This one won't be easy.
The Canucks may have been playing middle of the road hockey earlier in the season, but now they're establishing themselves as legitimate contenders for playoffs in a tough Pacific division. With a stretch of great play, Vancouver is going to be tough to beat.
There are a handful of pluses and minuses going the Flyers way in this match-up, so let's just dive right in.
If you caught any of Saturday's game against the Oilers, you definitely caught how sloppy our defense played. Misplays from blue-liners have always led and will always lead to goals even if your goaltender is playing mind-blowing hockey. Similarly, the Flyers seem to be in a rather giving mood towards the opposition this holiday season, essentially wrapping and hand-delivering their giveaways (even when they don't register on the box score, for some unknown reason).
On the other hand, Wayne Simmonds has scored two goals in each of the last three games, a streak that is nothing short of phenomenal. He's also the Flyers leading scorer, and with twelve goals on the season, this is shaping up to be his strongest offensive season. Great stuff. In the same vein, Jake Voracek and Claude Giroux hold the second and third longest current point streaks in the NHL, behind Patrick Kane. If you didn't realize, the top line's struggles are long, long gone. Isn't that a nice thought?
Coming into tonight's game, the Canucks penalty kill is the strongest in the NHL, killing off 89.5 percent of all penalties. Unfortunately for the Flyers, it's even better at home. Drat.
However, the Flyers's ability to convert on the power-play was a deciding factor in their latest win, as they scored all three of their regulation goals while the Oilers were shorthanded, so it could prove to be an interesting night for special teams. While the Flyers power-play has struggled at home, it's excelled on the road. Just for comparison, the Flyers are converting at 11.8 percent at the Wells Fargo, while they're converting at 25.4 percent everywhere else. Amazing.
There have been some major injuries for the Canucks in the past month. Forward Alex Burrows and defenseman Alex Edler will both be missing from Vancouver's lineup again tonight. Burrows is out with a broken jaw, while Edler's injury is undisclosed. These are both notable losses for the Canucks, but they certainly haven't stopped winning because of them.
With Roberto Luongo also sidelined with another undisclosed injury (seriously, what's with all of the undisclosed injuries? What is this, MI6? ), rookie Eddie Lack will step in. He's got impressive numbers so far, posting a 1.74 goals against average and a .933 save percentage, but he's only played twelve games this season, so the sample size is small. Tonight will be his second start in as many days; last night, he made 18 saves in the Canucks shutout of the Flames, so he's riding some momentum.
On the more orange side of things, I reckon Steve Mason gets the start. He looked okay in his last game, despite the evidence suggesting otherwise. Other than one really soft goal, Mason did a good job, especially with breakaways and in the shootout. Still, December has been pretty hit or miss for him.
The Canucks have been playing really well in their past several games, keeping games relatively low scoring and tiring out the opposition. It makes sense, considering who's coaching them. Still, the Flyers like to play a similarly tight defensive style, so I'd place my bet on the team that manages to stay more disciplined. Hopefully, for once, the Flyers can be that team.
Personally, I hope we get the opportunity to see some patented John Tortorella rage quits. Make it happen, boys. Go Flyers.