After a disappointing end to their California trip, the Flyers move a little closer to returning home in facing the Arizona Coyotes tonight. The Flyers took five out of a possible six points on their California road trip, and they’ll look to take seven out of the possible eight on this extended time away from home. Despite leading most of the game vs. San Jose, the Flyers were outplayed and lucky to even get the point. Tonight, they take on the upstart Coyotes who have won five straight coming into their home-and-home series with the Flyers.
The Coyotes are lead by star sophomore Clayton Keller and blue-chip blueliner Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Keller leads the ‘Yotes in points with nine in 12 games, with OEL not too far behind with seven. The name of Arizona’s game though has been their goaltending. Antti Raanta has been spectacular in his second season with Arizona, posting a .929 save percentage in nine games. His backup, Darcy Keumper, has excelled in the backup role in his three games so far this season, with a .957 save percentage. For a team that struggles to score goals like the Flyers do, this could get ugly quickly if the good guys go down early.
One of the biggest story lines in the early going around the NHL has been the Coyotes success on the penalty kill. They lead the league in penalty kill percentage, and have a whopping seven short-handed goals, which is three more than the next team in the aforementioned Sharks. The Flyers’ power play struggled against the Sharks, and a similar performance could lead to a long night for Flyers faithful. Now, let’s dive into what to look for on the Flyers side of things:
1. Top line needs to get going
At some point, the Flyers need the top line to be consistently putting in top notch performances. Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, and Travis Konecny struggled against the Sharks, and have for much of the early going this season. Giroux is the team leader in points, but Couturier and Konecny sit at five and six points respectively in 14 games. With Couturier, one may wonder if the first line center is still dealing with lingering issues from his knee injury. He’s looked solid to start the season, but it’s obvious he’s missing something right now. As for Konecny, a lot of his issues have simply been bad luck. He’s hit countless posts/crossbars this season already, and would probably be a top four point-getter if the puck bounced his way a bit more.
Despite the presence of Keller, the Coyotes are not exactly a crazy talented offensive team. So for the first line tonight, having a great game even against a team like Arizona would be nice to see. Especially given how the Yotes seem to give up high danger chances by the dozen.
2. Cal starts again? Lyon?
With the apparent injury to Brian Elliott (hello darkness my old friend), and Michal Neuvirth still made of glass bones, Calvin Pickard most likely will make his second straight start tonight. Pickard performed well against San Jose, and kept the team in the game for its entirety. With how the Flyers goalies are dropping like flies, all the Flyers really need from Pickard is exactly that, keeping them in games. This will be the first time in 2018-2019 that Pickard makes consecutive starts, so we could be in for a barn burner, folks. However, in his career vs. Arizona, Pickard is 2-2-0 with a .937 save percentage. So who knows? Maybe Cal’s gonna pitch a shutout tonight; that would be pretty wild if I do say so myself.
Or, as according to this tweet from Dave Isaac, maybe Alex Lyon is starting tonight? It’s the never ending goalie carousel ladies and gentlemen!
3. Can the second line keep it going?
The play of the Flyers second line over the past few games has been incredible to watch. The mix of Oskar Lindblom, Nolan Patrick, and Jakub Voracek seems just as good as one would have anticipated, and at this point it looks more like a first line than a second line. Patrick has seen his point total rise to seven in 11 games with five points in his last three games, with Lindblom seeing the same fate. Voracek brings up the rear on the line with two points in his last three, but his 14 points overall place him tied for first on the team. This line’s tendency to play below the goal line has payed immediate dividends, and has resulted in many of the line’s points. Lindblom is making a living out of passes from behind the net, with Patrick driving the middle for scoring chances and Voracek there to dig the puck free in the corners and drag the defenders away from his linemates. This line is clicking, and considering how many chances the Yotes are giving up from the slot and netmouth area? These three could have a huge night.
Flyers Projected Lineup
Giroux — Couturier — Konecny
Lindblom — Patrick — Voracek
Weise — Weal — Simmonds
Laughton — Lehtera — Aube-Kubel
Provorov — Hagg
Gostisbehere — Folin
Sanheim — Gudas
(Elliott/Lyon/Ron Hextall player/GM?)
Stats courtesy of NHL.com, hockey-reference, graphic courtesy of hockeyviz