You know this by now, but we as hockey writers love narrativizing, and we’ve got an old one, tried and true, for you today. That’s right, the revenge game.
It feels like an eternity since the Flyers have seen the Senators, but really it was just the start of the season. I won’t linger too long on the details—because they still cause me more than a bit of sadness and frustration—but this last matchup included: the Flyers giving up an early lead. Them putting in solid work to crawl back from that deficit. Not one but two late-game goals called back, one for goaltender interference and another as a result of an early whistle. A Flyers loss. Screaming on the internet.
But it’s been a long time since this happened, and the Flyers have worked to shore up a number of issues since that last game that we will now never speak of again. They’ve moved away from giving up those early leads on an almost nightly basis. They’re making steps forward in shot selection. Their special teams units can get work done sometimes. And despite the three-game losing streak they’re sitting with, the Flyers remain in that last wildcard spot in the Metro, and their playoff hopes are still alive.
Things for the Senators, on the other hand, have not been going so well. They’re currently sitting in second-to-last in the Atlantic division, just four points ahead of the Sabres. They finally snapped a six-game losing streak with their overtime win over the Ducks on Thursday. They also figure to be without Bobby Ryan for today’s game, after he left that game with a hand injury. What am I getting at here? Ottawa’s kind of a mess right now, making for a perfect storm for a trap game. So don’t fall for it, Flyers.
But enough of that, let’s move into our three things to look at, as the Flyers try to avoid picking up their fourth consecutive loss.
1. Special teams
One of the keys heading into Thursday’s game, especially given how tight games against the Devils have historically been, was that the Flyers needed their special teams units to come up in a big way. And, well, they half-did that. The first power play unit saw the bulk of the ice time, and continued to look sharp, as they have of late. They picked up two goals in the first period, and were able to get the work done against New Jersey’s effective penalty kill.
The Flyers’ PK, however, did not do so well. They had looked like they were turning a corner and starting to get back on track, but on Thursday they regressed into the old bad habits—sitting back, blocking shooting lanes, and looking more passive—and gave up two goals in the process. So we’ll say it again, but for real this time—the Flyers need their special teams to come up big. They took Lehtera off PP2. The PK’s showed that it can be effective. They just need to put it all together and get it done.
2. More from the top-9
One of the bigger surprises heading into Thursday’s game was the lineup shuffling, with Laughton promoted to the third line and Filppula moved down to the fourth. It was a small change, but just like that, we had what looked—on paper—to be a potentially dangerous true top-9 of forwards for the first time in recent memory. And while, given the result of the game, there may have been something left to be desired, this top nine didn’t put up an altogether terrible showing. They showed some flashes, and were able to generate a good bit of sustained offensive pressure, but they just weren’t able to get the results.
But the adjustment period is closing out, and now we’ll need to see them capitalizing on these chances. They looked good against New Jersey, gave a feeling that they were so close, and something was going to break for them, eventually. Let’s just hope today’s the day that this starts.
3. Putting in a full 60 minutes
It’s another cliche, yes, of course, but there’s a bit of truth—and necessity—to it. We saw the Flyers put in a solid effort through the early portion of Thursday’s but then they did what we’ve seen them do time and time again: they picked up the lead and then tried to coast through the third period. And you know the rest. Again it came back to bite them. So, simply, should the Flyers again take the lead early, they’ll need to find a way to resist taking their foot off the gas and giving the Senators too much space to work with. We’ve seen them be dominant in third periods and close out games strong--they just have to get back to that.
Puck drops at 1:00 and you can check out the Flyers’ projected lineup below.
Giroux - Couturier - Konecny
Voracek - Patrick - Simmonds
Weal - Laughton - Raffl
Leier - Filppula - Lehtera
Provorov - Gostisbehere
Hagg - MacDonald
Manning - Gudas