The salary cap isn’t going up as much as everyone hoped. Also, there were plenty of trades, buyouts and extensions handed out in the last week. Nick, Colby, Cap’n and Pete examine each move and pick 2019 NHL Awards winners.
This week’s episode is chock full of coffee infused, Seattle inspired, artisanal Seattle expansion discussion in addition to William Nylander’s new deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Plus, waivers and trades are rampant this time of year, Tom Wilson: The Bad and the Bad Things That Happened This Week, Chuck Fletcher was hired as General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers and a 15-year first round draft pick look back of the Los Angeles Kings.
Zdeno Chara kicked off Thursday night’s scoring for the Boston Bruins against the Philadelphia Flyers on home ice and Chara ended scoring too. Jake DeBrusk added a power play goal in between Chara’s goals as Jaroslav Halak and the Bruins shutout the Flyers, 3-0, at TD Garden.
Boston improved to 6-2-2 (14 points) on the season with the win– good enough for 2nd in the Atlantic Division, despite being tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs for 1st on points (Toronto has one more regulation-plus-overtime win than the Bruins, yielding the tiebreaker).
Philadelphia fell to 4-6-0 (8 points) through their first 10 games, currently sitting 6th in the Metropolitan Division.
Halak (3-0-2, .945 save percentage, 1.43 goals against average in 6 games played) made 26 saves on 26 shots faced for a 1.000 SV% and his 2nd shutout of the season in the win, while Flyers netminder, Brian Elliott (2-5-0, .912 SV%, 3.38 GAA in 8 GP), stopped 22 out of 24 shots faced for a .917 SV% in the loss.
After ending a three-game losing streak in Ottawa, the Bruins now have back-to-back wins with a chance of extending their current winning streak to three games against their arch-rival– the Montreal Canadiens– Saturday night on home ice.
Boston head coach, Bruce Cassidy, didn’t make any changes to his lineup, save for the National Hockey League debut of Bruins defender, Jeremy Lauzon, out of necessity. Lauzon laced up on the third defensive pair alongside Steven Kampfer in place of the most-recently injured Bruins blue liner, Urho Vaakanainen (concussion).
David Backes (upper body), Torey Krug (lower body), Charlie McAvoy (upper body) and Kevan Miller (hand) also remained out of the lineup Thursday night, though Krug has begun practicing and should return to action next week.
Meanwhile, Lauzon became the first Bruin to wear No. 79 in a regular season game since current defender in the Colorado Avalanche organization (and Marshfield, Massachusetts native), David Warsofsky, did so in the 2014-15 season.
Late in the first period, Chara sent the puck over the glass and received a delay of game minor. The timing of the penalty came at 18:05 of the first period, so the ensuing Flyers power play would carryover into the first five seconds of the second period (unless Philadelphia scored before the end of the period).
After 20 minutes of play, the score remained tied, 0-0, with both teams amassing seven shots on goal. Boston had the advantage in takeaways (7-4), giveaways (2-1) and hits (6-5) entering the first intermission, while both teams were 0/1 on the power play.
The pace of play picked up in the second period, as both Elliott and Halak found themselves locked into a goaltending battle– in which the Bruins netminder made several impressive saves on 2-on-1 opportunities for the Flyers.
Halak’s strong performance (and eventual shutout) serves as a reminder that while there is no goalie controversy in the Hub (Tuukka Rask is the long-term starter), Cassidy’s decision making in determining which goaltender to play any given night (for now) continues to get tougher. It’s generally advisable to go with the hotter hand until one can’t any longer.
That said, Cassidy remained firm on his plans to start Rask Saturday night against the Canadiens after Thursday’s win.
Time (and stats) will tell after that. A little competition is a healthy thing– especially if the team is still able to put up “W’s” in the “win” column.
A little past midway in the second period, Danton Heinen worked the puck back to the point to Chara. The Bruins captain fired a slap shot– from just about the blue line in Boston’s attacking zone– high glove side past Elliott to give the B’s a 1-0 lead while David Krejci tried to screen the Philadelphia goalie from the slot.
The goal was Chara’s 2nd of the season and assisted by Heinen (3) at 13:00 of the second period.
Shortly thereafter, Philadelphia’s bench bungled a line change and was handed a two-minute minor penalty for too many men at 15:32. Travis Konecny served the penalty.
Late into the ensuing power play, the Bruins extended their lead on the scoreboard as Krejci threw a saucer pass to Jake DeBrusk (3) for the redirection from point blank and a 2-0 lead.
Krejci (7) and Kampfer (1) were credited with the assists on DeBrusk’s goal at 17:28. Kampfer’s assist was his first point for Boston since being re-acquired by the Bruins in September and his first point in a black-and-gold sweater in over six years (he had two assists in 10 games for the Bruins in the 2011-12 season prior to being traded).
Through two periods, Boston led Philadelphia, 2-0. Shots on goal were even, 18-18, while the Flyers led in blocked shots (12-9) and face-off win percentage (65-35). The Bruins held onto the advantage in takeaways (11-8) and hits (12-9) after 40 minutes of play.
Both teams had five giveaways each entering the second intermission, while the Flyers were 0/1 on the power play and the Bruins were 1/2.
Early in the third period, tempers started to flare as they usually do when the Big Bad Bruins square off with the Broad Street Bullies as Steven Kampfer and Scott Laughton got into a kerfuffle. Wayne Simmonds even jumped in as a third-man in and penalties soon followed.
Despite clearly attempting to fight with his gloves off, Kampfer was handed a four-minute double minor penalty for roughing, while Laughton received a two-minute roughing penalty.
Simmonds also received a roughing minor at 6:38 of the third period, resulting in a power play for the Flyers, thanks to Kampfer’s four-minute double minor.
Ryan Donato served one of Kampfer’s penalties in the box.
Late in the penalty kill for Boston, Chara tripped up Konecny and was sent to the box on a minor penalty for tripping (of course) at 8:34. The Flyers would have four seconds on a two-skater advantage before resuming play under a normal 5-on-4 power play scenario.
Philadelphia did not convert on either power play opportunity.
At 14:30 of the third period, Konecny himself was summoned to the sin bin for tripping Bruins forward, David Pastrnak.
Just under two minutes later, while on the power play, DeBrusk got into a shoving match with Flyers defender, Andrew MacDonald.
DeBrusk was going to be penalized for interference, while MacDonald received a slashing minor after a quick conference held by the refs once things settled down after the whistle.
Why did it take so long in comparison to the other penalties? Well, a scrum ensued and a slew of penalties followed in the same stoppage as the original DeBrusk retaliation call based on MacDonald’s infraction.
Laughton received another roughing minor– this time against DeBrusk– and was sent to the locker room early on a ten-minute misconduct. This additional two-minute penalty against the Flyers resulted in an abbreviated 5-on-3 power play for Boston for about 27 seconds, while Oskar Lindblom served Laughton’s penalty at 16:03 of the third period.
As time expired on Lindblom’s time in the box, the door opened and the puck rolled right by as a Bruins player was chasing it down.
Lindblom tried to play the puck while still in the penalty box. His feet had not set foot on the ice, thereby resulting in an automatic interference penalty and Boston went back on the power play at 18:06.
With less than a minute remaining in regulation, Flyers head coach, Dave Hakstol pulled his goaltender for an extra attacker. Things didn’t go as planned.
Halak sent the puck from the trapezoid to his captain along the boards behind the goal line, where Chara (3) then flung the puck through the air and into the empty net at the other end of the ice for the empty net power play goal at 19:37.
That’s right, Chara scored from the endboards in his own zone for what’s undoubtedly the longest empty net power play goal in NHL history. For all intents and purposes, he could’ve been having a cannoli at Mike’s Pastry in the North End and hit the net.
Halak (1) picked up his first point as a Bruin in the form of an assist on Chara’s goal and Boston secured the 3-0 victory at the final horn.
The Bruins finished the night ahead on the scoreboard, but trailed the Flyers in shots on goal (26-25), blocked shots (14-13), giveaways (9-7), hits (17-16), penalty minutes (26-12) and face-off win% (60-40). Philadelphia went 0/3 on the power play, while the B’s went 2/5 on Thursday.
Among other stats…
Chara (41 years, 221 days) became the third defender in the NHL to score multiple goals in a game at 41 years of age or older, joining Tim Horton (41 years, 277 days) and Nicklas Lidstrom (41 years, 191 days).
Despite winning, 3-0, no Bruins skater was more than a plus-one in plus/minus Thursday night. Heinen, Krejci, DeBrusk, Chara and John Moore were all plus-one, while Chara led the way for Boston in shots on goal with five.
Patrice Bergeron, Pastrnak and DeBrusk were the next highest with three shots on net.
Nolan Patrick, Laughton, Jakub Voracek, MacDonald and Shayne Gostisbehere were all minus-ones for the Flyers, while Claude Giroux led his teammates with five shots on goal. Travis Sanheim was the next closest with four.
Gostisbehere, Hadd and Corban Knight each recorded two hits for Philadelphia and Gostisbehere led his teammates in blocked shots with four.
The Bruins take on the Canadiens Saturday night on home ice for their next matchup before venturing out on the road to visit the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 30th and the Nashville Predators on Nov. 3rd as part of a quick, two-game, road trip.
42-26-14, 98 points, 3rd in the Metropolitan Division
Lost in the First Round to Pittsburgh (4-2)
Offseason Analysis: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Flyers could be seriously dangerous if they get some solid goaltending.
After a rough 2016-17 campaign, the Flyers struck gold in the draft lottery, snagging the No. 2 overall pick and using it to draft top-ranked prospect Nolan Patrick. This added yet another weapon to one of the more potent offenses in the league, but questions remained about the defense and, particularly, in net.
It took a rotation of four different goaltenders (Brian Elliott, Michal Neuvirth, Petr Mrazek and Alex Lyon) to get it done, but Philly managed to punch their ticket back to the playoffs mostly on the strength of unbelievable seasons from captain Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, a breakout year from Sean Couturier, a rebound year from Shayne Gostisbehere and a ridiculous 10-1-2 month of February that took them from treading water in the Wild Card picture to solidly in third place in the Metro. A big push from Columbus nearly knocked the Flyers back into the Wild Card spot at the end of the year, but they managed to hang onto the Divisional spot by a single point.
Unfortunately, this only meant that they’d play in-state rival Pittsburgh, and while Philly would manage to take the Pens to six games, it was often a very one-sided series. Only a heroic nine-point-in-six-game effort from Sean Couturier even kept the series as competitive as it was.
With a few notable underperformers coming to the end of their contract and a fairly well-stocked prospect pool, GM Ron Hextall and crew decided to let a host of players walk into free agency, including longtime Flyer Matt Read, along with Valtteri Filppula, Brandon Manning, Johnny Oduya and Petr Mrazek, among others. Using the newly freed up cap space, they brought back former Flyer and perennial 30-goal man James van Riemsdyk, and brought in a solid defenseman in Christian Folin. JVR is certainly a known commodity, while Folin is a quiet, confident defender that has impressed under the radar over the past few years in Minnesota and LA.
Armed with yet another potent offensive weapon, and with improved depth on defense, the Flyers (yet again) look to the net in hopes of improvement. Though they boast on of the best pools of goaltending prospects in the league, they don’t want to rush the development of any of the youngsters, and will likely again turn to the tandem of Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth. While neither is a world-beating goaltender, they’re both more than capable of quality play.
Well…at least they would be outside of the goalie-hell of Philadelphia. Not sure what it is about that city, but it seems capable of ruining the reputation of basically any goaltender that dons the orange and black. So, maybe hope to win every game 5-4, Philly fans?
Speaking of 5-4 victories, let’s take a look at that dangerous forward corps.
While the top-six are pretty well all shoe-ins, the bottom-six does have a few positions that are definitely up in the air. Down the middle there’s likely to be strong competition for the No. 3 and 4 center spots, as Jordan Weal, Scott Laughton, Jori Lehtera and former Union College standout Mike Vecchione will battle it out with youngsters German Rubtsov and Morgan Frost (Flyers’ first round picks in 2016 and 2017, respectively). Rubtsov and Frost have yet to play North American pro hockey, so they’ll have the steepest hill to climb to try and nab a spot, and will likely head back to Juniors or to Lehigh Valley for the year. While Vecchione has only two NHL games to his credit, and isn’t nearly as well-known to Flyers fans as the remaining three, he’s a very interesting option. Boasting a strong two-way game, as well as the ability to play center or right wing, he put up terrific rookie numbers in the AHL last year and could be a strong camp away from grabbing himself an NHL roster spot.
On the wings you’ll have veterans Michael Raffl and Dale Weise competing with some young talent in guys like Oskar Lindblom, Taylor Leier, Danick Martel, and Isaac Ratcliffe. Lindblom scored some time with the Flyers last year after impressing in the AHL. Martel is undersized but not afraid to play with an edge, and does bring some decent offensive skill with him. Ratcliffe is possibly the most intriguing option. At just 19-years-old, he can still continue to hone his game in Juniors, where he’s found his offensive stride over the past two seasons. But a 6-foot-6, sub-200 pound winger with some scoring touch and a mean streak might be hard to overlook for the big club.
My projected depth chart shakes out like this:
Giroux – Couturier – Konecny
JVR – Patrick – Voracek
Lindblom – Lehtera – Simmonds
Raffl – Laughton – Vecchione
Extra forwards Weise and Weal
On defense, the biggest problem facing the Flyers to start the season is injuries to veteran Andrew MacDonald (should only miss a few weeks of the season) and promising youngster Samuel Morin (likely out until February). Until MacDonald returns they’ll lack a true top pair reliable defender to partner Gostisbehere, so that could be of concern at least in the opening weeks. While the defense corps looks to be fairly set (particularly after MacDonald returns), there are a handful of names who could challenge for a depth spot. Philippe Myers was an undrafted signing out of Juniors, who blossomed late to catch the eyes of Flyers brass. At 6-foot-5 and approximately 210 pounds, he’s got no shortage of size, but also put up respectable offensive numbers as a rookie in the AHL last season. He’s also a right handed shot, something the Flyers are a tad short on. Veteran T.J. Brennan is definitely a reliable option to fill some minutes in MacDonald’s absence, as well.
Once MacDonald makes his return, I have the Flyers defense corps shaping up as:
MacDonald – Gostisbehere
Provorov – Gudas
Sanheim – Folin
Extra defender Hagg
In net, as previously mentioned, it’s likely the Flyers will head into the season with the Elliott/Neuvirth tandem. With both vets in contract years, Philly will likely give the trio of Alex Lyon, Carter Hart and Anthony Stolarz another full year of development if possible before potentially calling upon two of them to take the reigns as a tandem in the near future. Felix Sandstrom is a sleeper pick to find his way into the picture next year as well, after what will be his fourth season of SHL action in Sweden.
Offseason Grade: B-
On paper, it looks like the Flyers lost much more than they gained this year. But although there were some household names that departed, most had underperformed greatly in recent years. Hextall cleared cap space, grabbed a big fish in van Riemsdyk, and used the depth of his organization to fill the remaining holes.
The offense is deadly. The defense is young, but quite promising (particularly once it gets back to full strength). The goaltending is…well, Philadelphia goaltending. But the future in net looks incredibly bright, and Philly would be wise to not rush that future unless absolutely necessary.
A likely fringe playoff team this year, but in the next two or three years, we could see the orange and black making serious noise once again. Because the depth doesn’t stop in net, and I only mentioned about half of the recent first round picks still waiting in the wings.
Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Philadelphia Flyers and their outlook for the summer.
The 2017-18 Philadelphia Flyers pulled themselves into 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division with a late season surge ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils by one point.
Philadelphia’s 42-46-14 record lauded them 98 points on the season under the guidance of head coach, Dave Hakstol, and in a First Round matchup with their intrastate rival Pittsburgh Penguins.
Despite a breakout performance in the postseason by Sean Couturier and back-and-forth offense all series long (in games that weren’t lopsided), the Flyers succumbed to Pittsburgh in six games on home ice in their first playoff appearance since 2016 and first postseason meeting with the Penguins since the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
As usual, goaltending was an issue with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth sustaining injuries late in the season, leading General Manager Ron Hextall to acquire Petr Mrazek as an insurance policy down the stretch from the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for a conditional 2018 third round pick and a conditional 2019 fourth round pick.
2018 NHL Entry Draft
Hextall has two first round picks at his disposal with the 14th overall selection via the St. Louis Blues (thanks to last June’s Brayden Schenn deal for Jori Lehtera, a 2017 first round pick (Morgan Frost) and a conditional 2018 first round pick) and their own 19th overall selection in the 2018 Draft.
With two mid-round picks in the first round, Hextall can lay claim to two of the best available picks or go off the board in accordance with however his scouting department values talent– I’m not the expert here. Then again, he could flip one or both first round picks for assets.
But if you’re a Flyers fan, you likely could see Ty Smith, Bode Wilde, Barrett Hayton, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Joseph Veleno, Jack McBain, Grigori Denisenko, Serron Noel, Jared McIsaac or Ryan Merkley walking up the draft stage in Dallas in less than a week grabbing a hold of Philadelphia’s classic orange-and-black sweater.
Pending free agents
Philly has about $17.200 million to spend on free agents this summer and only a handful of pending UFAs and RFAs.
Read only appeared in 19 games for the Flyers this season, scoring one goal and recording 16 shots on net. After reaching the 40-point plateau twice in his career with Philadelphia in 2011-12 and 2013-14, his offensive production has only declined since 2014, yielding 30 points in 2014-15, 26 points in 2015-16 and 19 in 2016-17.
Filppula was traded to the Flyers by the Tampa Bay Lightning at last year’s trade deadline, served as an alternate captain this season and had 11-22–33 totals in 81 games. His numbers are respectable, though he hasn’t replicated his 58-point season with the Lightning in 2013-14.
A third round pick (95th overall) of the Red Wings in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, Filppula should see more time in the City of Brotherly Love if there’s a mutual attraction. Just maybe not at the $5.000 million cap hit he had on his five-year contract he signed with Tampa in July 2013.
24-year-old Taylor Leier makes up the only pending-RFA forward on Philadelphia’s roster and played in 39 games with the Flyers this season (the most he’s been a part of since breaking into the league in 2015-16). Leier had one goal and four assists (five points) and is not an offensive threat by any means.
Hextall could let Leier walk without tendering a qualifying offer and that’d be fine.
It’s not so much about what the Flyers do this summer, but rather what Hextall and his front office is proactively planning to do next summer that makes a world of a difference (glancing at the current NHL roster alone and ignoring any potential additions via trade or free agency).
There’s six players currently on Philadelphia’s NHL club that could test the open market in July 2019, including Lehtera, Wayne Simmonds, Michael Raffl, Jordan Weal, Scott Laughton and Travis Konecny.
The obvious standouts of those names are Simmonds (who’ll be in the midst of his prime and entering his 30s) and Konecny (who will be coming off of his entry-level contract). Both are sure to expect a raise and long term deals if they see themselves attached to the city for a while.
And with only two roster players signed past the 2021-22 season in Jakub Voracek (2023-24) and Shayne Gostisbehere (2022-23), Hextall will soon have to start navigating the future of the new core in Konecny, Nolan Patrick and crew.
Perhaps Hextall would float the idea of moving 29-year-old forward, Dale Weise, and his $2.350 million cap hit through the 2019-20 season with the future in mind.
Manning, 28, had his best season with 7-12–19 totals in 65 games played, while Oduya, 36, signed with the Ottawa Senators last July as a free agent and was claimed off waivers by Philadelphia on February 26th. The Swedish defender recorded four goals and four assists with Ottawa this season and played in one game for the Flyers.
Hagg, 23, played his first full-season with Philadelphia in 2017-18, amassing 3-6–9 totals in 70 games played in his rookie season.
Both Manning and Hagg are part of the solution on Philly’s blueline, while Oduya will more than likely test the waters of free agency once more in the NHL.
In goal, Elliott, 33, Neuvirth, 30, and Mrazek, 26, are currently listed on the NHL roster.
Elliott had one-year left on his two-year deal with a $2.750 million cap hit, while Neuvirth also has one-year remaining on his current contract at $2.500 million.
For the second year in a row, Elliott’s goals against average increased and his save percentage worsened as a starting goalie. In 43 games this season, he had a 2.66 GAA and .909 SV%.
Neuvirth improved from 2016-17 to 2017-18 in six fewer games as Philadelphia’s backup, finishing the year with a 2.60 GAA and .915 SV%.
Mrazek is a pending-RFA coming off his worst season. In 22 games with Detroit this season, the Czech goaltender had a 2.89 GAA and .910 SV%. That’s less than ideal, but considering the Red Wings ongoing rebuild… Mrazek didn’t do himself any favors with a playoff bound team in the Flyers, amassing a 3.22 GAA and .891 SV% in 17 games.
On the surface it may appear as though the annual revolving door of goaltenders in Philadelphia may continue, but there’s some promise in their goaltending prospects.
Philly could have a situation very much like their rival in Pittsburgh currently has where Matt Murray is the starter and Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith constantly battle for the backup role while all being close in age.
The Flyers should make Neuvirth their starter– in the meantime, as the search continues for a legitimate starter– with Alex Lyon and Anthony Stolarz (both pending-RFAs this July) competing for the backup role.
Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:
Reece Wilcox (RFA), Colin McDonald (UFA), Samuel Morin (RFA), Tyrell Goulbourne (RFA), Alex Lyon (RFA), John Muse (UFA), Dustin Tokarski (UFA), Danick Martel (RFA), Anthony Stolarz (RFA), Will O’Neill (UFA)
No matter how many shots the Pittsburgh Penguins fired at Second Star of the Game G Brian Elliott, he would not yield as he led the Philadelphia Flyers to a 5-1 victory at PPG Paints Arena in Game 2.
When Head Coach Dave Hakstol elected to start his second line at the opening puck drop, C Sidney Crosby and the Penguins took advantage to fire two quick shots on goal. It seemed like the Pens were in line to dominate this game in a similar fashion as Game 1.
However, Elliott was there to make both saves, as well as 32 others. In all, the man known as Moose saved 34-of-35 shots faced, earning an impressive .971 save percentage.
The lone goal Elliott allowed belonged to RW Patric Hornqvist (D Justin Schultz and D Brian Dumoulin) at the 5:27 mark of the third period, then setting the score at 4-1 and not putting the final result of this tilt into question.
There were major concerns coming into these playoffs that either Pittsburgh’s defense or goaltending – and perhaps a combination of both – could be its ultimate demise. Even though Murray quelled some of those worries with his shutout in Game 1, those doubts were fully realized when Philadelphia converted 25 percent of its 20 shots on goal into tallies on the scoreboard.
The first of those belonged to D Shayne Gostisbehere (F Claude Giroux and Couturier), who took advantage of F Zach Aston-Reese sitting in the sin bin for boarding Third Star D Ivan Provorov to redirect a power play shot past Murray with 37 seconds remaining in the first period.
Couturier (Provorov and W Michael Raffl) bounced a shot off D Kris Letang to set the Flyers’ advantage at 2-0 47 seconds into the second period, but Philadelphia did most of its offensive damage in the third frame.
F Travis Konecny (RW Wayne Simmonds and Provorov) needed only 89 seconds of third period play to find the Flyers’ third goal of the game. 2:21 after Konecny’s tally, Hornqvist found a seat in the penalty box for roughing C Nolan Patrick to set up Philly’s final goal against Murray. As luck have it, Patrick (Couturier and RW Jakub Voracek) cashed in on the power play, scoring a wrist shot to set the score at 4-0.
Murray saved only 15-of-19 shots faced (.789 save percentage) in the loss. He’ll obviously need to improve on that mark if Pittsburgh wants any chance of advancing beyond the first round.
After making the quick trip across the commonwealth, Game 3 will take place at Wells Fargo Center on Sunday, April 15 at 3 p.m. Eastern and will be broadcast on CBC, NBC and TVAS.
It’s another Sunday Funday in the NHL, as there’s a solid seven games on today’s schedule. With half of those games happening before prime time, you can spread your hockey throughout the entire day!
The action starts at 3 p.m. when a pair of games drop the puck (Nashville at Colorado [SN] and Philadelphia at Florida [TVAS]), followed an hour later by Chicago at Anaheim (NHLN). Vegas at New Jersey gets underway at 5 p.m., while a pair of tilts (Detroit at Minnesota [NBCSN] and Winnipeg at Carolina [SN]) waits until the usual 7 p.m. starting time. Finally, Columbus at San Jose closes out the evening’s festivities with their 9 p.m. tilt. All times Eastern.
In the list of today’s most intriguing narratives, I have only two games to offer – neither of which have exceedingly exciting headlines.
- Nashville at Colorado: Now’s as good a time as any to remind you that in the F Matt Duchene-C Kyle Turris trade, Ottawa was supposed to be the team getting the talent upgrade. Turns out the Sens were wrong.
- Vegas at New Jersey: D Jonathon Merrill was selected by Vegas during the expansion draft from the Devils, the organization he spent the first five years of his professional career with.
However, neither of those games really seem all that exciting to me. Instead, I’d much rather travel down to South Florida to see if these Panthers are for real or not.
There have been few teams better than the 34-20-11 Flyers in the last month of action. Since February 3, Philadelphia has earned an impressive 10-1-3 record to catapult itself into second place in the Metropolitan Division.
A major reason for the Flyers’ recent success has been their effort on the defensive end, which is wild to think about considering 21-11-7 G Brian Elliott and 8-7-3 G Michal Neuvirth are both on injured reserve to force four different goaltenders into action in Philly’s last 14 games.
However, a goaltender’s success almost always starts with the defense playing in front of him, and the Flyers have been pretty darn good in their own end. Led by D Shayne Gostisbehere (two blocks per game since February 3), D Robert Hagg (3.5 hits per game in Philly’s last 14 games) and D Ivan Provorov (nine takeaways over this run), Philadelphia has allowed only 31.14 shots against per game over its last 14 games – the eighth-best mark in the NHL since February 3.
That brings us back to the Flyers’ goaltending situation. Since arriving from Detroit, 3-1-1 G Petr Mrazek has been the Flyers’ starter. However, following his 7-6 shootout loss yesterday in Tampa, it would seem likely that 2-1-0 G Alex Lyon will be between the pipes today. He’s started two of Philly’s last 14 games, posting a .921 save percentage and 2.55 GAA to improve his season marks to a .903 save percentage and 2.88 GAA.
Of course, all this talk about the defense doesn’t mean the Flyers don’t know what to do with the puck on their sticks. In fact, Philly has scored 3.36 goals per game during this run, the (t)ninth-best mark in the NHL since February 3.
At the helm of this attack is none other than F Claude Giroux (8-11-19 totals since February 3) and Gostisbehere (0-15-15 in Philly’s past 14 games), both of whom are averaging more than a point per game during this Flyers hot streak. Giroux and Gostisbehere have united to score eight times in the past month, including the defenseman’s last three assists.
The 31-25-6 Panthers have been equally good since returning from a five-game, nine-day road trip, as they’re currently riding a five-game winning streak that includes victories over Washington, Pittsburgh, Toronto and New Jersey.
The biggest reason for Florida’s surge? The incredible play of 11-7-1 G Roberto Luongo. Even though he’s faced a terrible 33.4 shots against per game since February 22 (the 12th-worst mark in the NHL in that time) Luongo has posted a solid .922 save percentage and 2.71 GAA in his five starts to lead the Panthers to allowing a (t)third-best 2.4 goals against per game in that time. Luongo’s season marks now read as a .927 save percentage and 2.58 GAA.
Florida’s offense has also been stellar in the past week or so, scoring an average of 3.8 goals per game since February 22 – the fifth-most in the league in that time. C Aleksander Barkov (4-4-8 totals since February 22), W Evgeni Dadonov (3-5-8 over this run) and F Nick Bjugstad (1-4-5 during this winning streak) have been major parts of this surge, as they’ve all averaged at least a point per game over Florida’s past five games and show no sign of slowing down.
For those that like rubber games, today’s finale of the Flyers and Panthers’ three-game series is the one for you. So far, each team has hosted one game and earned a victory. Philadelphia won October 17’s game at Wells Fargo Center 5-1 (Neuvirth earned First Star honors with his 40-save performance), while the Panthers earned a 3-2 victory at BB&T Center on December 28 (F Jonathan Huberdeau provided the Panthers’ game-winning goal in the second period) to even the series at 1-1-0.
There’s much to be gained for both teams by earning two points today, but the most noticeable impact on the standings occurs if Florida emerges as today’s victor. Should the Panthers do anything better than lose in regulation, there’s a chance they could jump both Carolina and Columbus for the second wild card. For that to happen, both the Hurricanes and Jackets must lose in regulation today. Similarly, if the Panthers win while Carolina and Columbus earn only a point apiece, the Florida would advance into the East’s eight seed.
No matter what happens to Philadelphia today, it’s not budging from its spot as the Metropolitan’s second-best club. However, the Flyers can pull into a tie with division-leading Washington with two points, though the Capitals would win that tiebreaker with a game in hand.
There’s also a lot of action in Philly’s rear view mirror, starting with intrastate rival Pittsburgh. With today’s game being the Flyers’ game in hand on the Penguins, they’ll surely want to improve on their one-point advantage to ensure home-ice in the first round of the playoffs.
I’m expecting nothing short of a stellar game today between these clubs. However, the fact that the Flyers played to a hard-fought shootout loss yesterday while Florida was inactive, not to mention Lyon being in net will likely play a major role in this tilt. I think the Panthers earn two points today.
With three goals in the first period, the Washington Capitals beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-2 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
The Caps wasted no time in taking control of this game. With D Travis Dermott in the penalty box for holding F Jay Beagle at the 2:43 mark, Second Star of the Game F Evgeny Kuznetsov (Third Star C Nicklas Backstrom and First Star D John Carlson) scored a wrist shot only 67 seconds later to give Washington an early edge. Though F Zach Hyman (D Roman Polak) was able to level the game for Toronto only 1:30 later, an W Alex Ovechkin (RW Tom Wilson and Backstrom) wrister at the 6:19 mark gave Washington a lead it would not yield for the rest of the night.
That fact was cemented with 3:40 remaining in the first period when Backstrom (Kuznetsov and Carlson) scored what proved to be the game-winning goal. After F Dominic Moore earned himself a delay of game penalty at the 15:28 mark for launching the puck over the glass, Backstrom dug out a wrister in the crease to give Washington a 3-1 advantage.
For those wondering, the Capitals’ power play converted both its opportunities tonight, further proving it deserves every bit of its ranking as fifth-best after converting 22.5 percent on the season.
At the 7:22 mark of the second period, C Nazem Kadri (F Patrick Marleau and Dermott) scored a wrister to pull the Maple Leafs back within a goal, but Carlson’s (F Chandler Stephenson and Beagle) wrister only 43 seconds later returned an insurance goal to Washington’s back pocket. LW Jakub Vrana (Kuznetsov and D Dmitry Orlov) cleaned up the game’s scoring with 9:11 remaining in the second frame, scoring a wrister to set the 5-2 final score.
G Braden Holtby earned the victory after saving 27-of-29 shots faced (.931 save percentage), leaving the loss to G Frederik Andersen, who saved 20-of-25 (.8). At the whistle following Vrana’s goal, Andersen was lifted in favor of G Curtis McElhinney, who saved all nine shots he faced in 28:49 of action for no decision.
To be the home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series is to be a winner lately. The 78-47-19 hosts have won their fourth-straight in the series, taking a 26-point advantage over the roadies.
That adventure to Asia yesterday was excellent, but there’s more hockey to be watched today.
At 7:10 a.m. Eastern time this morning, the Team USA women took on the OAR in Group A play. Needing a regulation victory to keep pace with the Canadians, the Americans shutout OAR 5-0.
Meanwhile, the NHL is still going strong in North America. Today’s action begins at 7 p.m. with six games (Calgary at Boston [TVAS], Tampa Bay at Buffalo, Columbus at the New York Islanders, New Jersey at Philadelphia, Ottawa at Pittsburgh [RDS] and Los Angeles at Carolina), followed half an hour later by Anaheim at Detroit. Next up is a pair of tilts (St. Louis at Nashville and the New York Rangers at Minnesota) at 8 p.m., trailed by Washington at Winnipeg 30 minutes later. The final wave of games starts at 10 p.m. when Chicago visits Vegas, with tonight’s nightcap – Arizona at San Jose – dropping the puck only half an hour after. All times Eastern.
Back in South Korea, Group B of the women’s tournament will complete play this evening when Sweden takes on Switzerland at 10:10 p.m., followed by the unified Koreans vs. Japan at 2:40 a.m. Wednesday morning. All times Eastern.
Here’s just a few of the games that are drawing my eye:
- New Jersey at Philadelphia: The Battle of the Turnpikes is even more important when these teams are battling for playoff positioning!
- Ottawa at Pittsburgh: It’s a rematch of the Eastern Conference Finals from a season ago!
- Anaheim at Detroit: Back when the Red Wings were in the Western Conference, this was quite the nasty rivalry.
- St. Louis at Nashville: Another playoff rematch, this one from the Western Semifinals.
- Sweden vs. Switzerland: Which team will win Group B of the women’s Olympic tournament? This game will determine just that.
- Korea vs. Japan: The unified hosts are still looking for their first win. Is this the night?
Of all of those, there’s two games that stand out the most. Let’s make the trip to Broad Street to a big battle in the Metropolitan Division.
Starting with the visiting 27-20-8 Devils, who are currently the top wild card in the Eastern Conference, we find a team that has had a rough go of things lately. In its past four games, New Jersey has failed to register even one point in the standings, losing the tilts by a combined 19-9 score.
The biggest difference between these Devils and the club that exploded into the playoff picture at the beginning of the season is the fact that 17-11-6 G Cory Schneider is occupying a seat in the press box instead of the Jersey crease.
While he’s been out with a groin injury, that’s also meant the Devils haven’t had his .913 season save percentage and 2.79 GAA at their disposal, and that’s been a major problem. While 10-7-2 G Keith Kinkaid has been impressive in his sporadic time this season, assuming starting duties in Schneider’s stead since he went down has not been a success. Kinkaid has started three of Jersey’s four games, posting a measly .863 save percentage and 5.29 GAA for an 0-3-0 record in that time.
However, Kinkaid doesn’t have to shoulder all of the blame, as his defense has not been doing him many favors. Even with F Blake Coleman (3.3 hits per game since February 6), D Andy Greene (2.5 blocks per game in his last four showings) and C Pavel Zacha‘s (team-leading three takeaways over this run) trying their hardest, New Jersey has allowed a 12th-worst 33.5 shots against per game in its last four, well above their its season average of 31.6.
Between Kinkaid and his defense, New Jersey has allowed an average of 4.75 goals per game since February 6, the second-worst effort in the league in that time.
Making matters even worse, the Devils’ offense has also struggled mightily of late, scoring a second-worst 2.25 goals per game since February 6.
What had made Jersey’s attack so successful earlier in the season was, among other things, the involvement of blueliner Will Butcher (2-28-30 season totals) on the offensive end. Whether it’s him paying more attention to the defensive end with Schneider out or simply an unfortunate scoring slump, Butcher has only provided one assist over the past four games – well off his pace of registering .55 points per game.
But he’s not the only one in a slump. Only four Devils have registered more than one point in their last four games, led by F Taylor Hall (3-3-6 since February 6, 21-36-57 overall) and W Kyle Palmieri (3-1-4 since February 6, 13-11-24 overall) averaging at least a point per game from the first line. Butcher can only earn assists when his forwards find the back of the net, so that puts the pressure on Hall, LW Miles Wood (15-9-24 totals) and Palmieri to complete plays.
Meanwhile, the 28-19-9 Flyers are among the hottest teams in the league right now having posted a four-game winning streak and five-game point streak, and they’ve ridden that energy into third place in the Metropolitan Division.
Elliott has started three of Philly’s last five games, earning a 2-0-0 record with a .916 save percentage and 2.21 GAA. The reason he doesn’t have the same number of results as starts is because he suffered a lower-body injury February 10 during the shootout in Arizona.
Enter Neuvirth, who became the first goaltender in NHL history to win a shootout after entering midway (per Craig Morgan of NHL.com) and has since assumed starting responsibilities while Elliott has been on the mend. Unlike Kinkaid, who’s been thrust into a similar situation, Neuvirth has performed phenomenally in his three appearances, posting an incredible .978 save percentage for an unbelievable .72 GAA, improving his season marks to a .917 save percentage and 2.5 GAA.
As a result of Neuvirth’s – who’ll be in net tonight – amazing performance, the Flyers have allowed an average of only 2.2 goals against per game since February 3, the (t)third-best effort in the NHL in that time.
Though the season series between these clubs began only a month ago, this is their fourth and final (barring a playoff matchup) meeting of the year. The Flyers took the opening two tilts, winning January 13 in New Jersey 5-3 (C Sean Couturier took First Star honors with a two-goal, three point night) and January 20 in Philly 3-1 (D Shayne Gostisbehere was the First Star). However, a 4-3 home victory by the Devils on February 1 (C Nico Hischier provided the game-winning goal with 1:27 remaining in regulation) has set them up with an opportunity to tie the series with a regulation win tonight.
Considering the Flyers are one of, if not the hottest team in the league, it’s hard to pick against them. Jersey’s offense will need to come alive for the Devils to even have a chance at earning a point tonight.
The Team Canada women dominated Finland in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, winning 4-1 at Kwandong Hockey Centre.
The Canadians needed only 35 seconds to take a 1-0 lead. Meghan Agosta (Melodie Daoust) took credit for that tally, her first of the tournament. Canada found its winner 16:36 later, as Marie-Philip Poulin intercepted an errant Finnish pass and proceeded to tuck a backhanded shot underneath the crossbar. The play happened so quickly that the officials actually revoked the tally after their initial look, but video review proved that the captain had successfully beaten G Noora Raty.
Two goals were scored in the second period, and once again they both belonged to the team in black sweaters. Daoust (Laura Fortino and Agosta) registered the first at the 8:19 mark of the frame, followed 10:07 later by Jillian Saulnier’s (Rebecca Johnston) first Olympic goal.
Finland finally got on the scoreboard at the 7:17 mark of the third period with a tally from Riikka Valila (Susanna Tapani and Michelle Karvinen), but the comeback effort was too little, too late to make any real impact on this game.
G Shannon Szabados earned the victory after saving 22-of-23 shots faced (.957 save percentage), leaving the loss to Raty, who saved 28-of-32 (.875).
With Canada wearing its colored uniforms, it was officially the road team in this morning’s tilt. That means the roadies in the DtFR Game of the Day series have pulled within 23 points of the 68-41-16 hosts.