The good news? They’re still only five points out of the final wild card spot, and can get right back at it with a game tonight. The bad news? It’s a road game against another playoff bound team in the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Thankfully for the Flyers sake is that the Maple Leafs are cold coming in, as opposed to the red-hot Capitals buzz saw the Flyers just faced. Toronto has lost two-straight: a 6-2 loss to NHL-best Tampa Bay, then a 5-4 loss to the lowly Chicago Blackhawks. Though the home crowd at the Scotiabank Arena had the boo birds out after the first period with the Leafs down 4-0, they did rally to force the Hawks into a sweaty 5-4 win. That push-back was exactly what coach Mike Babcock was looking for, and his teams response should bode well with the Flyers coming to town.
For Flyers interim coach Scott Gordon, he’d love not to have to see the Capitals again the rest of the season. He won’t get his wish, as the Flyers have one left against the boys from DC, but he will be happy to get his team right back on the ice and have a chance to get back the lost points from a night ago.
Part of the issue against the Caps were puck management, breakouts, and goaltending. The Flyers’ young defense struggled with an air-tight Caps forecheck and worked themselves into turnovers that ended up behind Carter Hart, who was pretty rusty early on in his first action in three weeks. Hopefully Brian Elliott can slide into to continue his strong play of late, as the Flyers have won five of his last seven starts.
When the Flyers weren’t busy fumbling the puck they were actually creating good zone time in the Caps’ end, but didn’t provide the finish. Washington’s defense did a nice job of keeping the Flyers wide and forcing distance attempts, but the Flyers had missed the net a bunch and too often settled with what the defense gave them. They’ll need to be much more aggressive against a Toronto team that has shown the ability to give up a high amount of scoring chances and goals in recent games. The Leafs’ defense has been leaky, and Frederik Andersen hasn’t been able to cover up for the mistakes and onslaught of odd-man rushes.
After laying an egg at the WFC against the Caps, and demanding games up next in a trip to Pittsburgh and a home date with Montreal, the Flyers cannot afford to leave Toronto without at least a point.
KISS: ““Keep it simple, stupid” -Michael Scott” -Dwight Schrute
This is a great credo for the glut of young talent all over the ice for the Flyers, but especially the ones who tend to try to do too much: which is all of them.
But while Nolan Patrick, Travis Konecny, and Oskar Lindblom need to simplify their games up front, this is more for the young defenders playing significant minutes down the stretch in a playoff chase. Travis Sanheim, and Philippe Myers were not at their best against an aggressive Capitals forecheck and paid the price often. Sanheim had a forgettable shift on the Caps’ second goal that included a failed clear and a pair of turnovers that resulted in a Lars Eller goal. The always-aggressive Myers had a better game, but did get caught on a couple bad pinches that resulted in odd-man rushes that the Flyers survived. The defense has to limit the turnovers in their own zone and keep plays with the puck simple, especially on the road in a tough environment.
Not only do the younger players have to simplify their games, but so do the Flyers veterans as well. Too often did pucks not get on goal to challenge Braden Holtby to make a save, and with confidence low for Andersen after back-to-back poor showings, they should pepper him with rubber early and often.
Carter Hart rebounded after allowing four goals in the first 30 minutes against the Caps, but starting the 20-year-old against the defending Cup champions was questionable at best. You can see Gordon’s idea of trying to get Hart a start at home before giving way to the veteran for this road test, but Hart was rusty and it cost both him and the team.
Now Elliott draws the road start at Toronto, a game the Flyers badly need to have at least a point it with a road trip to scorching Pittsburgh on the way Sunday night. The veteran has been everything the Flyers have needed since Hart went down with an ankle injury three weeks ago, and has a chance to give his team a boost here tonight.
The Maple Leafs can really score, so Elliott better be ready early and often, but he’s been great of late and should be able to keep the Flyers in the game and long enough to feast on a Toronto team allowing a ton of goals in recent weeks.
Toronto’s power play operates at nearly 23%, good for seventh overall, and shouldn’t have issues with the Flyers’ continually awful penalty kill. They did do a nice job allowing just three shots on three Caps power plays last night, but they also surrendered a boat load of zone time for them to operate.
The Maple Leafs have issues allowing goals, but don’t have issues scoring them with the likes of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and friends. The Flyers would be wise to keep the penalties to dire need situations and not give a talented Leafs power play and more chances than they need or it could be a long night.
Flyers’ projected lineup
Piano Man — Gerald — Giroux
JVR — Patrick — Konecny
Raffl — Laughton — Hartman
Varone — Knight — Bailey
Provorov — Sanheim
Gostisbehere — Myers
Hagg — Gudas