The Flyers are riding high coming into tonight’s game with the NHL’s best Tampa Bay Lightning, after sweeping the back-to-back vs. the Detroit Red Wings over the weekend. Coming into tonight’s contest, the Flyers are 12-1-1 in their last 14 games, and sit just six points out of a playoff spot. The Penguins game may have been the team’s most important out of this stretch, but tonight’s game will clearly be their most difficult task.
What else is there to say about the 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning? They are far and above the best team in the league with 94 points already, just five wins away from 50 on the season, and we’re just now getting into late February. Nikita Kucherov is on a point scoring pace that the NHL hasn’t seen in decades, Andrei Vasilevskiy is well ... Andrei Vasilevskiy, and oh by the way Steven Stamkos is still a thing. They’re having an incredible season and possibly a history making one.
Tonight, the Flyers will look to continue their strong play and at least earn a point out of this game. To expect a win would be silly, but if they pull it off, that could be a massive boost for an already high locker room. They gave the Lightning a run for their money in both meetings this season, losing 6-5 in overtime in said games. This will be the last game of the Flyers season vs. Tampa Bay, a positive as they make their push for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. A win tonight would be huge, so what can the Flyers do to pull off the impossible?
1. Somehow keep Kucherov off the board
Nikita Kucherov has 99 points this season ... IT’S FEBRUARY. The Russian winger has been unstoppable this season, posting 29 goals and 70 assists in 60 games. His point total from last season was 100 on the dot, he is already at that mark with 22 games left to play. Last night vs. Columbus, Kucherov notched five points in a dominating outing, and in his last five games he has 18 points. To say he’s on a hot streak would be an understatement, he is lighting the hockey world on fire and leaving scorched earth in his wake.
So, how do the Flyers keep him off the scoresheet? Well, first step would be consistently having him marked on the power play. Tampa is bound to get a power play opportunity at some point tonight, and if he gets space on the man advantage, it’s GG for the competition. This would be relatively easy if Kucherov was the only major threat on the power play, but that’s simply not the case. Tampa has so much offensive firepower surrounding him, he’s able to use this to his advantage. At 5-on-5, just keep Andrew MacDonald as far away from him as possible and we should have a decent shot at containing him.
2. Carter Hart will have to stand on his head
According to Dave Isaac of the Courier-Post, Carter Hart will make his third consecutive start, having started both games of the back-to-back vs. Detroit.
For anyone who thought Brian Elliott was walking in and facing the Lightning, no. Carter Hart is starting tonight.— Dave Isaac (@davegisaac) February 19, 2019
Hart gets what will be his biggest task since being called up to the Philadelphia Flyers. He’s facing an absolute juggernaut tonight and the Flyers defense will need to be at their best to help out their goaltender. Obviously they need to do that every other night as well, but tonight is a different animal. Hart will have to be on his “A” game as well of course, and it will be interesting to see how he handles a team like Tampa Bay. If the Flyers do pull off the win tonight, I have a feeling Hart will be a major reason why.
3. Hope for some luck
Louis Domingue may start tonight given Vasilevskiy started last night vs. Columbus, and Tampa is probably not going to risk starting him in a back-to-back vs. a team like the Flyers. The offense needs to take advantage of this and strike early and often. The problem then will be handling a much more aggressive Lightning attack down a few goals, while also trying to stay on the attack themselves.
A lot of things need to go right tonight, is what I’m saying.
Flyers Projected Lineup
JVR — Giroux — Konecny
Lindblom — Couturier — Voracek
Laughton — Patrick — Simmonds
Bailey — Varone — Raffl
Provorov — Sanheim
Gostisbehere — Myers/MacDonald
Hagg — Gudas
(Elliott/Talbot/you, you are the backup tonight)