The Flyers will look to rekindle some of their road magic as they look to stave off elimination on Friday night in Pittsburgh.
Trailing their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series 3-1 to the Penguins after a 5-1 loss in Game 4 on Wednesday night, the Flyers will be eliminated if they can’t find a way to win a road Game 5 at PPG Paints Arena tonight.
Bad news aside, the Flyers have already won in Pittsburgh in this series and still have a rather good all-time mark at the Penguins’ newest home. A 5-1 win last Friday gave the Flyers Game 2 and earned them a split in Pittsburgh headed back to Philadelphia for Games 3 and 4. That was good in theory, but the Penguins outscored the Flyers 10-1 in back-to-back dominating roads wins to take a 3-1 series stranglehold headed into this one.
Giving up five goals a game will only lead to so many wins, and the Flyers haven’t been able to keep pace with the Penguins’ potent offense thanks in part to an ice-cold power play in Games 3 and 4. The Flyers went 0-for-10 on the man-advantage in Philadelphia after crawling back into the series in Game 2 by going 2-for-3 on the power play in their lone series win to date. They also killed off all four Pittsburgh power plays in that game while they allowed four power play goals in the past two losses since.
Though he’s not the only veteran having a rough series, the Flyers could sure use a big game from Claude Giroux in this one. The Flyers’ captain has just a lone assist through four games. He has attracted quite a lot of attention from the Penguins’ defense through four games, though, and hasn’t gotten much help from Jake Voracek (two assists) or Wayne Simmonds (one assist) either. Really, outside of Sean Couturier and Nolan Patrick, no Flyers forward has been of much use, but Giroux leads by example and the Flyers have gone as their captain has gone this season so he’ll need to rise to the challenge if they have any hopes of staying alive.
Another road win in Pittsburgh would also give the Flyers a chance to redeem themselves on home ice in a Game 6 after a pair of listless performances in front of their home fans. Needless to say the Flyers need to right the ship on special teams if the have any designs on extending this series and making that a reality.
While the Flyers’ power play has run hot and cold essentially all season, and while it was ugly in both games in Philly, the main concerns headed back to Pittsburgh are the penalties and overall team discipline. Simply put, 11 penalties in two games is just too much to give any team, let alone one with a power play as good as Pittsburgh’s and one with as many skilled guys as the Penguins have. Many of the Flyers’ penalties have come as a result of frustration, slashing calls following turnovers or infractions following turnovers or blown coverages. The calls to prevent scoring chances are par for the course, but it’s the bad penalties after miscues that have compounded those mistakes and turned this series upside-down.
Losing Sean Couturier to injury for Game 4 did the Flyers no favors, but there’s no guarantee the Selke Trophy finalist will suit up for Game 5 either. If Couturier can’t go, the Flyers will again face a glaring lack of depth while trying to matchup with the deep Penguins. Heck, even with Couturier they’re still badly outmatched, but he at least stabilizes the Flyers’ top six by giving them two actual competent lines in all three zones. He was a game-time decision on Wednesday, just a day after taking a hard spill in practice so there’s hope another day could get him into the lineup.
Also not helping matters was the men between the pipes for the Flyers in the past two games. Brian Elliott was pulled for the second time in the series on Wednesday and Michal Neuvirth didn’t exactly stop the bleeding in relief. Elliott was very good in Game 2 in Pittsburgh and needs a repeat of that performance if the Flyers have any shot to extend the series. He needs help in front of him, make no mistake, but he’s got to come up with some momentum saves like the ones Matt Murray has been putting up in the Penguins crease all series. Good news is that the veteran did that back in Game 2 so it’s not like he isn’t capable against this club.
With their back up against the wall it appears as though coach Dave Hakstol will adjust his lineup for the first time in the series without regards to injury. Rookie Robert Hagg will draw in for fellow rookie Travis Sanheim as Hakstol looks to give the Penguins’ offense a different look. It’ll be different, but whether or not it’s any better remains to be seen.
Through four games the Flyers have looked badly outmatched in every phase of the game against the Penguins. The past two games were borderline embarrassing and the Flyers looked gassed. A lot went right for them to win Game 2 and it looks like a lot is going to have to go right again for the Flyers to extend this series but some of these very same things were true after the Flyers got run out of the gym 7-0 in Game 1 and they turned right around and won convincingly two days later.
Here’s to hoping that the same schedule follows suit this time around and the Flyers follow up a nasty clunker with a redeeming performance. And if they don’t, this time around there won’t be another chance at redemption, only the long, cold NHL offseason.
Flyers Projected Lines
Giroux - Couturier - Voracek
Konecny - Patrick - Simmonds
Weal - Filppula - Raffl
Laughton - Lehtera - Read
Provorov - Gostisbehere
MacDonald - Hagg
Manning - Gudas