The Philadelphia Flyers are ready to take on the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the first battle of Pennsylvania this season. Philadelphia is in the midst of their work stretch of hockey in the longest while. Seven-consecutive losses have fans on the edge of their seats ready for moves to be made. Let’s take a look at the projected lines, pairings, and things to watch for this evening in Pittsburgh.
A chance to grab meaningful points
As the Flyers continue their Eastern Conference schedule, the points will eventually add up. Points lost, points won, points never earned. They played well enough to earn four points against the Islanders, but coughed up goals in the latter minutes of regulation to end up losing two additional points. That isn’t going to cut it for Philadelphia, who is chasing Pittsburgh at the moment for the final wild card spot in late November. Pittsburgh will eventually figure it out and grab points along the way. The Flyers need to come out with a lot of jump and play solid two-way hockey to get themselves a much-needed, very-important two points against a Metropolitan Division opponent on Monday night.
Trying time for the organization
There is a glaring miscommunication between the fanbase and the organization at the moment. Fans, beat writers, and analysts have questioned some of the decision making from the head honcho behind the bench. But it doesn’t all fall on him. Dave Hakstol is indeed Ron Hextall’s guy. He’s here to help grow young talent and help them develop along the way, while trying to compete as well. Part of the blame should go on Hextall as well. From day one of his time in Philadelphia, Hextall told fans that it was going to be a long, winding process that would take at least five seasons to get where they need to be.
In year three, it’s been mayhem across the board. A lot may have to do with the success of other teams across the four-major sports in Philadelphia, but it doesn’t justify some of the criticism. Winning cures all. The Flyers were 4-2 at one point this season and scoring at will. Things were great, small holes in coaching decisions were overlooked, and there was less criticism of player performance. But, that’s the thing. Winning does cure all. Losing has magnified those small holes in the coaching scheme, the questionable lineup decisions, the unwillingness to recall young forwards and defensemen in favor of older, less-talented veterans.
Hakstol seems to be grasping at straws to try and get the youngest Flyers team in the last decade to clean up a lot of the miscues and learn from their mistakes, but things have boiled over to a seven-game losing streak. It could only be a matter of time before things go right, but it could also spiral into the opposite direction, leaving the Flyers back at step one. The Orange and Black were in the midst of a 10-game winning streak at this point last season, but their miscues and lack of scoring left them out of the playoff picture. The same inefficiencies have them in a seven-game rut at the moment and they’re trying all the can to fix something. Because before long, it’ll all be over earlier than they wanted it to be.
Dave Hakstol is grasping for straws trying to get the Flyers on the winning track. The craziest thing from the last seven games is that the Flyers have played well enough from an analytical standpoint to actually win all seven games. Despite the anomaly from a statistical point of view, the Flyers have really been struggling playing two-way defense. They’ve been lazy and caught puck-watching on more than one occasion. The forwards have been very pass-happy and haven’t really done much outside of the top line of Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, and Sean Couturier. The top trio have been incredible to this point of the season, but there hasn’t been much else.
On Friday the Flyers saw Danick Martel and Nolan Patrick thrive with Wayne Simmonds. That group is going to be together on Monday once again. Grit behind the net, a shoot-first mentality, and physical play in front of the net have given this line many scoring chances to build off of. Martel’s spark in the lineup has really been a good addition for Hakstol’s club.
With that being said, young players like Taylor Leier and Jordan Weal haven’t played to what their expectations were. Leier was taken off the penalty kill on Friday and is expected to sit on Monday. Weal has come back down to earth this season after a fantastic finale to 2016-17. He’s been given fourth-line minutes and now is going to be a healthy scratch. Jori Lehtera and Dale Weise will take their places in the lineup and on that fourth line. While Weise and Lehtera are by no means the greatest players in the league, Hakstol believes that they are going to help him against the Penguins. The Flyers are a significantly slower team with both of those veterans in the lineup. Hakstol wants to go with the veteran experience over the young guns on Monday.
Projected forward lines
Claude Giroux – Sean Couturier – Jake Voracek
Danick Martel – Nolan Patrick – Wayne Simmonds
Michael Raffl – Valtteri Filppula – Travis Konecny
Return of the Mac
Andrew MacDonald is expected to return to the lineup after missing a month with a lower-body injury from blocking a shot off his leg. MacDonald’s return to the lineup means that the defense pairings are going to be jumbled once again. Robert Hagg did an okay job playing with Ivan Provorov on the top pair, but he’ll move back down to play alongside Shayne Gostisbehere. Hagg and Ghost were one of the team’s best pairings in the first few weeks of the season.
MacDonald’s return also pushes out Sam Morin, who made his season debut against the Islanders. Morin didn’t stand out and did make a good amount of mistakes, but MacDonald wasn’t going to play for Morin. Morin is being benched for Brandon Manning, who Hakstol has been giving more opportunities to in the last few weeks. Morin will likely be sent back down to Lehigh Valley and play 20-plus minutes a night, rather than sit in place of MacDonald and Manning. Travis Sanheim, who is still improving as the season goes along, has had some miscues in his own end and will slot alongside Manning on the third pairing.
Projected defensive pairs
Shayne Gostisbehere –Robert Hägg
Travis Sanheim – Brandon Manning
Suspended: Radko Gudas
Elliott being left out to dry
Brian Elliott has had some of the worst luck this season. His team has let him out to dry on multiple occasions and has allowed opponents to get back into the game. Elliott has played very well for the Flyers during this seven-game stretch and should be the starter on Monday. Michal Neuvirth will likely play on Tuesday against the Sharks or the Bruins this Saturday.
Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. in Pittsburgh.
Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images
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