Rise and shine, folks! Grab your snacks, or your coffee, or your mimosa, or whatever else you partake in for these weirdo 12:30 games, it’s time for The Big Rivalry Game. That’s right. The Flyers are playing the Pittsburgh Hockey Club.
I feel like we should not talk about the last time these two teams met, at home, as it went poorly for the Flyers and was not a particular treat to watch. But they’re back again, fresh off a win over the Rangers, still sitting in the first wildcard spot, and in a position to tie for second in the division. The makings seem right for a redemption game, and suffice it to say, this would be ideal. I really don’t want to see them get swept in this series.
It won’t be an easy road, of course, as the Penguins continue to pick up steam down the stretch. They’ve won six of their last ten games, and have Matt Murray back after he missed a stretch. Things seem to be gelling well enough for them, so the Flyers will have their work cut out for them. But they have a chance! If they follow the fool-proof, patented technique (listen to Maddie) and make sure these three areas are in order. Sure.
1. Matching up
OK, so we said we weren’t going to talk about that last game, but I guess I lied. We have to talk about it for a quick second. If you remember, Hakstol spent a good portion of the game trying to keep the Filppula line matched up against Crosby’s, and it went just about as well as you’d think (spoiler: not very). We can expect to see Couturier matching up against Malkin, as we’ve seen done and done again in the past, but Hakstol made note at practice yesterday that he won’t be chasing any particular matchup today—and this may be good news. The optimist in us says it leaves room for flexibility and variation, and lets them avoid having the same line competing way over its head and being burned for it. So yeah, let’s make that happen, let’s go with that.
2. Lyon time!
Surprise! Or probably not surprising at all! Alex Lyon’s starting again! Lyon time continues!
And as it very well should—since being put in in relief of Mrazek, and when starting before that, he’s been solid. He hasn’t been perfect, and has benefitted from help from his defensemen and a bit of good luck, but he’s still largely been able to make the necessary, timely saves to keep the team in these games. In short, he’s proven more reliable, and earned this start.
The big task, here, then, becomes proving that he can maintain that reliability, and hold steady against a high-powered Pittsburgh offense. He hasn’t been terribly flashy, but those timely saves have been what are keeping him in business, and he’ll need to find a way to keep up, in that department.
3. Special teams
This point you probably also saw coming. If we think back to all of the three games of the series between these teams, to date, it’s safe to say that five-on-five hasn’t given the Flyers much to work with, making these exactly the kinds of games where their special teams units need to come up big for them.
The good news: their penalty kill has been performing solidly enough, and not giving up an abundance of chances.
The bad news: when given the opportunities of their own, their power play hasn’t really been able to get it done. Carried by the top unit, pretty much everything falls flat when they do, as they have been, of late. Their process has been fine enough, they’re putting in the work, but somehow still not getting the results. And maybe it’s over-complication on their part, or them squeezing their sticks too much, or just plain bad luck, but whatever the reason, the results remain. And they need to find a way, and soon, to bring a better level of consistency in production.
Some more good news: while the second unit has been unsuccessful for pretty much the whole season, they looked sharp on Thursday, probably the sharpest they have in recent memory. They gave us a flash, an indication that they may be taking steps in the right direction, and here’s hoping they can keep building on that this afternoon.
And that’s all we’ve got for now! Let’s get on to the hockey! Puck drops at 12:30, and you can check out the Flyers’ projected lineup below.
Giroux - Couturier - Konecny
Lindblom - Patrick - Voracek
Weal - Filppula - Simmonds
Lehtera - Laughton - Read
Provorov - Gostisbehere
Sanheim - MacDonald
Manning - Gudas