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Preview: Flyers hockey is back tonight against the Red Wings

In lieu of Olympic hockey, we now return you to your regularly scheduled Philadelphia Flyers

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NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Detroit Red Wings Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

With NHL players no longer going to the Olympics this year, the scheduled break has instead been populated with games previously postponed due to COVID-19 issues. The first of which, for the Flyers, is their first matchup against the Detroit Red Wings this season, moved from January 18 to tonight.

While everyone seemed to have a nice, relaxing, hockey-free past week—except for Claude Giroux who seemed to have a nice, relaxing, mostly hockey-free past week—the Flyers aren’t coming back any healthier than they were when January ended. They’re still without Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes, someone named Ryan Ellis, and Joel Farabee. It’s also looking like the Flyers will be without Morgan Frost and Cam York, who played with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms for their stretch of games over the last week and will apparently remain there for the time being. In their place we’re likely to see 14-year vet Derick Brassard and two-game vet Isaac Ratcliffe.

The Flyers jumped into the break with what would be considered some momentum for them, having won two in a row following their historic thirteen-game winless streak. It remains to be seen if they’ll be able to maintain that momentum following an eight-day break.

If they are, they’ll have to go through a home-and-home with the Red Wings, a team whose rebuild seems to be on the rails with hometown hero Steve Yzerman at the wheel—they’ve transitioned from one of the very worst teams ever just a few years ago to this season’s middle-of-the-pack. They’ve hovered right around hockey-.500 for most of the season, currently 20-21-6. If you’re better than the 2021-22 Red Wings, you’re in the playoffs; if you’re worse, you’re not.

They’ve also got some exciting young players, including two already in Calder contention at the season’s mid-way mark. Lucas Raymond, a Swedish teenager taken fourth overall in the 2020 draft, has 35 points in 47 games, leading all rookies and Moritz Seider, a large German defenseman who was somewhat of a surprise top five pick in the draft before, has 29 to lead all rookie defensemen. Add to that 25-year-old captain Dylan Larkin; the NHL’s only unvaccinated player, 26-year-old Tyler Bertuzzi; and Corey Pronman’s ninth ranked farm system and the Flyers’ opponent tonight looks like yet another that has lapped them in the rebuild race.

Anyway, let the Daniel Brière era begin again.

Projected Flyers lines:

Oskar ​​Lindblom—Claude Giroux—Cam Atkinson
James van Riemsdyk—Scott Laughton—Travis Konecny
Max Willman—Morgan Frost—Gerald Mayhew
Isaac Ratcliffe—Connor Bunnaman—Zack MacEwen

Ivan Provorov—Justin Braun
Travis Sanheim—Rasmus Ristolainen
Keith Yandle—Cam York

Carter Hart
(Martin Jones)

Projected Red Wings lines:

Filip Zadina—Dylan Larkin—Lucas Raymond
Tyler Bertuzzi—Pius Suter—Robby Fabbri
Vladislav Namestnikov—Michael Rasmussen—Adam Erne
Sam Gagner—Joe Veleno—Givani Smith

Danny DeKeyser—Moritz Seider
Marc Staal—Filip Hronek
Jordan Oesterle—Gustav Lindström

Alex Nedeljkovic
(Thomas Greiss)

Keep an eye on:

  • Scott Laughton, who went into the break with a three-game point streak, thanks to assists in games against the Islanders and Jets and the game-winning goal against the Kings. Laughton has 18 points on the season, with half of them coming in the last 13 games.
  • Lucas Raymond, the aforementioned rookie winger who is Detroit’s third-leading scorer. Raymond’s scoring is almost evenly split amongst goals, primary assists, and secondary assists, with 11, 12, and 12 respectively, and 7, 7, and 7 at 5-on-5. He’s also been remarkably disciplined, with a total of 6 penalty minutes while averaging over 18 minutes of ice time per game in 47 games.
  • Travis Sanheim, who has been the best statistical play-driving defenseman on the Flyers this year. Sanheim (and his usual partner, Rasmus Ristolainen) plays very high-event hockey—the Flyers have more shot attempts and shots on goal during his ice time than during anyone else’s. Sanheim still allows a ton of attempts, too, and leads the team in those categories as well, but his ratio (48.87% Corsi-For and 49.06% shots for) is best among Philly defenders and third among all skaters.
  • Filip Zadina, who is getting absolutely buried in goal differential. He’s close to breaking even in shots on net during his 5-on-5 ice time with 288 shots for and 297 against, but the Red Wings are getting outscored 16 to 35 during that same time. While it’s likely there’s a bit of bad luck going on there (his expected goals to expected goals against ratio according to Natural Stat Trick is 23.08 to 27.03), let’s hope that bad luck continues tonight and Saturday.
  • 2022 All Star Game MVP Claude Giroux, because he’s good at hockey and, while he’ll always be 2022 All Star Game MVP Claude Giroux, he may not always be Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux.
  • Marc Staal, who is—surprise!—still in the NHL and in his second(!) season with the Red Wings. Ok.

Stray stats:

  • The Flyers are 71-50-21-2 (W-L-T-OTL) all-time against the Red Wings. This being the first time these two teams have met this season means that they haven’t met since pre-pandemic, when Brian Elliott blanked the Red Wings for a 3-0 Flyers win.
  • Cam Atkinson’s .80 points per game is the second-best rate of his career and puts him on pace for the second-best point total of his career. His 2.7 points per 60 minutes is a career high.
  • Givani Smith, a second round pick by Detroit in 2016 who has played in parts of the two previous seasons before becoming a big league regular this year, is third in the NHL with 87 penalty minutes. He’s one minute behind Mark Borowiecki of the Nashville Predators and 7 behind Liam O’Brien of the Arizona Coyotes. Smith isn’t so much undisciplined in his play on the ice as he is willing to drop the gloves—he’s got 11 minor penalties which puts him tied for 86th in the NHL and no major penalties that aren’t fights. He’s tied for third in the league with 7 fighting majors.
  • Claude Giroux’s 60.7% success rate in the faceoff circle this season has been bested only by John Tavares and Patrice Bergeron. With Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes out, Giroux has been playing a lot more at center than he has in the past few seasons, and the faceoff burden has been larger as well. Just like he is in the other parts of the rink, Giroux is answering the call in the dots.
  • Even though the Flyers have missed the playoffs in five of the last nine seasons, their current .422 points percentage would be their first below .500 since the 2006-07 season when they finished last in the NHL and narrowly missed out on drafting first overall.