The hellish month of March has come and gone, and with their ridiculous nine-game swing done, the Flyers enter April by no means in a precarious position when it comes to the playoffs. Just as we all predicted ... by which I mean "just as roughly seven percent of our readership predicted", as the Flyers picked up thirteen points in the last nine games in March and currently about two or three wins away from being playoff locks.
Sure, with three or four teams right behind them in the standings and with a race for the No. 2 seed and home-ice advantage for the inevitable first-round matchup with the Rangers still staring them in the face, the Flyers can't afford to sleepwalk through these last eight games or anything. And they are coming off a mediocre-ish 1-2-1 week, even acknowledging the strong effort in Sunday's shootout loss against Boston. But things just feel a little bit less hectic right now than they have at any time in the past couple months, and that's a nice feeling.
That doesn't mean that a win today wouldn't be nice or appreciated. Of course, picking up a win today will also be fairly difficult.
As you may recall, the Flyers and the Western Conference-leading Blues played each other just ten days and five games ago in Philadelphia, in a bit of an odd game that saw the Flyers emerge with a 4-1 win despite committing ten different minor penalties and spending a large chunk of the game on the penalty kill. Maybe that's not actually so odd -- it is the Flyers we're talking about here -- but it's probably not the way you want to count on beating a team like St. Louis, who's strong in all facets of the game.
Still, though, 50 wins before April can't please everyone, and our friends over at St. Louis Game Time have been a little peeved at the lack of scoring of late from guys who don't make up their top line of 33-goal-scorer Alex Steen, American Shootout Hero T.J. Oshie, and David Backes (for whom I unfortunately don't have as fun of a qualifier, even though he's got 56 points this year and is also very good). Recent injuries -- in particular, to talented young winger Vladimir Tarasenko -- haven't helped, but the Blues' scoring depth is definitely one of their biggest current issues.
Luckily for them, they've still got plenty to fall back on even with those issues. Even if they're a bit cold right now, they've still got a lot of good players up and down the lineup, and they're sound defensively as you'd expect. They're also 26-6-4 in the friendly confines of the Scottrade Center. So nothing's going to come easily tonight for the Flyers.
And that's especially true given lineup issues of their own. Kimmo Timonen, who is awesome and has been particularly awesome since the Olympic break ended, will miss today's game with an upper body injury and didn't even travel with the team to St. Louis. He took a puck off of his chin on Sunday afternoon, so potentially it's something that resulted of that. Who knows, since he kept playing and all.
Anywho, this means Erik Gustafsson will play for the first time since the game immediately following the Olympic break. A lot of us have wanted to see him in the lineup for a while, and hopefully his speed will help out against a team that plays well in all areas of the ice, but it does stink that it comes at the expense of the team's best defenseman. As of now we don't know how exactly the pairings will look, but
let's take a guess that Braydon Coburn is paired with Andrew MacDonald whie Gustafsson stays on the third pairing with Luke Schenn. In reality, though, who knows. per Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer at practice, the pairs being run today were Braydon Coburn with Nicklas Grossmann, Mark Streit with Andrew MacDonald, and Erik Gustafsson with Luke Schenn. So changes made up and down the defensive lineup, then.
The forward lineup is expected to remain the same, with Steve Downie still out, Tye McGinn still on Brayden Schenn's wing, Michael Raffl still on Sean Couturier's wing, and Vincent Lecavalier still on the fourth line. It's worked for two straight games, so what's a third?
Puck drop around 8. National TV on NBCSN, local TV on CSN. Go Flyers.