Hey, did you guys hear? Everything’s fixed now! The Flyers are good again! We’ll never have problems again!
That is, definitively, the takeaway that we should all have from the Flyers’ 5-2 win this past Saturday over the Devils, one that occurred just 16 days after their season debut in Las Vegas yet at the same time one that seemed to have a real sense of urgency, two days after an embarrassing loss in Columbus and a series of horrendous defensive efforts that pushed the team to a 3-4 start. It’s weird — and, in fairness, probably over the top — to put that much importance on a single game this early in the season, but the Flyers really needed a strong all-around performance in that game.
And hey — give ‘em credit. They had one. The Flyers stifled a Devils team that has been playing some pretty good hockey to start the season, holding them to just 21 shots and keeping their opponent off the scoresheet at 5-on-5 for the first time all season. Had it not been for some uncharacteristic struggles from the Flyers’ top power play unit and some much more characteristic struggles from the Flyers’ penalty kill, that game wouldn’t have even been close.
The challenge for the Flyers now, of course, is proving that a performance like that was the beginning of a shift in the tides, rather than a one-off from a team that’s has looked wholly unfamiliar with the concept of team defense through most of the season’s early-going. Tonight’s game will be a decent test on this front, as the Flyers will be facing a team that got the better of them in a head-to-head matchup just a couple of weeks ago.
You may remember the Flyers’ October 6 showdown in Colorado as the Christian Folin Game, wherein the Flyers’ most recent free agent addition on defense made himself known to the fanbase by losing a battle in front on one goal against and turning the puck over to directly lead to another goal against. That was a game that shined a bright spotlight on what seemed and still seems to be the Flyers’ main issue: depth on defense. Folin grabbed the highlights (or, y’know, the opposite of that), but Andrew MacDonald and Travis Sanheim also had fairly rough games that night.
Fast forward two weeks, and the Flyers’ main issue still appears to be their defense. But things will look a little bit different than they did that night. Dave Hakstol, facing the reality that his top two defensemen have both appeared a bit off to start the season, surprisingly split the two up prior to this past Saturday’s game, just days after insisting that option wasn’t on the table just yet. Shayne Gostisbehere skated alongside Folin, while Ivan Provorov and Robert Hagg were a duo for the first time since the early part of Hagg’s rookie season. Given the Flyers’ fairly strong defensive performance on Saturday, it seems likely we’ll see those same pairings again tonight, with Sanheim and Radko Gudas playing on the third pairing. Since Gudas was out for that first Colorado game (remember, he was the one who sat for Folin), the Flyers will be throwing a completely different look defensively at Colorado from the one they tossed out last time around. Hopefully it yields improved results from that game.
Some other questions at hand:
- Can the Jordan Weal-centered second line keep up the strong performance it’s had so far? Weal got a lot of attention on Saturday for the fact that he took three penalties, including the one that allowed the Devils to tie the game early in the third period. But drowned out in that noise is the fact that the Weal line, one featuring Oskar Lindblom and Travis Konecny on his wings, has been the Flyers’ most impressive offensive line in the last two games. Colorado’s forward depth behind their deadly, Nathan MacKinnon-anchored top line is nothing really special, so the Flyers’ group has a chance to make it three strong games in a row.
- Does the Sanheim/Gudas pairing get any more run? Hakstol had a quote about that pairing’s current role prior to the game on Saturday (courtesy of the Courier-Post’s Dave Isaac) that was, well, not received particularly warmly by the masses; in essence, Hakstol stated that even though they’ve clearly played well and even outplayed some of the guys above them in the lineup, it doesn’t make sense to give them much more playing time right now. Over at The Athletic, BSH Radio’s own Charlie O’Connor took a look into this and made note of the fact that Hakstol clearly doesn’t want to see those two spending much time against the other team’s best players. That seems unlikely to change given the aforementioned difficulty of that matchup tonight, but after another really good game from that pair, can Hakstol find ways to get them out for a few more shifts this time around, even if they’re against bottom-of-the-roster types?
- Can the Flyers stick with Colorado’s speed? Say what you will about that Avalanche roster — honestly, I don’t think it’s particularly good beyond the very top guys (who, to beat a dead horse here, are really good) — but that group can skate with the best of them. One of the most striking takeaways from the Flyers’ loss in Columbus last week was how thoroughly bad they were in trying to cover chances in transition or on the rush, and it’s something they’ve been bad at for much of the season so far. They were much, much better in that regard on Saturday against Jersey, but they’ve got another good test there tonight.
All that, and more. Or maybe Jake Voracek will just take over this game like he did on Saturday and nothing else will matter. Let’s do that!
Brian Elliott will start against his old-old-old team after a solid game on Saturday, while Semyon Varlamov is in net for Colorado. Go Flyers.
Tonight’s game begins at 7:00 p.m. ET and can be:
- Seen on TV locally via NBC Sports Philadelphia (or via stream on the NBC Sports App)
- Seen on TV in Colorado via Altitude
- Seen on TV in Canada via Sportsnet and TVA Sports
- Heard on radio locally via 97.5 The Fanatic
- Seen or heard elsewhere via Sirius XM, NHL.tv, and NHL Center Ice
Projected Flyers lineup:
Giroux - Couturier - Simmonds
Lindblom - Weal - Konecny
Laughton - Patrick - Voracek
Raffl - Lehtera - Weise
Provorov - Hagg
Gostisbehere - Folin
Sanheim - Gudas
Projected Avalanche lineup (via):
Landeskog - MacKinnon - Rantanen
Kerfoot - Jost - Wilson
Nieto - Soderberg - Calvert
Andrighetto - Kamenev - Bourque
Girard - Johnson
Cole - Barrie
Zadorov - Nemeth