Hockey

At long last, sweet release is drawing nearer. There are only 3 games remaining in this utter nightmare abomination of a season, and not a moment too soon. There is nothing left to learn or discern from any of this, especially now that for some reason Lukas Reichel is setting Rockford rookie scoring records while ALSO having burned the first year of his contract. Truly impressive on a lot of fronts.

Hockey

Well, at least the Witching Hour of the trade deadline drawing nearer feels to have a bit of purpose with Kyle Davidson permanently installed as the General Manager with his interim tag lifted. And now he’ll get the opportunity to really show what his vision for this team is, and he quickly did so by jettisoning part of the pro scouting department, which always seemed to land on players that had previously been in the organ-I-zation but couldn’t play dead. Of course, this now begs the question why both Henrik Borgstrom and Erik Gustafsson sat all three of these games if they are out of favor with the team and are trade candidates with scouts in attendance nightly and the Hawks playing for exactly fuckall with 25 games still to go. Maybe Kyle’s still just getting the hang of this thing.

Hockey

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RECORDS: Flyers 3-3-1   Hawks 2-3-2

PUCK DROP: 7:30PM CDT
TV/RADIO: NBC Sports Chicago, ESPN+, WGN-AM 720
BAM, LEAVE YOUR FATHER ALONE: Broad St. Hockey

The homestand at the United Center turns down the final stretch for the Hawks with tonight being the 6th of their seven straight on West Madison, and they’ll welcome their Prague travel mates the Philadelphia Flyers, wrapping up the season series between the two of them before the calendar hits November in another brilliant bit of NHL scheduling.

Since returning home from Europe, things have been back and forth for the Cold Ones, at one point losing four straight (three in regulation), and did so on a Western Canadian swing to boot, so at least they have a plausible travel excuse for their uneven play to this point. Most recently they pretty easily disposed of the Knights on Monday night prior to Vegas being here, though they did so early and often on Oscar Dansk appearing in his first NHL game in two years. Regardless, points in October and against overmatched goalies still count, and the Flyers are going to need every win they can get in a suddenly ultra competitive Metropolitan Division.

While Carter Hart hasn’t gotten off to a fantastic start (.907 at evens, .890 overall), which also included getting the hook in a 6-3 ass waxing in Edmonton, he’s going to get the bulk of the starts in net even if The Terminal Case Of Brian Elliott has been solid in his two starts. If the long term goal is to finally develop a stable goaltending presence in Philly, Hart is going to have to work through some of this stuff, and Alain Vigneault and the Flyera brass will have to resist the temptation of chasing spurious playoff hopes behind the aging and always flattering-to-deceive Elliott. It will he Hart’s net tonight, based on reports from the Flyers’ skate.

In front of him, AV seems to have figured out his defensive pairings with all three of them solidly in the black. Ivan Provorov is the defacto #1 here, at least when pointed towards the other net, though he’s not totally helpless in his own end. He’s paired with Matt Niskanen, whose cowboy days are probably over, but is still smart enough with the puck to keep things moving. Shayne Gostisbehere has been relegated to the third pairing with Robert Hagg, and getting the choice zone starts and matchups has helped give the Flyers push on all three pairings. That’s been possible with the emergence of Travis Sanheim as a legit top-4 defenseman, and he’s baby sat by Justin Braun on the second pairing.

Up front, the Flyers have been jumbling things around recently, and they at least worked against Vegas for a night fairly solidly. Claude Giroux has moved back to the middle with his familiar running mate Jakub Voracek on his right and JVR on his left. Neither Giroux or JVR have scored yet this year, but they’re both certainly in a position to break that bubble given how that line is constructed. Sean Couturier slots behind Giroux and will take whatever AV deems as the toughest matchup on a nightly basis. He’ll have Travis Koneckny on his right, who hasn’t stopped scoring since game 1 in Prague, and leads the team with 10 points. Oscar Lindblom is on the opposite side, and as a unit this line is currently sporting a 65 share of attempts in 50 minutes of even strength time together. Offseason acquisition Kevin “Captain Stairwell” Hayes has found himself as the third center already, which is probably where he ideally slots in on a good team anyway regardless of his paycheck. 2018 first rounder Joel Farabee is ahead of schedule on Hayes’ wing, and made his NHL debut against Vegas on Monday. Chris Stewart somehow caught on to the Flyers’ roster on a PTO, so he and Michael Raffl will assuredly contribute a very irritating goal at some point this evening from the fourth line.

As for the Men of Four Feathers, though the process against a better Vegas team on Tuesday was quite solid for 58 minutes, the results still need to be there, and Coach Kelvin Gemstone will now have to do some regrouping of things now that once again Connor Murphy is having crotch issues. With Murphy out, Slater Koekkoek will get his spot in the lineup, and Dennis “I Have The Name Of A Grandfather” Gilbert has been recalled to take the roster spot. Given the tools available, moving Calvin de Haan to the right side with Duncan Keith is about the only reasonable move here, as de Haan’s game is equally as positionally sound as Murphy’s though not quite as mobile. The hope is that trust can still be maintained from Keith, who has looked sprightly in cutting off entry attempts at his own blue line since being paired with Murphy, reminiscent of four or five years ago. Olli Maata will continue to bail water for Brent Seabrook, the only pairing that will remain unchanged. Koekkoek will play with Erik Gustafsson, whose play in a contract year has been unbelievably bad. Viewers at home with leftover pairs of eclipse glasses from two summers ago would be wise to throw those on when these two are out there.

The forward lines for the Hawks will stay the same, and while these groups haven’t been offensively bad at any juncture, they’re certainly not getting home as much as they need to. Alex DeBrincat is fighting it for the first time in his young career, and as was covered on the podcast last night, he’s still within the margins of getting his normal looks/attempts/chances, so it could be just a case of being snake bitten. But ADB is one of two “bad shot makers” that the Hawks have, and if it one of them isn’t finishing, then the results look like they have so far this season. That’s not likely to change tonight, as Coach Vinny Del Colliton would be very wise to keep Kirby Dach away from Coots as much as his humanly possible before he extinguishes any desire the rookie might have in continuing a career in the sport. Robin Lehner gets the net again tonight after another strong performance, though let it be said that Corey Crawford hasn’t exactly been benched, as Crow currently has a .930 mark at even strength, but the .615 while shorthanded might just be torpedoing that a little bit, and SHOULD rebound a little the longer the season progresses.

Alain Vigneault might be a lot of things (a penis and a crybaby for starters), but he’s not a moron, and he basically pioneered the usage of drastically unbalanced zone starts in Vancouver, and he has such a weapon in Couturier now here in Philadelphia. This stretch at home has shown that Beto O’Colliton is at least willing to get elbow deep into matchups when he’s got last change, but tonight he’ll be playing chess against a guy who has a lot more experience in doing so. There are matchups to be found against this Flyers bottom six, but he’ll need to be diligent in finding them. And stay out of the goddamn box (looking at you, 65). Let’s go Hawks.

Everything Else

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Game Time: 12:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, NHL Network, WGN-AM 720
The Gang Welshes On A Bet: Broad St. Hockey 

With the first game of the Jeremy Colliton Era under the Hawks’ belt in less than thilling fashion, the team leaves for the East Coast for a two-game Metro Division swing. The Hawks find a team in the Flyers who could probably use the recently departed Joel Quenneville’s services.

Everything Else

For the longest time under the stewardship of Bobby Clarke and Paul Holmgren, the Flyera simply threw good money after bad in always chasing the name brand free agents and trade targets in search of a Cup that has eluded the franchise since 1975. But under the leadership of notorious red-ass as a player Ron Hextall, the team has taken a much longer view and trying to actually build consistent winner from scratch. The results so far have been middling, but at least it’s been consistent in its vision. But this team’s psychopath fanbase isn’t going to be particularly patient with a non-linear progression. To conclude, the Flyers are a land of contrasts.

’17-’18: 42W-26L-14OT 98PTS 251GF 243GA 20.7%PP 75.8%PK 49.7%CF 7.83%SH .9245%SV

Goaltending: The same way that Bears fans wouldn’t know solid quarterbacking if it bit them in the nuts, there has been an institutional bungling of goaltending by the Philadelphia Flyers for generations. They even had a future multi-Vezina winning netminder in their system in Sergei Bobrovsky, but of course traded him for a big bag of bullshit to Columbus. Which brings things to the present day where the crease is entrusted to Brian Elliott and Michael Neuvirth, two “1B” goalies in their 30s who have wilted either under expanded workloads or not having lock-down systems in front of them. Things got so bad last year that the team acquired the completely broken Petr Mrazek and promptly let him walk at the end of the year. Elliott was the defacto #1 getting 42 starts and throwing up an unacceptable .909 overall with a slightly more respectable .926 at even, but an .812 on the PK which dragged things down. Special teams numbers can spike both ways for factors outside of a goalie’s control, but at 33, Elliott kind of is what he’s always been, which is certainly not a long term solution. Neuvirth had a similar disparity in his numbers (.915 overall, .934 evens, .810 PK), so it does speak to something systemic with the Flyer’s penalty kill. Either way, even if these two stay around this level and the PK picks things up, there’s not a lot here to make anyone a long term believer, particularly with Carter Hart waiting to assume the starter’s spot in Lehigh Valley should one or both piss their pants.

Defensemen: On the Flyera blue line, there are certainly some foundational pieces here in Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gosthisbere, but what their respective roles are going to be once this team intends on mattering again remains to be seen. While Ghost’s offensive and possession numbers are all impressive and what a puck mover should put up in the modern NHL, he’s still a bit of a turnstyle in his own end and will need some manner of protection in the form of a center-field type partner, optimized zone starts, or both. Provorov’s possession rate is basically directly at the team’s while playing much harder minutes all while still putting up 40 points from the back end. And with the likes of likely future war criminal Radko Gudas and the perpetually hurt or bad or both Andrew MacDonald complimenting these two young defensemen, it does not appear that there are any long term solutions currently in the organization, and leading to an unbalanced group.

Forwards: Claude Giroux had 102 points last year and Jakub Voracek had 85, and absolutely no one gave a shit. Moving Sean Coutourier and his two way abilities to the #1 center role and in turn moving Giroux to freestyle a little more on the wing certainly had everyone reaping the rewards, as Coots himself had 76 points along with devouring the souls of whatever center he drew as an assignment on a nightly basis. But doing so drastically altered the Flyers’ center depth to the point where they actually had to rely on any kind of contributions from the now departed Valteri Filppula and Finnish punchline Jori Lehtera down the middle. They haven’t done much to address the issue over the off season, as bringing back prodigal son James van Riemsdyk certainly gives them another rugged set of hands on the wing along with Meat Train Wayne Simmonds, so it will be necessary for Travis Konecny to take the next step and spend more time in the middle.

Outlook: Much like the Devils across the River, the Cold Ones probably did themselves more harm than good by making the playoffs last year only to promptly go home, as they would have been better served getting into the lottery. But with their top point-getters all right around 30, another development year might not have been the best route either. So Ron might have to get a little spicy and trade some franchise cornerstones to restock the system and fully start over should things sputter a bit, because the development arcs of their kids and the aging curves of their vets don’t sync up.

 

Previous Team Previews

Detroit Red Wings

Buffalo Sabres

Boston Bruins

Florida Panthers

Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

Tampa Bay Lightning

Toronto Maple Leafs

Carolina Hurricanes

Columbus Blue Jackets

New Jersey Devils

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Everything Else

We now move to the eastern portion of Pennsylvania, a state which answers the question “Hey, what if we had TWO St. Louises?”. An entire state arguing over which gas station has better food. A state so in love with college football that it is willing to overlook decades of systemic child abuse in the name of a statue. A state with the two most horrific English language accents imaginable. A state whose Appalachian hilljackery was the nail in the electoral coffin a year ago. And Philadelphia is its crown jewel, with the Flyers bearing no small responsibility in fueling the city’s long standing sports psychosis. And based on their current trajectory, the Flyera aren’t going ameliorate that any time soon despite there kind of being a plan.

Everything Else

250px-Ozymandias @ phily-cheez-whiz

Game Time: Noon CST
TV:/Radio: CSN, SportsNet, WGN-AM 720
Travis Hughes Sucks, He Never Settled The Bet: Broad Street Hockey

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flyers-lineup-card

For some obtuse reason, the Hawks travel to the armpit of the East Coast for a matinee in South Philly this reason. Normally these nooners take place after the Super Bowl and on NBC, but for some reason this one is only on the local outlets in the States. And because it’s a prime weekend matchup, the Flyera will more than likely be wearing their god-awful gold-trimmed 50th anniversary sweaters. But hey, home whites are home whites.

Everything Else

philadelphia flyers spectrum vs evil empire

Game Time: 7:00PM
TV/Radio: NBCSN, TVA-S, SportsNet 1, WGN-AM 720
Stare Into The Lion’s Eyes: Broad St. Hockey

As the above headline will indicate, Flyers Twitter is a weird and amusing place to dwell in for even a short amount of time. Perhaps it’s their championship drought despite having numerous good to great teams over the last 40 years that’s driven them batty, or their often times confounding management. Or maybe it’s the fact that by and large those fans live in a dyspeptic cracker hellscape of a state with two of the most abhorrent accents in any English dialect; a place that until recently had a legitimate thoroughfare officially labeled on maps as “The Road To Nowhere”. And of course, Travis fucking Hughes still hasn’t paid us our cheesesteaks going on six years later.

And those denizens have had plenty to be excited about lately as the Flyers have unexpectedly surged into the playoff conversation in the Eastern Conference.