Quick Hits: Feb 27, 2020
1) Followed a pre-scheduled off-day on Wednesday, the Philadelphia Flyers return to the ice at the Skate Zone in Voorhees on Thursday to practice in preparation for Friday's game at the Wells Fargo Center against the recently red-hot New York Rangers (four straight wins, 8-2-0 in their last 10 games). The Flyers, 22-5-4 on home ice this season, have also won four in a row overall and seven of their last 10 games.
The Flyers have not often been the beneficiary of a fatigue-factor advantage on their schedule, but they'll have one going into Friday's game. While the Flyers are idle on Thursday night and have been at home for the last week, the Rangers must travel to Montreal to play the Canadiens on Thursday and then head to Philadelphia.
On Saturday, the Flyers are scheduled to practice at the Skate Zone and then take an afternoon train to New York ahead of Sunday's nationally televised (NBC) noon-time game at Madison Square Garden. The Flyers are 1-0-0 against the Rangers to date this season, earning a 5-1 home win on Dec. 23, highlighted by a two-goal, three point game from Travis Sanheim, two goals from ex-Ranger Kevin Hayes and 34 saves by Carter Hart.
2) It will be interesting to see how Alain Vigneault handles the goaltending rotation in the home-and-home set. Last week, he used Hart at home and Brian Elliott on the road as the team swept a home-and-home (and the season series) with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
As has been mentioned ad nauseam, Hart has been phenomenal on home ice this season (17-2-2 record, 1.65 GAA, .941 SV%, 1 SO) but struggled on the road (3-10-1, 3.88 GAA, .855 SV%). It should be noted that Hart actually had slightly better road than home stats as a rookie last season, and this season's extreme splits are an abberation to his overall career history.
If the Flyers are to run with one goalie come playoff time, they will want to get Hart playing to a similar level on the road as at home. The team itself has been better on the road the last couple months but Hart's road starts have been sporadic: he's only started 14 of the team's 32 road games (plus three relief appearances).
Over the last few months, Elliott has been the primary road starter. For the season, he is 18-11-5 on the road, although his stats are pedestrian in their own right (3.10 GAA, .894 SV%, 1 SO) due to a handful of away games that got pretty ugly. At home, Elliott is 4-2-2 in eight starts, with a 2.42 GAA, .910 save percentage and one shutout.
Even before the beginning of training camp, Vigneault said his goaltending plan for the season was to split the starts in such a way that both goalies could stay sharp and then, as the playoffs drew near, to try to go with one starter. When is it time to shift gears? Will Vigneault stick, at least until for a few more weeks such a time that a playoff spot has been clinched, with the work load split that's been successful? Or will he make the switch now to give Hart more starts on the road to, hopefully, get some wins and put an end to the endless home-road questions that Hart gets asked weekly.
Of the season's remaining 19 games, the Flyers will play nine on the road and 10 at home. At some point, as long as Hart is the planned playoff starter, the acceleration of his road workload has to be made. First, however, he has to continue his home excellence and crank out a strong game in a rare Friday home game.
3) Special teams, even among the very best power plays and penalty kills in the NHL, are going to have their ups and down over the course of any season. The Flyers have been having some dual success of late on both ends of special teams.
The Flyers have pulled their overall power play success rate up to 20.5 percent (21.5 percent at home, 19.4 percent on the road). The penalty kill, which was stout early in the season and then dipped for awhile, has come back around. The trade deadline additions of Derek Grant and Nate Thompson can further help in that area. The Flyers PK is back up to 81.9 percent (85.1 percent at home, 78.7 percent on the road).
At five-on-five, the Flyers have a +8 team goal differential (137GF-129GA). At home, it's a stellar +31 (73GF-42GA) with the fewest goals allowed in the NHL. On the road, it's -23 (64GF-87GA) and the Flyers are tied with Detroit for the most goals allowed.
4) The post-deadline edition of Broadcasters' Roundtable podcast on Flyers Broadcast Network -- featuring Tim Saunders, Jim Jackson, Steve Coates, Chris Therien and myself -- is now available on FBN. Subscribe and listen here
5) The Flyers will have a very special guest at practice on Tuesday. In conjuction with the Make-a-Wish Foundation, the organization will host a 15-year-old cancer patient named Blake. The Manheim Central High School hockey player and diehard Flyers fan hails from Litiz, PA. He was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer on April 29, 2019.
It was Blake's wish to meet his favorite player, Claude Giroux, step on the ice with the Flyers and see a Flyers home game in person.
On Thursday, Blake will attend practice, visit the team’s locker room, eat lunch with the team, meet Giroux and Gritty, and then get some practice time in on the ice with some of the players. A locker stall will be set up for him in the Flyers' dressing room, where he will suit up in full uniform (including his name and number on his jersey), and participate in a skills session with Giroux and other players.
Afterwards, Flyers general manager, Chuck Fletcher, will meet in his office with Blake and sign him to an honorary one-day contract. The contract announcement will be released on Flyers social media and the team's official website, as would any official roster move.
On Friday, when the Flyers play the Rangers at the Wells Fargo Center, Blake will arrive where the players' do, enter the building through the players' entrance, arrive at a personalized locker stall and dress in uniform. He will then join the team in the tunnel before pregame warmups, and get a solo "rookie lap" on the ice before the rest of the team comes out. He will then watch the warmup from the home team bench.
Alain Vigneault will provide Blake with the team's starting lineup, which he will present to the officials. Finally, Blake will line up with the Flyers starters on the blueline as Lauren Hart sings the "Star Spangled Banner."
6) The Flyers Alumni have three big events upcoming over the next month:
* On March 13 at 2300 Arena in South Philadelphia, the Flyers Alumni will host the second annual Friday Night Fights. The FNF event, presented by David and Fill Financial, features a pre-dinner reception and open bar with the featured panelists and attending Flyers Alumni, a series of panel discussions, video highlights and entertainment emceed by hockey historian Liam Maguire, full dinner and dessert, and lots of old stories and laughs being shared in reminiscence over the old-school hockey days of the 1970s, 1980s and early-to-mid 1990s. Bill Clement will also host a segment.
The featured Flyers Alumni panelists include Dave Schultz, Dave Brown, Glen Cochrane, Bob Kelly and Jeremy Roenick. Panelists who represented rival teams include Joey Kocur, Marty McSorley, and Kelly Chase. Numerous Flyers Alumni who live in the Delaware Valley region will also attend The event starts at 6 p.m. ET.
VIP tickets are available through the 2300 Arena online box office
or by contacting Flyers Alumni Association director at 215-952-5946.
* On March 27, at the Ice Works Complex in Aston, the Flyers Alumni Team will play a double header against the Flyers Warriors (A-team and B-team rosters). Proceeds benefit the Philadelphia Flyers Warriors program. General admission tickets are $20 and VIP tickets are $100. The VIP package include a post-game meet-and-greet reception with the Flyers Alumni Team and a private enclosed viewing area for the game. Tickets are available here
* On March 28, the Flyers Alumni team -- featuring Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell, Adam Hall, Nick Schultz, both Watson brothers, John Druce, Riley Cote, Todd Fedoruk, Jesse Boulerice, Brad Marsh, Rob Zepp in goal and more -- will take on the Reading Royals Alumni at Santander Arena in Reading. Game time is 4 p.m. ET. Tickets start at just $14 and are can be purchased here
7) Speaking of the Reading Royals, the Flyers' ECHL affiliate skated to an 8-0 home blowout win over the (Comcast-Spectacor owned) Maine Mariners on Wednesday night. Max Willman, now under AHL contract through 2020-21 but assigned back to Reading earlier this week after the Flyers sent Joel Farabee and Connor Bunnaman to the AHL's Lehigh Valley Phantoms, had a monster game on Wednesday as he racked up a five-point performance (1g, 4a). Pascal Laberge also scored for Reading, and Matthew Strome had a goal and an assist. Felix Sandström recorded a 21-save shutout.
The Royals are in second place in the North Division, six points behind the Newfoundland Growlers and four points ahead of Maine.