Flight Plan: There’s No Place Like Home

Image courtesy of Amy Irvin of 38Photography (https://www.facebook.com/38Photography)

The Philadelphia Flyers have gained a point in each of their last four games. They won three in a row before losing in a shootout to the Winnipeg Jets. What this indicates to this writer is that they’ve finally begun to play a more complete team game after struggling most of last and early this season to find their team game. They still need to learn to shut the door in the third period a little more consistently and scoring more than two goals a game would be nice, but at least they have been able to put a nice little streak together on the road.

Ray Emery and Steve Mason have continued their strong play in net and have given the team a chance to win on most nights. Mason is now 5-7-2, one win by way of shutout, with a 2.13 GAA, an impressive .931 save percentage. Those are close to elite numbers in the NHL, particularly the save percentage which is the most goaltender specific statistic. Emery has been solid as he is now 2-3-0, with a 2.82 goals against average, a .898 save percentage, and a shutout to his credit. Brayden Schenn has been excellent of late as he has five points in his last four games and three goals in his last three games.

This week, the Flyers have  a three game home stand as they host the Ottawa Senators, the Buffalo Sabres, and the New York Islanders. You can purchase tickets to all Philadelphia Flyers games through tiqiq.com.

Ottawa Senators on 11.19.2013 at 7:00 PM in Philadelphia

The Ottawa Senators are 4-4-2 in their last 10 and are coming off a 4-2 win over the Boston Bruins. The Sens are led by Cherry Hill native Bobby Ryan who was acquired in the offseason via trade with the Anaheim Ducks. Ryan has 20 points (10g, 10a), and is just one point ahead of Erik Karlsson who has 19 points (6g, 13a). Jason Spezza (9g, 9a) and Kyle Turris (4g, 14a) both have 18 points. What the Senators lack in terms of scoring depth, they make up for in the crease. Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner are both very good goaltenders. Anderson is having a tough year as he is 5-5-2, with a 3.20 GAA, a .908 save percentage, and one shutout to his credit. Anderson has been steadily above .910 the last four seasons, but has had his fair share of injury issues. Robin Lehner has been the better goaltender in the tandem going 3-2-2, posting a 2.13 GAA, and a stellar .945 save percentage. If the Flyers can get to either Anderson or Lehner, they should be able to win this game, though maybe not by quite as large a margin as they did the last time the two teams met a week ago in Ottawa.

Buffalo Sabres on 11.21.2013 at 7:00 PM in Philadelphia

The Buffalo Sabres are the worst team in the NHL. They have a 5-16-1 record, have a measly 11 points, and have scored just 41 goals while allowing 68, leading to a -27 goal differential. The Flyers have just five more points than Buffalo, but have played three fewer games. It’s incredible the difference a week Matt Moulson, acquired in a trade with the New York Islanders for Thomas Vanek, has 9 points in 9 games for the Sabres but also has 9 carry over points from his first 11 games with the Islanders to give him a total of 18 points (8g, 10a), on the year. Cody Hodgson is just behind him with 16 points (7g, 9a) and nobody else even comes close. This is precisely the problem for the Sabres. They are not a deep team when it comes to offense and can’t keep the puck out of their net. Ryan Miller has actually played well going 4-11-0 in 15 games, posting a 3.13 GAA, but a strongly indicative .919 save percentage. Despite playing in just 15 games, Miller has the second most save attempts in the NHL with 568. Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes is leading the league in that regard with 637 save attempts, but he has also played 19 games. The Sabres allow 36.0 shots per game, good enough for 29th in the league in that category. Should the Sabres finally figure out how to lighten the load on Miller and begin putting pucks in the net at the other end of the ice, they could be a decent team, but that seems unlikely to happen this year. If the Flyers can get up for this game, they should be able to win handily, as the Sabres are not a good team.

New York Islanders on 11.23.2013 at 7:00 PM in Philadelphia

The Islanders are currently sitting in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division with an 8-10-3 record. They are 4-6-0 in their last 10. They are led by John Tavares who currently has 25 points (9g, 16a). Frans Nielsen is having a breakout year as he is playing at a point a game pace with 21 points (9g, 12a) in as many games. Kyle Okposo has also been playing exceptionally well this year as he has 20 points (6g, 14a). Thomas Vanek, acquired for Matt Moulson, a 2014 1st round pick, and a 2015 2nd round pick, has played just six games with the Islanders to date, registering 3 points (1g, 2a), before going out with an upper body injury in a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on November 9th. He has not seen action since, and that’s probably the main reason why the Islanders have lost three of their last five games. For all of the offensive talent the Isles have, their goaltending is a huge concern. Evgeni Nabokov, who played just 4:12 Saturday before leaving the game with a groin injury, has a 5-5-3 record, a 3.30 GAA, and a .892 save percentage. His backup, Kevin Poulin, has not been much better going 3-5-0, with a 2.52 GAA, and posting a .909 save percentage. This is a must-win game for Philadelphia because they are just three points back in the standings with two games in hand. It’s early, but these divisional games mean so much more in the current playoff format, especially given that the Metropolitan Division is so weak, it’s a real possibility that both of the Eastern Conference Wild Card playoff spots will be awarded to Atlantic Division teams. If the Flyers can find a way to keep a lid on Tavares’ line, then they should put themselves in a good position to take away these critical two points.