The Philadelphia Flyers are 5-6-1 at the quarter mark in the abbreviated NHL season. Not the best start we all wanted, but considering they started at 2-6, things have started to turn around as of late. The Flyers ended a four game home stand with a 3-0-1 record, earning 7 of a possible 8 points in the standings. With wins over Tampa Bay and Carolina (twice) and a shootout loss to the Panthers, the Flyers had a very successful home stand. Now, the Fly guys head on the road for a grueling 6 games in 10 days road trip. This week the Flyers go into Toronto, then travel on a red-eye flight to Winnipeg for the first back-to-back starting tonight. After a well deserved two-day rest, the Flyers will play the Montreal Canadiens in prime time Saturday night. This week will be a test of the Flyers youth and the veterans stamina, as they need to get at least 5 points to continue to rebound from a horrid start.
Tonight against the Maple Leafs, the Flyers need to continue what they have been doing over the home stand, play sound defense and minimize the breakdowns. One of the main reasons the Flyers have a 4 game point streak going is due to the conservative defense in the defensive zone. Not usually coach Peter Laviolette‘s style, but it has worked to a near perfection. Ilya Bryzgalov was a star in Phoenix with a conservative defense in his zone, and this year so far it seems to be having the same effect. In order to beat the Maple Leafs, the Flyers will need their 3rd and 4th lines to continue to play well. Toronto’s top 2 lines are good with players like Phil Kessel, former Flyer James van Riemsdyk, Mikhail Grabovski (who could miss tonight’s game due to suspension) and Nikolai Kulemin. The Flyers top two lines are also pretty good, but this game will be won by the play of the 3rd and 4th lines. The Flyers have a clear advantage in this category, especially with the emergence of Brayden Schenn and Jakub Voracek‘s great chemistry together. The fourth line of Maxime Talbot, Jody Shelley and Ruslan Fedotenko will likely get some ice time against the Leafs top line, who are notoriously known to shy from contact. JVR and Kessel are two of the most contact shy players in the game after a good hit. I think the Flyers win tonight in Toronto, 4-2.
Tomorrow night may be a different story. The Flyers are bigger, stronger, faster, and more talented than the Winnipeg Jets, but they are taking a red-eye flight to Winnipeg, which if you do not know, is NOT relatively close to anywhere. Brian Boucher will likely get the start and the Flyers will be tired. I expect them to have a sloppy first period, going down by a goal or two. But if the Flyers want to win they need to capitalize on the power play. The Jets have a league-worst 66.7% penalty kill, and for a tired team to get a win, the Flyers MUST take advantage of any power play opportunities they might get. I think the Flyers lose in overtime 4-3.
After another long flight to New Jersey, the Flyers have a few days off before taking on the red-hot Devils (no pun intended). The Devils are drastically exceeding everyone’s expectations this year, as they have only lost in regulation one time all season. Once again, the Devils are winning because of great goaltending. Martin Brodeur is at his best, even at 40 years of age. The Devils can prevent you from scoring goals each and every night, and they still have Ilya Kovalchuk, consistently one of the best players in the NHL over the last few years. One shot from Kovalchuk can change the entire game, as the Devils are very good playing with a lead. For the Flyers to win, they need to pepper Brodeur with shots and bury rebounds, as dirty goals seem to be the only way to beat a hot goaltender. If the Flyers can score 3 goals, they beat the Devils, but if not, the Devils will win. Personally, I think Claude Giroux busts out on Friday and has a 3-point night. 4-3 Flyers.
After the Devils game, the Flyers will take another red-eye flight to Montreal, where they play the surprisingly Canadiens and their 6-4-1 record. The last few years, the Habs have been waiting for Carey Price to blossom into a top 5 goaltender in the NHL, and he has risen to the challenge so far this year. Carey Price carries a 2.21 GAA and a .919 save percentage, which is what fans in Montreal think he can do on a consistent basis. To beat the Canadiens, it is very similar to the Maple Leafs. The Flyers must outplay them with the 3rd and 4th lines. I do not think the Flyers will have an issue with the Canadiens, especially since Danny Briere always plays well there, and we all know why. I think the Flyers roll and complete a very successful week. 5-1 Flyers.
In a bit of related news, Flyers winger Scott Hartnell has started to skate and is getting ready for a return in the next few weeks. I personally believe he will be back with the team after the long road trip, and could play Saturday, February 23rd vs the Winnipeg Jets. This will be a huge boost for the Flyers, just because it makes every other line better. I believe Hartnell will more than likely replace Mike Knuble in the lineup, and Knuble will then be a mentor and a great presence in the locker room for young big men such as Tye McGinn and Wayne Simmonds. Here is a look at the projected lines after Hartnell returns:
Maxime Talbot Ruslan Fedotenko Zac Rinaldo
I know I am in the majority that thinks this can be a very good team when healthy, as the lines aforementioned clearly indicate. When this team gets healthy, and if Bryzgalov can continue to play comfortable between the pipes, making a push into the summer is not out of the question.Tags: Brayden Schenn, Brian Boucher, Danny Briere, Ilya Bryzgalov, Jakub Voracek, Mike Knuble, NHL, Peter Laviollete, Philadelphia Flyers