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Preview: Flyers will try to bottle up Tampa Bay and kickstart a much-needed win streak

Andrei Vasilevsky vs. the next Andrei Vasilevsky at the Farg

NHL: Eastern Conference Qualifications-Philadelphia Flyers at Tampa Bay Lightning John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Flyers will play host to the two-time defending champs tonight, just five days before they return the favor. Philly is coming off another win on the back of Carter Hart, Tuesday’s overtime win against the Flames, while the Lightning arrive having just defeated two strong opponents in the Florida Panthers and the New York Islanders to put them at 8-3-3 on the season, riding an eight game point streak. The Flyers have yet to lose two in a row all year, but they’re also stuck in a pattern that they’d like to break out of tonight, which would be their first back-to-back wins since October 27 and 28 and just their third such pair of the season.

For the Flyers, Carter Hart will get the call in net, hopefully continuing the transformation into everything we’ve hoped he could be, everything we’ve been looking for since before he was even born: an equalizer. Great play in net makes up for so many flaws in other parts of the roster and so many mistakes on other parts of the ice, and Hart is proving that right now.

In 10 starts, he is 5-3-2 with a .935 save percentage and 2.19 GAA, both career best paces. Different sites have different calculations for goals saved above average and above expected statistics, but Hart is near the top of the league leaders on all the lists: 6.83 GSAA on Natural Stat Trick (3rd), 7.59 GSAA on Hockey-reference (5th), and 7.58 GSAA on Evolving Hockey (5th); meanwhile, he’s got 11.86 GSAx on Evolving Hockey (1st) and 11.5 GSAx on Moneypuck (3rd). Carter Hart is one of the five best goalies in the NHL right now, which is what good teams need to succeed, and definitely what this Flyers team needs to try and keep pace in a very competitive Metro division.

The Lightning will lean on Andrei Vasilevsky in net, who is starting to turn a few seasons as the best goalie in the league into a career as one of the best goalies of his generation. He’s started 12 of the 14 games for Tampa with a 7-2-3 record and a .924 save percentage. Unfortunately, the only way for the Flyers to get to see their old friend Brian Elliott would be to light up Vasilevsky, which happens very rarely: he’s only allowed more than three goals once this season and hasn’t been pulled since March 16, 2017 (his first season as a full-time starter) when he allowed four through just 26 minutes against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

On the one hand, the Flyers inability to string any wins together is concerning, as is the news that Ryan Ellis will be out an additional four to six weeks of the season; on the other, we all knew that November was going to be an onslaught of strong opponents, and getting 9 of 14 available November points so far is nothing to brush off, especially considering they’ve played the Hurricanes, Penguins, Capitals, and Maple Leafs, and the Flames twice.

The toughest part of this schedule probably starts tonight though, kicking off a stretch of ten games that includes the Lightning three times, the Bruins, the Panthers, the Hurricanes again, and the Colorado Avalanche. The outcomes of these last nine games have been frustrating, but I won’t lie and say I wouldn’t be satisfied if they won as many as they lost over that stretch.

Projected Flyers lines:

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

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

Carter Hart
(Martin Jones)

Projected Lightning lines:

Alex Killorn—Steven Stamkos—Mathieu Joseph
Ondrej Palat—Brayden Point—Anthony Cirelli
Patrick Maroon—Pierre-Édouard Bellemare—Corey Perry
Taylor Raddysh—Ross Colton—Boris Katchouk

Victor Hedman—Jan Rutta
Ryan McDonagh—Zach Bogosian
Mikhail Sergachev—Cal Foote

Andrei Vasilevsky
(Brian Elliott)

Keep an eye on:

  • James van Riemsdyk, who, in my opinion, both earned his promotion to the top line and has performed well enough there to keep it. The change came at the very end of the Carolina game and in those four even strength minutes that trio had four shots on goal and allowed one. In 10 minutes against Dallas, they had seven shots (including a goal) and again only allowed one, and in 7 minutes on Tuesday they were outshot 6-8 lined up against one of the five best lines in the NHL (Calgary’s Tkachuck—Lindholm—Gaudreau). JvR is an offensively skilled player, so he really shines when he’s with players who know what to do with the puck like Giroux and Couturier, especially in the offensive and neutral zones.
  • Anthony Cirelli, who played less than 10 minutes on Monday night after he received an instigator, a fighting major, and a misconduct for a fight with Brock Nelson in retaliation for a hit on Alex Killorn, but still found a way to score the game-winning goal and block an Islander shot with his face. Cirelli pretty clearly won that fight, too, despite giving quite a few inches and pounds to Nelson.
  • Oskar Lindblom, who returns to the lineup for Hockey Fights Cancer Night at the Wells Fargo Center following a one-game scratching. Coach Alain Vigneault said the night off was a “reset game” for Lindblom, who had been dropped to the fourth line with the return of Kevin Hayes. Now, with a week-to-week injury to Patrick Brown opening a hole in the lineup, Lindblom will re-enter and we’ll see how well that reset served him.
  • Pierre-Édouard Bellemare, who, since being selected from the Flyers roster by the Golden Knights, has carved out quite a nice career for himself playing bottom six minutes for contending teams and is one of the bargain replacements for Tampa’s former third line of Yanni Gourde, Blake Coleman, and Barclay Goodrow. Having not watched many Lightning games this season, just looking at statistics, I’d venture to guess that Bellemare’s line with Corey Perry (no goals and a single assist so far) and Pat Maroon isn’t filling the hole those three players left.
  • Gritty, who feels like he’s been quiet so far this year. Maybe it’s just because they’re coming off a stretch of seven-of-nine on the road or maybe it’s because I still haven’t been to a game in person yet, but I haven’t seen or heard of as many antics as I feel like I usually do.
  • The extra attacker, whoever it is at the time, because the Lightning have the most goals scored with an empty net so far this year. They’ve scored five goals with an extra attacker on the ice so far this year, but they’ve also been scored on six times in those situations, which is the second most in the league. Stamkos and Hedman have points on four of those five goals.

Stray stats:

  • The Flyers are 47-40-8-7 (W-L-T-OTL) all time against Tampa Bay, with a very close goal differential for so many games played: 308-304. Tampa is 20-22-7-1 when they play in Philadelphia; they did not win any of the eight games they played at the Spectrum.
  • Cam Atkinson has only been on the ice for four goals against this season, one of which was an empty netter. Meanwhile, the Flyers have scored 16 goals with Atkinson on the ice, including his own 7. An outsized percentage of the shots, shot attempts, unblocked shot attempts, scoring chances and high danger chances are going in for the Flyers, because his ratios in those columns aren’t nearly as in their favor: 49.17 SF%, 49.02 CF%, 49.68 FF%, 37.16 SCF%, and 42.7 HDCF%. In 51 high danger chances against the Flyers with Cam on the ice, only one of them has gone in. And those numbers are including his special teams play, which leans heavily towards more power play ice time than PK.
  • The Lightning have already played six overtime games to the Flyers three. They’ve won three and lost three, including a shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche. The Flyers’ win against the Flames was their first successful overtime this season.
  • The 2021 Atlanta Braves broke the record for most consecutive games alternating outcomes with 16. For those who don’t watch baseball, they won the World Series this year. I have no idea how to research this stat or how to find out the record in the NHL, but the Flyers are currently at 9 after the Flames win.
  • A 2007 6th round pick by the Flyers, Patrick Maroon has played in 581 career NHL games, not a single one for the team that drafted him. There have been three Flyers draft picks who have played more career games without playing a single one for the orange and black: I’ll put those names in the comments closer to puck drop.