Hockey is finally back, folks! After what really felt like a century long break, the Flyers are finally back and things are very much just like we left them.
When we last saw the Flyers, they were not walking but running into the break with a 3-0 win over the Penguins, and now it looks like it’s immediate rematch time. And this is a big game for the Flyers—despite having 60 points, they’ve fallen to sixth in the division, but they’re just two points behind fourth place Columbus and three behind the third place Islanders. The Penguins have a little bit of separation with 67 points, sitting at second in the division, but their position is just as vulnerable as anyone else’s, and it isn’t the time to be giving away points against divisional opponents.
The Flyers will be getting some reinforcements back for this one—Shayne Gostisbehere is still out for at least one more game and Carter Hart for another week, but they will get Michael Raffl back into the lineup tonight, and that’s something. The Flyers, in case you missed it, have called Connor Bunnaman and Alex Lyon back up from Lehigh Valley, and we’ll see them tonight (Bunnaman centering the fourth line and Lyon backing up Brian Elliott).
Three players two watch
1. Travis Konecny
Our All Star is back and (hopefully) ready to do some normal hockey again. Konecny has obviously been one of the Flyers’ most consistent players through the first half of the season, and they’ll be hoping that he can keep that up heading into the second half, here. He had a bit of a quiet last game against the Penguins (one shot and one assist), but still a fine enough game. That said, we’re hoping he can get a running start into the second half and really show up for this one. If we’re turning that into a prediction, we feel pretty good about it. Bonus points if he gives us a little taste of the outdoor game and gets into it with someone, we don’t really care who. We can dream, right?
2. Brian Elliott
With Hart still out for another week or so, it remains the Brian Elliott show around here, and the good news is that he hasn’t really given us any reason to be worried about that being the case for a bit longer. He’s been overwhelmingly solid through this recent stretch, and that’s exactly what you want to be able to say of your backup when he’s filling in for an injured starter. This all feels very jinxy so catch us knocking furiously on wood and hoping that Elliott can keep the wheels on for just a few more games. This one won’t be easy, and they’ll need him to come up big for them again.
3. Joel Farabee
Farabee was picking up some steam in the last handful of games before we hit the break, and we’re hoping that he’ll be able to carry some of that momentum into this weekend, starting tonight in Pittsburgh. He’s been bumped out of the top six with Raffl returning to the lineup, but finds a new home on the third line with Kevin Hayes and Scott Laughton, and on paper, that seems like something that could work. But, of course, that’s just on paper, and we’ll be keeping an eye on how that shakes out in reality, and as we said, if Farabee can keep that momentum rolling.
Two big questions
1. How quickly can they shake off the rust?
The first game back after a break, we’re well aware by now, isn’t always kind. Teams often have to spend a little bit of time getting back into the swing of things, shaking off the rust, getting back settled with their timing, all of the things. It means things can also get a little messy, which we’d be lying if we said that doesn’t still scare us a little bit. We’ve seen how badly things can go when the Flyers are playing a messy game.
The good news, perhaps, is that this is also the Penguins’ first game back after the break, and this should help to level the playing field, but the Flyers will still have to find a way to shake off the rust early if they want to be effective in this one.
2. Can they shut down Pittsburgh’s big guns?
One of the big reasons why the Flyers were able to beat the Penguins so cleanly in their last meeting was due to their defensive game, how they were able to take away just about all of their top players’ time and space and really limit how much they were able to generate. With their top end talent, that’s what you have to do, and the Flyers will be looking to out together a repeat performance in this one. Can they do it? Well, here’s hoping.
Puck drops at 7:00 tonight, and you can check out the projected lineup below.
van Riemsdyk - Giroux - Konecny
Raffl - Couturier - Voracek
Laughton - Hayes - Farabee
Pitlick - Bunnaman - Aube-Kubel
Provorov - Niskanen
Sanheim - Myers
Hagg - Braun