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Preview: Flyers seek their second road victory in a row in Denver

Tonight’s will be the latest Flyers’ start time for the rest of the season

Colorado Avalanche v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

Dead-smack in the middle of their current five-game road trip—the longest of their season—the Flyers will face the top team in the NHL right now (and for the foreseeable future), the Colorado Avalanche.

Seeing as the Avalanche were one of a small handful of teams reportedly interested in trading for Claude Giroux less than two weeks ago, this game could have been an interesting one. In fact, since Giroux, with a full no-movement clause in his contract, selected the Florida Panthers over the Avalanche, it has been speculated that it is this very game that helped make that selection. Many people have tried to guess at Giroux’s motivations behind his decision—he wanted to stay on the East Coast, he wanted his family to get a few months at the beach—and he came out and gave one himself—the Panthers play high-tempo, exciting, offense-first hockey—but it’s a small possibility that this very game had some influence there as well.

Instead, Giroux is with Florida and the Flyers—last place in the Metro and weakened at the trade deadline—are playing the Avalanche in just a regular ho-hum lopsided contest. The Flyers are coming straight off a win last night over the St. Louis Blues, with all the limited rest that a road back-to-back affords. Meanwhile, the Avalanche have won 4 of their last 5 and are sitting at 45-14-5 on the season. They have more than an entire line’s worth of forwards scoring over a point per game and are second in the NHL in goals (242) and goals per game (3.78). It’s a tough task ahead of the Flyers, which, as a team out of contention for this season’s playoffs and in desperate need of the type of top talent typically acquired from the top of the draft, is exactly what we want from the rest of this season.

It’ll likely be Carter Hart in net tonight after Martin Jones’ win last night in St. Louis. This road trip so far has seen the Flyers roll with 11 forwards and 7 defensemen, with Kevin Connauton as the extra defenseman and Patrick Brown and Zack MacEwen rotating with different linemates.

Projected Flyers lines:

James van Riemsdyk—Joel Farabee—Cam Atkinson
Hayden Hodgson—Kevin Hayes—Travis Konecny
Max Willman—Morgan Frost—Owen Tippett
Patrick Brown, Zack MacEwen

Ivan Provorov—Cam York
Travis Sanheim—Rasmus Ristolainen
Keith Yandle—Nick Seeler
Kevin Connauton

Carter Hart
(Martin Jones)

Projected Avalanche lines:

Valeri Nichushkin—Nathan MacKinnon—Mikko Rantanen
André Burakovsky—Nazem Kadri—JT Compher
Alex Newhook—Nico Sturm—Logan O’Connor
Andrew Cogliano—Darren Helm—Nicolas Aube-Kubel

Devon Toews-Cale Makar
Jack Johnson—Josh Manson
Kurtis MacDermid—Erik Johnson

Darcy Kuemper
(Pavel Francouz)

Keep an eye on:

  • Joel Farabee, who is getting some time as a center in between James van Riemsdyk and Cam Atkinson. The experiment is an interesting one, and the results seem to be fairly positive so far. The move also lends more credence to Claude Giroux dubbing Farabee as the future of the franchise, as it mimics Giroux’s own move from winger to center early in his career. Farabee did score last night, though it was at 4-on-4.
  • Cale Makar, who is the odds-on favorite to win the Norris Trophy right now and is second in points by a defensemen on the season with 71. The Avalanche have generated 1,229 shot attempts with Makar on the ice this season, the fourth-most of any player in the NHL, behind only MacKenzie Weegar, Alex Pietrangelo, and Darnell Nurse. The Flyers will not face a defenseman playing this well until, well, until next game when they play Roman Josi and the Predators.
  • Cameron York, whose ice time has increased since the trade deadline, as the Flyers—in addition to losing an NHL defenseman to a trade—have begun shaking things up and giving some younger players larger roles. York has 7 points in 21 games this season, including 2 assists in last night’s win. These meaningless games are a great opportunity to get an extended look at some players who we otherwise might not have.
  • Nathan MacKinnon, who has only played in 5 games this year without scoring a single point. He’s on a 5-game streak right now, with 9 during that stretch, and has 69 in 49 games this season, a 115-point pace over 82 games. MacKinnon missed 15 games this year, but he’s still on pace to finish with well over 90 points.
  • The Wells Fargo Center, which will be hosting two Sweet 16 games in the NCAA ​​Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament tonight, the first between Purdue (the team I picked as champ in my bracket) and St. Peter’s (a 15 seed from Jersey City that is the alma mater of both my grandfather and my wife’s grandfather), and the second between North Carolina and UCLA. I’m assuming this is why the Flyers are away for so long, plus it may offer some alternative watching options during intermissions or if the score gets out of hand too quickly.

Stray stats:

  • The Flyers are 42-29-14-6 (W-L-T-OTL) all-time against the Avalanche, including 12-12-5-3 in games played in Denver. This is the first time they’ve played in Denver since the Pepsi Center was renamed Ball Arena.
  • The Avalanche have only been shut out once this year, in a 2-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes two weeks ago. They’ve scored 4 or more goals in 35 games this season, more than half their games played. The Flyers, on the other hand, have been shut out in 7 games and scored 4+ in 7 games. Could you imagine watching a hockey team every night that scores that many goals?
  • The Flyers were 4-1-2 with Nicolas Aube-Kubel in their lineup before they placed him on waivers, where he was scooped up by the Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche have gone 39-9-4 in the 51 games since. NAK has 7 goals and 8 assists with Colorado.
  • There are currently three Flyers who still have not missed a game this season: Cam Atkinson, James van Riemsdyk, and, of course, Keith Yandle.
  • The Panthers defeated the Canadiens last night 4-3 in Giroux’s (and Robert Hagg’s) Florida debut. Giroux had two assists, one a skate-redirection off a pass from Hagg to Aleksander Barkov and the other a secondary power-play assist on a Sam Reinhart goal. He took a lot of face-offs, played extensive special teams time, put 4 shots on net, and won a hockey game. The Panthers took 25 shot attempts with Giroux on the ice compared to the Canadiens’ 14.