After a frustrating game on Thursday that left our heads shaking, the Flyers look to rebound today vs. one of the best teams in hockey in the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa comes into today’s affair with a 13-5-1 record, good for first in the Atlantic Division, good for best in the Eastern Conference, and tied for best in the NHL. What I believe I’m trying to say here is, the Flyers have their work cut out for them.
This is especially true given starting goalie Brian Elliott will be out for the next two weeks with a lower body injury. Elliott was pulled early from Thursday’s game vs. New Jersey, after it appeared as though he lost all ability to move post to post, which is pretty important in goaltending! Alex Lyon was recalled so he and Calvin Pickard will be the two goalies on the roster for today’s contest. Tampa will be without their starter as well, as Andrei Vasilevskiy is out four to six weeks with a broken foot. Backup Louis Domingue has a .890 save percentage in his six games, so the Flyers seemingly should have a “shoot the puck every chance you get” kind of mentality.
That mentality might have to be exactly what they employ, given Tampa does not allow a whole lot of chances from the netmouth area and the low slot. Philadelphia had a stellar effort vs. New Jersey with shot quality, and have greatly improved their shot selection over the past couple of weeks since the California road trip. Obviously, Tampa Bay is a different beast than the New Jersey Devils. However, good teams find a way to get to those high danger areas even against the best teams in the league. After a disappointing showing vs. Florida where the team didn’t show up until the third period — and then being shutout by the Devils in a game they should have won — this is one of those “show me” games. So, what can the Flyers do to “show us” that this team is still on the right track vs. Tampa?
1. Keep Tampa to the outside
I know, I know, stating the obvious. But, given this graphic courtesy of hockeyviz, it looks like Tampa can at times fall into a point shot heavy offense at times. Also, interesting little tidbit from an article over at our SB Nation friends Raw Charge about the Lightning’s shot selection at times (skip to point 16 for the shot selection part).
Looking at the Flyers version of this, the reliance on point shots is definitely seen more, but it does not change the fact the Lightning do have some bad tendencies in the offensive zone. If the defense can hold strong in the early going, clog up the slot area, and keep Tampa to the point, it could prove vital for the orange and black’s chances in this one.
2. Top line needs to have a shutdown game
More specifically, Sean Couturier on Steven Stamkos. This will be the matchup with the most eyes on it throughout the game, with the Flyers 1C vs. Tampa’s 1C. Stamkos is off to a slow start for his standards — pretty darn good start for others — with only 16 points in 19 games. After a slow start, Couturier has picked up his play over the past couple of weeks and now has 12 points in 19 games. Slowing down the Lightning attack begins with shutting down that top line, and the Flyers will need to be on the top of their game defensively. If this game turns into a shootout? It could end quite poorly for us to put it lightly.
Obviously the other key player from that top line in Nikita Kucherov is pretty good in his own right, and it will be interesting to see how Travis Konecny handles dealing with a player like Kucherov, should the two get into a 1-on-1 situation on the wing.
3. Special teams, could you please do that hockey?
It’s no secret that the Flyers’ special teams have been historically atrocious so far this season, and that’s going to need to change against a top team like Tampa. While this roster has definitely improved from last year — especially with James van Riemsdyk back in the fold — the talent on this team is not good enough to win with only good 5-on-5 play and horrific play everywhere else. The penalty kill will have its work cut out for them today, facing the tied-for-fifth-best power play in the NHL. It doesn’t get a whole lot better for the power play as the Lightning also have the third best penalty kill in the league. Having a good special teams day today could prove as a huge momentum swing for these units, especially the power play that was generally good on Thursday despite no results.
Flyers Projected Lineup
Giroux — Couturier — Konecny
Lindblom — Patrick — Voracek
van Riemsdyk — Weal — Simmonds
Weise — Laughton — Aube-Kubel
Provorov — Hagg
Gostisbehere — Folin
Sanheim — MacDonald/Gudas
Stats courtesy of NHL.com, graphic courtesy of hockeyviz