After 60+ postponed games leading up to the Christmas break, the NHL returned on Tuesday with a slate of three games. Tonight, the Philadelphia Flyers will play their first game since that break—which included two postponed games—on the road against the Seattle Kraken. That’s right: the addition of a new left coast NHL franchise means another opportunity on the schedule for Flyers After Dark!
Like every team in the league right now, the Flyers roster has lost a few players to COVID-19 protocols—Carter Hart, Scott Laughton, and Derick Brassard—and is getting a few back from the same—Kevin Hayes, Morgan Frost, and Max Willman. Their current taxi squad players consist of Jackson Cates, Felix Sandström, and someone named Gerald Mayhew.
The Kraken are in last place in the Pacific, thanks largely to league-worst play from a position that was supposed to be a strength of theirs coming out of the expansion draft: goaltending. One of last season’s Vezina nominees, Phillipp Grubauer is 7-12-3 with a .882 save percentage, which puts him far below any other qualifying goalie (and pretty close to worse than every goalie period regardless of games played). Chris Driedger has barely been better in his 8 starts: 3-3-0 with an .896 save percentage.
Meanwhile, goaltending has been the only saving grace of the Flyers’ season to this point—something that feels like a historical anomaly. With Hart out for COVID-19 protocol, it’ll be Martin Jones tonight, who also started the teams’ last game, a win over the Senators, before the holiday pause. Jones and his .907 save percentage have brought a surprisingly steady hand as Hart’s back-up, finishing every game that he’s started so far this year. Hopefully that trend holds and we won’t see Felix Sandström for his NHL first at any point tonight.
The Flyers’ last game against Seattle was one of their best efforts of the season. They thrashed the Kraken 6-1 in just the franchise’s fourth ever game. You may remember bouts between Nick Seeler and Jamie Oleksiak and Nate Thompson and Nick Bastian. You may remember Ryan Ellis’ first goal as a Philadelphia Flyer in the second period. You may remember the second line of Joel Farabee, Derick Brassard, and Cam Atkinson clicking together like LEGOs. You may even remember a sense of excitement and optimism about the Philadelphia Flyers’ chances this season, about an NHL season looking in the rearview mirror at a pandemic, and, if you’re anything like me and tie too much of your day-to-day mood into a hockey team, about your life. Things have changed since October, but a Flyers’ win here could be a small (small, small) way of transporting us back to what that felt like, if even just for a little while.
Flyers projected lines:
Joel Farabee— Kevin Hayes— Travis Konecny
Oskar Lindblom—Claude Giroux—Cam Atkinson
James van Riemsdyk—Morgan Frost—Gerald Mayhew
Max Willman—Patrick Brown—Zack MacEwen
Ivan Provorov—Justin Braun
Travis Sanheim—Rasmus Ristolainen
Keith Yandle—Kevin Connauton
Kraken projected lines:
Jaden Schwartz—Jared McCann—Jordan Eberle
Calle Järnkrok—Yanni Gourde—Colin Blackwell
Marcus Johansson—Alex Wennberg—Joonas Donskoi
Max McCormick—Riley Sheahan—Morgan Geekie
Mark Giordano—Jamie Oleksiak
Jeremy Lauzon—Carson Soucy
Haydn Fleury—Will Borgen
Keep an eye on:
- Claude Giroux, who was heating up in December before the pause, with 8 points in 9 games this month. He’s now got 25 in 29 and is one of only two Flyers whose expected goals for percentage at 5-on-5 is positive. The other is Sean Couturier.
- Jordan Eberle, one of those night-one Kraken players with a jersey and a nameplate and everything when he was drafted from the New York Islanders. He’s leading the team in goals with 12 and points with 21.
- Morgan Frost, who has been playing well for someone who’s been jerked around a bunch this season—up and down from the AHL; in and out of the lineup for injuries and then for COVID-19 protocols; sometimes at center, sometimes at wing, etc. Frost only has 4 points in 10 games, but the Flyers are outshooting their opponents while he’s on the ice and he was even getting some solid power play time.
- Mark Giordano, who is quietly having another very solid 14th career season, his first away from Calgary. Giordano is leading the Kraken in Corsi-For percentage and expected goals for percentage at 5-on-5 and is predictably near the top of a bunch of other metrics, too.
- The COVID-19 protocol list, which could grow between now and puck drop. These two teams’ lists are smaller relative to some franchises around the league, but things can change fast. For the Flyers, it’s Carter Hart, Scott Laughton, and Derick Brassard. For the Kraken, it’s Adam Larsson, Vince Dunn, Ryan Donato, and Mason Appleton.
- Gerald Mayhew, for the simple fact that Philadelphia could experience some Mayhew Mania just a few weeks after succumbing to Minshew Mania. Based on his career to this point—he’s a 28-year-old with just 17 NHL games—it seems unlikely, but we’re primed with a name for his success anyway.
- The gap between the Kraken and the league’s second-worst team by save percentage (.012) is larger than the gap between the top team and the next 10 teams (.011).
- Former Philly bench boss Dave Hakstol was 1-1-1 against the Flyers during his two seasons as an assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He lost his first game as a head coach against the team that brought him to the professional level earlier this season in the aforementioned Oct. 18 Kraken loss to the Flyers.
- Carsen Twarynski, the Kraken’s expansion selection from the Philadelphia roster, is one of seven selectees who have not played a game for the Kraken, and one of only three who have not played an NHL game for any franchise this season.
- This is not exactly a stat but: there were only two examples I could find of an NHL player who captained two different teams in consecutive seasons, as Giordano has done between this season and last. Mark Messier left the Oilers captaincy and was immediately named to that position with the Rangers and Wayne Gretzky was named captain of the St. Louis Blues despite being a mid-season pick-up and leaving after only 18 games. Most other expansion teams did not have a current team captain available to them for selection and other recent examples of quick-to-be-named captains (Shea Weber, John Tavares, Ryan O’Reilly, Chris Pronger) all had to wait at least a season before receiving the honor.