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Preview: Flyers look to right the ship with a visit to the center of the storm

As the top Metro division team, the Hurricanes will serve Philly their toughest test yet

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

I draw the curtains as the sky goes black
And set a match to candles sheathed in glass
Against the keyhole draught, the insistent whine
Of weather through the unsealed aperture.
This is our sole defense against the season;
These are the things we have learned to do
Who live in troubled regions.

— Adrienne Rich, “Storm Warnings”

The Flyers will travel to Raleigh, North Carolina tonight for the first half of a two-game weekend road trip. They’ve been alternating wins and losses since the end of October; the periods or spurts of poor play in their ebb and flow often been backed by strong goaltending from either of their bounce back candidates, 23-year-old potential star Carter Hart or 31-year-old Sharks castoff Martin Jones.

Sometimes it feels like these patterns of poor play in wins, strong play in losses, streakiness, and overall inconsistency and unpredictability is the defining characteristic of this generation of the Philadelphia Flyers, exemplified in the macro by their decade-long streak of missing the playoffs in seasons following ones in which they made the playoffs. It’s a helpless feeling, especially from a fan’s perspective, to be caught in the middle of a hurricane and unable to do much to control or even understand; we so rarely even have a good grip on what this team is going to do. Are they good? Are they bad? An impossible question to answer. Just visit Flyers Twitter and you’ll probably get 10 different answers that’ll all change in 24 hours.

Coming off a busy offseason that shook things up roster-wise, we were all wondering if this 2021-22 Flyers team would be truly different, and after 11 games, we’re starting to get a clearer picture. At times, it might seem like a picture of the same old uncontrollable turbulence, but, I think, if we squint we can see the possibility of a stabilizing hand on the tiller in the form of that aforementioned net minder tandem, outperforming their own prior careers, the typical Flyers’ goalie performances, and, in many cases, their 2021-22 peers. If there’s a path to consistency, it’s starting to feel like it rests between the pipes. For tonight, it’ll be Hart, facing perhaps his toughest test yet this season in the red hot Carolina Hurricanes.

The Hurricanes are looking like serious Cup contenders; they have only played two games this season where they were outshot by their opponent—one a shutout performance by Freddie Anderson in a win over the Bruins at the end of October and the other a game against the Predators where they were short handed for over seven minutes and won the even strength shot battle.

Although Hockey-reference’s strength of schedule stat has their season as the easiest to this point, they’ve made the most of it, starting the season with nine consecutive wins, just a game short of the best opening streak of all time. The Canes finally lost in a marquee match-up with the Florida Panthers, and now sit at 10-1-0 after a strong overtime win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night. It’s no doubt they’ll throw yet another kink into the notions we have about our team, no matter the outcome.

So, as we prepare for this impending Hurricanes match-up, let us who live in this troubled region known as Flyer fandom draw the curtains and light some candles, sit in our decade-old good luck La-Z-Boys, adorn our lucky off-brand ‘70s-era jerseys, bundle up with our cats named for Philly greats gone by, and maybe even indulge in our favorite cheesesteaks, simply controlling the things we can—no matter how small or insignificant they may seem—in our sole defense against the storm. Go Flyers.

Projected Flyers lines:

Claude Giroux—Sean Couturier—Travis Konecny
Oskar Lindblom—Derick Brassard—Cam Atkinson
Joel Farabee—Scott Laughton—James van Riemsdyk
Zack MacEwen—Nate Thompson—Patrick Brown

Ivan Provorov—Justin Braun
Travis Sanheim—Rasmus Ristolainen
Keith Yandle—Nick Seeler

Carter Hart
(Martin Jones)

Projected Hurricanes lines:

Andrei Svechnikov - Sebastian Aho - Teuvo Teravainen
Jesperi Kotkaniemi - Vincent Trocheck - Martin Necas
Steven Lorentz - Jordan Staal - Jesper Fast
Jordan Martinook - Derek Stepan - Seth Jarvis

Jaccob Slavin - Ethan Bear
Brady Skjei - Tony DeAngelo
Ian Cole - Brendan Smith

Frederik Andersen
(Alex Lyon)

Keep an eye on:

  • Oskar Lindblom, who’s swapped places in the lineup with Joel Farabee. He’ll join Cam Atkinson on Derick Brassard’s wing, while Farabee takes Lindblom’s place with Scott Laughton and James van Riemsdyk. With both Ryan Ellis and Kevin Hayes on the brink of a return, it appears the coaching staff is approaching the team’s recent struggle with minor tinkers only, rather than any wholesale changes.
  • Seth Jarvis, filling in for the injuring Nino Neiderreter. Through 7 games, the only man games the Hurricanes had lost to injury were from Jake Gardiner, who is out indefinitely. But just recently they’ve sustained injuries to Neiderreter, defenseman Brett Pesce, and goaltender Antti Raanta. Jarvis, a 19-year-old who was selected 13th overall in the 2020 entry draft, has only played in four games thus far, but has a goal, an assist, and has helped propel the Hurricanes to a 37-15 shot advantage (and a 45-28 advantage in 5-on-5 Corsi for) during his ice time in those games.
  • The Flyers power play, which at this point is basically only good in the sense that it’s two solid minutes where the other team is probably not going to score. They haven’t scored in their last six opportunities, have only scored twice in their last 21, and are 6-32 (18.75%) on the season and only have 43 total shots on goal in those 32 chances. There are 12 teams with worse percentages than Philly, but they’re almost all getting more opportunities on the man advantage. Beyond the numbers, they just don’t look very dangerous out there, rarely getting time to set up and shuffling the set-up and personnel around from game to game and sometimes mid-game.
  • Freddie Andersen, who’s strong play in net is probably the biggest reason for Carolina’s success so far. He’s started 10 of their 11 games and has a 9-1 W-L record, a .939 save percentage, and a 1.73 GAA. Andersen’s GSAA via Hockey-reference is at 7.43 goals, good for fourth in the NHL, and via Natural Stat Trick is at 5.19 goals, second in the league.
  • Rasmus Ristolainen and Travis Sanheim, who have begun to turn things around after a dismal start together. They’ve spent the most time together out of any other Flyers pair, thanks to the Ryan Ellis injury shaking up the top and bottom pairs around them, but it wasn’t until the last two games that that lineup decision seemed to justify itself. They helped Philly generate 13 even strength shots and only allowed 4 against the Capitals, and followed that up with an 8-5 on-ice shot advantage against the Maple Leafs.
  • Andrei Svechknikov, because he’s an electrifying player who’s difficult not to keep an eye on.

Stray stats:

  • Going back to the days of the Hartford Whalers, this will be the 149th meeting between these two franchises, with the Flyers taking the all-time series 87-38-14-9 (W-L-T-OTL) for a .666 points percentage. They are 33-20-0-4 since the franchise moved to Raleigh and became the Hurricanes.
  • In the nine and a half seasons after the Flyers traded away Rod Brind’Amour (all of which he played for the Carolina Hurricanes), they were 21-9-2-2 against him. Since he took over for Bill Peters behind the Carolina bench at the start of the 2018-2019 season, the Flyers are 3-4 against him, for a combined total of 24-13-2-2. They haven’t played the Hurricanes since March 5, 2020 in South Philly, a game they won 4-1.
  • As mentioned, the Hurricanes nine wins to start the season fell just one short of the best ever mark, which was accomplished by both the 2006-07 Sabres and the 1993-94 Toronto Maple Leafs. That Sabres team won the President’s Trophy en route to a Conference Finals loss, while the Leafs finished second in their division and also lost in the Conference Finals. The Canes now hold the second best opening streak, which has only been matched by the 2015-16 Montreal Canadiens, who went on to finish 38-38-6 and 6th in the Atlantic Division that year, missing the playoffs by a pretty wide margin.
  • The Flyers have two of the most successful faceoff-takers in the NHL, although they’re both on the same line. Giroux is 95-55 in the dot and Couturier is 86-64. In terms of percentages, that puts Giroux’s 63.3% at 2nd in the league and Coots’ 57.3% at 16th, for a combined 181-119, or 60.3%. If they were one combined player producing these numbers, they’d have the 5th best percentage and the 2nd most puck drops won overall.
  • The Hurricanes have the best 5-on-5 goal differential in the league, but their special teams numbers fall somewhat short (but really just barely) of their peers at the top of the standings: 8th ranked power play, 10th ranked penalty kill, 27th best CF% with the man advantage, and they’ve allowed the most high danger chances to opposing teams on their own power play.