Preview: Flyers visit Lightning with unthinkable hope to remain perfect
How are they doing this?
You can pinch yourself all you want, but you are not dreaming. The Philadelphia Flyers are unbeaten in their first two games to open the 2022-23 season — and they look good while doing it.
Somehow and some way, the Flyers earned a 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils to open their season, and backed it up with a close 3-2 victory while hosting the Vancouver Canucks. But now, we’re afraid, the party might be over as this team faces their first big massive test of the season, and are not just picking points off fellow bottom-feeders like the vultures they are. The Flyers are visiting the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night.
On paper, of course, this is as mismatched a game you could potentially have, but we have found out new things about this Flyers team under head coach John Tortorella that we thought were impossible. They are winning games despite losing them in basically every category that wants to predict outcomes but cannot be the result itself. Top-of-the-lineup players are scoring goals, Carter Hart is stopping a whole lot of pucks, and the defense...well, players are scoring goals and Hart is doing some things.
That is much more possible of an outcome against those lesser teams than it is against the former back-to-back champions. We’re not saying we’re predicting the worse result imaginable, but think of some hot-headed kid just throwing wild punches in his first couple fights, getting the confidence that he can beat anyone, and then getting tidily knocked out within seconds once they face someone that isn’t a foot shorter than them.
This might get ugly, but we will be pleasantly surprised if it is not.
Projected Flyers lineup
Scott Laughton — Kevin Hayes — Travis Konecny
James van Riemsdyk — Morgan Frost — Tanner Laczynski
Joel Farabee — Noah Cates — Wade Allison
Nicolas Deslauriers — Jackson Cates — Zack MacEwen
Ivan Provorov — Tony DeAngelo
Travis Sanheim — Justin Braun
Egor Zamula — Nick Seeler
It is still undetermined whether it will be Hart or Felix Sandstrom in between the pipes, but either way, the other one will be facing the Florida Panthers tomorrow.
Travis Konecny hopes to keep his scoring streak alive, leading the Flyers with four points in the first two games, and that top line has performed decently well compared to the rest of the team — not getting shelled by shot attempts and producing enough offense to lead the team in that category. Philadelphia might just get by on its depth because that third line doesn’t look too shabby either.
On the blue line, Rasmus Ristolainen is out with an injury so Justin Braun is taking his spot next to Travis Sanheim. Meanwhile, the bottom pairing of Egor Zamula and Nick Seeler is so far the worst defensive pairing in the entire NHL at driving the play in their team’s favor. Among all partnerships that have played at least 20 minutes so far at 5-on-5 this season, Zamula-Seeler is leagues below the rest with an on-ice 22.58 shot attempt percentage — the next-worst is almost eight full points above them. Just brutal.
If that doesn’t make you a little nervous, well just take a gander at who the Lightning are putting out for this home game.
Projected Lightning lineup
Brandon Hagel — Brayden Point — Nikita Kucherov
Nick Paul — Steven Stamkos — Alex Killorn
Ross Colton — Vladislav Namestnikov — Corey Perry
Cole Koepke — Pierre-Edouard Bellemare — Patrick Maroon
Victor Hedman — Cal Foote
Mikhail Sergachev — Erik Cernak
Haydn Fleury — Philippe Myers
And to make it a little scarier, we aren’t getting backup and former Flyer Brian Elliott in between the pipes, but Andrei Vasilevskiy is most likely going to be stopping pucks instead. What could have been a nice and cute little story, might end up as a bloodbath in all three zones for the Flyers.
While the Lightning’s full lineup might be considered fairly top-heavy — that bottom-six forward group is no more special than any other team’s around the league — those top players can change the game at a whim. We’re all familiar enough with the likes of Stamkos, Kucherov, Hedman, and Point, so just keep on thinking about their highlights before puck drop tonight.
While the mountain to climb will be much taller, the Flyers could certainly still do it if they fight and win the battle between the depth players on this team. With duos of skill on the top three Philadelphia lines, they have some potential to poke away and overcome the likely deficit in scoring chances that they will suffer tonight. Might not be the best strategy to try and have one of those it’s hockey games, but that is the chance the Flyers have against the Lightning.
Puck drop is at 7:00 p.m. tonight from Tampa.