It hasn’t been pretty, but 10 games into 2021 the Philadelphia Flyers sit atop the MassMutual East Division at 7-2-1. Two of the team’s three losses this season have come at the hands of the Boston Bruins, who will be visiting the Wells Fargo Center tonight for a national matchup on NBCSN. Even though they played a series just two weeks ago the battle on the ice might look a little different, as both sides have regained key personnel since January 23rd and hope to use it to their advantage to grab a lead in the division.
Although a fair amount of those 10 contests could have gone the other way, two of the more difficult Flyers’ performances to stomach so far was their two-game stint up in Boston in late January. Following a 5-4 shootout loss where they were lucky to grab a point despite entering the third period up 2-0 the Orange and Black were slammed for a 6-1 defeat just two days later that culminated with Carter Hart freaking the f out.
Sums up the start to this season. pic.twitter.com/e3qS8RASmM— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) January 24, 2021
Since Hart’s stick shattering Philly has won four straight tilts heading into this evening thanks to some reinforcements on the blue line. After he missed the club’s first six contests battling a bout of COVID-19, Shayne Gostisbehere returned last Tuesday against the New Jersey Devils and has seemingly been the team’s missing ingredient. He’s been working with Ivan Provorov on the top pair to a 50.75 Fenwick-For percentage (percentage of total shots on goal and missed shots a player’s team had while he was on the ice) and 59.18 Expected-goals for percentage in 50:31 with four goals going Philly’s way and only one going against. He hasn’t displayed the offensive flare we saw his first few years in the league, but Gostisbehere has been markedly better in his first handful of appearances this season than he has been over the last two years. After Gostisbehere boosted the defense for the Devils’ series it was Phil Myers who gave an additional boost for the team’s back-to-back against the New York Islanders. The rearguard reunited with Travis Sanheim to recreate the Flyers’ formidable second pair from 2019-20 and played a weekend-high 25:55 at 5-on-5 for Philadelphia with the hosts owning nine of the 14 scoring chances that took place with the two out there along with three goals for and one goal against.
The Bruins have also gotten a boost recently with David Pastrnak, who missed Boston’s first seven games due to offseason hip surgery, returning to one of the most dominant lines in hockey with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on Saturday. In his first two outings this year Pastrnak had a two-goal game and a total of three points with 12 shots on net to extend the B’s point streak to six contests (five wins) on the way to 6-1-2. Pastrnak’s return is huge for Boston not only because he’s one of their top players but also because the group of Jack Studnicka, John Moore, Matt Grzelyck, Jake DeBrusk, and Ondrej Kase are all out tonight. That list of walking wounded hasn’t keep Boston from entering tonight’s action as one of seven teams with 14 points, third with 2.22 goals against-per-game, one of seven teams with a power play clicking at 30 percent or better, second with an 88.2 percent penalty kill, and the fourth-highest shots-per-game average while owning the lowest shots against-per-game rate in the league.
For tonight it looks like it will be Carter Hart against Tuukka Rask. Hart has worked his way up to a .900 save percentage in seven appearances this season with a record of 4-2-1 and 3.33 goals against average, which includes his 0-1-1 record with an .855 save percentage against Bruce Cassidy’s squad. Rask enters tonight’s matchup with a 3-1-1 record in five trips to the blue paint stopping .890 percent of the 118 shots thrown at him with a 2.49 GAA as he allowed four tallies on 26 tries in his lone meeting with Philly this season.
Another lineup change is Erik Gustafsson drawing back into the lineup in place of Robert Hagg, as head coach Alain Vigneault still tries to get a handle on a competent third pair.
Two big questions
1. Can Hart rebound against Boston
From the point he was drafted in 2016 until now the most emotion Flyers’ fans have seen out of Hart came when he smashed his twig on the crossbar in Beantown. It came at a low point for the team as his save percentage dropped to .880 through five games and his sub-.900 stopping percentage was largely thanks to the collective defensive effort in front of him. Hart has split the net evenly with Brian Elliott in the four games since that 6-1 loss at TD Garden with the 22-year-old registering a victory against both the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders putting an end to .952 percent of the shots he saw over the two-game span. For the other side Boston has a total of 25 goals over their last six tilts scoring at least four goals in four of them. It will be a big test for the goalie to rebound against a club that worked him on the scoreboard earlier in the season in a crucial spot for Philly.
2. Will the Flyers produce anything at 5-on-5?
It was a struggle for the Orange and Black to generate offense at 5-on-5 in their first two matchups against the Bruins and there’s no guarantee the teams’ first series in Philadelphia will be any easier. On top of once again being without Sean Couturier the squad goes into tonight’s action struggling to control play at evens (at 5-on-5 they are 31st with a 44.07 Corsi-For percentage, 31st with a 40.96 shots-for percentage, and 29th with a 45.05 xGF%) mainly due to their inability to get going offensively (last with 43.16 Corsi-for-per-60, last with 22.14 shots-per-60, and 27th with 1.81 Expected goals-for-per-60). To make matters worse Boston is one of the stingier defensive units in the league, as New England’s club should drive play (enter tonight third with 56.16 CF%, first with 59.08 SF%, and first with 57.55 xGF%) mainly due to play in their own end (at 5-on-5 their 44.32 is lowest CA/60 in league, they’re the only team in the league allowing under 22 shots-per-60, and own league’s lowest xGA/60 rate with 1.58). James van Riemsdyk made the first contest close with a pair of goals on the power play and the Flyers may need some help on the man advantage if they want a victory tonight over Boston.
Flyers projected lines
Giroux - Patrick - Voracek
Lindblom - Hayes - Konecny
JVR - Laughton - Farabee
Raffl - Bunnaman - NAK
Provorov - Gostisbehere
Sanheim - Myers
Gustafsson - Braun
*Stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick
The last time we played these Bruins it was a tire fire, so let’s hope for better this time, eh? Skyler from Stanley Cup of Chowder fills us in on what’s new with the Bruins since... four games ago.