The Flyers are in dire need of points and there are a whole ton of teams they’d rather see than the one they’ll get tonight.
It’s the defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals, and they’re red hot, too. Winners of seven of their last 10, the Capitals find themselves atop the Metropolitan Division and seem to be peaking at the right time once again.
The Flyers haven’t been anything to sneeze at lately, either, going 7-2-1 in their last 10 to bring themselves within five points of a playoff spot —the closest they’ve been all season.
But one of the main reasons the Flyers —currently on a longer 17-4-2 run— haven’t gained more ground in the standings is that teams ahead of them have stayed nearly equally as hot. Carolina has won six-straight and eight of 10 to vault into the third spot in the Metro while Penguins are on a 6-2-2 run of their own to hold the first wild card spot.
Of course the Flyers are hotter than the Blue Jackets, who went all-in at the deadline and had lost two-straight in regulation in bad fashion before outlasting the Devils in a shootout last night. There’s also the surprise Canadiens, who are finally starting to show their true talent level and falling back to the pack with 79 points after a late-night win over the listless Kings. Both are vulnerable and the Flyers could very well jump ahead of both if they can stay hot themselves.
The climb starts with a tough test against the Caps, who won the first matchup by a final of 5-3 way back in early January. Much is different now, though, as the Flyers don’t have AHL journeyman (all due respect) Mike McKenna in net, and both teams are playing arguably their best hockey of the season coming in.
Not only is tonight a huge tilt at the Wells Fargo Center, but it’s the first of three matchups left between the two clubs that could go a long way in determining who gets into the playoffs and who gets left out between the Flyers, Blue Jackets, Penguins, and Canadiens.
Let’s get right into what three things ahead of this important matchup for the Flyers.
Mo injuries, Mo problems
The Flyers will once again be without the services of Jake Voracek thanks to a lower-body injury, and could be without Nolan Patrick as well. Voracek missed the 4-1 win on Long Island while Patrick took a Cal Clutterbuck slap shot to the back of the head and did not return. Read into it what you will, but the Flyers called up Justin Bailey from Lehigh Valley on Tuesday, perhaps to take the ice should Patrick not be able to go. Flyers coach Scott Gordon could also opt for the 11 forward, seven defenseman route he’s experiment with recently as well.
Without Voracek, the Flyers persisted to penetrate the NHL’s best defense on Long Island to the tune of four goals. That’s impressive given the absence of both Voracek and the lack of Patrick for pretty much the whole game (1:36 TOI) against a team giving up nearly half that on average.
While the Flyers will be shorthanded again, they’ll at least get a somewhat suspect Capitals team defense in this one. The Caps are allowing 3.14 goals per game this season, and haven’t had great goaltending from the normally stellar Braden Holtby. The veteran owns a .909 save percentage, almost .10 points below his career mark, but his second-straight season under .910 after posting a save percentage of at least .920 in five of his first six seasons.
Nevertheless, he’s won three-straight decisions to go along with a .926 save percentage so perhaps he’s figuring things out at the right time. The Flyers need to get pucks on him early, as he’s faced just 68 shots in his last three games.
Ride the Moose
Brian Elliott has been phenomenal since coming off the injured list, posting a .936 save percentage in six games (3-0-1 record) to help keep the Flyers afloat after losing Carter Hart to an ankle injury. He’ll need to be on his game again in this one with one of the NHL’s best offensive teams coming to the WFC.
Alex Ovechkin is going to score 50 goals again (He’s at 45), Nicklas Backstrom is once again putting up near point-per game numbers, and then there’s always Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson, and T.J. Oshie. Sounds like a team that can put up five goals in a hurry and blow a team out of the building, so the Flyers have to keep things close and that has started and stopped with Elliott in recent games.
Take advantage on the power play
The Flyers have power play goals in three of their last five, and have finally gotten Claude Giroux on the right side of the ice from time-to-time here lately. Couple that with a Caps penalty kill operating at just 78% while taking the second-most penalties in the league, and there should be some chances for the Flyers on the man-advantage in this one.
Missing Voracek will hurt but Giroux still has penalty to work with in the form of a red-hot James van Riemsdyk (Four goals in last five games), and potentially some PP1 time for Travis Sanheim, who also has four goals in his last five games.
Backstrom is a certified Flyers killer with 51 points (14G, 37A) in 42 games...Ovechkin has 33 goals in 50 games against the Flyers....Brian Elliott has sparkling numbers in 11 games against the Caps (7-4, .931 Sv%, 2.10 GAA)...Giroux is a point-per game player vs. DC (19G, 19A) in 38 games...
Flyers Projected Lineup
Giroux — “Gerald” — Lindblom
Raffl — Laughton — Konecny
JVR — Knight — Hartman
Varone — Bailey
Provorov — Sanheim
Gostisbehere — Myers
Hagg/MacDonald — Gudas
Data and stats courtesy of NaturalStatTrick and HockeyReference