Flight Plan: Looking Upward and Onward

Sean Couturier takes part in warm-ups. Image c/o Amy Irvin of 38Photography (https://www.facebook.com/38Photography)

The Philadelphia Flyers won two of their three games last week. Their wins came against the New Jersey Devils in overtime and the Montreal Canadiens in regulation. Yesterday, the team lost a due to a sub-par defensive effort, an unusually poor outing from goaltender Steve Mason, and some inexperience on coach Craig Berube’s part. Every player will have an off day here and there, every team will get away from their system from time to time, and every coach will fail to get his guys to turn things around after a bad couple of minutes sometimes. Yesterday was a perfect storm for the Flyers against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and they lost in regulation for the first time in 10 games at the Wells Fargo Center. Mason had an off day, but Craig Berube was reluctant to pull the netminder despite his struggles in net, which is something he should be, and needs to be, quicker to recognize going forward.

On the plus side, Claude Giroux is again just four points off of a point per game pace as he has 41 points (13 goals, 28 assists) in 45 contests after he grabbed two assists yesterday on Jake Voracek’s two-goal effort. Voracek now has 12 goals and 32 points (20 assists) on the year. Wayne Simmonds also scored a power play goal, his ninth tally in his last 10 games and has 15 goals and 30 points (15 assists) this season. Scoring on the power play at home has been tough for this team and, although they failed to capitalize on an early 5-on-3 that would have knotted the game, they did cut the Lightning lead to one in the second period on Simmonds’ 15th of the year.

The Flyers will have to look onward and upward as they try to right the ship tonight against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden in the first of four games this week. All of the Orange and Black’s games this week come against teams who are outside of the playoff picture. The remaining three contests will have them squaring off with the Buffalo Sabres, the Nashville Predators, and the New York Islanders. You can get tickets to all Flyers games on tiqiq.com.

New York Rangers on 01.12.2014 at 7:00 PM in New York

The New York Rangers have climbed up the standings in recent weeks and are now just one point behind the Flyers, though Philadelphia has one game in hand. The Rangers are 7-2-1 in their last 10. They are 14-10-0 inside the confines of Madison Square Garden. This will be the second of five meetings between the Rangers and Flyers. In the first game between the clubs, the Flyers took a 2-1 decision in regulation at home in which Matt Read and Braydon Coburn scored for Philadelphia, while Brad Richards scored for New York.

Richards is leading the way for the Rangers with 33 points (11 goals, 22 assists). He is followed closely by diminutive forward Mats Zuccarello with 32 points (11 goals, 21 assists). Soon to be Olympian Derek Stepan has 27 points (seven goals, 20 assists), while Ryan McDonagh (seven goals, 18 assists) and Chris Kreider (11 goals, 14 assists) both have 25 points. Derick Brassard has 24 points (seven goals, 17 assists) and Rick Nash, who has missed time with injury, has 19 points (10 goals, nine assists) in 29 games.

The Rangers have received excellent goaltending from Cam Talbot, but Henrik Lundqvist has struggled to find his normal elite-level netminding prowess on a consistent basis. Lundqvist is 14-16-3 with two shutouts, a .908 save percentage, and a 2.73 goals against average. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, Lundqvist has looked better of late, as just once in his last six outings has his save percentage dipped below .920. Talbot has played above expectations for New York as he has a 9-3-0 record, two shutouts, a .938 save percentage, and a 1.66 goals against average. Regardless of who the Flyers will face in net, they will have their work cut out for them. If the Flyers want to have a shot at winning this game, they’ll have to dictate the play more as they have over their recent surge.

Buffalo Sabres on 01.14.2014 at 7:30 PM in Buffalo

The Buffalo Sabres are the worst team in the NHL by a country mile this year. They have 29 points which is the worst in the entire league. They have just 75 goals to their credit while they have allowed 120 for a -45 goal differential, and they are 9-12-3 at home. This will be the second of three games between the Flyers and Sabres this year. The Flyers won the first game handily by a score of 4-1. Tyler Myers scored the first goal of the game on the power play, and then it was all Philadelphia as the Flyers received goals from Matt Read, Vincent Lecavalier, and Scott Hartnell.

The Sabres are led by the recently healed Cody Hodgson, who has 19 points (eight goals, 11 assists) in 33 games. Early season acquisition Matt Moulson has 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) in 30 games. Tyler Ennis is the third Buffalo forward to reach eight goals for the team and has 16 points (eight assists). The Sabres have pretty much only won any games because of Ryan Miller.

Miller has been outstanding all year in spite of his record. He is 11-18-1 with no shutouts, a .927 save percentage, and a 2.64 goals against average. It’s both remarkable and confusing to see a goalie who has a save percentage north of .920 and a goals against average above 2.30. His backup, Jhonas Enroth, is 1-8-4 with no shutouts, a .916 save percentage, and a 2.46 goals against average. The Flyers need to show up and not get lulled into thinking this game isn’t worth two points in the standings for them to find success against the Sabres.

 Nashville Predators on 01.16.2014 at 7:00 in Philadelphia

The Nashville Predators sit in sixth place in the Central Division with 45 points, which puts them just six points out of playoff spot. They have been without the services of their starting goaltender most of the season, which wouldn’t be as big of a deal if Pekka Rinne wasn’t their guy. Rinne has made strides recently in his recovery from a hip infection, but is still likely a few weeks away from actually playing in a game. In the earlier meeting between these two teams, the Flyers took a 3-2 decision via the shootout. The goal scorers in that game were Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier for Philadelphia, Mike Fisher and Colin Wilson for Nashville, and Vincent Lecavalier scored the lone goal for the Flyers in the shootout against Marek Mazanec as Steve Mason shut the door on all three Predator attempts.

Nashville is led by captain Shea Weber who has 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists) for the Predators. David Legwand has 28 points (seven goals, 21 assists), Craig Smith has 27 points and leads the Predators in goals with 13 (14 assists), while both Mike Fisher (12 goals, 12 assists) and Patric Hornqvist (nine goals, 15 assists) have 24 points apiece.

In net, Nashville has relied upon two largely untested rookies in Marek Mazanec and Carter Hutton. Mazanec has carried the load with a 8-9-4 record, two shutouts to his credit, a .904 save percentage, and a 2.75 goals against average. Hutton has posted a 7-7-2 record, no shutouts, a .902 save percentage, and a 3.01 goals against average. If Philadelphia can work over the Nashville defense, they should be able to win this game.

New York Islanders on 01.18.2014 at 7:00 in Philadelphia

The New York Islanders have gotten very hot as of late. They are 7-3-0 in their last 10 and as of today, have won three straight. A lot can change in six days, which is all the more reason to be cautious when preparing for the Islanders. The Flyers have won both of the previous games by a 5-2 score. In the first game, Philadelphia received goals from Jake Voracek, Matt Read, and Vincent Lecavalier netted a hat trick, while Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen scored for the Islanders. In the second meeting, the Flyers’ goal scorers were Wayne Simmonds, Claude Giroux, Brayden Schenn, and Matt Read had a pair of goals, while John Tavares and Eric Boulton scored for the Isles.

The Islanders are led by John Tavares with 54 points (20 goals, 34 assists). Kyle Okposo has 43 points (17 goals, 26 assists), while Frans Nielsen has 35 points (16 goals, 19 assists). Early season acquisition Thomas Vanek has 28 points (11 goals, 17 assists) in 30 games with the team, and Andrew McDonald has 22 points (three goals, 19 assists).

In net, Evgeni Nabokov has been starter more often for the Isles and he is 9-8-5, has one shutout, a .905 save percentage, and a 2.88 goals against average. Nabokov was injured earlier last week, but could return before this game. Kevin Poulin has been his backup, but the pair have more or less split time. Poulin is 8-12-0, has no shutouts, a .895 save percentage, and a 3.12 goals against average. If the Flyers can find a way to contain Nielsen, Okposo, Tavares, and Vanek, they should be able to win this game.