This weekend the Philadelphia Flyers made a statement. Even without Chris Kunitz, James Neal, and Kris Letang the Pittsburgh Penguins are still a dangerous opponent. They still have two of the best hockey players in the world in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and the Flyers shut both of those players down en route to a weekend sweep of their arch rival.
The two weekend games showed us a lot, but the upcoming week will tell us more. Through next Monday, the Flyers face the Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues, and Los Angeles Kings. It is one thing to be the superior team against a beat up division rival, it is another thing to go head to head against the leagues best teams night after night.
First up, the Chicago Blackhawks. The Flyers first meeting against the Hawks was ugly. After heading into the first intermission up 1-0, the Flyers were outscored 5-1 in the second period. The Blackhawks scored two goals in the third period to skate off with a 7-2 victory. If there was any suspicision earlier in the season that this team is ready to defend their title, it’s gone now. The Blackhawks are 4-1 in there last five games against the Eastern Conference, including a 5-1 dismantling of the Pittsburgh Penguins on national television and a 6-1 beating of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Simply put, Tuesday night will be a much tougher test than the two games this weekend.
Next, the Flyers welcome the Dallas Stars. If you looked at the four upcoming games listed above and thought that this game is a sure win, think again. Who can forget the first time these two teams met? Zac Rinaldo taking 27 minutes worth of penalties in :04 of ice time? The Flyers spending almost half of the first period on the PK (yet going into the first intermission leading 1-0)? Being utterly embarrased by Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Valeri Nichushkin? Yep, it was all there. The Dallas Stars are a very good team with some very solid players. Tyler Seguin leads the team in scoring, 30G and 39A, and is tied with Claude Giroux (69pts each) for fourth in the NHL in scoring.
One final note on the Stars: they will be just as desperate as the Flyers. The Stars sit in the final Wild Card playoff spot in the Western Conference and need every point. Expect Thursday night to be war.
On Saturday afternoon the Flyers take on the St. Louis Blues for the first time this season. The Blues are possibly the most complete team in the NHL. They have smart forwards like T.J. Oshie, David Backes, Alexander Steen, and Jaden Schwartz, they boast one of the best defensive units in the NHL with Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, and Kevin Shattenkirk, and they now have a world class goaltender in Ryan Miller. The Blues hold the best record in the NHL, 46-14-7 (99pts), and may be the Flyers toughest test of the year.
Next Monday Mike Richards and Jeff Carter will return to the Wells Fargo Center for the first time together as the Flyers take on the LA Kings. The Kings are comfortably in playoff position and are the league’s best possession team. However, the Flyers went into LA earlier in the season and pulled out a victory. At that time, the Kings were going through a severe scoring drought. They have found their scoring touch once again and are a very dangerous team.
I do not wish to take anything away from what the Flyers accomplished this past weekend. The Flyers shut down the second best team in the Eastern Conference both at home and away. But this season we have seen two Flyers teams. There is the team we saw on Saturday. The team that moves their feet. The team that plays rough, but does not take stupid penalties (unless you’re Steve Downie). We’ve seen this team shut down the Ottawa Senators to the tune of a 5-0 win, playing a virtually flawless 60 minutes.
We have also seen the team that gets whipped 7-0 on their home ice by the Washington Capitals. The team that plays one solid period only to get torn to pieces in the second period (12/7 vs. DAL, 12/11 vs. CHI, and 2/27 vs. SJS). The team that lets one mistake lead to another. The team that takes stupid penalties and can’t keep their feet moving.
So which team will show up this week?
Can the Flyers earn enough points this week to stay in the playoff race? Yes.
Will they earn enough points to stay in the playoff race? Well, we’ll know in about a week.