Hello! Good afternoon! Did we all have a pleasant break? Have we had fun watching the kiddos play at World Juniors? Are we all ready to get back to Flyers hockey?
To recap: last week was the absolute weirdest. On Tuesday, the Flyers beat the Red Wings. Okay, so far so good. Then, they started a back-to-back on Thursday, during which they somehow lost to the Sabres, but were then able to take the Blue Jackets to a shootout. Yeah, I don’t know. Existence is weird and nothing makes sense. But we knew that already.
Tonight, the Flyers are set to square off against the Florida Panthers for the second of three times this season. The last time these two teams met, things went well for the Flyers, and they blew the Panthers out 5-1. And tonight they’ll hope that they can repeat that performance.
We’ve had a fair bit of shifting and shuffling leading up to this game, so let’s have a look at three of those things.
1. New first line
The most obvious bit of change came with the rearrangement of, well, most of the lines. With things looking very bad in Buffalo, Hakstol needed to find some way to get his lines going again. And, to a certain degree, that worked. The line that showed the most promise, perhaps unsurprisingly, was the newly constructed first line of Giroux-Couturier-Konecny. The line drove play well, and generated a reasonable number of chances throughout, as could be expected from a line led by Giroux and Couturier. And, so far, Konecny seems to be a good fit. He was held without a shot, but seemed to be gelling with his new linemates, and continued to use his speed to aid in generating chances. The story around him has largely been “he’s doing all the right things, and they’re bound to break open for him eventually,” and given his new and most dynamic linemates, this may be his best chance to have that happen.
Of course, with success looming for the new first line, the Flyers will also need to find a way to avoid slipping into that old trend of the first line doing all of the heavy lifting. The middle six also needs to get going again. And hopefully tonight presents as their opportunity to do just that.
2. New goalie?
Surprise! Michal Neuvirth’s back!
Activated off injured reserve on Tuesday, he’s back to practicing and travelling with the team, and seems, by all appearances, to be good to go. But the question remains as to when we’ll see him play next. The Flyers have back-to-back games tonight and tomorrow, and given the workload that Elliott’s had to shoulder of late, it stands to reason that Neuvirth would see the ice at some point during this stretch.
But when? Would they feel comfortable playing him in his first game back, at the first opportunity? Do they trust him enough to play against the first in the Atlantic division Lightening tomorrow? Or will they continue to ride Elliott until he just can’t even stand?
I guess we’ll just have to see.
3. Breaking out of the defensive zone
This is old news by, now, isn’t it? One of the biggest areas that plagued the Flyers in their pre-Christmas road trip was allowing themselves to spend too much time hemmed into their own defensive zone. It shouldn’t have happened as much as it did, certainly not against the Sabres, and yet it did. They did well to not fall fully into the same trap in Columbus, but weren’t out of the woods altogether. Their new lines have the potential to be dangerous, to generate a good amount of offense, if only they actually get the chance to do so.
So do the thing, you guys. Get out of your own zone and make something happen. You’re listening to me, right?
The models over at Corsica have nice enough things to say about the Flyers, giving them a high of 59 percent and average of 50.5 percent edge over the Panthers.
Puck drops at 7:30 tonight. You can check out the Flyers’ projected lineup below.
Giroux - Couturier - Konecny
Raffl - Patrick - Voracek
Weise - Filppula - Simmonds
Leier - Laughton - Weal
Provorov - Gostisbehere
Hagg - MacDonald
Sanheim - Gudas