The Flyers have basically alternated wins and loses to begin the season, save for a pair of back-to-back defeats to the Avalanche and Sharks after an opening win in Vegas. After a 4-1 setback to those same Avs, the club is shipping up to Boston tonight looking to land back at .500 by nights end.
Boston is off to a 5-2-2 start, though they have lost three of four after winning their first three games of the season. Could another winning skid be started with a 4-1 win over the Senators on Tuesday night? The Flyers hope it isn’t, but the high-powered Bruins will be a tough battle for Dave Hakstol’s bunch.
Not only are the Bruins tough, the Flyers are starting to feel the effects of the injury bug. Michael Raffl is the latest Flyer to go down, and he’ll miss the next four-to-six weeks with a lower-body injury suffered in the loss to the Avs. He joins James van Reimsdyk on the shelf long-term up front for the forwards. The defense is healthier, but has seen a lot of Christian Folin while Andrew MacDonald has been out on personal leave. To say that MacDonald has been missed would be stretch, but Folin has not been good, either.
The biggest issue for the Flyers continues to be goal prevention, with several assists going to goaltending, and the always-bad penalty kill. The penalty kill is executing at just a 68.8% rate in the early going, and exhibits much of the same tendencies of the past few seasons that have plagued the unit. That has contributed to the Flyers allowed 4.11 goals per game through nine, with only the hapless Red Wings worse so far.
Also not helping is the Flyers’ team save percentage of 89% in all situations, which is only topped by Columbus, where Sergei Bobrovsky is off to a terrible start in a contract year. Help could be on the way as Michal Neuvirth is poised to join the team after making a conditioning start with the Phantoms on Wednesday night.
Whoa man, that’s a whole butt load of bad eh? Yeah sure is, and I didn’t even mention the somehow 21st-ranked power play that has gotten little from its first unit. All that and yet the Flyers are still 4-5 with eight points in nine games. Given all that hasn’t gone right so far (A lot!), things could be much worse for the Orange and Black.
While things could be much worse, the Flyers are playing with fire struggling in so many facets of the game right now. The team not to see while struggling is typically the Bruins, who have been rather dominant with a 60% Goals For mark at 5-on-5. Boston is (again) a top-10 Corsi For team as well, and top-end offensive talent like Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, and Brad Marchand to go along with a deep defense and above average goaltending.
If the Flyers are going to get back into the win column, they’ll earn it against the Bruins. Alas, here are four things to watch for as the Flyers take on the B’s tonight.
1. Get the power play going
The Flyers are usually able to hand their hat on as dangerous a first unit you’ll see around the league, but they’ve gone quiet lately. Travis Konecny has the only Flyers power play tally in the last four games (1-for-12). PP1’s last goal came all the way back in the fourth game of the year against the Senators back on Oct. 10, and as you can see it’s not for a lack of chances during that time span.
While the second power play unit was supposed to be improved, the first unit has been disappointing in the early going and needs to turn around fast in order to help offset some of the shortcomings in other facets of the game. Tonight is a good place to start with the Bruins sagging at 21st with their normally solid penalty kill.
2. For the love of God, get a faster start
The Flyers finally scored first against Columbus last Thursday, but then allowed the first goal to both the Devils and Avs. They were able to make the comeback against New Jersey, but couldn’t do the same against Colorado. Scoring the first goal just once in nine games is borderline embarrassing, and the Flyers need to start better given you can’t count on erasing early deficits every single night.
Faster starts also help boost confidence, which isn’t lacking but also isn’t smoldering hot right now. Getting the first goal on the road, or even keeping the Bruins off the scoreboard for a bit certainly can’t hurt.
3. Clean up the coverage issues
Forwards have struggled marking up on the rush, defenders have struggled marking up down low, it’s just been a mess defensively for the Flyers so far. It shouldn’t be this hard to mark up opposing bodies once they enter your zone, but that’s been the reality for the Flyers lately. While coach Hakstol’s systems seem flawed, too often Flyers are caught drifting out of position or too often caught drifting in on the backcheck without providing much help.
The effort wasn’t great against the Avs on Monday, with Mikko Rantanen wide-open for his opening goal and Matt Nieto also given too much space for his goal. Hakstol thinks the Flyers’ effort has been better defensively recently, it’s still too relaxed and causing too many high quality chances that teams aren’t missing.
4. Avoid the costly turnovers
Claude Giroux was trying to do too much when he coughed up the puck to Gabriel Landeskog for his game-killing breakaway goal, but it highlights a key play that turned the tide in the game. If Landeskog doesn’t get that turnover, the game is still within reach at two goals and the Flyers off to a fast start in the period with momentum.
Also, the Bruins are a good transition team and can take those killer neutral zone turnovers and turn them in to back-breaking goals. Boston’s team speed in transition will be something to watch for, and giving them extra chances up ice with speed and numbers won’t be good.
5. More lineup shuffling
With Raffl out, Corban Knight draws in the for the Flyers after getting hurt near the end of training camp and missing a handful of games after he made the team. While Raffl will be missed —and he was off to strong start— maybe Knight can provide some solid minutes and help out on the penalty kill, where it’s certainly needed.
The Wayne Simmonds first line experience has ended with Travis Konecny back up with Giroux and Sean Couturier, and Mikhail Vorobyev will get back into the lineup after sitting the past few. That’s big as the Flyers liked Vorobyev in camp and are willing to give him another shot here instead of just sending him down to Lehigh Valley.
Giroux - Couturier - Konecny
Laughton - Patrick - Voracek
Weal/Lindblom - Vorobyev - Simmonds
Weise - Lehterä - Knight
Provorov - Hägg
Gostisbehere - MacDonald
Sanheim - Gudas