So. I have a question: has the NHL’s scheduling always been weird and I just never noticed, or is it particularly strange this season? The Flyers and Devils didn’t play until January 13, on the day of the Flyers’ 43rd game of the season. Tonight, exactly one month later, they’ll play their final head-to-head matchup, in what is the Flyers’ 57th game of the season. Why spread out a division rivalry throughout the season when cram it all into one month, I suppose? Who knows.
To be fair, though, clearly a lot can happen in a month. Heck, at this time a month ago, people still thought the 2017-18 New Jersey Devils were good.
(I feel as though I’m tempting fate here.)
Really, though, it’s been a precipitous fall for the state of New Jersey’s third-favorite hockey team, which was atop the Metropolitan Division as recently as December 29. Since that point, however, they’ve played 19 games, through which they’ve collected just five wins and 13 points. In that stretch, they’ve gone on losing streaks of six, four, and four games, and the Flyers will have a chance to turn that last four-gamer into a five-gamer tonight at the Wells Fargo Center.
If they can do that, the Flyers will draw closer to ... wait, how far behind the Devils are the Flyers right now? Hang on a moment, let me check something here.
[goes to NHL dot com]
[opens standings page]
... hold up. You’re telling me that, even though the Flyers had a 10-game losing streak this season and even though the Devils were leading the Metropolitan Division a month and a half ago, the Flyers are still currently ahead of them in the standings?
[does that thing chefs do where they kiss their fingers because something is delicious]
That’s the stuff right there.
OK, I’ll be honest: it’s fun to have a legitimate reason to hate on the Devils again, beyond simply their existence as the most boring franchise in the league. They’ve been so thoroughly un-noteworthy over the previous half-decade prior to this season (yes, I picked those endpoints very carefully; I do not care to hear today about the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals, thank you) that any time and energy spent hating on them felt kind of wasted, outside of the inevitable three games a season in which a Devils team that was clearly not better than the Flyers would go and beat the Flyers in some infuriating fashion.
But this year’s been different! Ray Shero, to his credit, has made a few moves to bring in reinforcements at several levels of his team, particularly in the forward group. They’ve got some actual top-end talent, including this past draft’s first overall pick (has that been discussed at all here?). The result is a team that, really, is probably pretty similar to the Flyers in terms of overall talent, which is likely why they’re just three points back of the Flyers (with one game in hand) for third place in the Metropolitan division.
All of which is to say that these two teams are probably going to be jostling with one another for playoff positioning for the remainder of the season. And since tonight is the last time they’ll face each other in the regular season, the Flyers have to look at this as a chance to put a bit of distance between themselves and another team in the chase.
Are they in position to do that? Tough to say. Brian Elliott was hurt in Arizona on Saturday, and though the Flyers promised us an update on his status when they returned to Philadelphia, they have not provided us one (as of this writing; apparently we’ll get one today). Thus, Michal Neuvirth is likely to get the start tonight, following a strong outing on Sunday night in Vegas, while Alex Lyon will back him up.
We’ve heard of no other changes to the Flyers’ lineup as of yet, and with the team on a four-game winning streak and having suffered no meaningful skater injuries over the weekend, the best guess here is that they’ll be rolling with the same lines they were out West [UPDATE: this is confirmed, courtesy of Bill Meltzer].
If the on-ice line matchups tonight end up being power-on-power, the Flyers are going to need to win those contests at the top of their lineup to get an edge. Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier have been damn good this year, but the Claude Giroux/Sean Couturier/Travis Konecny troika should be able to get the upper hand on them with how well they’ve played of late. And if Nolan Patrick’s got a Revenge Game in him, now would be a good time to bust it out, as the potential matchup of his line against the Pavel Zacha/Jesper Bratt group is one that could tilt either way.
Tonight’s game begins the final third of the Flyers’ season. The first two sure have been something, but the fact is that this team’s in a pretty good position right now. They’ll get a chance to make a statement tonight that they’ll be ready for every one of the dogfights that they’re going to be in over the next eight weeks. And coming in with a four-game win streak, against a team that’s on a four-game losing streak of its own? No reason not to make that statement nice and loud. Let’s see it.
Tonight’s game begins at 7:00 p.m. ET and can be:
- Seen on TV locally via NBC Sports Philadelphia (or via stream on the NBC Sports App)
- Heard via radio locally on 97.5 The Fanatic
- Seen on TV in New Jersey via MSG+ 2
- Seen or heard elsewhere via NHL.tv, NHL Center Ice, and Sirius XM
Projected Flyers lineup:
Giroux - Couturier - Konecny
Voracek - Patrick - Simmonds
Raffl - Laughton - Weal
Lehtera - Filppula - Weise
Provorov - Gostisbehere
Hagg - MacDonald
Manning - Gudas