The Flyers are desperate to make up ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race, and a weekend home-and-home with one of the NHL’s weakest teams could be just what the doctor ordered.
Winners of 10 of their past 12 games, the Flyers look to continue the momentum they built in a comeback win over the Wild when they tangle with the Red Wings for a matinee at the Wells Fargo Center today followed by a trip to Little Caesars Arena tomorrow night.
Detroit sits a full six points behind the Flyers in the standings despite having played one more game. The Red Wings have won two straight over the Senators and Predators, though they lost their previous three before that. After watching a season-high eight-game winning streak snapped by the Kings last Thursday, the Flyers beat the hapless Ducks before dropping a key matchup with the Penguins. Rebounding with a road win in Minnesota was huge to keep the Flyers within striking distance in a crowded playoff race.
Carter Hart will draw the first end of the back-to-back in front of the home crowd in this one. Anthony Stolarz was in line to start in Detroit on Sunday evening, but that won’t happen as the Flyers sent Stolarz off to Edmonton for Cam Talbot late Friday night. It hasn’t mattered which one has been in goal of late, as both have been spectacular in propelling the Flyers to some improbable wins during this stretch. With Talbot now in the mix, it remains to be seen how the timeshare will play out in goal, but Hart has earned his crease time and that shouldn’t change with Talbot in the middle of a pretty rough season.
Hart wasn’t his best in the 4-1 loss to the Penguins, but he watched the Flyers run into a brick wall in Matt Murray to the tune of 50 saves that night. The 20-year-old has been something else since watching the calendar turned to 2019, going 9-3-1 with a .931 save percentage and racking up several league honors in the process. After a tough night against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, Hart should find an easier assignment with the Red Wings, who are averaging just 2.76 goals per game, which is 26th in the NHL.
More good news for the Flyers is that the Red Wings don’t prevent a ton of goals either, ranking in the bottom third of the league with 3.19 goals allowed per game. Though the Flyers are technically worse at 3.32, much of that damage was done pre-Hart.
The Flyers got some help from the rival Rangers with their win over the Sabres last night, but the Oilers couldn’t stop their slide and surrendered valuable points to the Hurricanes. With a favorable matchup with the Red Wings this weekend, sweeping all four points for the Flyers is much needed — and very possible.
Watch the pace
The Red Wings have a couple straight burners in the likes of Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou. Larkin is having a breakout season with 54 points in 57 games, already setting a career-high with 24 goals and well on pace to break his previous career high in points of 63 a year ago. He’s also one of the fastest skaters in the league and can turn defenseman around in many of the same ways that a Connor McDavid can. The Flyers need to have plenty of eyes on him or he’ll burn them, but especially the Flyers’ defense, which can be susceptible to being beaten wide or with stretch passes.
Athanasiou is even faster, and like Larkin is having a career season. His 20 goals are already a career-high and he’s already scored four goals in just nine games against the Flyers. He can change the momentum of a game with his speed and is a threat shorthanded or at even strength with his ability to chase down loose puck and get defenseman turned around.
These two are lethal in all alone, and the Flyers will pay dearly if they get loose in either game.
Pick on their special teams
Detroit doesn’t have good special teams, ranking 24th overall on both the penalty kill and on the power play. That’s good news for the Flyers’ penalty kill, which has allowed power play goals in two of their last three games. It’s also good news for a Flyers power play that has goals in six of their last seven.
Even if the Flyers get outplayed at even strength as they have been, they should be able to keep things close with their special teams and continue to ride the hot goaltending.
The Flyers’ starts showed up in a big way in the comeback win over the Wild on Tuesday, and Claude Giroux, James van Riemsdyk and friends will have to be just as good this weekend as Detroit has some bona-fide players like Larkin and the rejuvenated Gustav Nyquist.
Giroux, JVR, and Shayne Gostisbehere all chipped in multi-point efforts in that Wild game, and getting Ghost back on track will improve the Flyers’ playoff dramatically. It’s been a weird season for him with his point total way down after a 65-points season a year ago. He finished 10th in the Norris voting last season and would finish top-10 in the anti-Norris this time around. The unforced errors like in the Minnesota game on Luke Kunin’s second goal just can’t happen, but perhaps his recent stretch with points in six of his last nine (nice) will propel him to a dominant stretch run.
Flyers Projected Lineup
JVR — Giroux — Konecny
Lindblom — Couturier — Voracek
Laughton — Patrick — Simmonds
Raffl — Vorobyev — Varone
Provorov — Sanheim
MacDonald — Gostisbehere
Hagg — Gudas