one in 2014 and 2015, and the St. Louis Blues for a second-rounder and a conditional fifth-round draft pick in this year’s draft, respectively. Buffalo also traded away rookie defenseman TJ Brennan, from Moorestown, New Jersey, to the Florida Panthers for a 2013 fifth round pick and captain Jason Pominville to the Minnesota Wild for forward Johan Larsson, goaltender Matt Hackett, and a 2013 first-round draft pick.  With all of those pieces gone via trade, one would figure that the Sabres have packed it in for the year, but after winning two straight, they have put themselves back into the playoff conversation, despite having a six point gap to make up before the last game of the regular season. The Sabres are led by Thomas Vanek with 33 points (16 goals, 17 assists), Cody Hodgson with 29 points (13 goals, 16 assists), and Tyler Ennis with 26 points (nine goals, 17 assists). Stirrer of pots specialist Steve Ott has 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists), and defenseman Christian Ehrhoff has 17 points (four goals, 13 assists). The Sabres have leaned heavily on Ryan Miller this year as is usually the case, and he is 13-15-5, with a 2.80 goals against average, and a .913 save percentage. His backup, Jhonas Enroth, is 2-2-1, with a 2.95 goals against average, and a .908 save percentage. The teams have split their 2013 series thus far, so if the Flyers want to put another nail in the coffin for the Sabres, they’ll have to keep Thomas Vanek off the scoreboard, as well as rattle Miller or Enroth with a few goals and some physical play in front of the net. If they accomplish those two things, they will likely win this game.