After breaking their prolonged losing streak vs. Dallas last Thursday, the Flyers followed up that effort with a 3-2 loss at the hands of the New Jersey Devils on Saturday. While losing generally sucks, that may have been the best thing for the Flyers to do vs. New Jersey, another one of the bottom feeding teams in the NHL. Improving those lottery odds loss by loss, baby!
Tonight, they face off with the Minnesota Wild for the first time this season. Minnesota holds the second wild card spot in the Western Conference just one point behind the Colorado Avalanche. The Wild have continued their tradition of being a stellar defensive squad, but their offense has taken a major hit this season. A sixth place in the NHL in goals allowed is followed by a 24th in goals-for, has kept the Wild from contending for a top two position in the Central Division. Luckily for them, they’re only three points behind the Dallas Stars for third place in the Central, and of course have plenty of time to turn it on offensively.
So with both teams lacking a substantive amount of offensive firepower, we may be in for a Devan Dubnyk vs. Carter Hart goalie duel tonight, which honestly might be the best case scenario for the not so stealth tank. Hart gets his third consecutive start after playing vs. Dallas and New Jersey alike, and hopes to pick up his second win in three games.
1. Might be one of those “take what they give you” kind of games
The Minnesota Wild are and have been one of the tightest checking teams in the slot and high danger areas, and they put that on display last year vs. Philadelphia. The Wild shutout the Flyers in back-to-back games meaning the Flyers have not scored a goal vs. this team since their win on March 23, 2017. The Wild won those games last season 1-0 and 3-0, and the latter featured two empty net goals. Of course, the hope would be to get the puck to the high danger areas as much as possible and hope to catch the Wild defense on an off night, but realistically what are the odds of that?
Rather, the Flyers know the point shots are going to be open, so there needs to be a concerted effort to get as much traffic as possible in front of Devan Dubnyk. Players need to be crashing the net looking for rebounds, deflections, anything to get the Wild chasing defensively. The slot most likely isn’t going to be open, so force the Wild to respect the point shots a little bit more by getting a lot of screens and wreaking havoc at the netfront.
2. Just protect Carter, OK?
There isn’t a whole lot to be excited or optimistic about with this hockey team, but Carter Hart is one of the few exceptions. Despite the loss on Saturday, Hart played well enough to pick up the win if his offense showed up just a bit more. Although scoring against this Wild team is going to be a challenge, the Flyers should be able to keep the pressure on Hart to a minimum. According to hockeyviz, the Wild are a minus one percent offensively, and don’t seem to generate a whole lot of offense from outside the goalmouth.
If the Flyers are sound defensively tonight and keep the Wild to the point themselves, and the outside in general, Hart should be able to have a relatively easy night. However, we’ve seen mediocre offenses pick this team apart before, so it wouldn’t be the biggest shock if the Wild come to play offensively.
3. New look power play units
So this is where things get spicy, ladies and gents. It was announced yesterday that the team was going to change personnel and strategies on the power play, and earlier today we got the units and folks, you could say they are ... wild.
By jerseys ...— Jordan Hall (@JHallNBCS) January 14, 2019
First unit: Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, James van Riemsdyk.
Second unit: Nolan Patrick, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, Shayne Gostisbehere, Oskar Lindblom.
You indeed did read that right. Five forwards, no defensemen on the first power play unit. They certainly weren’t lying when they said change was coming. While there is obviously a tremendous risk of making an entire power play unit out of forwards, there’s also tremendous upside. Given that Wayne Simmonds and James van Riemsdyk are both on the unit, I’d imagine we see a double screen presence at times, and definitely both of them open at the sides of the net. Both players have made a living off of the greasy goals from that area, and having that kind of presence to grab rebounds from both guys should prove effective.
As for the second unit, I’m glad we’re getting the chance to see an all-kid forward core. Pairing them with a power play stud such as Shayne Gostisbehere along with Ivan Provorov who has plenty of offensive talent, should prove for a fun unit. Nolan Patrick has struggled this year but he’s had good chemistry with both Travis Konecny and Oskar Lindblom alike, so one would hope this gets his offensive game going. The power play has been abysmal this season and although these changes are certainly a risk, it’s not like it could really be any worse, so I’m glad the Flyers are getting aggressive.
Flyers Projected Lineup
JVR — Giroux — Konecny
Lindblom — Couturier — Voracek
Laughton — Patrick — Simmonds
Raffl — Varone — Weise
Provorov — Sanheim
Gostisbehere — MacDonald
Hagg — Gudas