After suffering their first loss in regulation on the season, the Philadelphia Flyers enter the first road trip of the year at 3-1-1. Taking on an Edmonton Oilers team featuring plenty of star power and scoring punch will be difficult, especially as the visitors, but this should be an interesting game nonetheless. What are the storylines, who are the players to watch, and why does this game matter? All of that and more below.
This team might not go deep in the playoffs due to some clear roster flaws, but boy are they a treat to watch. The Oilers top six is as follows: Zach Hyman, Connor McDavid, Jesse Puljujarvi, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisaitl, and Kailer Yamamoto. That’s a terrifying set of names for any blue line across the league to deal with, let alone Philly’s still-iffy group on the back end.
The Oilers are driven to success by offense, and offense alone. Edmonton ranks eighth in xGF/60 and tenth in GF/60 at 5-on-5, meaning that a forward corps already propelling a top ten offense should theoretically be doing even better. The third line on this roster is even half-decent, with all three members registering an xGF% at 5-on-5 well above 50 percent.
On the defensive side of things, stuff gets a bit dicier. Evan Bouchard has been rock solid for Dave Tippett and company, but in a small sample size; this is also a start where Duncan Keith, who looked more thoroughly cooked than a piece of beef jerky prior to this year, has been perfectly fine or better.
Darnell Nurse unquestionably leads the blue line for the Oilers. The newly minted $74 million dollar man drove offense from the back end better than almost anyone else in the National Hockey League last year; he’s also been a liability in his own end and away from the puck his entire career. A dismal bottom four rotation including Slater Koekkoek, Kris Russell, Tyson Barrie (he of the “offense only” school), Keith, and Cody Ceci doesn’t inspire much confidence in any defensive sturdiness, particularly with Mikko Koskinen and (ahem) Stuart Skinner as the options in net.
Philadelphia will be without the services of Ryan Ellis for this game. Ryan Ellis is second best in the league by xGA/60 at 5-on-5. The Flyers as a team rank twenty-ninth in this stat. Do the math. Unless Carter Hart brings the heat tonight, this might end up being a tough loss due to injuries (Kevin Hayes is still missing too), tinkering (the Ristolainen/Sanheim experiment continues), and poor matchups (the Flyers’ penalty kill against THAT power play).
The player to watch for Philly is Carter Hart, obviously, but we’d also like to invite you to our new club, the Keith Yandle Enjoyers™. Professor Sonk is second among all Flyers defenders in xGF%, behind only... Nick Seeler. Maybe numbers are lies after all. Regardless, Yandle is a force on offense, directing the Orange & Black power play like a wonderful, goofy maestro. He was one of the surprise MVPs of the home stand, and might keep being a good player in a limited role.
Three Big Things
- Gonna request that the Flyers play the anti-NAK style of hockey and avoid taking stupid penalties entirely. The Oilers have consistently been a top-of-the-line power play with Draisaitl and McDavid, and have added a functional Puljujarvi, Tyson Barrie, Darnell Nurse, Evan Bouchard, and noted net front genius Zach Hyman to the mix since. The Flyers have improved somewhat on the penalty kill, yes, but when the bar is in the Earth’s core it’s hard to do otherwise. No penalties. Please.
- The top line needs to step up. Travis Konecny has been arguably the most noticeable member of the TK-Couturier-Giroux trio thus far, and while he hasn’t exactly been dragging the other two around it’s worth noting that G and Coots haven’t been playing their best hockey, especially at even strength. We’ve seen better from the both of them, and can expect better in the near future. Going against an anemic defense like this one might be the cure to those ailments.
- Carter Hart stealing a game would go a long way in restoring everybody’s hope in him, and in order to find a win tonight the Flyers might need him to do just that. Hopefully he’s up to the task.
Game Day Tunes
A gem from British punk band IDLES.
Happy game day, and as always, go Flyers.
Be sure to check out our pregame chat with Preston Hodgkinson from Copper & Blue, who filled us in on what’s changed with the Oilers in the several years since the Flyers have played them.