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Flyers look to build on momentum vs. Predators

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Carter Hart and a coaching change got the Flyers back in the win column on Tuesday, but can they keep it going?

Heather Barry ©

Carter Hart gave the Flyers a boost in his NHL debut on Tuesday, can they keep the momentum going tonight with a visit from old friend Peter Laviolette and his Predators?

Shayne Gostisbehere scored the game-winner as the Flyers downed the Red Wings by a 3-2 final last time out to break a four-game losing streak that also included the dismissal of their coach. Back at home and with seemingly more on the line, the Flyers delivered in a must-win game lead by a rookie goalie many felt wouldn’t sniff the NHL at any point this season.

But not only did Hart’s play in net give the Flyers a boost, but Gostisbehere, Jake Voracek, and James van Riemsdyk came out with strong performances after the disastrous road trip to help support Claude Giroux in the win. Interim coach Scott Gordon had to have been pleased with the way the team regrouped, but will need more from his big guns if the Flyers are to scratch their way out of the basement in the Eastern Conference.

While the Red Wings are floundering in mediocrity, expectations are sky high for Laviolette’s Predators once again after reaching the Stanley Cup Final two years ago and the second round a season ago. The Predators are currently tied with the Jets atop the Central Division with 46 points apiece, though the pressure is on for a roster that underachieved in the playoffs a season ago after adding several pieces to a Cup runner-up.

Unlike the Flyers, who have turned to their top goaltending prospect in near desperation, the Predators have gotten stellar goaltending from Pekka Rinne this season. The veteran carries a 14-6-1 record into the game with a .927 save percentage, and a 2.07 goals-against average to go along with two shutouts. While Rinne has rebounded well this season, he’s also benefited from a deep and talented defensive group that is allowing an NHL-best 2.49 goals per game. Though injuries to P.K. Subban and Filip Forsberg have slowed their offense a bit (15th overall at 3.04 goals per game), they still score plenty enough to keep the wins and points coming.

The Flyers’ challenge will be to break down the Predators defense to give them enough chances to solve Rinne or Saros, both more than capable goaltenders. They’ll also need to be sound defensively as they were against Detroit, but against a much more dangerous offensive team with deeper scoring options.


Three things:

1. JVR rollling?

The Flyers prized free agent acquisition got off to a slow start thanks in large part to injury, but had a quiet Western road trip and his scoring has been badly missed in the early going. Seeing time with Claude Giroux seemed to help spark JVR a bit over the last few games, if even it was a few shifts with the captain. At 5-on-5 the big winger needs to play with more of a playmaking center, and the fit with Nolan Patrick is an intriguing one going forward with perhaps Oskar Lindblom staying on the other wing given the chemistry he and Patrick showed out west.

JVR can help balance out the goal scoring in the top six, and can help out either power play with his net presence as he showed with his goal against Detroit. You can never had enough scoring and the Flyers are a much more formidable team when JVR is involved and scoring.

2. Special teams still far from special

New bench boss and same results in the Red Wings game: no power play goals, one power play goal allowed. Gordon is noted to have some pretty unique tactics on the penalty kill, and showed those off in Lehigh Valley with the AHL’s second-best penalty kill percentage prior to his promotion to the Flyers.

Given the Flyers’ continued issues on the penalty kill, perhaps Gordon will implement his own systems to see if he can turn around the putrid unit. While there isn’t a ton of practice time during this portion of the schedule and implementing a new strategy could be tough, the Flyers’ penalty kill sure can’t get much worse so what’s there to lose?

As for the power play, the Flyers are 0-for-12 in their last three-plus games on the man advantage after van Riemdyk’s tally in Calgary. Despite ranking near dead-last in the league just as the penalty kill, the talent the Flyers trot out on both of their power play units should just flat-out produce more.

If Gordon can work his magic on the penalty kill, perhaps the power play will work itself out over time and they’ll be okay. One thing has been sure about this season that the Flyers have been just fine at even strength for the most part, but have been let down by their special teams and need that to turn around yesterday.

3. What a boost good goaltending can be

Carter Hart made some big saves on Tuesday and the team in front of his generally responded afterwards. Sure they wanted to play well and not be the reason that the rookie didn’t win his NHL debut, but they also probably enjoyed watching some solid netminding in the cage for once this season.

For once there was cheering instead of jeering for saves inside of the Wells Fargo Center. For once there wasn’t a soft goal at an inopportune time or a sudden stoppage due to injury leading to yet another goaltending chance. Hart was steady as she goes, and it 100% had a positive effect on the team in front of him. More please.


Flyers Projected Lineup

Forwards

Giroux — Patrick — Konecny

Simmonds — Couturier — Voracek

JVR — Laughton — Raffl

Lindblom — Lehtera/Weal — Weise

Defense

Provorov — MacDonald

Sanheim — Gostisbehere

Hagg — Gudas

Goalie

Hart

(Neuvirth)