Well there wasn’t so much on Sunday when the Flyers were listless in a 3-0 loss at home to the Rangers. Hopefully a short road trip will help turn things around as the Flyers head to Dallas to take on the Stars tonight and then off to St. Louis to face the Blues before ending the season back at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday against the Hurricanes.
The Stars are likely playoff-bound for the first time in three seasons under first-year head coach Jim Montgomery with a five-point cushion on the Coyotes. The Stars are still top-heavy on offense with Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, and Jamie Benn doing most of the scoring, but have gotten excellent goaltending from Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin to overcome their depth scoring issues. The Flyers will get Khudobin in this one with Bishop sidelined.
Khudobin will oppose Cam Talbot, who continues his audition to be Carter Hart’s backup next season. Talbot took the loss in Carolina on Saturday, stopping 27 of 30 shots as the Flyers’ season effectively ended that afternoon.
Though beneficiaries of a down Western Conference this season, the Stars have morphed into a defensively sound hockey club over the past two years, and rank second to only the Islanders in terms of goals allowed per game this season at 2.43. That’s a far cry from the 3.17 per game they allowed just two seasons ago. An excellent penalty kill, operating at 82.5% has also helped the Stars nudge back into the playoff picture.
For the Flyers, a late playoff surge proved to be too little, too late. Now the goal is to get more ice time for young players who could be part of the Flyers’ next playoff team. One of those players is defenseman Sam Morin, who has played in two of the last three games as he works his way back from a knee injury. The former 2013 first-round pick is just one of a handful of players that Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher figures to try and get a long look at during the final three games of the season.
There’s also Carter Hart and Philippe Myers, who likely have done enough to solidify their place on the NHL roster going into training camp, but will certainly benefit from seeing more ice time in the final games of the season in their rookie years. Hart took the tough loss against the Rangers, allowing three goals on 25 shots as the Flyers really sagged in front of him after being eliminated from playoff contention a day earlier. Myers skated 18:18 in the loss to the Rangers, but saw an uptick in ice time for the second-straight game after skating 19:09 in Carolina the previous day.
Seeing the young guys and watching veterans like Claude Giroux (81 points in 79 games), Sean Couturier (74 points in 77 games), and Jakub Voracek (64 points in 75 games) continue to build on their strong campaigns to close the season is just about all that’s left for the Flyers at this point. Taking a dive in the last three games won’t effect their NHL Draft Lottery odds all that much, either, as hopes of Jack Hughes or Kappo Kakko faded during the Flyers’ second-half surge.
Welcome to playing out the string, folks. Here’s three things to watch for when the Flyers take on the Stars from Dallas later tonight.
Pride vs. playoff berth
Dallas needs just one lone point in order to qualify for the 2018-19 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Flyers are playing for, uh, yeah.
Expect the Stars to come out flying early and try and bury the Flyers to get their business out of the way. If the Flyers aren’t careful, they’ll get more embarrassed than they were in Sunday’s shutout loss to the Rangers at the WFC.
Already armed with a career-high 32 goals, Couturier can top his point total of 76 from a season ago by notching three points in the final three games. Should he reach that mark, he’d also do so in playing two fewer games than a season ago.
The Flyers’ No. 1 center has shown that last year was no fluke and he’s established himself as one of the NHL’s premier pivots at both ends of the ice. Continuing to pad the point totals would go a long way in helping Couturier secure some extra votes for the Selke Trophy, an award in which he was runner-up to the Kings’ Anze Kopitar a year ago.
Get to Khudobin early
The veteran backup hasn’t had much success against the Flyers, going 4-3 with an .890 save percentage and a 2.97 goals-against average in his career.
Give that the Stars need just one point to get into the playoffs as we just said, an early goal or two would keep the Flyers interested since pride is the only thing left at this point. Good news is that those chances improve greatly with Khudobin as opposed to Bishop.
Flyers Projected Lineup
JVR — Patrick — Giroux
Lindblom — Couturier — Voracek
Hartman — Laughton — Konecny
Raffl — Knight — Bailey
Provorov — Sanheim
Gostisbehere — Myers
Hagg — Gudas