The Philadelphia Flyers (13-14-3) finish off their six game road trip on Wednesday night in Chicago against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks (22-6-5). The Blackhawks have the most points in the NHL (49) and are considered one the best, if not the best, teams in the league. No matter how the Flyers do tonight, they will need to forget about it quickly as they travel back home to play the Canadiens tomorrow night. Tonight’s game is at 8:00pm and will be televised nationally on NBC Sports Network. Philly fans located in Chicago can find Flyers @ Blackhawks tickets here.
Thus far the Flyers have gone 2-2-1 on their road trip. They have looked dominant during portions of this trip (third period against the Red Wings) and down right awful during other portions (second period against the Stars). Their slow defense has looked even worse against quick teams like Dallas and Ottawa. The Flyers will have their hands full against all world players like Kane, Toews, Keith, and Seabrook tonight.
The Chicago Blackhawks are quite possibly the most feared team in the NHL today. They have the top defense pair in the league (I give Keith and Seabrook the nod over Pietrangelo and Bouwmeester over in St. Louis and Subban and Markov in Montreal, but it’s close). Their forwards are lethal. There is almost no weakness in their game. Their penalty kill is 28th in the NHL at 74.7%, but that is hardly a weakness when they only average 8:30 in PIM/game (The Flyers average over 17:30 in PIM/game). The Blackhawks trampled the Stars last night 6-2 and Patrick Kane’s 40 points are twice as many as that of the Flyers top scorer, Claude Giroux, who has 20.
So with most people writing the Flyers off, what do they have to do to win tonight? Here are my keys to the game:
-Take advantage of rest. The Blackhawks played last night. More importantly, their back up goalie, Antti Raanta (starter Corey Crawford is out with an injury), played last night. Raanta is 4-0-1 this season with a .924 SV% and a 2.14 GAA, so he is no ordinary back up. But he, along with the rest of the team, played last night in Dallas and had to travel back to Chicago. The Flyers practiced in Chicago yesterday and should be the more rested team.
-Skate, Skate, Skate. The Flyers line up is not full of good skaters, especially on the blueline. The Flyers will need their stay-at-home defensemen like Grossmann and Schenn to be up on their skates while their older defensemen like Timonen and Streit will need to find an extra gear. At times this season each of those players has shown an ability to skate better, but those times have been few an far between. They will all need to be skating well tonight if they want to upset the defending champs. The Blackhawks are the highest scoring team in the NHL, in part because they are always skating and keeping their legs moving. The Flyers may want to do the same.
-Razor Ray. Ray Emery, who was a part of the Blackhawks last season, will be the starter for the Flyers. He is 3-5 on the year with a .908 SV% and a 2.62 GAA. However, he has gone 0-2 after being hung out to dry in his last two starts. His last start was against the Minnesota Wild, in a game in which he held a shutout through the first two periods. His goal support has been atrocious. The Flyers have scored 12 goals in his eight starts this season. Emery has been solid for the Flyers and he will need to be sharp tonight.
-Captain Claude. Over the course of the road trip, and even before the trip, the Flyers best line has been their “third line” of Matt Read – Sean Couturier – Steve Downie. The line of Scott Hartnell – Claude Giroux – Jakub Voracek has been relatively silent lately. They need to be the catalyst tonight. Flyers fans have seen the energy Giroux can bring to the line up when he takes control of games. His amazing first shift in game 6 of the ECQF in 2012 propelled the team to a huge win and, to a lesser extent, his first goal of this season against EDM seemed to spark an offensive outburst. The Flyers need their captain to lead them tonight.
-Tye McGinn is ill and will not play tonight, but he remains with the team.
-The Flyers still only sit 3 points out of a playoff spot in the East.
-Vincent Lecavalier remains out of the line up with his back injury.
-Mark Streit turns 36 today. He could make it a great birthday by not turning the puck over.