While the Flyers have struggled mightily this season, there’s even less optimism from the outside of the organization looking in about tonight’s game considering the lineup they’re being forced to ice tonight. The Flyers will be without their captain Claude Giroux, for just the ninth time—and third this season—since he was named captain in January, 2013. They’ll also be down Ivan Provorov, who, regardless of the level of consistency of his play, has been a fixture in the lineup since he entered it as a 19-year-old; Travis Sanheim, and Travis Konecny, all for reasons associated with COVID-19. They are also short Sean Couturier, Ryan Ellis, Nate Thompson, and Derick Brassard from their lineup, plus all of Nick Seeler, Wade Allison, Tyson Foerster, and Sam Morin are unavailable as well.
The Flyers iced a very similar AHL-calibre lineup on Thursday against a red hot Penguins team and they paid the price for it, getting embarrassed on home ice to their most bitter rivals. Things have only gotten worse since then, with Brassard now exed out from that lineup. It’s a loss that the Flyers would be able to sustain with little issue in a regular year, but that they have struggled to even find available replacements. Their AHL affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, have had to postpone their weekend games due to a lack of available players thanks to a combination of positive tests and NHL call-ups.
Coach Mike Yeo will give the nod to Martin Jones in net, his first start against the Sharks since he left via free agency this offseason. Despite some pretty high numbers in the goals against column this season—especially recently—Jones has performed above his offseason expectations, going 6-5-1 with a .906 save percentage. He’s facing 34.43 shots per 60 minutes, basically as many as any regular goaltender in the NHL this season and is coming out looking pretty good all things considered. Across the Wells Fargo Center ice, the Flyers are expected to face Sharks’ back-up Adin Hill in his second consecutive game. Hill helped lift the Sharks to a victory over the Sabres on Thursday with 37 saves on 39 shots, boosting his save percentage to .901 on the season.
Speaking of, the Sharks are not without their own lineup issues. They’ll be without Logan Couture, Erik Karlsson, James Reimer, and Kevin Labanc, amongst others. In fact, every team in the NHL is having lineup issues at the moment, as they have for the last few weeks, but the Flyers current problems plus their non-COVID injuries plus their lack of depth to begin with have compounded the situation. The outlook for tonight feels bleak, but we’ve certainly seen some AHL guys and prospects come in this season and look like the feistiest players on the ice, so it wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility to see a whole host of them doing that resulting in some success.
Flyers projected lines:
Joel Farabee—Scott Laughton—Gerald Mayhew
Max Willman—Kevin Hayes—James van Riemsdyk
Oskar Lindblom—Morgan Frost—???*
Jackson Cates—Patrick Brown—Zack MacEwen
Cam York—Justin Braun
Nick Seeler—Rasmus Ristolainen
Keith Yandle—Kevin Connauton
*As of now, it’s unclear who will slot into that third line winger spot for Derick Brassard. Just after noon today the Flyers announced that Egor Zamula and Connor Bunnaman had been moved to the Taxi Squad and that Seeler and Cates were activated, but that still leaves a hole in the forward lines. I’m not even sure who candidates for that position would be at this point, or, if they Flyers roll with 11 forwards and 7 defenseman, who the 7th defenseman would be.
Sharks projected lines:
Timo Meier—Alexander Barabanov—Tomáš Hertl
Noah Gregor—Jasper Weatherby—Jonathan Dahlén
Andrew Cogliano—Nick Bonino—Matt Nieto
Jonah Gadjovich—Scott Reedy—Jeffrey Viel
Mario Ferraro—Brent Burns
Jaycob Megna—Ryan Merkley
Marc-Édouard Vlasic—Radim Šimek
Keep an eye on:
- Joel Farabee, who showed some fire and frustration on Thursday before recording an assist on a Cam Atkinson goal. Farabee is one of the few—possibly only—NHL first line worthy players in the lineup for the Flyers tonight, and he’s got nine points in his last nine full games going back before the Christmas/Omicron break and even before his two week-long injury.
- Timo Meier, who will be the only player on the ice tonight scoring above a point-per-game pace, with 36 points in 30 games this season. The 25-year-old is having a career season up to this point, looking capable of matching or besting his 2018-19 point total of 66. Meier and Jonathan Dahlén are the only Sharks players whose 5-on-5 Corsi for percentage is above 50%, at 51.16 and 50.13, respectively.
- Cam York, who has slotted into the top pair role left vacant by workhorse Ivan Provorov. York played over 20 minutes in his season debut against the Ducks and was upped to the team leader in his second outing. He’s getting power play time and penalty kill time and has managed to sneak over 50% in 5-on-5 Corsi for percentage, with 30 shot attempts for the Flyers and 29 for their opponents in his 34 minutes at five-a-side.
- Radim Šimek, who is first among tonight’s Sharks defenseman in expected goals percentage, with 10.79 expected goals for and 9.16 expected against for 54.08%. Simek has mostly been getting bottom pair minutes this year, but has found himself with a little more ice time in the last two Sharks games.
- The final regular season Eagles game of the year, which is not necessarily an important game for Philly as it is something that might be more entertaining if things get out of hand at the Farg. The Eagles playoff position is already locked up, and their playoff opponent can’t change based on tonight’s outcome, but it is a Philly-Dallas game and it is the NFL’s first ever Week 18, so there’s at least some interest there.
- Nick Merkley, a 24-year-old forward acquired by the Sharks this offseason who has no relation to Ryan Merkley, a 21-year-old defenseman drafted by the Sharks in the first round three years ago.
- The Sharks are one of only three NHL franchises that the Flyers have a losing record against: in 46 games they are 17-18-4-7 (W-L-T-OTL). They have also scored 2.61 goals per game against San Jose, their lowest average of any opponent.
- Between injuries to Sean Couturier, Ryan Ellis, Derick Brassard, and Nate Thompson and COVID-19 protocol absences for Claude Giroux, Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, and Travis Konecny, the Flyers are short 5,089 career regular season games’ worth of experience. Tonight’s lineup replaces that experience with 458 games between Cam York, Kevin Connauton, Connor Bunnaman, Max Willman, and Patrick Brown.
- In the two seasons Martin Jones served as the Los Angeles Kings back-up before moving to San Jose, he played the Sharks three times—two starts and once in relief of Jonathan Quick. He was 1-1 with a .946 save percentage in those three games.
- When removing any minimum qualifications, Robbie Moore has the third best career save percentage for the Philadelphia Flyers franchise at .927 and the second best goals against average at 1.77. It’s also likely that he’ll jump back into second place in save percentage as Felix Sandstrom, sitting at .935, plays a few more games. Moore, who was 3-0-1 for the Flyers in the 1978-79 season, died yesterday at the age of 67. May he rest in peace.
*All stats via Hockey-reference.com and Natural Stat Trick.