The Flyers’ season-long seven-game winning streak has sure had its moments, but none more epic than the two overtime winners from Travis Sanheim and Nolan Patrick in their past two games.
But with all that drama aside, the Flyers would gladly like to return to less nerve racking hockey when they host the Vancouver Canucks tonight. The Flyers would very much like to extend their winning streak to eight games, and avenge an ugly 5-1 loss to the Canucks in Vancouver earlier this season.
That loss came at one of the Flyers’ lowest points of the season, though, and while there have been many low points, the confidence and momentum they have now is light years ahead of where they were in that game. Of course that loss led to a fateful plane ride home that culminated with a slew of changes inside the organization.
Plenty different for the Flyers now, as they’ve got a new man behind the bench in interim coach Scott Gordon, and more importantly: much improved goaltending. Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon struggled through the 5-1 debacle, though Carter Hart has now arrived on the scene and has taken off — as have the Flyers. Hart, who was named the NHL’s Rookie of the Month for January, hasn’t lost in his last six starts while sporting a .926 save percentage.
Hart will still have a formidable Canucks offense to contend with though, and he’ll draw the tough task of slowing down fellow rookie Elias Pettersson. Pettersson leads all rookies in points with 46 in 41 games for the surprising Canucks, who hold the second wild card slot in the Western Conference. But he’s not the only Canuck who can generate offense, with Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser with 42 and 35 points respectively.
Despite sitting in playoff position, though, the Canucks don’t really blow you away in any type of area. Pettersson drives their offense, but they don’t have standout special teams play and are in the middle-of-the-pack in terms of goal scoring, and have a minus 10 goal differential in a down conference. In simple terms, they’re smart in a dumb class and could be caught in the playoff race by a team like the Avalanche or Blues, who appear to be superior teams.
This is a good opportunity for the Flyers to catch on team on the front end of a back-to-back and playing three games in four days. Claude Giroux and the Flyers should be looking at this matchup as a prime chance to extend their streak and a date with the hapless Kings looming later in the week.
Power play goals, in this economy?
The Flyers pumped in four power play goals in the win over the Oilers on Saturday, and got goals from both units to boot. Sure Edmonton’s penalty kill is awful (29th overall after that bludgeoning), but the Canucks don’t blow you away at 16th overall. While they do have some veteran penalty killers like Jay Beagle, the Flyers have a ton of confidence on the man-advantage after getting Shayne Gostisbehere back on Saturday and can really help themselves by staying hot on the power play.
And as we’ve seen in the Giroux/Voracek/Gostisbehere power play era, when they get hot they can carry the team to wins by themselves. Here’s to hoping they’re about to go on another tear with the Oilers game serving as the jumping off point.
Five different Flyers scored in the win over the Oilers with Sean Couturier, Travis Konecny, Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, and Nolan Patrick all getting in on the act. Nine Flyers found the scoresheet as well, spreading out the offense throughout the first three lines. It should be noted that perhaps the best Flyer on the ice was Scott Laughton, who should have had at least a goal or two.
When the Flyers are getting scoring from up and down the lineup they become a really dangerous team. When guys like Simmonds and Oskar Lindblom can chip in production, it takes stress of Giroux, Jake Voracek, Couturier, and allows the coaching staff to keep rolling lines without having to throw them in a blender. And again, while Laughton and his line didn’t find the score sheet, they were darn effective, making it even easier for Scott Gordon to keep the big guns rested and ready to go when chances came up on the power play.
With respect to guys like Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Brady Tkachuk, and Andrei Svechnikov, the Calder Trophy race is likely to come down to three guys: Pettersson, Rasmus Dahlin, and Hart. While that might sound crazy, figure that Hart will play most of the way in goal and has proven to at least be the Flyers’ best option between the pipes at just 20-years-old.
Not only is he playing a ton, but he’s playing well and making it too hard for the Flyers to punt and send him back down to Lehigh Valley if and when Brian Elliott and/or Michal Neuvirth return from injury. The Flyers really struggled earlier this season without competent goaltending and they’ve shown that they’re not a basement team when they get it. Expect the Flyers to keep winning as long as Hart plays near league average, and he’ll rack up a bunch of wins (and fanfare) in the Calder race.
Tonight is a big chance to perform well up against another standout rookie in Vancouver’s Pettersson, and perhaps lure more eyes to the campaign that has been gaining some serious steam in the past week plus.
Flyers’ projected lineup
JVR — Giroux — Konecny
Lindblom — Couturier — Voracek
Laughton — Patrick — Simmonds
Varone — Vorobyev — Raffl
Provorov — Sanheim
MacDonald — Gostisbehere
Hagg — Gudas