Huh, not used to saying good times and Flyers in the same sentence in a serious manner.
After a thrilling yet oh-so annoying overtime win vs. Arizona on Thursday night, the Flyers look to win two in a row over the Chicago Blackhawks in today’s Saturday matinee. In their last five games, the Flyers have acquired nine out of a possible 10 points and all of a sudden sit just two points out of a tie for first in the Metropolitan Division. Sure, that is mostly due to the sheer lack of competence in the Metro, but hey, we’ll take what we can get.
The Hawks, meanwhile, are coming off firing their longtime head coach Joel Quenneville, and a 4-3 loss at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes. Chicago’s current state of transition would seemingly make the Flyers the favorites in this one, but with this team, one can never really know. The Hawks still have plenty of offensive firepower with the likes of Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, and of course their captain in Jonathan Toews. Chicago sits second to last in the Western Conference at the moment, but only have two fewer points than the Flyers. Early season hockey, folks.
Now, let’s take a look at what the Flyers can do to quite possibly be in a tie for first in the division, by the end of today.
1. Exploit Chicago’s defense
During their three cups from 2010-2015, one of the major points of emphasis for why the Hawks were so successful was their defense. In two out of their three cup winning seasons, they allowed the fewest goals in the league, with the other season allowing the fifth fewest. Last season however, the Hawks finished 22nd out of 31 teams in goals allowed and so far this season, they are 29th out of 31 teams. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are showing their age, and the Blackhawks do not have the quality depth defensemen they once excelled with. The goalies for Chicago in Corey Crawford and Cam Ward have certainly been poor, but their defense is doing them absolutely no favors.
The Chicago defense allows, needless to say, an incredibly high amount of high danger chances. They sit third worst in the league in high danger chances allowed according to Natural Stat Trick; only the Washington Capitals and Anaheim Ducks have allowed more. With the Flyers’ newfound propensity to generate offense from behind the net and in the high danger areas, this should be the plan of attack for Dave Hakstol’s club. Get the puck to the red area, boys.
2. Continue that very trend
Over their last five games, the Flyers have cleaned up in the high danger chances department. They’ve out-chanced their opponents 52-37 over this span and 16 of those 37 given up came in the first of the two straight vs. Arizona. Shot quality has definitely seen an uptick during this hot streak, and given how porous Chicago’s defense is, there should be no reason for that to stop today. If the Flyers are able to control the shot quality battle as they have done of late, this should be a cakewalk. The biggest issue for the Flyers, as is tradition, will be the goaltending. Brian Elliott came in relief of Calvin Pickard on Thursday and fared well, but Elliott has still been poor to start the season. And if he does not get the start, and Pickard plays again, well that means Pickard is starting which basically means your guess is as good as mine for how he plays.
The Flyers offense has been firing on all cylinders of late though, and have put themselves fifth in the league in goals for. This game has the real capability to turn into one of those barn burner kind of affairs, which would be fun but most likely rage inducing as well. Ah well, that’s basically the norm around here anyway, isn’t it?
3. Get pucks on net
Sure, winning the shot quality battle is going to be the more vital step of the process here. However, the Blackhawks have had absolutely no goaltending this year and it wouldn’t be the worst idea to get as many pucks on net as possible. Corey Crawford comes into today with a .904 save percentage, and his backup in Cam Ward comes in at a .887. These are two goalies who are for sure suffering from poor defense in front of them, but also not playing at the top of their games. Crawford getting the start would be clearly worse for the Flyers, especially given Ward’s not-so-great numbers against Philly. In his career vs. the Flyers, Ward is 12-12-6 with a .904 save percentage.
Regardless, the Hawks are allowing the seventh most shots in the league and the Flyers should look to get them further up (more like further down) the totem pole. What we hopefully don’t see, is the typical Flyers overthinking mentality at home against teams who allow a lot of goals. When a team’s defense and goalies are struggling, it’s never a bad idea to get pucks on net. The Flyers need to be aware of that heading into today’s game.
Flyers Projected Lineup
Giroux — Couturier — Konecny
Lindblom — Patrick — Voracek
Weise — Weal — Simmonds
Laughton — Lehtera — Aube-Kubel
Provorov — Hagg
Gostisbehere — Folin
Sanheim — Gudas
Stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, hockey-reference, graphic courtesy of hockeyviz