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Preview: Sink or swim

It’s time to put up or shut up for this Flyers team.

Philadelphia Flyers v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Flyers will take on the New York Rangers tonight in yet another game in this insane March schedule. Philadelphia has floundered in the outset of Spring, but tonight presents another winnable game against an opponent that the Orange & Black have gotten the best of in most matchups. What are the storylines, who should you focus on, and what’s the motivation for today? All that below.

The Flyers

There isn’t a ton to say about the team we’ve been watching at this point. The Flyers have proven that this probably isn’t the year to be going gangbusters at the trade deadline, especially when evaluating the problems at hand. Goaltending and defensive coverage remain the crux of the failures on the ice, both of which are going to be difficult to solve without giving up significant pieces like Cam York.

Tonight’s game could see Sam Morin get his first real shot on defense this year. Jordan Hall issued this projected lineup this morning, so at the very least watching should yield some form of intrigue concerning Morin’s performance.

On a team with very few reasons to remain engaged in this current stretch, I guess that counts for something. Morin has been adequate in AHL action but has lingering concerns about his processing speed, decision making and overall ability to play at an NHL level. The same could be said about most of Philly’s options on defense, so I’m not really complaining.

Carter Hart is slated to get the start. Hart is coming off of one of his better performances of the season against the Devils, making key saves in a 4-3 loss that easily could have ended up 7-3 or worse. There are still some consistent issues with the young goalie’s game, particularly his tentativeness towards decisive movement, but the improvement is something to keep an eye on.

The Rangers

New York comes into this game on a hot streak after posting a 5-1-1 record over the last two weeks. The Rangers are within spitting distance of the Boston Bruins and will look to repeat their last performance against the Flyers, where the Blueshirts throttled Philly 9-0. Igor (Yegor?) Shestyorkin (Shesterkin?) is the probable starter in net. After a rough start to the year, the rookie goaltender has rebounded nicely and currently sits at 13th in the NHL in GSAx.

The resurgence of the Rangers has been led by Mika Zibanejad. The Swede looks more like himself after a ridiculous outburst in the second period of the last Flyers/Rangers game, when he scored three goals and three assists in twenty minutes. The Rangers have also continued their improved play defensively, with Ryan Lindgren and Adam Fox proving themselves as stalwarts on the blue line.

Kappo Kakko and Alexis Lafrenière haven’t been as productive as expected this year, but they’ve played quite well despite the lackluster production. New York also has another rookie who may or may not make his debut tonight in Vitaly Kravstov. The 9th overall pick in the 2018 Draft has been one of the top players in the highly touted Rangers pipeline, so it’s worth keeping an eye on him to see if he makes his debut in the approaching two game stretch.

Three Big Things

  1. The goaltending continues to be my “thing to watch” in every single game this year. There’s a lot of hockey left to play and Carter Hart is a talented player; all it takes for this team to make a run that changes our minds is for the young netminder to get hot.
  2. Sam Morin probably won’t be very good tonight, but I’ll be looking at the overall cohesiveness of the blue line with a critical eye in this game. A lot of the issues we’ve seen have stemmed from difficulties with marking coverages, aiming breakout passes, and general communication. Pay attention to how mistakes are being produced by a lack of vocalization.
  3. The Rangers crushed the Flyers the last time they played. Will Philly be able to contend with an increasingly threatening group, or will they fold like a sheet of paper in a tornado?

Game Day Scene

Today I’m doing something a bit different. After watching Moneyball recently for what has to be my millionth viewing, my association of this scene with the gradual, nonlinear improvement of a team has only grown stronger.

I’d highly recommend checking this movie out if you haven’t already. It resonates powerfully with me as a sports fan. Happy game day everyone, and as always, go Flyers.