All of a sudden the Flyers are desperate for a win, folks. What a time to be alive.
To say that the Flyers’ March slump has made things a bit crowded in the playoff race would be an understatement. The Flyers have lost six of seven to start the month and have picked up just three points in that span with their latest defeat coming within the final three minutes against Vegas in a 3-2 loss on Monday night.
Tonight’s tilt with Columbus is a big one, with the Flyers just two points up on the Blue Jackets in the standings and the Devils one point behind them. Both Columbus and New Jersey occupy the Wild Card spots while the Flyers sit in third in the Metropolitan. Lurking are the Panthers three points behind New Jersey but with two games in hand on the Devils and three on the Flyers and Blue Jackets.
The good news is that the terror of the Flyers’ schedule as of late does ease up here with games against Carolina, Detroit and the Rangers upcoming. All of those teams are firmly out of the playoff picture and need to be must-win games, but first up is a matchup with the surging Blue Jackets.
Columbus comes in red-hot, winners of five-straight and seven of their last nine to vault back into a playoff spot. They’ve scored at least four goals in four of the five wins and have killed off 12 of 13 penalties during the streak. Solid goaltending from both noted Flyer killer Sergei Bobrovsky and backup Joonas Korpisalo hasn’t hurt either; the duo has allowed just 2.2 goals-against during the streak.
Needless to say this is a matchup of teams in opposite directions right now as the Flyers’ struggles in March have been well-documented. Good news is that the Flyers can break out of their slump rather easily, they haven’t been playing all that bad.
They followed up a bad effort in games against Florida and Pittsburgh with strong play against Boston, Winnipeg and Vegas and lost close, one-goal games in each. The effort has been there and while goals in the final minutes in Boston and against Vegas hurt, those are two teams vastly superior to the Flyers at this point. Another effort like those should net the Flyers a better result against Columbus tonight, even with how well the Blue Jackets are going right now.
Contain the Bread Man
That Artemi Panarin is so hot right now. The former Calder Trophy winner (as a 26-year-old) has points in five-straight (3G, 5A) and has been pacing the Blue Jackets’ recent offensive resurgence. They’re still 25th in goals per game at 2.7 per, so you wonder where they’d be without his team-leading 21 goals and 40 assists. Well it’d be big trouble, you see. The Blue Jackets’ second-leading scorer is defenseman Seth Jones with 48.
With Panarin hot and leading the way the Flyers would be wise to use the last change and get Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere out there whenever humanly possible. The Flyers’ top pairing has the ability to hang with the crafty winger and hopefully make life difficult. Helping matters with likely be the Sean Couturier line, always a thorn in the tie of opponents’ best.
Columbus doesn’t have great depth scoring, so neutralizing their top scoring threat would go a long ways towards getting points out of this huge game. The Flyers did a great job on the Jets’ offensive weapons a few games ago and could containing Panarin in this one will be key.
Shooooooot. No really.
The Flyers haven’t been scoring a ton during their recent skid and even with a six-goal outburst in Tampa, have averaged just 2.14 goals per game during March. Some of it is bad luck — just ask rookie Oskar Lindblom —but some of it has to do with simplifying their game and getting pucks to the net and on goal.
Claude Giroux got help from the crowd against Vegas and fired home a wrister, but he hasn’t been the guilty one. Travis Konecny, Jake Voracek and others have passed up shots in favor of looking for the perfect setup in recent games and the result has frustrated fans and media alike. Sometimes you need the extra pass, but when you’re struggling to score the best formula is to keep things simple and just fire the puck when a decent chance presents itself.
For as great as he is in net, Sergei Bobrovsky will give up rebounds and the Flyers have the guys to go into the dirty areas to capitalize, but they’ve got to get the puck on net first.
To borrow this one from Aaron Rodgers, the Flyers really need to relax and get back to their game. Guys are squeezing down on their sticks, trying to force things and the results have gotten to the point of frustration. You can see it on the faces of guys like Jordan Weal, Travis Konecny and recently Couturier and Gostisbehere as they’ve gone into scoring droughts.
Getting back to a simplified game by getting shots on net, clears that actually leave the zone, and limiting turnovers will turn around the Flyers’ recent woes. In order to execute better some guys have to slow down and not get ahead of themselves, they’re pressing and it’s leading to even more miscues.
It’s not easy to sit back and relax in the midst of playoff race, but the Flyers are close to getting back on track and pressing the issue isn’t helping anyone right now.
Flyers’ subject to change lineup:
Giroux - Couturier - Konecny
Lindblom - Patrick - Voracek
Raffl - Filppula - Simmonds
Lehtera - Laughton - Read
Provorov - Gostisbehere
Sanheim - MacDonald
Manning - Gudas