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Preview: Flyers look to cap off the Florida trip with a win

Will our glasses be raised in celebration or tipped in sorrow this holiday?

NHL: Florida Panthers at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving. For some, it’s a holiday all unto itself. Everybody’s back in town; local bar mirrors turn into funhouse mirrors, reflecting all the same faces it used to but with 10 to 15 years of age; and everybody gets drunk. The Flyers—or at least the eight Americans on the roster—will not be slurring through impromptu high school reunions though, they’ll be facing the Florida Panthers in a bid to apply some direct pressure to the wound of a three-game losing streak they have found themselves on.

Martin Jones gets the call in net, having lost his last two games with sub .900 save percentages, including standing in there and taking the brunt of the loss against the Bruins, making 39 saves on 44 shots. Meanwhile, with Derick Brassard sustaining an injury, the Flyers will give Morgan Frost his first NHL opportunity of the season.

This streak—their first of the season despite an 8-6-3 record — began with a tough shootout loss to the Lightning. The Flyers lost a frustrating game to the Bruins over the weekend before sandwiching it with another to the Lightning just last night. Now, they’ll be taking on one of 2021-22’s elite teams so far in the 13-2-3 Panthers, who are first in the Atlantic and tied with the Carolina Hurricanes (the Flyers’ next opponent) at the top of the NHL in terms of standings points.

If every game feels like the Flyers are up against a goalie having a fantastic season, that’s because they are. Tonight it’s our old pal Sergei Bobrovsky, whose greatest contribution to the team that originally signed him out of Russia, despite being a two-time Vezina winner and one of the most successful goalies of the last decade, is making kind of confused faces at Ilya Bryzgalov during the same HBO miniseries leading up to the 2012 Winter Classic that gave us such classics as “I’m very into the universe” and “My husky, she’s basically a hot girl, man.” Bob is undefeated in regulation this year at 8-0-2 with a .937 save percentage and 1.99 GAA. Natural Stat Trick has his goals saved above average at 8.11 and fourth-ranked in the league with fewer games played than the three goalies ahead of him.

My philosophy for tonight is to keep it light, keep the blood pressure down; you know, let the worries roll off my back. Hakuna matata, basically. It’s an unofficial holiday, the Flyers are in a rut that has the potential to sink their season and, as we saw last night, not even Carter Hart’s greatness can balance out the flaws with the rest of the team. But there’s no reason for that to sink Drinksgiving night, especially if I completely forget the consequences of a loss and can only watch on my phone from the out-of-range Central Jersey bar in my hometown that I’m going to cram my Moderna-boosted self into. Buy a drink for the kid you wonder why you didn’t keep in touch with, check in on your high school’s football season, allow visions of turkey to dance through your head, and pray for a win but forget about a loss; at least for now.

Projected Flyers lines:

Joel Farabee—Sean Couturier—James van Riemsdyk
Claude Giroux—Morgan Frost—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

Martin Jones
(Carter Hart)

Projected Panthers lines:

Jonathan Hubderdeau—Sam Bennett—Anthony Duclair
Carter Verhaeghe—Sam Reinhart—Anton Lundell
Ryan Lomberg—Eetu Luostarinen—Patric Hornqvist
Frank Vatrano—Joe Thornton—Owen Tippett

MacKenzie Weegar—Aaron Ekblad
Gustav Forsling—Radko Gudas
Kevin Connaughton—Brandon Montour

Sergei Bobrovsky
(Spencer Knight)

Keep an eye on:

  • Travis Sanheim, whose success this season has had an inverse relationship to the team’s success. His first fistful of games were a struggle, but he and partner Rasmus Ristolainen seem to have found somewhat of a groove. By CF%, he has driven play to more shot attempts than he has allowed in the last two games and in four of the last five. He’s averaging the second most time on ice on the team and hopefully the Flyers will have more than one single power play tonight now that it looks like he’s on that second unit.
  • Anthony Duclair, who has bounced around quite a lot for a 26-year-old NHLer and has seemingly found surprise success in almost all of those stops. On his sixth team and in his eighth NHL season, Duclair has 9 goals and 16 total points in 18 games, he’s consistently positive by most shot and shot attempt metrics, and he’s getting top-line minutes with a first-place team. It’s nice to see a guy who’s been cast off so many times do well.
  • Morgan Frost, who is arriving as a kind of reinforcement, or a reinforcement-lite. With injuries to Kevin Hayes and now Derick Brassard coupled with Frost’s scoring success in the AHL so far, Chuck Fletcher’s hand has been forced into recalling him. He has 15 points in 16 games for the 2021-22 Phantoms and 7 points in 22 career NHL games. The Flyers’ bottom of the lineup forwards — Oskar Lindblom, Nate Thompson, Zack MacEwen, Patrick Brown, Max Willman — have two goals between them.
  • Our old friend Radko Gudas, who is second in the NHL with 82 hits and is still typically coming out on top of play at even strength. He also hasn’t scored either of his two-goal-per-season quota yet, so look out for that, especially after Zach Bogosian reached his quota against the Flyers last night.
  • The Flyers' legs late in the game, as they seemed to lose them on their last road back-to-back. Now, from Tampa to Sunrise isn’t as arduous a trip as Raleigh to Dallas, but we can expect some fatigue, especially compared to a team that’s had three days off.
  • The bottom six matchups, as the Panthers are built in part on a very deep forward lineup. Through 18 games, they’ve got 11 forwards averaging at least .5 points per game. Plus, now that Aleksander Barkov is out for a few weeks, they’ve got Joe Thornton centering their fourth line.

Stray stats:

  • The Flyers are 55-35-7-2 all-time against the Florida Panthers; 30-18-1-1 on the road, and 21-15-1-1 in BB&T Arena—which is now just called FLA Live Arena. They were 9-3-0-0 in Miami Arena.
  • Sergei Bobrovsky is 16-5-1 with a .923 save percentage and 2.27 GAA in games against the Flyers since they traded him away after the 2011-12 season. That includes a 15-3-1 record with the Blue Jackets and a 1-2-0 record with the Panthers. He got chased from the game after giving up 3 in 9 shots in the first period last time he played the Flyers on February 13, 2019. Bobrovsky is the only active goalie with multiple Vezina Trophies, and if he continues his stellar play this season, he’ll look to become the first to win the award for the league’s top goaltender for multiple teams since Jacques Plante and Glenn Hall shared the award for the 1968-69 St. Louis Blues, and for only the third time overall. Of course, prior to 1981, the award was simply given to the goalies for the team with the least amount of goals against, so Bob would become the first goalie voted.
  • Sometimes it feels just as likely that the Flyers will get a chance on the penalty kill as they will on the power play. In November alone, they have 34 power play shots and 11 penalty kill shots, with 40 power play scoring chances and 7 penalty kill scoring chances. Their PP has 3 goals in their last 35 opportunities and is 8-for-53 on the season.