After being shut out by the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, the Philadelphia Flyers’ path to scoring goals doesn’t get any easier tonight as the Boston Bruins visit the Wells Fargo Center. Not only do the B’s enter this evening’s contest as the only club in the NHL who haven’t suffered double-digit regulation losses yet with a record of 27-8-11, they also enter allowing the second-fewest goals against per game at a rate of 2.46 with only the Dallas Stars yielding a lower rate.
Unlike the Bruins, the Lightning aren’t regarded as a defensive juggernaut, but they are one of the better teams across the NHL in terms of limiting shots and chances. After last night’s games, the Bolts currently sit fourth in the league in Corsi against-per-60 (rate at which a team allows shots on goal, missed shots, and blocked shots against) and expected goals against-per-60 (rate at which a team allows quality chances against) at 5-on-5. Their speed managed to take away almost anything the Flyers did offensively in their 1-0 win over the club on Saturday and Philly was unable to create many rebounds or force Andrei Vasilevskiy to move before shots often. Factor in a team looking for their tenth straight win, a goalie who struggled to start the season and has a .933 save percentage over his last 14 games, and a penalty kill clicking at 89.8 percent since the start of December it’s no surprise we didn’t have a lot of fun watching that game over the weekend.
As for Boston, a big reason for their ability to prevent goals is the tandem in net. Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak have combined for the second-most shutouts in the league with five (the Carolina Hurricanes have six) and the third-highest team save percentage at .9206. Rask has started in nine more games than Halak and his .925 save percentage is .002 points better than Halak’s, but the former Montreal Canadien has three of the teams’ shutouts. Both Rask and Halak are having tremendous seasons, and a lot of that is due to Boston’s overall team defense. Everyone knows the impact Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy have on the Bruins’ blue line, but the lesser-known defensive-oriented d-men of Brandon Carlo and Matt Grzelcyk have played a part in the team’s 2.02 expected goals against-per-60 rate at 5-on-5 (good for the third-lowest rate in the league) and a slot that doesn’t see many opponents doing business.
All of this without mentioning the Bruins’ offense, which features one of the best lines in hockey in David Pastrnak-Patrice Bergeron-Brad Marchand (more on them below). If the Orange and Black want to halt Boston’s three-game winning streak it’s not going to be easy.
Players to watch
I’m only putting Konecny’s name here because the Flyers were shut out on Saturday, face another strong defensive team tonight, and he’s the go-to player to produce offense. He’s only been kept off the scoreboard two straight games or more twice this season and if he makes it three times after tonight’s game it probably means things didn’t go well for Philadelphia. Look no further than the last meeting between these clubs when Konecny opened the scoring and had the primary assist on Phil Myers’ third of the year to give the Flyers a 2-0 lead late in the first period before they hung on for a 3-2 shootout victory on November 10th at TD Garden. Also, this team lacks offensive creativity at times and it might take a great individual effort on a play to grab a point or two and Konecny seems like the most likely option to pull this off.
After being called up to play exactly five minutes in this weekend’s loss, David Kase was shipped back down to Lehigh Valley with Connor Bunnaman coming back up for his first stint with the big club since mid-October. It’s uncertain how well he’ll do in his second stretch of games with the Flyers, but it’s safe to say it really can’t be any worse than his first four contests. On top of zero points with four shots on net, Bunnaman posted a 41.51 Corsi-for percentage and a 32.1 expected goals-for percentage in just 37:45 of 5-on-5 play. It was also clear he just wasn’t ready for the NHL yet as he was consistently knocked off the puck, lost board battles, and took too long making decisions with possession in the defensive zone. Bunnaman hasn’t exactly blown the doors off in the AHL since his demotion with four goals on 56 shots and an assist in 21 appearances, but he’ll get another chance to see if he’s improved at the highest level. If not it may be awhile before he sees another shot...or he’ll get a few more chances without showing anything and we can call him Mikhail Vorobyev Jr.
With zero points in his last eight games, one assist in his last 12 games, and one goal (an empty-netter against the Toronto Maple Leafs on December 3rd) in his last 28 games, Joel Farabee might not be far behind Kase on the way to the AHL. After he saw over 16 minutes of ice time in the first two games of the Flyers’ recent road trip, Farabee saw just over 11 minutes of action against the Arizona Coyotes before he’s received under ten minutes of playing time in both of the team’s last 2 games. He provides an offensive play or two a game that shows you he will one day be an NHL regular, but with the dwindling ice time and the organization’s willingness to rotate young players in the bottom six rather quickly one has to wonder if Farabee might be the next man down. Any production or key defensive plays tonight would help.
Two big questions
1. Can they shut down Boston’s top line?
You already know how good this line is, I don’t need to tell you...but I will. According to Money Puck, there have been eight offensive trios who have played 400 minutes or more at 5-on-5 this season. Boston’s top line of Pastrnak-Bergeron-Marchand is one of those lines with a 57.7 Corsi-for percentage (their 46.44 shot attempts against-per-60 is the lowest rate among the eight lines), a 58.3 expected goals-for percentage, and a staggering 64.3 goals-for percentage with their 15 goals against being the fewest of the aforementioned group of eight. Pastrnak’s 35 goals in 46 games is not only insane, it’s the most goals in the league with Auston Matthews’ 31 sitting second. His 65 points is good for fourth in the league while Marchand is right behind him tied for fifth with 62 tallies thanks to his 42 helpers. They’ve gone six straight without a goal together at 5-on-5, but they did have the game-tying goal between these teams back in November. They’ll be a handful for Ivan Provorov and Matt Niskanen.
2. Can the power play do something?
The Flyers have gone four games and 13 straight power plays without finding the back of the net with the man advantage. This isn’t a new development for the team, as they consistently put Claude Giroux at the top of the right circle rather than in his sweet spot on the left half boards, but it does sting after a stretch where they scored nine power-play goals with at least one in seven of nine games. Both units have had their issues with zone entries and actually creating pressure once they’ve established themselves in the offensive zone. James van Riemsdyk catching the puck at the side of the net before turning around for a shot isn’t that threatening of a play and some nights it’s the team’s best chances on the man advantage. The change from JVR to Jakub Voracek for Saturday didn’t help produce different results. It’s unlikely they’ll find their groove against the second-ranked unit in the league, but just any sort of cohesiveness or the ability to force Rask or Halak into a game-changing save would be a nice change of pace.
Giroux - Hayes - Konecny
Raffl - Couturier - Voracek
JVR - Laughton - NAK
Farabee - Bunnaman - Pitlick
Provorov - Niskanen
Sanheim - Myers
Hagg - Friedman