NHL All-Star 2019 was a pretty darn good time out in San Jose, and the Metropolitan team led by the Flyers’ own Claude Giroux was able to earn the win.
Wins were hard to come by for Giroux’s Flyers in the first half, though, as they find themselves with just 44 points at the break. Just two teams have less than 44, though the Senators and Devils are just one point away from the Flyers with 43 apiece. For a team with playoff aspirations once again entering the season, it’s been a monumentally disappointing first half for the Flyers, and opening up the second half won’t be easy.
First up is a date with the Central Division leaders in the Winnipeg Jets, who sent Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler to All-Star weekend and boast several other offensive threats like sniper Patrik Laine and a deep forward and defense group after that. No surprise with names like those that the Jets stand sixth in the league in scoring at 3.46 per game, but Winnipeg can also clamp down defensively, ranking sixth also in goals allowed per game. There’s also their potent power play, operating at 26% on the season, good for fourth overall in the league coming in.
Certainly a tough test for the Flyers indeed, who give up the third-most goals per game this season though things have gotten better recently thanks to the play of rookie Carter Hart between the pipes. Hart, who was sent down during the Flyers’ bye week last week for extra work in the AHL, has won his last three starts while posting a .922 save percentage in that span against the Wild, Bruins, and Canadiens. With Winnipeg’s high-flying offense ready to visit the Wells Fargo Center, Hart will need to be razor sharp again if the Flyers are going to pickup any points in this one.
Aiding Hart will be a Flyers offense that started to find their footing prior to their bye week, scoring 16 goals in those three-straight wins after scoring just 19 during a season-high eight-game losing streak prior. It’s been a season of ups and (mostly) downs for the Flyers, but Hart’s goaltending has added respectability and free agent signing James van Riemsdyk is finally healthy and producing. That helps out the aforementioned Giroux, who is again having a strong season with 52 points in 48 games, just off his sixth All-Star appearance.
With a playoff appearance for the Flyers nearly impossible, the second half will be an interesting time on a lot of fronts. For one, how will Hart fare the rest of the way? When will general manager Chuck Fletcher begin to sell off valuable pieces like Wayne Simmonds, Michael Raffl, and possibly Jake Voracek or Radko Gudas? Fletcher has already sent veteran Dale Weise down to Lehigh Valley and called up young pivot Mikhail Vorobyev, perhaps more youngsters will join the movement soon enough.
There’s a lot to process as the Flyers begin their post All-Star break schedule, but first up is a tough stretch of games that starts with a visit from the Jets, a bona-fide Stanley Cup contender.
Shake off the rust
Of course the Flyers finally string together a few solid games and look like a real hockey team and bam, nine day break. The Jets can score in bunches and their team speed should give the Flyers a ton of issues. Making matters worse is the layoff between games could catch the Flyers in sort of a malaise that could turn this one into a bloodbath in front of Hart. Can’t afford a slow start in this one or they could get buried, and fast.
Carter Hart: still here
The 20-year-old was in the zone in his past three starts, beating three teams in firm playoff positioning and looking darn good in the process. Those starts weren’t flukes, and Hart was a big reason the Flyers won all three of those games. With uneven defensive performances from Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere being the norm this season, Hart will have plenty more chances to save the Flyers’ bacon and tonight against the Jets will surely be another. If they have any shot at securing points, Hart is going to have to have another night like he did when he turned aside 39 shots in the win over the Bruins.
It’s a whole new world, for the power play
There’s just no way that a power play with the skill and talent the Flyers have should be operating at 13.3% on the season. Good news is that while they didn’t get much production, they did have their fare share of chances on the man-advantage for much of the first half of the season that they just didn’t capitalize on.
Now they can put the first half of the season behind them and get back to work. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the power play go on a tear in the second half, and perhaps finding more time for JVR and Nolan Patrick on PP1 would be more beneficial that trying desperately to keep Wayne Simmonds’ trade value afloat.
Flyers Projected Lineup
JVR - Giroux - Konecny
Lindblom - Couturier - Voracek
Laughton - Patrick - Simmonds
Raffl - Vorobyev - Varone
Provorov - Sanheim
Gostisbehere - MacDonald
Hagg - Gudas