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Flyers vs Canucks Preview: Early rematch

An early encounter repeats, this time on the road.

Vancouver Canucks v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

Coming off of a statement win against the Edmonton Oilers, the Philadelphia Flyers will play their second game in as many nights against the Vancouver Canucks. In the second meeting of the season between these two teams, might the result be different for the Orange & Black? For all the storylines, players to watch, and stats, read on.

The Canucks

Since playing the Flyers in Philly’s home opener, Vancouver has been profoundly bad. The ‘Nucks rank last in the league in 5-on-5 xGF% behind the dismal Blackhawks and Coyotes, sit at eighteenth in 5-on-5 CF%, and stack up poorly by GF% too at even strength. This is a bad team that’s fairly reminiscent of the early Giroux/Voracek/Simmonds teams that were an amalgamation of duct tape, awful role players, and budding young talent.

The glue for Vancouver remains a nucleus of young players in Elias Pettersson, Thatcher Demko, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, Nils Höglander, Quinn Hughes, and JT Miller. Demko in particular is the key to the Canucks winning or losing games; when the Boston College product is otherworldly, Vancouver finds victory, but anything less than that usually means disaster with Jim Benning’s haphazardly assembled defensive corps.

The key to slamming the door on the Canucks is to limit their transitional options. The Flyers hammered the Edmonton Oilers in the third period of last night’s game because they adjusted to the opposing entry strategy and denied controlled or assisted carries through the neutral zone. Intercepting the second or third pace and relegating all of that high-end talent to playing chip-and-charge hockey dictates a style of play that favors Philadelphia.

In terms of players who might be worthy of receiving more attention than they’re getting, Oliver Ekman-Larsson has bounced back from a trio of rough seasons to have a great start, leading the team in xGF%, CF%, and xGA/60 at 5-on-5. The former Coyotes captain appears to have found a groove in his new system, so he’s a name to keep an eye on. Conor Garland is also a dangerous man with the puck on his stick and remains one of the more prominent even strength scoring threats in the Vancouver middle six.

The Flyers

Well, well, well. Despite getting hammered in shot differential overall last night, the Flyers won the expected goals battle and the game on a combination of opportunism, guts, and a refusal to die that carried them to an excellent third period. Philly still doesn’t appear to be winning in a way that will work as the sample size increases, but that doesn’t matter too much right now outside of being information to store and come back to.

Special teams for the Orange & Black have been excellent, the finishing talent is performing, players who didn’t seem like themselves last year visually look miles better (to steal a Ron Hextall line), and this is all happening without the services of Ryan Ellis, Kevin Hayes, and Wade Allison.

Cam Atkinson, probably the greatest goal scorer to ever play a game in Edmonton, can’t stop finding the back of the net. He’s shooting 33.3% right now and has a reputation as a streaky player, like all goal scorers, but you’d be hard pressed to convince any Flyers fans right now that he isn’t the second coming. He’s must-see TV until further notice.

With Ellis still a question mark heading into tonight, Carter Hart will once again need to stand tall. He might be helped out a bit by the Flyers not taking a mountain of penalties and testing their fate on the penalty kill. Philadelphia ranks thirteenth in total penalty minutes, but when going by rates (PIMs/GP) they’re second worst in terms of infractions league wide, behind only the Seattle Kraken. Mike Yeo’s system might be performing better thanks to some tweaks and personnel changes, but anybody with half a brain understands that handing the other team power plays isn’t a recipe for success.

Three Big Things

  1. Travis Sanheim actually had a half-decent day offensively last night, but he and Ristolainen both continue to struggle to find footing as a pair. While they’re both likable for their own reasons and have the ability to succeed given the right situations (loved Risto getting a Doug Glatt block and then coming back into the game yesterday), they need to get it together sooner rather than later. Tonight ought to be a get-right game for them; let’s see if they can take advantage.
  2. This game will act as a good measuring stick of how the Flyers have improved over the first five games. The Canucks ended up taking a victory despite some Claude Giroux and Travis Konecny heroics, mostly due to the Flyers getting mopped up in the second period. Can Alain Vigneault and the players keep the bus rolling for a full 60 minutes and avoid repeating the same mistakes? It’s worth the watch to find out the answer.
  3. Justin Braun and Keith Yandle remain surprisingly great veteran players. Braun in particular impressed yesterday, finding an assist and profiling nicely by analytics despite his poor foot speed being a terrifying prospect against the “we play hockey like we’re made of cocaine” Oilers. If Ellis returns, that’s awesome, but in the meantime can the vets keep up this level of play? Time will tell.

Game Day Tunes

J.I.D makes some of the hardest pre-game stuff I’ve ever heard. The beat switch in this track is impeccable.

Happy game day folks, and as always, go Flyers.