After an embarrassing, yet oh so predictable, overtime loss at the hands of the other Alberta team in the Calgary Flames, the Flyers take on the Edmonton Oilers tonight in attempt to bounce back. This will be the first meeting of the season between the two teams and the Flyers first look at the Oilers under former Philadelphia bench boss, Ken Hitchcock.
Hitch has turned the Oilers around in a big way since taking the reins on November 20 of this year. The Oilers were 9-10-1 before the firing of former head coach Todd McLellan, and have since improved their record to 17-12-3 good for five points behind Calgary for the top spot in the Pacific Division. As expected with a team bringing in Ken Hitchcock, their goals against have seen a major decrease. The most amount of goals the Oilers have given up since Hitch took over is five, two times, one of those coming in their previous game vs. Winnipeg which was an overtime loss.
The Flyers meanwhile, are still trying to dig themselves out of the massive hole they’ve dug in the Eastern Conference. They sit tied with Florida for second to last in the conference, just two points ahead of divisional rival New Jersey. Of course, this will be a huge test for the orange and black in facing off against the best player in the game today, Connor McDavid. The man they call “McJesus” is once again having a fantastic season, with 45 points in 31 games. Even in the presence of the defensively minded Hitchcock, McDavid has posted 17 points in the 11 games Hitchcock has manned the bench for Edmonton. This goes without saying but I’m going to say it anyway, McDavid needs to be contained tonight.
1. Play fast, for once
We all know what Ken Hitchcock’s game is, we know he’s a defense heavy head coach who wants big guys who will hit people. So, knowing this, the Flyers cannot fall into this trap of slowing the game down to Hitchcock’s liking. The forecheck needs to be buzzing all night long, because Edmonton will be clogging the neutral zone for most of the night. They’re going to have to look for any carry-in opportunity they can find, but be mindful that Edmonton wants them to dump it in, that’s the strategy. Creative zone entries will be an underrated aspect of tonight’s game, but one the Flyers are going to want to focus on if they want to get this road trip back on track.
With how many fast players are on this team, they surely don’t look fast out there most of the time. Sitting back may hold McDavid and the top six of the Oilers at bay for a little while, but at the end of the day the Flyers need to be aggressive vs. Edmonton ... and in the rest of their games but we won’t get into that right now.
2. Someone please help out Mr. Stolarz
Alright, so it wasn’t all on the defense in Wednesday night’s debacle, Anthony Stolarz did leave a few big rebounds which hurt him at the end of the night. However, the defense was extremely poor and Stolarz was left out to dry more often than not. The Oilers have a ton of elite talent in their top six in McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and the Flyers need to make sure those players in particular are marked all night long.
Specifically, guarding the front of the net should be a point of emphasis for the defense tonight. Too many times against Calgary there was a severe lack of net front defense which forced Stolarz to have almost perfect rebound control, or the rebound would be stuffed home. This has been an issue for quite some time, but the Flyers defensemen have to be more engaged in tight, because the strategy of blocking passes before they get to the net front clearly isn’t working.
3. Play a full 60
I don’t even know why I’m typing this because I know they’re not going to, but hey, a guy can dream am I right? That loss to Calgary was just all too predictable as soon as they cut the deficit to a goal with just under two minutes remaining. Whether it’s the players or the coaching staff that is causing these late game breakdowns, something has to change. This may be an exaggeration, but I truly cannot remember the last time this team played a solid 60 minutes. From losing a game late blowing a lead, to not showing up for the first 40 minutes then going all out for the final 20 in an attempt to battle back down multiple goals.
Come on Flyers, make it our Christmas present.
Flyers Projected Lineup
van Riemsdyk — Giroux — Konecny
Raffl — Couturier — Voracek
Laughton — Patrick — Simmonds
Lindblom — Varone — Weise
Provorov — MacDonald
Sanheim — Gostisbehere
Hagg — Gudas