Flyers aiming to get back in the win column vs. Wild
Quick turnaround after last night’s disappointing 4-1 loss at home to the hated Penguins.
As if the Flyers’ loss to their bitter rivals wasn’t fresh enough, they’re right back at it with a road trip to Minnesota to take on the Wild tonight.
It’s a return of sorts for Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher, who held the same title with the Wild from 2009-2018, though his impact will not be felt on the ice —at least not yet. No, he’s not going to pull a Bob Murray and hop behind the bench, but he figures to be active ahead of the NHL Trade Deadline on the 25th. In between now and then Fletcher has to decide if the Flyers can overcome pretty insane odds to make the playoffs in a crowded Eastern Conference or sell off veteran pieces like Wayne Simmonds and Michael Raffl that could fetch a nice return but also damage playoff hopes in the process.
Fletcher has watched his club come together in the last few weeks, putting up a nine-game winning streak that ended on Saturday in a shootout loss to the Kings. But the hated Penguins stormed into the Wells Fargo Center and ended the Flyers’ 10-game point streak with a 4-1 win that featured a season-high 51 shots at Penguins netminder Matt Murray. Though they looked impressive in defeat, the loss put the Flyers a full eight points behind Pittsburgh for that final Wild Card spot in the conference.
Now the Flyers are left to pick up the pieces and travel to Minnesota to take on the Wild, who also find themselves hanging on to the final Wild Card spot in the crowded, yet terrible, Western Conference playoff race. The Wild just found out they lost center Mikko Koivu for the remainder of the season in addition to also losing defenseman Matt Dumba (also likely for the rest of the season) earlier on in December. Despite those losses, the Wild find themselves in the thick of the playoff race mostly due to the resurgence of Zach Parise (22 goals, 26 assists), the performance of Devan Dubnyk in goal, and the putrid conference they reside in.
As for the Flyers, they’ll need to regroup quickly and forget about the latest setback to the Penguins as points are now at a premium in the jam-packed East. The good news is that Flyers badly out-shot the Penguins and out-chanced them too, and they deserved a far better result thanks to an unreal performance by Murray and some unfortunately bad officiating. They could sulk after it, but given the way they played they should still have plenty of confidence left to go out and compete with an average Wild team tonight.
The Flyers did take the first meeting by a 7-4 final back in Philadelphia, now they hope to hop right back in the win column and complete the season sweep over the Wild in the process.
Win the special teams battle
The Flyers did not do a great job with their power play against the Penguins and paid the price with a late Jake Voracek tally coming too late to matter after four unsuccessful chances before it. Pittsburgh gave the Flyers several chances to cut into the lead with the man-advantage and they couldn’t make them count.
Minnesota has the NHL’s seventh-ranked penalty kill so more tough sledding is ahead for the Flyers power play which struggled a night ago. The Wild also have an effective power play, operating at 21% this season, though the Flyers’ penalty kill has been better of late. Given that the Flyers might not have their skating legs after the tough battle with the Penguins, making the most of their power plays and keeping the Wild from having too many of them will help a ton.
More Stolarz magic
As good as Carter Hart has been since the turn of the Calendar to 2019, Anthony Stolarz has been just as good when called upon. Stolarz has stopped 75 of 77 shots in his last two starts, shutting out the Rangers then following it up with a tough shootout loss to the Kings.
It’s been quite the turnaround for the massive netminder, who has seen much of his young career sapped by injuries. Problem is that he’s had to be that good for the Flyers to get points in his past two starts with the team giving him three goals in support. After watching the Flyers pump 51 pucks at Murray a night ago with just one goal to show, perhaps Stolarz will need another heroic performance to steal a point in this one as well.
One reason the Flyers are where they are in the standings is simply a lack of finishing in the offensive zone. The Flyers are 21st in goal scoring this season and seem to have a bunch of nights like last night where the chances and pressure is there but the results aren’t. Guys have to shoot the puck with authority and look out for extra shot chances instead of always looking for the next pass.
They were close against the Penguins, but need to keep the pressure up on a nightly basis. Pepper Dubnyk tonight like they did Murray and they’re bound to have better results.
Flyers’ projected lineup
JVR — Giroux — Konecny
Lindblom — Couturier — Voracek
Laughton — Patrick — Simmonds
Raffl — Vorobyev — Varone
Provorov — Sanheim
MacDonald — Gostisbehere
Hagg — Gudas