A matchup between the Flyers and the Coyotes may not be as intriguing at first glance. But, given that the team from out west has yet to win a game, that makes all the difference.
You know them; you love them. They’re your favorite winless team with excellent jerseys! They’re the Coyotes! Many fans didn’t project the team to be good in 2021-22, and they are living up to those expectations. I mean, you can only get so far with a lineup that looks like this.
The lineup on paper looks like an NHL team trying to prank the rest of us with an AHL roster. Unfortunately, that is not the case. As for their play so far, it has been as advertised. They are 31st in the NHL in goals for percentage (GF%) with a 33.01%. The only team that is behind them is the Chicago Blackhawks, and the margin is relatively wide. It doesn’t get much better in terms of expected goals for percentage (xGF%), but there is some improvement. They place 28th with 45.11% overall. I could go on for paragraphs about how the numbers look awful for the ‘Yotes, but you don’t even need me to throw out fancy numbers. You can look at their minus-26 goal differential or the fact that their leading scorer—former Flyer Shayne Gostisbehere—leads the team with five points.
Everything spells disaster for a franchise that has had a rough go of it over the last decade. However, there are some things to be excited about if you’re a fan of the team.
The biggest storyline is rookie goaltender Karel Vejmelka. Originally drafted 145th overall by the Nashville Predators, the 25-year-old goalie never got a shot in the NHL until this season. Despite his record being 0-5-1, he has a .920 save percentage and a 2.63 goals-against average, including a 37 save performance against the only remaining undefeated team, the Carolina Hurricanes. He’s not going to be a guy contending for the Calder Trophy, considering the defensive situation in front of him and the inevitability that it will cause some problems with his numbers. However, he has started 2021-22 on a high note. The only hope is that he continues his hot streak and is genuinely an NHL-caliber starting goaltender and not gifted the good side of goalie voodoo magic.
One storyline to look out for is Jakob Chychrun. He’s not playing like the defenseman in 2020-21 that could have been in talks for the Norris Trophy. Instead, he’s pointless through nine games, and he’s below average in almost every statistic. It could be a fluke stretch of play, but it’s certainly not an encouraging sign.
The defense is better than I would have expected, but the offense is the clear issue here. There isn’t a huge need for the analytics, considering he still doesn’t have a point, but they’re just there to reinforce how abysmal he has been on that side of the ice. It’s unfortunate because the Chychrun we all know and love is an entertaining player to watch.
The Flyers come home off of a relatively successful road trip to western Canada. Even though they lost a winnable game against the Calgary Flames, they can be happy about beating the Vancouver Canucks and the Edmonton Oilers. Now, they return home to play a team that is hungry to upset them.
At fifth in the Metropolitan Division and 15th in the NHL with a record of 4-2-1, one could argue that the Flyers are exactly where they want to be at this point. They’re in a stacked division, which makes everything harder, but they’ve played some solid hockey outside of a poor showing in Calgary. I’m sure they would like to improve at 5v5, where they hold the 27th best xGF% (one place ahead of Arizona). Luckily, they’re sixth in GF% at 60.75 percent, which is sixth in the NHL. It might have something to do with Cam Atkinson’s heroics over the first seven games.
As for adjustments, it looks like Nicolas Aube-Kubel could be back in the lineup after getting some time as the 12th forward in practice, and Patrick Brown was moved down to the 13th forward. There was also some power play shifting with Keith Yandle, a defenseman who has been extremely valuable in his short tenure with the team, down to the second power play unit. Ivan Provorov was moved up to the first unit. Unfortunately, Ryan Ellis is still out with an injury, but it looks like he’s getting closer to returning.
Claude Giroux - Sean Couturier - Travis Konecny
Joel Farabee - Derick Brassard - Cam Atkinson
Oskar Lindblom - Scott Laughton - James van Riemsdyk
Nicolas Aube-Kubel - Nate Thompson - Zack MacEwen
Ivan Provorov - Justin Braun
Travis Sanheim - Rasmus Ristolainen
Keith Yandle - Nick Seeler
One Thing to Watch
If Carter Hart is the starting goaltender tonight, be sure to watch how the defense in front of him bounces back. There was a poor effort in front of him up north despite an excellent showing, and it ended up hurting his numbers. He is currently one of the best goalies in the league by most statistics, and the defense in front of him ruining it would be unfair. Of course, hockey is an unfair game, and anything can happen, but limiting that is the goal. My one thing to watch is how the defense plays in front of him. An honorable mention is how many penalties the team takes. Penalties have been a problem, and it resulted in two goals against the last game. Being in the box doesn’t help anyone, and if the Flyers can stay disciplined, it will be a massive help in the long run.
Enjoy the game, everyone!