NHL hockey! Happening! Tonight! In Philadelphia! With the Flyers! Hooray!
OK. Now that we've got all of that out of our system, let's sober up for a second. The 23-game stretch that will close out the regular season for the Flyers begins tonight. As we talked about the other day, it is not going to be an easy stretch. And given tonight's opponent, that stretch will not get off to an easy start.
San Jose Sharks (37-16-6, 80 points) at Philadelphia Flyers (30-23-6, 66 points)
7:00 p.m. ET | Wells Fargo Center | South Philadelphia
TV: CSN Philadelphia | Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic
Get the San Jose perspective at Fear the Fin
Or will it? No, it won't. The Sharks are really good. Still, though, just three games (and, obviously, about three weeks) ago, the Flyers played the Sharks in San Jose and put together what I thought was probably the best all-around game they've played this entire season. They handled the Sharks in their own building more or less for the entire 60 minutes, in a way we've seen from them very few times this year.
Can they do that again tonight? Well, I'm not holding my breath for total domination or anything. But a win is certainly not out of the realm of possibility, even with the Sharks being as good as they are. The Flyers, of course, are coming into this game having won four straight, and while we can debate how much that means given that their last game took place three weeks ago, it'd be nice if they could keep that going.
The Flyers will, however, be without one of their most important defensemen, as Kimmo Timonen -- still recovering from the Olympic break and/or searching for his lost legs -- will not play. He also did not play in that aforementioned victory over the Sharks a few weeks back, so maybe this is just the pieces all falling into place. (It's not likely.) With Timonen out, it sounds like these are the pairings the Flyers will run (via CSN Philadelphia, yesterday):
Coburn - Grossmann
Streit - Meszaros
Schenn - Gustafsson
For the record, I will still not ever understand the necessity to pair Coburn and Grossmann together at even strength that the Flyers seem to feel every so often. But on the plus side: hey, both Gustafsson and Meszaros are in the lineup!
Offensively, the Flyers are expected to be at full-strength, and should be expected to roll with the same lines they were right before the break:
Hartnell - Giroux - Voracek
Lecavalier - Schenn - Simmonds
Downie - Couturier - Read
Raffl - Hall - Rinaldo
As far as the other guys go, the Sharks will be getting some significant roster reinforcements coming out of the break. Logan Couture, one of their best all-around forwards, will be back in the lineup after missing the previous two months with a hand injury, Tyler Kennedy is in after missing the week or so before the break, and Raffi Torres will be making his season debut for the Sharks after tearing his ACL last year. So they'll have a better lineup than they've had in a while. They're a very good team that does everything pretty well, and after the Flyers took it to them a few weeks ago, we shouldn't expect to see anything less than their best tonight.
In net, Steve Mason will go for the Flyers. Alex Stalock is your surprise starter for the Sharks, possibly in an attempt to let Antti Niemi recover as he just made the trip back from Sochi.
Since it's the first game in weeks, there are all sorts of possibilities as to how a win/loss could be explained tonight. Are they going to be rusty? Are they going to be well-rested? Will the answers to those two questions entirely be dictated by whether or not the Flyers win this game, and will the narrative coming out of it form around whichever one of them seems more convenient? You tell me.
But in all seriousness, accounts from practice this week suggested that the team ramped it up a bit, presumably in hopes of being where they need to be physically in advance of tonight's game. Rust shouldn't be much of an excuse at this point -- so let's hope we don't have to hear much about it after the game.
The Flyers lived on the edge a bit in their last two games before the break, eking out close wins against Colorado and Calgary before taking their vacations. They've generally had some trouble beating actual good teams this year, but they did manage to beat three of the West's top six or so teams right before the break began. Picking up another one here would ideally go a long way towards setting the tone the rest of the way. So let's do it, alright?
Puck drop at 7. Fear the Fin for the San Jose side of things. Gamethread up around 6. Go Flyers.