It’s the final stretch! The last week of the regular season! How are we holding up? Everybody still remembering to breathe deeply? Cool.
The Flyers kick off their run of three last games this week with a matchup against the Islanders tonight in Brooklyn. It’s been a while since we met them, and last time nearly saw the Flyers squander another lead, but didn’t, and they pulled out a win after dropping the first two meetings. The Flyers, then, will be looking to end the series even, and move one step closer to clinching a playoff spot. They’re still sitting in the first wildcard spot, and their magic number to clinch, as Kurt broke down yesterday, is three.
Since we last saw the Islanders, things have been going, uh, not so well. Their goaltending and weakness on the blue line has continued to be exploited, and they’ve been officially eliminated from playoff contention. So it goes. They’ve lost eight of their last ten games, but still shouldn’t be written off—there’s still something to be said for a team playing with nothing to lose, and the Flyers will still have to defend against some of New York’s more dangerous offensive weapons like John Tavares and Mat Barzal.
But the Flyers also seem to be heating up, and they’ll be hoping to keep this going and collect some momentum as they head down the stretch. And this, of course, brings us to our semi-usual Three Things.
1. Switches and reintroductions
We’ve got a bit of news to go over! We’ll be getting some new faces back into the lineup soon! Michael Raffl’s back tonight! It’s looking like Brian Elliott will be back on Thursday! And Scott Laughton is... scratched... tonight? So those first two are good news, but the last one’s a real head-scratcher. Maybe it’s a matchup thing, and Hakstol liked the idea of Jori Lehtera at center after seeing it for one game, when Val Filppula was out. Maybe Laughton just needs a little rest? Honestly, I’m not going to pretend to have any answers here, because he’s been playing well (and had a particularly strong game on Sunday) and hasn’t done anything major that would ostensibly warrant a scratch. But, the bright side is that Hakstol suggested this wouldn’t be a long-term thing, and as such we could reasonably expect to see Laughton back in as soon as Thursday. So we’ll just have to see how today goes.
Another question mark hanging over the Flyers is in regards to the goaltending situation—Elliott’s close to being back, Michal Neuvirth’s still just listed as day-to-day, Lyon hasn’t been sent back to the Phantoms, and Mrazek’s still here and looking better. And that’s a lot of goalies. It’s Alex Lyon and Petr Mrazek dressing for tonight, it seems, and we can expect Mrazek to get the start, after putting up a good showing on Sunday against the Bruins. He looked steadier and more polished than he has lately, and one hopes that this is an indication that he’s getting back on track, getting out of whatever funk he had fallen into.
But the rest of the team will be looking to help him out as much as possible, and perhaps the best way to do so would be by not spending a whole lot of time in their own zone in the first place. With defense and goaltending being particular weaknesses of the Islanders’, they stand to be the first things exploited in the Flyers’ push to keep collecting points down this stretch. A quiet night for Mrazek would be the best case scenario. And this also brings us to our next point...
3. Clear the zone
We talked a lot about Giroux’s spectacular overtime winner on Sunday, but the reason it even had to happen comes from the Bruins tying things up with three seconds left in regulation, as a result of the Flyers’ inability to get the dang puck out of the zone. And we can grumble about personnel choices, the group that was on the ice for the goal, but the fact of the Flyers getting stuck in their own zone and burned for it is hardly a new trend, and one that needs addressing. The Islanders’ top two lines have given them trouble in the past, and they won’t be doing themselves any favors in breaking up their momentum if they let themselves get hemmed into the zone and fall victim to a series of failed clears. They shouldn’t overthink it, just clean it up. The sooner the better. Please.
Puck drops at 7:00 tonight, and you can check out the Flyers’ projected lineup below.
Giroux - Couturier - Konecny
Lindblom - Patrick - Voracek
Weal - Filppula - Simmonds
Raffl - Lehtera - Read
Provorov - Gostisbehere
Sanheim - MacDonald
Manning - Gudas