Perhaps the only thing more desperate than holiday shoppers on this Black Friday are the Philadelphia Flyers.
Losers of four-straight, the Flyers have plummeted to the bottom of the Metropolitan Division and are just a point away from being the worst in the Eastern Conference. The latest setback was a 5-2 loss to Buffalo on Wednesday that included a four-goal first period for the Sabres.
Next up? The red-hot Rangers.
While Dave Hakstol’s Flyers are trending downward, the Rangers are one of the hottest teams in the league. They’ve won three-straight and David Quinn’s squad is 9-1-1 in their last 11 games, surging into a tie for first place in the division along with the Blue Jackets after winning just three times in their first eight games.
Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad have led the way offensively for the Rangers, with the ageless Henrik Lundqvist posting a .919 save percentage in 17 starts this season. Much of the Rangers’ production is coming from the youth movement, with all but one of their seven scorers in double figures coming in at under 30 years of age.
The former Boston University coach has the Rangers playing some really good hockey of late and they stare down a suddenly reeling Flyers team that can’t seem to get out of their own way since returning from their west coast swing two weeks ago, with just two wins against the hapless Coyotes and Blackhawks before the current four-game skid.
Nevertheless, here are three keys to watch for if the Flyers want to get back in the win column when they host the Rangers for a special Black Friday showdown at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Flyers haven’t scored the first goal in any of their past four losses and have largely played from behind in nearly every game to start the 2018-19 campaign. That’s not the recipe for success and despite a ridiculous comeback against the Lightning the other night, it’s not going to be a given every night to keep digging out of these holes.
So this is easier said than done, but the Flyers could really do themselves a favor by grabbing the first goal against the Rangers in this one. As mentioned earlier the Rangers are a more youthful team these days and youth often builds confidence as things go well. Already on a great run of late, allowing the Rangers too much success early could result in another dud for the Flyers as the young guns continue to feel good about themselves.
Knock them down a peg early and get a lead to protect at home and give yourself a chance to end this losing streak at home before heading back out for a tough road test at Toronto.
Get the power play going
The Rangers have the NHL’s 22nd-ranked penalty kill to go along with their 14th-ranked power play. The Flyers need to control play and the puck in order to create more opportunities on the man-advantage, sure, but when they do they need to start making these chances count.
Down two, the Flyers power play had a golden chance to pull within one against the Sabres, but didn’t muster much after Claude Giroux’s spectacular individual effort to start things. The Flyers haven’t struggled like this on the man-advantage in quite some time, and while it’s still early, it’s starting to get concerning given that the goals just still aren’t coming.
Here is another chance to get a team with a below average penalty kill that should give the Flyers some opportunities to get things going once again as the Rangers fifth in terms of penalty minutes taken per game this year.
Keep it simple
The Flyers have a wonderful way of making things harder that it seem to have to be. While other teams create chances by getting pucks quickly to the net, the Flyers too often search for the perfect shot or deflection chance. Case in point, the Sabres earned a pair of goals the other nights simply by getting weaker shots on net and creating rebounds off the goaltender.
Lundqvist has been known to give up some rebounds, especially as his career has worn on in recent years. The Flyers can create some easy offense by getting pucks on net and towards the pads of Lundqvist and then crashing the net. Wayne Simmonds did it against Buffalo and got the reward for it. Other Flyers should take note and get pucks solidly to the net like Travis Sanheim did on the play that led to Simmonds’ goal.
Another way to simplify things is to be mindful of the puck in the neutral zone, where the Flyers were far too loose against Buffalo and back against Tampa Bay. The Flyers don’t have a reliable enough defense or goaltender to turn the puck over in the neutral zone and give away extra scoring chances to opposing clubs. The Rangers have a ton of speed and skill, and giving up the puck in the neutral zone won’t work out well at all in this one.
Flyers Projected Lineup
Giroux — Couturier — Konecny
Lindblom — Patrick — Voracek
van Riemsdyk — Weal — Simmonds
Laughton — Lehtera — Weise
Provorov — Hagg
Gostisbehere — Folin
Sanheim — Gudas