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Preview: The Flyers will host a surprisingly hot Senators team

Or will they?

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Ottawa Senators Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

After some shootout nonsense in a crowd-less Bell Centre on Thursday turned the Flyers win streak into a point streak, they’ll welcome the Ottawa Senators to Philly tonight hoping to right this ship against another—theoretically—inferior opponent.

The Senators are playing their best hockey of the season, though, having won five out of seven, more than doubling their win total during that stretch to put them at 9-17-1 on the year. They’ve somehow pulled out wins against the Avalanche, Hurricanes, Lightning, and Panthers in December alone, so the Flyers are certainly not above losing to them, especially following a pretty lackluster performance against the Canadiens on Thursday.

The Flyers are probably not as bad as they were during the 10-game losing streak, as we’ve seen them play a few good games since breaking out. Honestly, they’re probably closer to what they were before that: an orange and black embodiment of “you win some, you lose some.”

But after tonight’s game and Tuesday’s against the Capitals, they’ll be embarking on their infamous Disney on Ice road trip to face the Penguins and then the West Coast swing—which, with the addition of the Seattle Kraken, is now a four-stop tour. This stretch of games coming up has historically served as a turning point for this team,

The Flyers will be without Carter Hart, whose steady hand in net is one of a few things keeping the Flyers afloat, and Max Willman, who scored his second career goal and led the team in even strength shots in the previous outing. While the Flyers reported that Willman (and an unnamed staffer) have been placed in COVID protocol, Hart’s absence is attributed to an undisclosed illness.

While it’s unlikely that Willman would’ve been the one scratched upon the return of Joel Farabee, Farabee’s serendipitous return to the lineup tonight does mitigate that loss a little bit, keeping the organization from having to dip even further into the Lehigh Valley vault.

For now it seems like this game is going to get played, but a few teams’ schedules have already been put on hold through Christmas. If the Flyers play tonight, it may be the last time they do for a little while, so regardless of the on-ice product, let’s have a little perspective and savor the hockey while we can. If they don’t play tonight, nobody’s going to be reading this preview anyway, so…

Flyers projected lines:

Joel Farabee—Sean Couturier—Travis Konecny
Oskar Lindblom—Claude Giroux—Cam Atkinson
Scott Laughton—Kevin Hayes—James van Riemsdyk
Jackson Cates—Patrick Brown—Zack MacEwen

Ivan Provorov—Justin Braun
Travis Sanheim—Rasmus Ristolainen
Keith Yandle—Kevin Connauton

Martin Jones
(Felix Sandstrom)

Senators projected lines:

Brady Tkachuk—Josh Norris—Drake Batherson
Alex Formenton—Tim Stützle—Connor Brown
Zach Sanford—Chris Tierney—Tyler Ennis
Nick Paul—Dylan Gambrell—Austin Watson

Thomas Chabot—Nikita Zaitsev
Nick Holden—Artem Zub
Dillon Heatherington—Victor Mete

Anton Forsberg
(Filip Gustavsson)

Keep an eye on:

  • Travis Sanheim, who, along with his partner Rasmus Ristolainen, came out of the Montreal game pretty unscathed. The Flyers put 20 shots on goal while Sanheim was out there and only allowed 14. The Sanheim-Ristolainen pair has had its ups-and-downs this year, and they generally play pretty high event hockey—creating a lot of chances and giving up a lot of chances—but they’ve been coming out ahead in those high events, so that’s something of a positive at the moment.
  • Drake Batherson, who is a bright spot in Ottawa’s three-spots-from-league-worst season to this point. The 23-year-old playing his second full NHL season has 28 points in 22 games, quickly approaching last year’s career high of 34, and he and his linemates are the only players on Ottawa breaking even in on-ice goals during even strength.
  • Joel Farabee, who is returning after a seven-game absence and looks primed to start his return on the top line with Sean Couturier and Travis Konecny. Farabee had just busted a little slump before his injury in the third Flyers-Lightning matchup of the season, coming in with goals in three consecutive games following 14 with just a single point. We’ll see if that holds true across this missed time or if the injury slowed him down.
  • Josh Norris, a 22-year-old goal-scoring center and—with Brady Tkachuck—one of Batherson’s aforementioned linemates who is starting to turn some heads in the NHL world. With 14 goals in 27 games, he’s on a 43-goal pace. There are four players who have scored 40 or more goals in a season for the Senators (Dany Heatly three times, Daniel Alfredsson twice, Alexei Yashin twice, and Marián Hossa once), and a total of 43 would crack the franchise’s top five in a season.
  • The first goal of the game, as the Flyers continued their tradition of losing games where they are the first to fall behind against the Canadiens. They are now 2-10-2 when allowing the first goal of a game and are 1-7-2 when trailing after one period. Playing from behind is not a strong mode for this squad, so watch out for that first goal.
  • More COVID protocol announcements between now and 7 p.m. Rosters around the league are getting ravaged and some of these announcements are coming very close to puck drops.

Stray stats:

  • The Flyers are 49-34-8-8 (W-L-T-OTL) all-time against the Ottawa Senators. These two teams haven’t met since December 21, 2019, almost two full years ago. The Flyers won that game thanks to two goals from James van Riemsdyk and a successful shootout attempt from Sean Couturier. There are only six Senators in tonight’s lineup who played in that 2019 game.
  • Brady Tkachuk leads the NHL in penalty minutes with 56. The only Flyers in the top 100 in PIMs are Nate Thompson at 45th (29 PIMS) and Zack MacEwen at 88th (22 PIMS).
  • The Flyers have scored five short-handed goals this season, just one shy of the NHL lead. They’re also getting a lot of opportunities to pad that stat, as they’ve faced the seventh-most power play opportunities. In just this four-game point streak alone, they’ve allowed 14 power plays.
  • Thomas Chabot is leading the NHL in average time on ice at 27:01, a full :32 ahead of Zach Werenski, including 23:06 at even strength. He’s making the best of that ice time, leading the team in CF% relative to his teammates.
  • The 2021-22 Philadelphia Flyers are just four standings points away from a playoff position, a statistic that should surprise anyone who has watched the 2021-22 Philadelphia Flyers play hockey this year. Thanks to an imbalance in games played, that final playoff spot is currently held by the Detroit Red Wings.
  • The Sens have only played three overtime games this season and have somehow won two of them, despite some pretty brutal on-ice stats during the OT. In 3-on-3 ice time, they’ve only attempted 2 shots on net and have allowed 11 attempts. Of course, both of those shots were on net and one of them even went in, and they’ve only allowed a single OT goal against, so they’ve found themselves incredibly lucky beyond the third period.

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