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Preview: Flyers hope to reverse the tides and douse the Flames at home

Philly begins a tough three-game homestand tonight after splitting the weekend road trip

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Calgary Flames Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

The Flyers have been unable to string together consecutive wins (or losses) since their Western Canada trip, when they defeated the Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers on back-to-back nights at the very end of October. Tonight, they’ll return to Philly to face the opponent who started this no-streaks streak, the Calgary Flames.

The Flyers will be (back) down one Ryan Ellis, as the team reported yesterday that he’d reinjured himself and is now considered week-to-week again, and one Oskar Lindblom, who is taking a trip to the press box for “a reset,” per Alain Vigneault. The return of Kevin Hayes in Dallas on Saturday gave the Flyers a little bit of a jolt, but it seems it will take a little longer to reintegrate him fully into the lineup and full-speed NHL games. Based on the last eight games, we might guess the Flyers will pull out a win tonight, especially with Carter Hart in net, but looking at their opponents puts some doubt into that pattern.

I grew up in a shore town, working summers at a boardwalk pizza joint, where certain roads would flood during the highest of tides. At most, the pool of water can get up to about a foot deep. There is usually a way around the water, often by trying the road to the opposite bridge, or driving on the sidewalk, or blasting through it undercarriage be damned. But other times, both sides of town are heavily flooded.

One summer day at work, two women approached me speaking a language that was foreign to me. They spoke enough English to eventually tell me they were trapped and asked how to leave. I did not follow at first; I pointed them towards the ramp that leads to and from the boardwalk. They shook their heads and said by car. So I tried to ask where they were going so I could give directions. When I told them the way, they said they had tried it. I then realized that it must’ve been high tide, and they were confused when I told them they’d just have to wait a couple hours until the tide went down.

They then asked what I meant by ‘the tide.’ How do you explain the tide? It’s something so fundamentally a part of life in a shore town that it’s easy to forget some people don’t have to deal with it. It could be the thing you plan your beach trip around. It’ll decide what time you’re going to surf today. When things smell bad, you try to decide if they are better or worse than the smell of low tide. I mean, I guess it’s the net difference in the gravitational pull between the Earth and the moon as it is acted out upon the waves, but I couldn’t really tell you that without doing the research, and I definitely can’t put it into simple enough terms for a non-native English speaker to understand. It’s a moving target, because it’s always either coming in or going out and the slackwater period—when the water is completely unstressed—lasts for a very short time. The moment when the tide peaks, whether it’s hitting low tide before reversing and coming in, or vice versa, is very short.

Sometimes, the Flyers win (and we’re cocky) and sometimes they lose (and we’re distraught). How do you explain something so fundamentally a part of life as a Flyers fan that it’s easy to forget some people don’t have to deal with it at all? Right now, they’re coming off low tide in the form of a three-goal loss to the struggling Dallas Stars; which itself was off a strong win over one of the very best teams in the league. If we had a tidal chart to refer to, because lunitidal intervals are basically the same from a single location, we’d have a better grasp on the future of the 2021-22 Flyers season, and, in turn, tonight’s game against the Calgary Flames.

Those Flames have quietly (at least, it seems it’s been quietly to this East Coast hockey) been one of the best teams in the league so far this season. They’re 8-3-4, putting them at third place in the Pacific, but their 66.7% points percentage is good for ninth in the NHL. Despite the less than perfect record, their shot and shot attempt numbers are pretty stellar: at 5-on-5, they’ve got a 54.34 CF% (2nd in the NHL), 53.88 FF% (3rd), 55.56 SF% (3rd), 54.01 HDCF% (6th), and 53.94 xGF% (4th). They’ve now overtaken the Carolina Hurricanes in 5-on-5 GF% thanks to the Flyers handing the Canes a 2-1 loss over the weekend.

The Flames success is fueled in part by one of the league’s best lines: power forward Matthew Tkachuck and South Jersey Native™ Johnny Gaudreau centered by team points leader Elias Lindholm. When playing together at even strength, they’ve scored nine goals and only allowed two; there has not been a 5-on-5 goal scored against the Flames when all three players are on the ice at the same time.

The other ingredient in the Flames recipe for success is goaltender Jacob Markström, sporting a .935 save percentage in 11 starts. The Flames are 5-3-3 in those games, a league-high 4 of which have been shutouts. After a down year for his first season in Calgary, Markström is putting himself back in the Vezina race.

But there’s no nautical charts with any flying P’s on them; the moon will not tell us, no matter how many times I ask it, if the Philadelphia Flyers are going to win or lose. Other strong opponents have attempted to traverse Flyers waters and caught them at high tide this November: the aforementioned Hurricanes and the Capitals have both lost close games to Philly while the Maple Leafs and these Flames won pretty decisively. At this point, we hope the ebb and flow pattern continues and leads to a win at home against the Flames tonight.

Projected Flyers lines:

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

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

Carter Hart
(Martin Jones)

Projected Flames lines:

Matthew Tkachuck—Elias Lindholm—Johnny Gaudreau
Andrew Mangiapane—Sean Monahan—Blake Coleman
Milan Lucic—Brad Richardson—Walker Duehr
Trevor Lewis—Mikael Backlund—Dillon Dube

Noah Hanifin—Rasmus Andersson
Oliver Kylington—Christopher Tanev
Nikita Zadorov—Erik Gudbranson

Jacob Markström
(Daniel Vladar)

Keep an eye on:

  • Claude Giroux, who is slumping a little bit, at least by his scoring standards. He doesn’t have a point in the last three games, a primary point in the last four, or a goal in the last five. He hasn’t scored a 5-on-5 goal since the October 27 game against the Oilers. Giroux is leading the team in shots, has the best all situations CF% and the second best at 5-on-5 behind linemate Sean Couturier, and looked more aggressively determined to make something happen at the end of the Dallas game than anyone else on the ice, but has not been scoring at even strength or on the power play. Then again, no one has been scoring on the power play.
  • Oliver Kylington, who has taken a little while to establish himself in the NHL, but appears to have arrived. He’s already surpassed his career high in points with 10 in 14 games, he’s driving play very well, and he’s given a good Flames team defensive depth following the loss of their Norris-winning captain to the expansion draft. Also, he’s Swedish, so the K at the beginning of his name is soft, something that doesn’t even exist in English. Who knew?
  • Kevin Hayes, whose first game of the season seemed to follow the same script as the rest of the roster: started off strong but slowed down the longer the game ran on. He did pick up a primary assist on the late power play goal, and his puck skills are valuable on the power play even when he’s not 100%.
  • Walker Duehr, who’s named after two whiskeys and made his NHL debut for the Flames on Sunday. He’s the only chance in the Calgary lineup since their last matchup with the Flyers in late October, getting the call in place of the injured Brett Ritchie. A Sioux Falls, ND native who went undrafted before signing with the Flames, Duehr only played 8 minutes in his debut and did not score. The Flyers seem to love letting rookies score their first career goals, so we’ll have to be aware of that.
  • The Flyers’ power play, which has been ineffective for far too long, but showed some promise against the Stars. It actually seemed like they might score a few times, and they had nine shots on goal in six minutes of time, with one even going in off an Ivan Provorov one-timer.
  • The crowd, which is likely to have some familiar, albeit aged, faces in it with a good amount of Flyers alumni in town for the Alumni Game yesterday. Here’s the roster if you didn’t get to watch yesterday. Me, I’m hoping Donald Brashear sticks around and the cameras find him for me tonight.

Stray stats:

  • As a franchise, the Flyers are 60-44-12-8 (W-L-T-OTL) against the Flames, which includes games played during their eight seasons in Atlanta. Calgary is 21-36-3-1 in games played in Philadelphia, which goes back to the Spectrum.
  • It seems the Flames only lose either when they don’t score enough or when they go to overtime: Markström has lost all three OT games he’s played in so far. The only OT Flames win this year came with Daniel Vladar in net.
  • Giroux is currently tied with Eric Lindros with 82 power play goals as a Flyer. They stand at eighth, nine goals behind the great Wayne Simmonds.
  • Andrew Mangiapane has scored 10 goals on 33 shots this season for a ridiculous 30.3% shooting percentage. The only other players with that high a percentage on that many shots are Leon Draisaitl and Troy Terry. His 10 goals ties him with Connor McDavid for sixth in the league while averaging less than 15 minutes a night.
  • Congrats to former Flame great Jarome Iginla, who was honored last night as a part of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020. Iginla played over 1,500 games in the NHL, scoring 625 goals and exactly 1,300 points. Iginla was the first Black NHLer to score over 1,000 points, the first to lead the league in goals in a season, and the first Black male athlete to win gold at the Winter Olympics. He is the Flames all-time leading scorer with 1,095 points (525 goals, 570 assists) in 1,219 games.

*All stats via Natural Stat Trick, Hockey-Reference, and ESPN.com.