Thankfully the Devils are no longer undefeated thanks to Colorado’s 5-3 win on Thursday night. That’s the good news, but the bad news is that they’re still playing some good hockey to start the year at 4-1 and lead the league in goal differential to boot at plus-11. The Flyers, on the other hand, sit at 3-4 through seven games having allowed 31 goals, which is the worst mark in the league if you don’t count the soon-to-be relegated Red Wings.
While goal prevention has been a large issue for far for Dave Hakstol’s Flyers, scoring hasn’t been much of an issue. The Flyers have 25 goals, which trails on Boston, Toronto, and Colorado early on (they’re tied with Carolina, btw). Main problem? Philadelphia currently owns a league-worst 85.78 save percentage in all situations per Corsica, which is quite bad.
But it hasn’t been all the netminders’ fault, with Christian Folin’s comical routine the other night in Columbus serving as a summary of the Flyers’ defense so far this season. But like most of the Flyers’ issues to start the season, it’s not just the goalies and the defense, it’s also the forwards as evidence by the chart below, which shows an excess of opponent shot attempts from all over the ice.
All of that seems bad and could continue to be bad as the Devils present will some real challenges for the Flyers this afternoon. New Jersey is a strong 5-on-5 club and has an excellent penalty kill that could neutralize the Flyers’ skill players when they do get a shot on the man-advantage. And much like they did when Martin Brodeur roamed the crease, the Devils have an advantage between the pipes as well.
Without further adieu, here are four things to watch for when the Flyers clash with the Devils today.
1. Don’t get killed 5-on-5
New Jersey is a really good 5-on-5 team, posting a 52% Corsi-For and a 70% Goals-For percentage for the season so far. They’ve outscored opponents by seven goals at 5-on-5 while the Flyers have a 46% Corsi-For and a 45% Goals-For percentage.
With the Devils killing penalties off at a 90% clip so far, you might not be able to count on scoring there so you can’t afford to get run around at 5-on-5. Coming off a six-goal outing at 5-on-5 from Columbus the other night, this could be a tough task for the Flyers.
2. New lines, different results?
Sean Couturier missing from practice. Here’s what Flyers are rolling with:— Dave Isaac (@davegisaac) October 19, 2018
It looks like Hakstol will juggle his lines a bit here with Voracek earning a demotion and Patrick’s return causing some shuffling to occur. Weal skated with Oskar Lindblom and Travis Konency with Patrick dropping down to skate with Laughton and Voracek. Those two lines are essentially interchangeable with Wayne Simmonds earning spot with Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux on the top line. Simmonds has been red-hot to start the year with five goals in seven games, and three have come at even strength, which is a boon for the Flyers if Simmonds can continue to do damage at 5-on-5 in addition to his usual damage on the man-advantage.
3. Clean up the transition game
The Blue Jackets lived on the transition game on Thursday, with Cam Atkinson and Artemi Panarin owning the Flyers team defense. Both Atkinson’s goals came in transition, with one beating Jake Voracek to the net and the other a defenseman. The Flyers have not guarded the net well in transition and forwards haven’t been much help coming back, either. That needs to change or they’ll keep getting burned skating back towards their own net as they have been.
The other way, the Flyers need to better take advantage of their transition chances offensively. As has been the case in past years, they’ve gotten pretty passive in the offensive zone recently and especially on odd-man rushes of late. Prime example was Claude Giroux passing up a shot for a contested pass over against the Blue Jackets on a 2-on-1. Not only have they been ineffective scoring in transition of late, but they’ve been turning the puck over and watching it end up in their own net at the other end as well.
4. For Bernie’s sake, someone make a damn save
Neither Brian Elliott nor Cal Pickard have been very good in the crease to start the season, but Pickard was so bad against Columbus that Dave Hakstol would have to be an idiot to give him the nod against the Devils.
Elliott was left out to dry for all eight goals against the Sharks back on October 9, but was solid in his other stats and probably didn’t deserve the hook against the Panthers. That aside, the Flyers’ leaky defense needs some saves from their goalie to slow momentum and they’re just haven’t been many so far this season. The veteran isn’t going to face the 80’s Oilers in this one, so there’s a chance to put up a solid outing that gives his club a chance to win.
Make no mistake the Flyers need to do just about everything in the defensive zone better, but Elliott making a couple bail out saves could go a long way in boosting confidence for this club right now.
5. Nolan Back-trick
The Flyers will get back the services of the second-year pivot, which is great news for a forward group that dearly needs to get some momentum going. Adding Patrick back to the mix helps solidify the top-nine while keeping Jordan Weal and some of his creativity up in the lineup after a strong showing in Columbus a couple nights ago.
Patrick has yet to score in four games (really three), and needs to provide secondary scoring for the Flyers, but did string a few good periods together before leaving early against the Senators. He centered Scott Laughton and Jake Voracek in practice on Friday as Voracek looks to have earned a demotion following his lazy play on Thursday. That’s an intriguing line with Laughton playing very well night-to-night and Voracek always a threat. Let’s see if that trio can get going and get Patrick off to the races.
Noted Flyers killers include goalie Keith Kinkaid, who owns a 6-1 record with a .918 save percentage, a 2.38 goals-against average and a shutout career vs. the Flyers…Taylor Hall has 20 points in 15 career games vs. the Flyers (nine goals, 11 assists)…noted Flyers killer Kyle Palmieri has 10 goals in 16 games against the Orange and Black…Claude Giroux is nearly a point per-game player against the Devils with 42 points in 44 games…
Flyers’ projected lineup
Giroux - Couturier - Simmonds
Lindblom - Weal - Konecny
Laughton - Patrick - Voracek
Raffl - Lehtera - Weise
Provorov - Gostisbehere
Sanheim - Gudas
Hagg - Folin