Flight Plan: One at Home, Six On The Road

The Philadelphia Flyers ended up with five of a possible eight points last week in two home-and-home sets with new divisional rivals the Washington Capitals and the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Flyers scored a total of 17 goals last week, and scored north of two goals in all four contests. Unfortunately, they also allowed 17 goals, eight of which came in third periods over the course of the week. In games where both teams have a chance to win going into the third period, the best teams find ways to win games in the final frame. That trait has eluded Philadelphia for much of the season.

Philadelphia allowed Washington to gain two points in the standings via the shootout, despite having a three goal lead on the Capitals with under 10 minutes to go in regulation. With the game tied going into the third period last night, the Flyers allowed the Blue Jackets to score four third period goals (one was an empty netter) and scored just once themselves over the final 20 minutes of regulation. The good news is that while the Flyers allowed eight third period goals last week, they also scored nine. Five of those nine came in a single third period where Claude Giroux displayed the type of brilliance and poise of which only the games’ best players possess.

Giroux now has 31 points in 36 games and 11 in his last six and linemate Jakub Voracek has 23 points in the year, 11 of which have come during his current seven-game point streak. Michael Raffl had just two points through his first 17 NHL games. Since scoring his first career NHL goal in his first multi-point game, Raffl has put up seven points in nine games. Philadelphia’s offense started to click this week while what has kept them relevant for much of the season is starting to falter a little: their goaltending.

Steve Mason has allowed 22 goals in his last seven starts and Ray Emery has allowed 16 in his last four starts, 11 of which have come in his last two outings. That is brutal no matter which way you slice it, but it’s times like these that teams have to come together and prop up their netminders with goal support, which the Flyers have done much of this last week. Looking on the bright side the Orange and Black’s offense has started to click, so if Mason and Emery can start stringing together solid starts again, this team could start to close in on that third and final playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division.

General Manager Paul Holmgren reported that Steve Downie would miss the next seven to 10 days with an upper-body injury and Nicklas Grossmann did not play in last night’s tilt due to the Flu. Vincent Lecavalier returned to the lineup yesterday after missing a few weeks with a non-displaced fracture in his back and had an assist on Sean Couturier’s seventh goal of the year.

Philadelphia has two games this week, one against the Minnesota Wild at home before embarking on a six-game road trip which starts in western Canada against the Edmonton Oilers. You can buy tickets to any and all Philadelphia Flyers games through tiqiq.com.

Minnesota Wild on 12.23.2013 at 7:30 PM (EST) in Philadelphia

The Minnesota Wild won the first meeting between these two clubs by a score of 2-0. They received goals from Jason Pominville and Charlie Coyle, as well as a strong performance from goaltender Josh Harding. The teams were scoreless through two periods of play before Pominville scored the game’s first goal, and Coyle followed less than a minute later with his third of the season. The Flyers outshot the Wild during the last stanza 11-6, but Harding was the difference as he did not yield a goal on any of the Flyers’ 21 shots fired his way.

Harding will not play this game as he is undergoing treatment for multiple sclerosis, but he has been one of the best goaltenders in the NHL this year going 18-5-3, with three shutouts, a 1.51 GAA, and a .939 SV%. Niklas Backstrom is 2-6-2, with a 3.12 GAA, and a .896 SV%. If Minnesota decides to go with their call-up Johan Gustafsson, he will be making his NHL debut. Gustafsson is 6’2”, 199 lbs. and is just 21-years of age. In eight starts this season for the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League, Gustafsson has gone 4-4-0, with one shutout, a 2.95 GAA, and a .898 SV%.

Offensively, the Wild are led by captain Mikko Koivu (7g, 20a) and Zach Parise (15g, 12a) who each have 27 points. Jason Pominville leads the team in goals with 16 (8a) and has 24 points on the season. Ryan Suter co-leads Minnesota in assists with 20, but he is still looking for his first goal in the 2013-2014 campaign. Nino Niederreiter has 17 points (6g, 11a) as well. If the Flyers want to have a shot at winning this game, then they need to continue their strong offensive showing from last week because the Wild rely heavily on goaltending and defense to win games.

Edmonton Oilers on 12.28.2013 at 10:00 PM (EST) in Edmonton

The Edmonton Oilers are a paltry 11-24-3 this season, and have gained the second fewest points in the standings in the entire NHL with 25. The Flyers won the first meeting between these two teams by a score of 4-2. Claude Giroux scored his first goal of the year in that game and has since scored 24 points in the 20 games since. The Oilers are a highly-skilled offensive team as they have scored 95 goals, but lack any semblance of defensive game whatsoever. They have allowed a league-high 133 goals in 38 games, and have the worst goal differential at -38. They are 2-7-1 in their last 10, and are 5-11-1 at Rexall Place.

The Oilers are led by Taylor Hall who has 30 points (13g, 17a) in just 31 games. Jordan Eberle is close behind with 29 points (11g, 18a). Offseason acquisition David Perron leads Edmonton in goals with 14 (13a), and he and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (9g, 18a) both have 27 points on the season. Ales Hemsky has 18 points (6g, 12a) and Mark Arcobello has 16 points (3g, 13a).

The Oilers’ netminders have not been very good this year. Devan Dubnyk has garnered most of the team’s starts as he is 9-15-2 with one shutout, a 3.38 GAA, and a .892 SV%. Former-Philadelphia-Flyer and offseason-buyout-recipient Ilya Bryzgalov has been slightly better than his counterpart, going 1-4-0 with one shutout, a 2.94 GAA, and a .917 SV%. If the Flyers can limit the Oilers’ forwards, they will have a good shot at winning this game.