The Flyers topped one of the Western Conference’s best on Saturday with a 2-1 win over Winnipeg, and they’ll look to make it a trend when they welcome the NHL’s newest team into Philadelphia for the first time.
In the Vegas Golden Knights’ first trip to the Wells Fargo Center on Monday evening it will be the Flyers looking to sweep the Knights after taking their inaugural matchup 4-1 back on Feb. 11 out in fabulous Las Vegas.
Last time around, the Flyers were in the middle of a stretch that saw them win 11 of 12 games with a lone shootout loss to New Jersey. This time around, the Flyers are stone-cold to start the month of March, losing five-straight to start the month before they stopped the bleeding by beating the playoff-bound Jets a few nights ago.
There have been a myriad of reasons for the Flyers’ recent slump but an ice-cold power play has risen to the top of recent issues. The power play is just 2-for-21 in six games this month and has dropped from as high as a top-five power play all the way to 17th in the last few weeks. Team defense has slipped as well, with the Flyers giving up at least four goals in four of their six games this month.
The good news is that the Flyers turned in quite an effort with their proverbial backs against the wall against Winnipeg on Saturday. Petr Mrazek was sensational in goal, the Flyers controlled the Jets’ speed in transition and limited odd-man chances. Patrik Laine did notch his 40th goal of the season on the power play, where the penalty kill continues to struggle as the NHL’s 29th-overall unit, but overall the Flyers managed a dangerous Jets offense very well.
Things won’t get any easier when the Golden Knights come to town, however. Vegas will win the Pacific Division (Who had that in October?) and is vying for home-ice advantage with a couple other clubs. Vegas is a high-octane team, scoring 3.4 goals per game (2nd overall), but has good goal prevention numbers to boot (8th overall).
William “Wild Bill” Karlsson paces the offense with 35 goals while four other Knights have 22 or more goals, a testament to the depth GM George McPhee built through the Expansion Draft process. Old divisional foe Marc-Andre Fleury has been very good in the pipes, posting a 2.16 goals-against average and a sparkling .930 save percentage to go along with three shutouts.
Just on the road weary early
This is the tail end of an East Coast swing for the Knights which saw Vegas play four times in six days. They’ve won three of four, but looked gassed at Buffalo on Saturday in which they needed a stellar outing from Fleury to pull out the shootout win.
The Flyers got the Saturday matinee out of the way and should be rested and able to catch the Knights looking forward to their return trip to Vegas after the game. They survived the Knights in Vegas after being outshot 39-18, but were the tired team playing the back-end of a back-to-back that night. This time around it’s the Knights who should be a step slower and the Flyers should take advantage early and often.
Power play creativity
The Flyers’ power play is slumping hard and things just haven’t been working for either unit in recent weeks. The return of Wayne Simmonds should’ve provided a boost in theory, but in turn the opposite has happened. Simmonds hasn’t looked great at even strength or on the power play and his return has bumped Nolan Patrick, who had three power play goals while Simmonds was out, back to the second unit.
Patrick can still drive results for the second unit, but ti could help both power play units to move Simmonds off the top unit. Patrick was effective there and producing, and Simmonds would give the second unit a net-front presence they could sorely use.
If not a flip of Simmonds and Patrick, maybe more work from below the goal line, where the Flyers have had both units experiment with this season. That would at least allow a different attack angle for a change as they’ve gotten very predictable on the man-advantage in recent games.
In any event, the power play needs to wake up and fast, the Flyers don’t have quite the same cushion in the playoff race they had when March began and the ice-cold power play has factored into the swoon big-time.
Keep it simple
A simplified game against Winnipeg produced two huge points and went a long way in helping contain the Jets’ dangerous attack. Same goes here for the Knights, who go end-to-end and score in bunches. The Flyers don’t consistently have the firepower to compete in track meets, and certainly not until the power play gets going again.
Coach Dave Hakstol wasn’t happy with some bad penalties against the Jets, but was happy with how the Flyers managed the puck in the win. They’ll need to play a similar game against Vegas in order to earn more valuable points. If they turn the puck over and get caught flat-footed in the neutral zone the Knights will put pucks in the net.
Flyers’ (Subject to change) lineup:
Giroux - Couturier - Konecny
Lindblom - Patrick - Voracek
Raffl - Filppula - Simmonds
Lehtera - Laughton - Read
Provorov - Gostisbehere
Sanheim - MacDonald
Manning - Gudas