The Flyers welcome the Devils to the Wells Fargo Center tonight for a showdown in the ultra competitive Metropolitan Division, where just seven points separate the first place Blue Jackets and the last place Devils.
Florida snapped the Flyers’ point streak, a 5-0-1 stretch that started out west with wins over the Ducks, Kings, and Coyotes before extending back in Philadelphia with wins over those same Coyotes and the reeling Blackhawks. It was a particularly good stretch given that the Flyers surrendered a power play goal in all but one of those games. They were back at it against the Panthers, though, with Aaron Ekblad starting the scoring on the man-advantage.
New Jersey rolls into town with just three wins in their last 12 games after winning four-straight to start the season. John Hynes’ team did rebound with a 4-2 win over the Penguins on Tuesday, but had given up at least five goals in their previous three games (all loses). Taylor Hall’s four points paced the Devils in that one, and he’ll be the main man the Flyers will need to contain if they want to get back in the win column in this one.
Get the power play going
We’re not going to keep beating the dead horse in terms of the penalty kill, but one area that is starting to concern is the Flyers’ power play. After finishing middle-of-the-pack a season ago, one would figure that the unit would bounce back this season given all the talent and skill. Well through 18 games we haven’t seen much of anything from the power play, either from the first unit or the second.
The Flyers are connecting on just 13.6% of the power plays so far, good for 28th in the league. They have just eight goals on the man-advantage, with four of those coming from Wayne Simmonds and Shayne Gostisbehere. Simmonds potted two power play goals in the first week, and hasn’t had one since. The second power play unit can grab credit for a lone goal so far, and that was from Travis Konecny, who has seen some time on the top unit at times.
It’s not quite time to full-on panic yet, but we are almost a quarter of the way through the season and the power play needs to start picking things up. New Jersey’s penalty kill isn’t as good as Arizona’s, it’s time for Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek and Co. to step it up and start making the man-advantages count again.
Contain Taylor Hall
The man didn’t win the Hart Trophy by accident last year, and he’s one of the best the league has to offer. But the Devils aren’t exactly lighting things on fire offensively so far, and Hall pretty much single-single-handily beat the Penguins by himself on Tuesday.
Now it’s no easy task to stop Hall completely, but preventing him from running wild would go a long way in securing points in this one. Hall is a killer in transition, and the Flyers tend to struggle giving up too many odd-man rushes in general. Send Hall and friends the other way with numbers one too many times and it could be a long night. The Flyers’ defense has to be cognizant of No. 9 when they are handling the puck around the blue line and stay away from neutral zone turnovers against the Hall line.
If the Flyers can find a way to keep Hall from having a huge, huge night, they’ll have a great chance to outscore a Devils team giving up the third-most goals per game this season.
More greatly average goaltending
While the Flyers’ struggles on the power play and penalty kill may find no end, their veteran goaltender has started to stabilize things in the crease. Brian Elliott wasn’t the reason the Flyers were downed by the Panthers on Tuesday night, and owns a 4-1 record with a .954 save percentage in his last five games.
With Michal Neuvirth still injured and the combination of Alex Lyon and Calvin Pickard still lurking as less-than ideal starters, Elliott has once again stepped up and provided the Flyers with adequate goaltending. It’s never going to be sexy with Elliott, but it can be damn effective, and that gives the Flyers a chance to win every night which is all they need.
A JVR-ly return
Help is on the way in the form of James van Riemsdyk as the forward is ready to return to the lineup after missing 16 games with a lower-body injury. The former No. 2 overall pick was injured in just his second game back with the Flyers after signing with Philadelphia in free agency.
He had one assist in his two games prior to getting hurt and figures to slot in on the third line with Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds in the lineup with the second line of Oskar Lindblom, Nolan Patrick, and Jake Voracek working well in the past few games together. Perhaps his presence in front of the net can help get things rolling for the struggling power play, where he had nine goals a year ago and 13 the year before with the Maple Leafs.
Hall owns the Flyers with 21 points (9G, 12A) in 16 careers games…Claude Giroux is the Flyers’ biggest Devils killer with 43 points in 45 games…and still looking for NHL point No. 700 after going pointless against the Panthers...Devils goalie Keith Kinkaid has more or less owned the Flyers with a 6-2 record in his career, though the Flyers did beat him earlier this season…
Flyers’ projected lineup
Giroux — Couturier — Konecny
Lindblom — Patrick — Voracek
JVR — Weal — Simmonds
Weise — Laughton — Aube-Kubel
Provorov — Hagg
Gostisbehere — Folin
Sanheim — Gudas