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Flyers vs. Avalanche Preview: AV is gone, and NAK is back

NAK returns to Philadelphia in the first of two matchups.

Colorado Avalanche v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

The Colorado Avalanche are coming to the northeast to play the Philadelphia Flyers in the first of two inter-conference matchups during the 2021-22 season. With that comes the return of the young Nicolas Aube-Kubel, who was claimed off of waivers in early November. It will be a big matchup for both teams in terms of the standings and emotions.

The Avalanche

After getting some of their best players back, the Avalanche have hit their stride. Everyone knows how talented they are all over the roster, and their position in the standings was inaccurate because of their cumulative skill. In their last 10 games, they hold a 7-2-1 record, and the schedule has been favorable for a bounce back. Five of the seven wins they have over this stretch came against teams that aren’t in a playoff spot. Of course, that could change at a moment’s notice, given how tight the standings usually are at the beginning of a season, but that is where they sit.

Even if you have your respective doubts about the validity of this streak, there’s no ignoring how unbelievably skilled the Avalanche roster is. There’s an elite talent no matter where we start. We can look at the top line of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog, as they have been the backbone of this team for a substantial period. Landeskog leads in points with seven in the last five games, but Rantanen leads with three goals, and MacKinnon assists with six. It’s safe to say that they haven’t skipped a beat.

Vegas Golden Knights v Colorado Avalanche - Game Two Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

As far as overall points go, it’s Nazem Kadri leading the way. He’s on pace for a career-high and completely unrealistic 123 points! He currently sits fourth in the NHL in total scoring behind Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid, and Alex Ovechkin. His shooting will most likely tone down as the season moves along, and with the top line back to full strength, we probably see a reduction in playing time. It doesn’t mean that Kadri can’t still contribute to the team’s overall success. However, it does mean that most of his ungodly numbers will regress to the mean. As much chaos as it incites, there’s very little doubt that he will be scoring with the likes of the elite players I just mentioned.

Moving to the defense side, where do we begin? Cale Makar is back and looking like himself again, which bodes well for the Avalanche and doesn’t bode well for any team that matches up with them. Bowen Byram is silently making his way into Calder Trophy talks with nine points in 13 games, including four goals. After not being able to play at the start of the season, Devon Toews is scoring at over a point per game with 13 points in 12 games. Finally, the electric and spin-cycle monster Samuel Girard is having an okay year as well, with 11 points in 19 games and middle-of-the-road analytics.

Even in the net, they have the talents of Darcy Kuemper, who can be a solid starting goalie when healthy. Unfortunately, he isn’t. There is no current timetable for his return. He is very talented, but his health has detracted from that overall ability. With Kuemper out, that means Jonas Johansson—otherwise known as the worst goalie that The Athletic’s John Vogl has ever seen—will assume the starter’s position. He has a 3-2-1 record, a .884 save percentage (Sv%), and a 3.74 goals-against average (GAA) in eight games played so far.

The biggest storyline is the return of Aube-Kubel. After being drafted in the second round, 48th overall by the Flyers in 2014, he got some time in the NHL. Sadly, it didn’t work with Philadelphia even though it looked like there was potential, so he was put on waivers and ultimately claimed. In nine games for the Avalanche, he has four points (two goals and two assists) and a team-leading 60.88 expected goals for percentage (xGF%). The sample size is small, but he has played well with his new team. It’s good to see him succeeding, but it’s frustrating at the same time.

No matter which way you slice it, the Avalanche has some of the NHL’s most proficient talents. Whether they’ve lost tons of games or won plenty of them, they’re going to give the opponent a run for their money.

The Flyers

The Flyers are not a good hockey team at the moment. They currently hold a record of 8-10-4, and that says pretty much all you need to know. They are on the second half of a back-to-back, with the first game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It resulted in a 7-1 beat down and the team’s eighth loss in a row. Head coach Alain Vigneault pulled Carter Hart after allowing five goals, and one can only hope that this bad performance doesn’t make things start spiraling out of control for him like it did last season. He has had an incredible season so far, and one can only hope that he bounces back.

As for Vigneault, that was his last night as the Flyers head coach. It was announced early in the morning, first by Frank Seravalli, that he was officially being let go by the organization. It’s big news, but it also isn’t entirely unexpected. The Flyers as a team have been spiraling out of control. Making a coaching change seemed like the only option at this point. Something needed to be done, and it was. Mike Yeo will be the interim head coach for tonight’s tilt.

The numbers are bad in all aspects outside of the penalty kill, which is moving along quite well at 13th in the NHL, and faceoff percentage, which is fifth. It has been a pain to watch the team play hockey games, and after what looked like a relatively promising start due to a goaltending bounce back, fans are entirely downtrodden. It’s tough to be optimistic about this team, and the anger is wholly justified.

Projected Lineup

Claude Giroux - Sean Couturier - Cam Atkinson

Morgan Frost - Kevin Hayes - Travis Konecny

James van Riemsdyk - Scott Laughton - Zack MacEwen

Oskar Lindblom - Connor Bunnaman - Patrick Brown

Ivan Provorov - Rasmus Ristolainen

Travis Sanheim - Justin Braun

Keith Yandle - Nick Seeler

Martin Jones

(Carter Hart)

One thing to watch

With the coaching changes, my one thing to watch for in the game is how the Flyers respond. The entire locker room is aware that an eight-game losing streak isn’t good, and they haven’t been playing well at all. Now that the coach is gone and everything is fixed (not really), I’m interested to see what they look like coming out of the gate. Will they stop the relentless dump and chase? Will their neutral zone play be better? Will the power play not look like a tire fire? Or will they be the same team but with a different face behind the bench? Either way, I’m sure that Flyers fans everywhere are relieved that something has been done, and even if the team does lose to a perennial Stanley Cup contender, there will be an on-ice response in some form or fashion. However, I’m hopeful a win is in our midst.

Enjoy the game, everyone! Go Flyers!

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