After a terrible trip to Boston, the Philadelphia Flyers traveled to New Jersey and grabbed a 5-3 win over the Devils on Tuesday to calm down everyone in Philly a little. The victory over a lowly divisional opponent sans their budding puckstopper didn’t dissolve all of the Orange and Black’s alarming issues, but at least the defense provided something to possibly build on.
The addition of Shayne Gostisbehere to the lineup helped to bring some form of stability on the back end. The Union College product struggled mightily in 2018-19 and 2019-20 but the Flyers’ defense needed a fresh face to replace Erik Gustafsson, who has been Hot Ass in his time donning the Orange and Black. Ghost’s insertion into the six-man rotation allowed head coach Alain Vigneault to give top-pair mainstay Ivan Provorov another option besides Justin Braun and Travis Sanheim, who both failed to form a play-driving tandem that semi resembled Provorov and Matt Niskanen’s presence on the blue line together. The result was Provorov-Gostisbehere dominating at evens with a 75.08 Expected Goals-for percentage and being on the ice for a pair of Flyers’ tallies with no goals against. Ghost’s return along with AV’s decision to ice Travis Sanheim with Mark Friedman at 5-on-5, who posted a 71.05 xGF% and saw a shot advantage of 6-3 while on the ice together, helped to tilt the ice in Philly’s favor.
Despite the circumstantial success of the top four on Tuesday AV decided an early season Flyers-Devils matchup could use a little spice. According to Michael Russo of The Athletic Nate Prosser will be on the blue line this evening.
Prosser spent all 2019-20 with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in his first year with the Flyers’ organization and hasn’t taken part in an NHL contest for over two years. He’s a veteran defenseman that can bring physicality and size (he’s 6’2”, 201 pounds to Friedman’s 5’11”, 185 pounds) to the right side of Philly’s defense.
Prosser will be working in front of Carter Hart, who is back in net after sitting out Tuesday’s action. For the Devils it looks like Lindy Ruff will go with Scott Wedgewood, who is 1-2-0 with a .914 save percentage and a shutout in 2021. Ruff will also be replacing forward Nicholas Merkley with Jesper Bratt as the Swedish forward will make his season debut tonight.
Two big questions
1. Will Hart rebound?
The Flyers managed to play adequate team defense in front of Brian Elliott on Tuesday and the veteran netminder responded with a win. The same can’t be said for Hart over his previous three starts, as he’s allowed 14 goals against and only stopped .846 percent of the pucks he saw. It hasn’t been easy for the 2016 pick early on, as he has allowed three goals against or more in four of his five games this season and his most recent event on the ice was his explicable meltdown after Saturday’s shellacking in Boston to the Bruins. The defense in front of Hart hasn’t been ideal, but it should at least look a little better this evening as the goalie tries to halt his early-season slide.
2. Can they generate quality chances at 5-on-5 again?
The Flyers produced 2.13 expected goals at 5-on-5 on Tuesday, the first time they have hit 2 expected goals in a single game this season after accomplishing the feat 23 times in 69 games last year. A lot has been made about the team’s inability to do anything defensively this season, but it’s worth noting the offensive numbers haven’t exactly been stellar. Ahead of tonight’s action the Flyers are 31st with 42.82 shot attempts-per-60 at 5-on-5 and are one of eight teams in the league averaging under two expected goals-per-60. It’s been tough for the Orange and Black to generate offense while holding the advantage in quality chances at even strength so far this year and back-to-back performances countering that point could go a long way in the confidence of this fan base.
Flyers projected lineup
JVR - Hayes - Voracek
Giroux - Patrick - Konecny
Lindblom - Laughton - Farabee
Raffl - Bunnaman - NAK
Provorov - Gostisbehere
Sanheim - Prosser
Hagg - Braun
In case you missed it, check out our pre-mini series chat with John Fischer of All About The Jersey: