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Preview: The gang gets spanked (probably)

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It’s time for your regularly scheduled dose of pessimism.

Philadelphia Flyers v Washington Capitals Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images

Hey there folks. The Flyers play again this afternoon, and they’re probably gonna lose in horrifying fashion, much to our collective chagrin. Still, it’s important to remain engaged as the season drags to its conclusion, so here’s a preview for you anyways. Who are the players to watch, why should you watch, and what’s the music for today? All that and more below.

The Capitals

We just saw this team a few days ago, so there’s not much new worth saying. The Caps enter this one after getting their teeth kicked in by the Sabres at home in Nicklas Backstrom’s 1000th game. What does that mean? Probably that Washington will come out pissed against a Flyers squad ripe for a classic, anger-relieving beatdown. Also worth noting is that Anthony Mantha has two goals in his first two games as a Cap. For a guy who posted his 7th best ixG game of the year against Philly, that’s a scary track record, small sample aside.

Washington is almost completely propelled by their ability to make things happen in the neutral zone, and the absence of the recently jettisoned Jakub Vrana was an advantage I pointed out last time. Unfortunately, Mantha has meshed into Peter Laviolette’s system fairly well and hasn’t had any trouble filling in the void that the Czech winger left behind. Not good news for the Flyers, who will need all the help they can get against a team that’s just better than them.

The man in net for the Caps is likely Vitek Vanecek, who has been a pleasant surprise for those who rock the red. Despite his youth, considerably higher than expected workload, and general status as a mostly unheralded goalie, Vanecek has posted palatable numbers behind a solid team, with a 2.69 GAA, .911 save percentage, and a -3.85 GSAx (47th in the league). The Flyers have had trouble with Vanecek’s counterpart Ilya Samsonov in recent encounters, but the Orange & Black had no trouble solving the Czech rookie, who posted his second worst GSAx in his lone start against them (a February loss).

The Flyers

Man, wouldn’t it be funny if this team went on a late season run where their play reflected their talent? That sure would be something. In all seriousness, Thursday’s win over the Penguins was a bit fluky; Carter Hart played arguably his best game of the season, the penalty kill got lucky a few times, and the Penguins failed to put home more than one goal despite having ample opportunity to do so. Sure, this was a great effort by xG and Corsi percentages, but to me it looked like a game where it was more about the Penguins looking ineffective and less about how outstanding the play of Philly was.

The recipe for success against Washington is similar, but with a twist. The Flyers lost both the Corsi battle in their February victory over Vanecek, but they actually had their 9th best xGF game on the year. The key to winning this game is going to be peppering Vanecek, but particularly from below the dots. The Flyers will need to balance selective shooting with a steady diet of rebound attempts, a task easier said than done. That said, it’s the clearest path to victory here.

The shot map from Vanecek’s only start against the Flyers.
Image via Evolving-Hockey.com

Three Big Things

  1. Carter Hart has to have another special outing for the Flyers to win this one. Aside from the lone goal he allowed on Thursday, the young netminder has made few gaffes since his return from a hiatus. It’s fairly safe to say that while Hart was having difficulties common for a sophomore that he way have inevitably encountered in a normal season, the pandemic schedule’s frenetic pace exacerbated things. If he plays well yet again, it’s not an overreaction to declare his struggles largely a product of circumstance.
  2. Nolan Patrick is apparently okay after taking a puck off the noggin, but he needs to be better if he’s gonna stick with this team (a prospect that feels increasingly unlikely). After a lackluster effort against Sidney Crosby that didn’t exactly help things on Carter Hart’s lone fumble of the night, fans and the coaches alike should be watching the play of the former 2nd overall pick like hawks. The biggest concern that almost everybody has with Patrick is his motor; he’s increasingly looking like a guy with plenty of talent that’s just waiting for it to manifest, rather than working to improve himself. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, time is neutral, and what you do with it is the cause of results. Nolan Patrick can’t afford to wait around much longer.
  3. Wade Allison and Tanner Laczynski have both been fun spark plugs on a team that’s looked dead in the water, but both produced good chances without scoring. This afternoon will provide an avenue for them to tickle the twine, with a younger goaltender in net. Particularly keep your eyes on Big Red, who looked excellent in his debut on Thursday.

Game Day Tunes

I think we’ve all probably been caused a great deal of stress by the Flyers lately. This song has a fitting title, and it’s also quite good, so I figured it’d be a good fit. Enjoy.

Happy game day, and as always, go Flyers.