The Flyers have been energized by a recent change behind the bench and look to continue the momentum on a quick swing through the south when they take on the Florida Panthers tonight from sunny Sunrise.
Facing a 5-2 deficit at perennial Eastern Conference power Tampa Bay, the Flyers climbed all the way back to earn a well-deserved point in an eventual 6-5 loss in overtime. Prior to the Scott Gordon era behind the bench, the Dave Hakstol-led Flyers would likely have folded like a deck of cards with the likes of Dale Weise and Jori Lehtera slogging up ice time in the third instead of the teams’ offensive stars.
Not all of the Flyers’ faults lay at the feet of Hakstol, but the team has been given a kick in the behind since Hakstol’s ouster and has responded to the move in the early going. And they’ve gotten much better goaltending —one of the main ills of Hakstol’s tenure— thanks to the promotion of Carter Hart and the (for the moment) healthy Michal Neuvirth. Emerging young players like Travis Sanheim have been given a longer leash, with the defender averaging over 20 minutes per game under Gordon after seeing bottom pair minutes under Hakstol.
Claude Giroux has also continued his brilliance on the season, but has carried a different demeanor in the past five games as his dazzling goal against Tampa Bay looked more like a business venture with the captain barely cracking a smile. Jake Voracek has points in four of his past five games and looks like he’s back to playing as much of a 200-foot game as he’s ever played. James van Riemsdyk has three multi-point games in his past five as his role expands with a competent center finally by his side and himself another few weeks removed from his return from injury.
Things are looking up for the Flyers, but a tough road swing here will provide plenty of challenges for the re-energized squad. The Lightning are, unequivocally, a Stanley Cup contender while the Panthers can score with the best of them (Ninth in goal scoring per game at 3.25) and dates with the Hurricanes and the Predators await. Florida’s power play ranks second in the league at just over 28% and will provide a nice test for the Flyers’ improved power play that did cede two goals to the Bolts.
Carter Hart will be back between the pipes for the Flyers after Neuvirth was better than the stats indicated as the Lightning piled up the shots and chances. Hart looks to build on the solid start to his NHL career with two wins in three starts to go along with a .904 save percentage and a 2.36 goals-against average.
The Panthers have shaken off their rotten start and have used the Flyers’ November and early December malaise to hop them in the standings. They could very well be battling for a playoff spot down the line, and how the Flyers play in the next few week will determine what moves —if any— GM Chuck Fletcher decides to execute.
The Flyers have been energized by the recent coaching change, and can ride that momentum back into the playoff picture, but they need to keep stringing points together to do so starting with this quick road trip.
While the Flyers’ penalty kill was riding high going into Tampa, they got a dose of reality with the Bolts’ impressive array of offensive talent to the tune of two power play goals. Florida doesn’t have multiple Hart candidates like Tampa does, but they’ve got some great goal scorers in Mike Hoffman, Evgeni Dadonov, and Aleksander Barkov. They’ve also got a setup man in Jonathan Huberdeau to get them the puck and a power play quarterback in Keith Yandle that can expose the Flyers’ penalty kill.
The Flyers can’t give the Panthers too many chances on the man-advantage in this one or they’re bound to get burnt by another dangerous power play.
When they say that your best has to be your best, they mean that goal that Claude Giroux scored against Tampa Bay the other night. Not only was Giroux a magician on that play, but he was great all night and against New York, Nashville, and Detroit before that. He’s also elevated the play of the guys around him with JVR getting going as well.
With Nolan Patrick out for the bulk of the road trip with an upper-body injury, the Flyers’ scoring depth will again be tested. They’ll need Giroux and his fellow stars to do the bulk of the load during the trip and points and wins will come if they deliver. Helping matters in when the defense gets involved like it did a year ago, and Ivan Provorov seemed to gain some valuable confidence with his laser goal in Tampa.
Power play chances piling up
The Flyers currently have the NHL’s 31st ranked power play, or dead last. If you’ve watched their power play operate in recent games you’d never believe they were connecting on just 13% of their chances this season.
But while the numbers look bad, they don’t match up with visuals. Visually, the power play has been dangerous, with Andrei Vasilevskiy personally responsible for Wayne Simmonds’ nightmares the past couple nights. Puck movement has been good, the shots have been there and there have been plenty of moments with Flyers bent over on their sticks or looking skyward for answers off of golden opportunities.
Maybe it’s just one of those years where the puck luck just isn’t on their side, but if the Flyers keep generating chances on the power play at this rate they’re bound to be okay in the long run. If they weren’t getting chances or generating these near misses like they have been, it’d be a different story.
When they do breakout of this power play slump, the goals are going to come in bunches for that unit.
Flyers’ projected lineup vs. Panthers
van Riemsdyk - Giroux - Konecny
Simmonds - Coururier - Voracek
Laughton - Weal - Raffl
Lindblom - Varone - Weise
Provorov - Sanheim
Hagg - Gostisbehere
MacDonald - Gudas