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Preview: Flyers are finally back in South Philly, hosting the Maple Leafs

Flyers look to snap a three-game losing streak

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Flyers will take on the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight at 7 p.m. in South Philly in the second of three meetings between these two teams in the 2021-22 season.

With their loss to the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday, the Flyers are officially eliminated from the 2021-22 Stanley Cup playoffs, making every game played from here on out essentially meaningless in terms of the standings. But just because there are no playoff implications with each game doesn’t mean they have no meaning at all.

First of all, there are the lineup changes and experiments: in the past week alone we’ve seen two NHL debuts, one from undrafted former ECHLer Hayden Hodgson and another from fifth-round pick Noah Cates. It really appears that the Flyers management is going to take this final fistful of games to see what they have for the future. They even traded away two contracts along with Claude Giroux to the Florida Panthers just to make some room. Tonight looks like we’ll get another debut: right-handed defenseman Ronnie Attard, most recently of Western Michigan University. More on Attard here.

And beyond debuts and prospects, we’ve got some other interesting lineup questions that it feels like they’re seeking answers for. Kevin Hayes is playing well, having missed a large portion of the season with various injuries. It’s good to know he can still reach the standard he set before this season. Hayes currently has 11 points in his last 11 games. Joel Farabee is getting ice as a centerman, an experiment that also seems to be working out pretty well, as does not look out of place in either the defensive or neutral zones and has scored 5 in his last 5. Cam York, meanwhile, has found his footing as an NHLer and is playing on the right side along Ivan Provorov.

And then there are the lottery odds. One of the best ways to get the high-end talent that the Flyers need to help them turn things around is through the draft—and the higher you pick the more likely you are to succeed. The Flyers currently have the fifth-least points in the league and the fifth-worst points percentage. They’re flirting with a top-five pick in the 2022 entry draft and are giving themselves better odds at jumping up every day, having lost three in a row on the road. Tonight looks like another difficult matchup.

The Maple Leafs are one of the top teams in the NHL, currently neck-and-neck with the Tampa Bay Lightning for second place in the Atlantic Division and sitting at sixth in the league in points percentage. The Leafs are a high-scoring offensive team, with the third-most goals per game this year, but they’re also a fairly high-event team overall, as their goals against per game is also in the top half of the league. They’re getting goaltender Jack Campbell back from a rib injury, starting his first game since March 8. A large ingredient in the recipe for a Toronto playoff run is Campbell playing at least average goaltending, if not above average. Campbell is 24-9-4 this season with a .914 save percentage.

Projected Flyers lines:

In truth, there’s a lot up in the air for the Flyers lines as of this writing: Travis Konecny is ill and the Flyers announced this morning he won’t be playing; Nate Thompson is entering the lineup after a long chunk of time spent fighting back from injury and attempting weird clapbacks on Twitter; Scott Laughton has been cleared to play from concussion protocol after missing the last 10 games but has not been announced as drawing back in yet; and the NHL’s reigning Iron Man, Keith Yandle, was sick yesterday but is apparently available to play today and will not.

Noah Cates—Joel Farabee—Cam Atkinson
Hayden Hodgson—Kevin Hayes—Oskar Lindblom
James van Riemsdyk—Morgan Frost—Owen Tippett
Nate Thompson—Patrick Brown—Zack MacEwen

Ivan Provorov—Cam York
Travis Sanheim—Rasmus Ristolainen
Nick Seeler—Ronnie Attard

Carter Hart
(Martin Jones)

Projected Maple Leafs lines:

Michael Bunting—Auston Matthews—Mitch Marner
Ilya Mikheyev—John Tavares—Alex Kerfoot
William Nylander—David Kämpf—Pierre Engvall
Kyle Clifford—Jason Spezza—Wayne Simmonds

Morgan Rielly—T.J. Brodie
Mark Giordano—Justin Holl
Carl Dahlström—Timothy Liljegren

Jack Campbell
(Erik Källgren)

Keep an eye on:

  • Ronnie Attard, the aforementioned 23-year-old, who is making his NHL debut tonight. It’s possible that Attard will be paired with Nick Seeler, which is a rough draw for a debut, but the other option would probably be Keith Yandle, which may or may not be rougher.
  • Auston Matthews, who is among the league leaders in most offensive categories; fifth in points, fourth in points per game, first in goals. On Thursday, Matthews became the first Leaf in 28 years to break the 50-goal mark, potting an empty-netter in a win over the Jets. He’s currently on an 11-game point streak, during which he has 13 goals and 6 assists.
  • Owen Tippett, who has not scored his first goal as a Flyer yet, but not for lack of trying. Tippett has 15 shots on net in his 6 games so far, with a rate of 9.51 shots per 60 minutes, second only to James van Riemsdyk’s 11.02 rate over those same 6 games. Maybe he was just waiting to get back into the Farg to score one in front of (some) Flyers fans.
  • Mark Giordano, who came to Toronto at the trade deadline for two second-round and one third-round pick. The longtime Calgary Flame defenseman seems to be thriving in his ice time with the Leafs so far, as they’ve generated 36 shots compared to 22 against at 5-on-5 with Gio on the ice.
  • Wayne Simmonds, who has seemingly settled in playing for his hometown team the last two seasons. I feel like they’re treating him well and he’s on a team with a good chance of succeeding (at least on paper), and that’s all that matters to me. People love to hate on the Leafs, but I really don’t care about them one way or the other, so seeing them win the cup with Simmonds on the roster would second on my preferred 2022 outcomes only to a Florida Panthers’ victory.

Stray stats:

  • The Flyers are 100-60-22-5 (W-L-T-OTL) all-time against the Maple Leafs, including a 3-0 loss earlier this season.
  • Only three other, Maple Leaf players have ever tallied 50 or more goals in a season, and it’s only been done five other times total: Dave Andreychuck in 1994, Gary Leeman in 1990, and Rick Vaive in ‘81-’82, ‘82-’83, and ‘83-’84. There have been six Flyers to score 50 or more a total of 12 times: Tim Kerr four times, John LeClair three times, Reggie Leach twice, and single seasons by Mark Recchi, Bill Barber, and Rick MacLeish. Leach’s 61 goals in 1975-76 is the single-season franchise record.
  • Zack MacEwen has more penalty minutes per 60 minutes played—9.25—than any player with at least 600 minutes this season.
  • The Leafs are scoring on a whopping 30% of their power play opportunities. There have only been three other teams to finish a season with 30% or higher: the 1977-78 Montreal Canadiens (31.9%), the 1977-78 New York Islanders (31.4%), and the 1978-79 Islanders (31.2%). The closest the Flyers as a franchise ever came was 27% in 1980-81.
  • The Leafs are now the only franchise that Mark Giordano has played for that he hasn’t served as the captain of. He was the Flames' captain for eight seasons, succeeding Jarome Iginla, and then the Kraken’s captain during this, their inaugural, season.
  • In addition to Attard’s NHL debut, this will also be the Philly debut for two other recent lineup additions: Hayden Hodgson and Noah Cates. Hodgson joined the team in the win over St. Louis, while Cates made his NHL debut in Tuesday’s loss to the Wild. This will also only be Owen Tippett’s second game in Philadelphia as a Flyer.