Already owners of the longest active winning streak in the league, the Flyers look to extend their streak to seven games when they welcome one of the NHL’s biggest and brightest stars.
Connor McDavid leads the Oilers into the Wells Fargo Center for a Saturday matinee with the red-hot Flyers. The reigning Art Ross winner from the past two seasons is desperate to lead his Oilers back into playoff positioning while the Flyers have surged from the bottom of the Eastern Conference and to within nine points of a wild card slot.
The ill will between the Flyers and Oilers goes back decades to when the teams battled for the Stanley Cup in 1987 with epic names like Wayne Gretzky, Dave Poulin, Paul Coffey, and Ron Hextall on the ice. Nowadays new stars like McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Claude Giroux, and Sean Couturier carry on the proud traditions of their clubs.
And while they meet just twice a year, this meeting in South Philadelphia is an important one for both clubs. Edmonton finds itself just three points from a wild card berth, but have lost three-straight coming in while being outscored 15-8 in that span. Defensive issues have plagued the Oilers this season, with the club giving up 3.26 goals per game and scoring just 2.82 per. Special teams haven’t lit the world on fire, either, as the power play led by McDavid stands at 12th overall while the penalty kill ranks down near the Flyers’ dreadful unit at 24th.
As for the Flyers, their six-game winning streak is somewhat of a surprise given that they’ve been outshot by a wide margin (49 total) during the streak. Stellar goaltending has been the great equalizer —and then some— for the Flyers, with Carter Hart providing five of the six wins with a sparkling .930 save percentage. The other game was perhaps the finest of them all, a 38-save shutout for Anthony Stolarz in New York against the Rangers, made more impressive due to the fact it was his first start in about a month and a half.
But while much of the winning streak was powered by insane goaltending, the tide started to turn for the better against the Bruins on Thursday. The Flyers drove play and badly outshot and out-chanced the Bruins on the road, and worked hard for a 3-2 win in overtime thanks to a Travis Sanheim game-winner. Instead of being run around the gym by a contender, the Flyers punched back and landed a take down on a really good, bonafide playoff team. It was the first slam-dunk win of the streak where the Flyers not only beat a good hockey team, but also did so while not hanging on for dear life at the hands of the man between the pipes.
Perhaps more of the good stuff is on the way with the Oilers reeling, desperate, and with frustration mounting by the day.
Start fast, bury them
The Oilers were not playing good hockey prior to their bye week, losing 3-2 at home to the hapless Red Wings. The 10-day break has given them a chance to regroup ahead of what is going to be an important close to the season with a lot on the line. Changes are likely coming in Edmonton whether or not the Oilers can find themselves back into the playoff picture and the players know that.
Maybe the break will help and they’ll pull things together, or perhaps they’ll be preoccupied with the looming changes and continue to lag through the season. The Flyers are hot, confident, and can take advantage of that momentum to bury the Oilers with a couple first period goals and seem whether McDavid and Co. have the wherewithal to get back up.
Watch the pace
McDavid is the NHL’s fastest skater and for good reason. He’s got another gear that other guys just don’t have and he goes from in sight to the celebration line pretty quick. The Rangers and Bruins had success beating the Flyers wide with stretch passes. David Pastrnak was a nightmare for the Flyers’ defense on Thursday and the two goals he had could be three or more with McDavid on the ice in this one.
But not only is McDavid lethal on the break, guys like Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins can do the same while Darnell Nurse can jump in on the rush and pressure the defense as well. If the Flyers aren’t careful, they’ll put too much pressure on Carter Hart to make a slew of save on breakaways and odd-man rushes.
Bring your hard hats
Edmonton doesn't have what you would call an intimidating defense corps. Oscar Klefbom has left a huge void on defense that hasn’t been filled and outside of Nurse the Oilers defense is highly suspect. There’s Adam Larsson, who isn’t Taylor Hall, and then whatever is left of Kris Russel and a whole bunch of nothing. Oh, and Brandon Manning, which is hilarious.
Point is that the Oilers defense can be exposed, and while there should be a ton of ways to break them down, hitting them with the same hard-working cycle game the Flyers used to slow down the Bruins’ defense should do just fine. Work those guys down hard in the corners and along the walls and watch the offense follow.
Just seven games but already 10 points (4G, 6A) for McDavid against the Flyers in his young career already...Draisaitl with 10 points in seven as well (3G, 7A), watch for those two especially today. For the Flyers, Giroux has been a point-per-game player against Edmonton with 16 points (6G, 10A) in 14 career games while Jake Voracek has points in four of his last five and has 22 points (4G, 22A) in 23 games vs. the Oilers. It’s Carter Hart’s first start against the Oilers, but he’s already 2-0-1 against teams from Canada. As of this writing, neither team will be able to make the climb into the playoffs per Hockeyreference’s standings projections.
Flyers’ projected lineup
JVR — Giroux — Konecny
Lindblom — Couturier — Voracek
Laughton — Patrick — Simmonds
Varone — Vorobyev — Raffl
Provorov — Sanheim
MacDonald — Gudas
Hagg — Folin