Flight Plan: Rough Skies Ahead

The Philadelphia Flyers are four games into their six-game road trip and are 2-2-0. This past week they were 1-2-0, beating the Detroit Red Wings by a score of 6-3, but losing to the Minnesota Wild, 2-0, and getting shellacked by the Dallas Stars, 5-1. Steve Mason allowed more than three goals for the first time since coming over to Philadelphia late last season, but through no fault of his own. The Stars’ top line of Jamie Benn, Valeri Nichushkin, and Tyler Seguin was dominant. Seguin scored a natural hat trick as the three players combined for a total of nine points on the day. Philadelphia should get a little bit of a pass for not being sharp as they hadn’t skated in almost three full days, but it doesn’t excuse the lack of effort over the last 40 minutes of the game, nor does it explain the lack of discipline especially of one Zac Rinaldo as he received a five minute major for fighting, two minutes for instigating giving Dallas a seven minute power play in the process and to go along with a 10 minute misconduct and a game misconduct. It wasn’t the most egregious thing any hockey player has ever done, but to do that on your first shift, just 75 seconds into a game where your team hasn’t practiced or skated in three days, is a huge no-no. This debacle also marked the 22nd time this year that the Flyers have been unable to score more than two goals over the course of a game.

The Flyers have also been without the services of Vinny Lecavalier, who has been suffering from back spasms. Lecavalier left the team in Ottawa to return to Philadelphia for further examination. Pending the results, he could rejoin the team in Chicago, but that seems unlikely at this point. Kimmo Timonen is also day-to-day with an upper-body injury. On the plus side, Claude Giroux has been inching closer to that point per game mark he achieved the last two seasons as he now has 20 points (5g, 15a) on the year. Brayden Schenn broke a five game pointless drought with his assist on Andrej Meszaros’ first goal of the year which was his first twine-tickler since March 1st of 2012. Schenn now has 16 points (7g, 9a) this season.

The Flyers will have three games this week to try and get things back on track as they visit the Ottawa Senators, finish up their road trip in Chicago facing the Central Division leading Chicago Blackhawks,  before returning to Philadelphia the next night to face Danny Briere and the Montreal Canadiens. You can get tickets to any of these games through tiqiq.com.

12.09.2013 Ottawa Senators at 7:30 PM in Ottawa

The Ottawa Senators are currently sitting in sixth place in the Atlantic Division. They are eight points out of a playoff spot as they have just 27 points in the standings. They have scored 86 goals while allowing 99, and are 3-6-1 in their last 10. This will be the third and final meeting between the two teams and the Flyers are currently 2-0-0 in the season series, winning the first game by way of a 5-0 shutout, and the second by a score of 5-2. Unsurprisingly, the Senators are led by defenseman Erik Karlsson who has 28 points (8g, 20a) on the year and is just two points ahead of Bobby Ryan with 26 (14g, 12a). Senators captain Jason Spezza has 25 points (10g, 15a), while Clark MacArthur has 23 points (9g, 14a), and Kyle Turris has 22 (6g, 16a). The Senators’ problems lie in their last line of defense. Craig Anderson has had real trouble this season keeping the puck out of the net as he is 7-8-3, with a 3.38 GAA, a .897 SV%, and one shutout to his credit. In his last 10 starts, Anderson has allowed 4 or more goals six times, and allowed fewer than three just twice in that span. His backup, Robin Lehner, is a better option at this point. Lehner has gone 4-6-2 on the year, with a 2.49 GAA, and a .930 SV%. If the Flyers can pot some pucks as they did in the first two games between these clubs, they should be in a good position to win this game.

12.11.2013 Chicago Blackhawks at 8:00 PM in Chicago

The Chicago Blackhawks, once again, are the best team in the Central Division. The reigning Stanley Cup Champions are 20-6-5, and are 6-3-1 in their last 10. At home, they have lost just two games in regulation going 9-2-4 in 15 games. The ‘Hawks’ top point producer is Patrick Kane who has 34 points (16g, 18a) on the year. Duncan Keith (1g, 24a) and Jonathan Toews (12g, 13a) both have 25 points, while Patrick Sharp has 24 points (11g, 13a). Marian Hossa has 22 points (12g, 10a) but has eight points (4g, 4a) in his last eight contests. Chicago currently has 13 players on their roster with 10 points or more for the club this season. In other words, the Blackhawks are a very deep team offensively. Defensively however, they could use some help. They have allowed 87 goals in 31 contests, putting them in 18th in the league in goals allowed per game, and their penalty killing has suffered immensely since the departure of Dave Bolland in the offseason, as they rank 29th in the league with a 71.8% kill rate. The ‘Hawks have relied heavily on Corey Crawford thus far. He has started 24 of the team’s 31 games, and is 3rd in minutes played in the NHL with 1,491 to his name. Crawford currently has a 17-6-3 record, a 2.49 GAA, and a .906 SV%. Chicago has started two other netminders in the 40-year-old Nikolai Khabibulin and rookie Antti Raanta. Khabibulin was injured in his last start against the Nashville Predators, but his numbers were underwhelming this year. He went 1-0-1 in four starts, with a 5.00 flat GAA, and a .811 SV%. Raanta has started three games, played in four, and has gone 2-0-1, with a 2.08 GAA, and a .918 SV%. Regardless of who the Flyers face in net, they  need to focus on limiting the Blackhawks’ top scorers because if they can’t keep a lid on Hossa, Kane, Keith, Sharp, and Toews, this will be a tough game to watch.

12.12.2013 Montreal Canadiens at 7:00 PM in Philadelphia

The Montreal Canadiens have leapt out in front of the Boston Bruins to lead the Atlantic Division, despite having played two more games than the Bruins. They have 41 points and have won five in a row, going 9-0-1 in their last 10. The Canadiens’ have scored 85 goals while allowing just 65, and that’s largely due to the play of Carey Price. Price has been stellar this year. He is 14-8-2, with a 1.95 GAA, a .938 SV%, and one shutout to his credit. When you factor in that Price had kind of an inconsistent start over his first eight games, it makes his performance over his last 16 games all that much more impressive. In 24 starts this season, Price has allowed two or fewer goals on 18 occasions, and has gone 10 straight without giving up more than two goals. His save percentage over his last 10 outings has not dipped below .920, and the team has lost just twice in that span. Price’s backup, Peter Budaj, has been just as good as he has gone 5-1-1, with a 1.80 GAA, a .934 SV%, and one shutout. When your goaltenders play like that, you’re going to have a lot of success. In terms of scoring for Montreal, P.K. Subban leads the team with 24 points (4g, 20a). Tomas Plekanec has 22 points (11g, 11a), and sophomore Alex Galchenyuk has 20 points (8g, 12a). The Canadiens, like the Blackhawks, are a fairly deep team. They have 12 players on their roster with at least 10 points on the season. Unlike the Blackhawks however, the Canadiens are excellent on special teams as they sit in 5th in the NHL on the power play converting on 22.7% of their opportunities on the man advantage, and rank 3rd in the league on the penalty kill with an 86.4% kill rate. The Canadiens are hot right now and it does not bode well for a team as inconsistent as the Flyers. To have any chance at winning this game, the Flyers must get to Carey Price or Peter Budaj and score some goals, which for the reasons listed above, is a tall order for any team right now, but especially for one that is offensively challenged.