The Flyers will face the Lightning for the second of three times this season—the third and final is less than a fortnight away—following their weekend loss to the Bruins. They will head to Tampa for a Sunshine State back-to-back looking to avoid turning their first two-game losing streak of the year into three games.
In the intervening five days, the Lightning split a home back-to-back with the Wild and the Devils. The Lightning are a team capable of taking some time to figure things out in a season and then turning on the jets when they need to. After losing four of their first six—and allowing five-plus goals to both the Sabres and the Red Wings—it seems the jets are off the tarmac. They’ve got points in 10 of their last 11 with a +13 goal differential in those games.
Despite their struggles throughout the season, this game (and tomorrow’s) will be one of Philly’s biggest tests of adversity: playing a very strong team that they very well could have beaten less than a week ago on the back of consecutive losses and facing down an even stronger team tomorrow. And after that, the Flyers will have a matchup with the Carolina Hurricanes waiting for them when they get back to Philly. All of this comes married with the week-to-week statuses of Kevin Hayes and Ryan Ellis, which only casts an even darker shadow on the outlook for the rest of the calendar year.
The pendulum for us Flyers fans has swung back to distraught: scared and looking at this roster where Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier are the best players while guys like Travis Konecny and Joel Farabee are still struggling to put together night-in, night-out top-of-the-lineup numbers and realizing that we’re not that young anymore—after all, this roster is now the seventh-oldest in the NHL.
Seeking some redemption and in search of a hero, the Flyers will turn to Carter Hart, who’s played near-flawless through 11 starts, with his only notable mistake being the almost fatal goal—a squeaker—that gave the Lightning the lead with around a minute left. Hart couldn’t make a stop in the shootout and the Flyers ultimately lost, but the schedule has granted him, and the rest of the Flyers, a chance to make it good somehow, to avenge their mistakes and the team that capitalized on them, and put a stop to the bleeding before it gets more serious.
It’s still early in the season, and the Flyers have to this point played the most difficult schedule according to Hockey-reference.com, but with the schedule only getting harder before it gets easier in the deepest division in North American sports right now, this Florida trip feels crucially important to keeping their heads, or even just their noses, above water.
*All stats via Natural Stat Trick and Hockey-reference.com.
Projected Flyers lines:
Joel Farabee—Sean Couturier—James van Riemsdyk
Claude Giroux—Derick Brassard—Cam Atkinson
Oskar Lindblom—Scott Laughton—Travis Konecny
Max Willman—Nate Thompson—Zack MacEwen
Ivan Provorov—Justin Braun
Travis Sanheim—Rasmus Ristolainen
Keith Yandle—Nick Seeler
Projected Lightning lines:
Alex Killorn—Anthony Cirelli—Mathieu Joseph
Ondrej Palat—Steven Stamkos—Alex Barré-Boulet
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
Keep an eye on:
- Derick Brassard, who is the only Flyer who showed up on the goal sheet on Saturday, which now gives him 4 points in the last 2 games. Considering he only scored 2 in the previous 11 games, I’d say that constitutes a hot streak. At this point, Brassard isn’t someone who is going to consistently light things up for an entire season, but getting him going, especially with the loss of Kevin Hayes for even longer than we originally thought.
- Ondrej Palat, whose actual scoring numbers are below what his expected numbers appear to be. At even strength, his expected goals total via Natural Stat Trick is 14.55 and his xGF% is 56.99%, both good for second on the team. But he’s actually getting outscored (14-16) at even strength.
- Claude Giroux, who has also had a slump-busting last two games, scoring two against Tampa, including the game-tying tally that sent us into a wild, stoppage-less OT before an eventual shootout loss. He has now once again reached point-per-game status, a team-high 16 in 16. He’s also uncharacteristically leading the team in shots with 51. The captain has shown signs of slowing down at certain points in his career (last year’s 65-point 82-game pace was the third worst of his career), but at this point, he’s still one of the two best forwards on this team.
- Victor Hedman, who is starting to put together another Norris caliber season. He’s second in scoring amongst defensemen (just a point behind Adam Fox in one less game played), he’s positive by all shot and shot attempt metrics, and is eating up all situation minutes with the team’s top right-shot defenseman out.
- Your Twitter feeds, which will hopefully stop being inundated with calls for Morgan Frost to be called up and instead be inundated with reports that Morgan Frost has been called up. The 22-year-old 2017 first-rounder has 44 points in 57 career games for the Phantoms, including 15 in 16 this year. In his 22 career NHL games, 20 of which came two seasons ago, he has 2 goals and 5 assists. These numbers aren’t exactly bursting through the door to NHL stardom, but it can’t be a step down from the 2.69 goals per game the Flyers are currently scoring, which puts them at 22nd in the NHL.
- The Lightning’s lack of depth up front, which has been exacerbated with the injury to Brayden Point on Saturday. Alex Barré-Boulet, who was claimed on waivers by the Seattle Kraken in October before the Lightning snatched him back just 11 days later, has been called up from the Syracuse Crunch to fill out the lineup and scored in his first appearance, joining guys like Pat Maroon, Pierre-Édouard Bellemare, Taylor Raddysh, Ross Colton, Boris Katchouk, and Corey Perry. This bottom-six group has only scored 5 goals between them, with 4 just from Maroon.
- After last week’s game, the Flyers are 47-40-8-8 (W-L-T-OTL) all-time against the Lightning, and 19-21-1-4 in Tampa. The Lightning inched ahead in goals in those games, extending their +3 to a +4.
- The Lightning power play has scored in each of their last five games, with a 31% success rate in that time. They’re hot even without Nikita Kucherov and we’ll see how well that holds up with Point missing, too.
- Tampa is -6 in the third period this season and -7 in the third period in home games. The Flyers are +3 in third periods and they have broken even in away game third periods. These two teams each scored one third period goal in their previous meeting.
- Former battery-mates and current opponents Brian Elliott and Carter Hart are currently 14th and 15th, respectively, all-time in saves for the Flyers, with Hart just 284 saves from surpassing his former back-up. Hart has a .908 save percentage as a Flyer, which is 6th all-time amongst Flyer goalies with at least 100 games, while Elliott has a .902, which puts him at 9th. The all-time Flyers leader in save percentage regardless of minimum requirements is Marc D’Amour, who played the third period of a game in March of 1989 after starter Ken Wregget was pulled. D’Amour stopped all 13 shots he faced against the Bruins before he was sent back to the minors, where he played another three seasons before retirement.