Game 44 Preview: FLYERS vs. STARS
Interim head coach Scott Gordon's Philadelphia Flyers (15-22-6) are at home on Thursday to take on Jim Montgomery's Dallas Stars (23-17-4). Game time at the Wells Fargo Center is 7:00 p.m. ET.
The game will be televised on NBCSP. The radio broadcast can be found on 97.5 FM The Fanatic with an online simulcast at FlyersRadio247.com.
This is the first of two meetings this season between the interconference teams, and the lone game in Philadelphia. They will rematch in Dallas during the final week of the regular season; an April 2 game at the American Airlines Center.
Last season, both games between the teams went to overtime. Shayne Gostisbehere netted the power play game-winner at 3:50 of OT on Dec. 16, 2017 at the Wells Fargo Center. Alexander Radulov scored the OT winner in the rematch in Dallas on March 27, 2018.
The Flyers wake up on Thursday morning with the fewest points of any team in the NHL (35). They are 16 points plus tiebreaker disadvantages (so, in other words, 17 points) below the playoff cutoff line. The team drags an eight-game winless streak (0-6-2) into this game.
Realistically, it is too late to salvage this season from a playoff contention standpoint. Personnel changes are probably coming before the NHL trade deadline with additional ones likely during the offseason. That does not mean the Flyers players have nothing to play for the rest of the way. Over on the Flyers official website, I discussed three keys from an on-ice standpoint to navigating the road ahead
for the remainder of this season.
The Flyers enter this game coming off a 5-3 road loss to the Washington Capitals. Late goals by Wayne Simmonds and Claude Giroux got the game as close as 4-3 but the Flyers never really were back in the game due to a three-goal outburst by Washington in the second period. Two of the Caps goals resulted directly from Flyers miscues -- one on a risky puck exchange between Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux, the other a misplay on a penalty kill by goaltender Mike McKenna. Jakub Voracek scored for the Flyers in a 1-1 first period.
Look for 20-year-old rookie goaltender Carter Hart to get the start against Dallas on Thursday. He has played well so far in all but one of his starts, and deserved a better fate in recent losses to Calgary and St. Louis.
With the team having played three games in four nights, the Flyers had an off-day on Wednesday. They will hold a morning skate in Voorhees at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday.
The Flyers enter Thursday's game having allowed the third-fewest scoring chances in the NHL, according to NaturalStatTrick.com. That is meaningless, however, when a team clocks in at 30th in goals against average (3. 63).
Another key issue: resiliency. Fourteen times this season, the Flyers have allowed back-to-back goals spaced apart by two minutes or less. That by far is the worst in the NHL.
Likewise, in the offensive zone, the fact that Philly is statistically in the middle of the NHL pack (tied for 15th) in generating high-danger scoring chances rings rather hollow when the team's 2.72 goals per game ranks 25th in the NHL. The Flyers have scored five or more goals in 13 of 43 games played but also have been shut out six times, held to one goal eight times, and scored two goals five times for a total of 19 games out of 43 of scoring two or fewer goals.
Correspondingly, the Flyers lead the NHL in one-goal losses : 11 so far. Six have come in overtime.
At five-on-five, the Flyers have scored 83 goals (T-17th). The team has scored once at 4-on-4 (T-19th), and has won a single game in the 3-on-3 overtime (only Colorado has no 3-on-3 goals).
From a Corsi/Fenwick standpoint, the team ranks in the top one-third of the league (9th overall). They lead the NHL by far in faceoff winning percentage (56.8 percent). Those stats that suggest superior puck possession most nights have not helped in the bottom line.
The Flyers have yielded 96 goals at 5-on-5 (tied for 26th). The team has allowed three goals at 4-on-4 (T-25th). The club's six goals allowed in 3-on-3 overtime ranks 30th (only Chicago has seven GAs).
On the power play, the Flyers rank 29th at 13.3 percent (17-for-128). The team ranks 19th in power play opportunities but 30th in power play goals. Additionally, Philly has allowed seven shorthanded goals, including a short-handed empty netter in Tuesday's game in Washington. Overall, only Pittsburgh (eight), Boston (nine) and Florida (nine) have given up more opposing shorties than the Flyers.
On the penalty kill, the Flyers rank 28th due to their atrocious first quarter of the season in which they were below 69 percent. The overall numbers have been pulled up to 75.2 percent (opponents are 34-for-137) but that has only been enough to move up three places in the league rankings. The Flyers have scored three shorthanded goals -- all of which were scored in December -- to rank tied for 21st.
The 2018-19 season has been a tumultuous one in Dallas, too. The team enters this game in playoff position (3rd place in the Central Division), two points and a 23-20 ROW tiebreaker ahead of Colorado and five points above the wildcard cutoff line.
However, there have been issues hanging over the team, which is on its third different head coach (Lindy Ruff, Ken Hitchcock, Montgomery) in three years. The team has shown recent improvement on the road, including a 3-1 win in St. Louis on Tuesday, but the overall 9-12-2 mark in away games is below the bar. The team is being saved by its 14-5-2 home record.
Within games themselves, the Stars have a tendency to be erratic from period to period. When the team is on its game, it can be a handful as it strings multiple dominant shifts together in a row. On the flip side, the Dallas team -- under a succession of coaches dating back to the Glen Gulutzan era -- can't seem to align its offensive and defensive play into a cohesive whole.
For several years in the mid-2010s, the Stars' main issue was one of a potent offense not being enough to overcome shoddy team defense and inconsistent goaltending. Hitchcock's season in Dallas, along with the maturation process on the blueline and goaltending upgrades, helped things get better on the GAA side. That has continued to improve this season. Dallas ranks 5th in team GAA (2.66).
The problem now? The team offense, which led the NHL in average goals scored per game under Ruff in 2015-16 but dropped down to 18th (2.82 GPG) under Hitch last season, has continued to go in the wrong direction. At 2.71 goals per game this season, the Stars rank 26th (one spot below the Flyers).
Team owner Tom Gaglardi and CEO Jim Lites recently made crystal clear whom they primarily blame for the team's hit-or-mess offense. Lites' diatribe in which he roasted the team's two biggest names -- top-line stalwarts Jamie Benn (the team captain) and Tyler Seguin -- was an attempt both to light a fire under players whom Gaglardi and Lites essentially accused of complacency due to their big contracts and job security but also a transparent effort to try to throw a scare into the entire roster and get the players collectively to rally around Benn and Seguin.
Has it worked? The Stars are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games, and 3-1-0 thus far in January. "Monty" nevertheless called out his team for some sporadic play in the last win.
At five-on-five, the Stars have scored just 77 games (22nd) and are in the negative in that key area despite the 81 they've yielded ranking 5th best in the NHL. From a Corsi/Fenwick ranking standpoint, the Stars are 29th (Corsi) and 27th (Fenwick). The team has allowed the 6th most scoring chances in the NHL but Ben Bishop (15-10-2, 2.36 GAA, .923 save percentage, two shutouts) and Anton Khudobin (8-7-2, 2.52 GAA, .924 SV%, one shutout) have strong stats nevertheless.
On the power play, the Stars clock in ranked 9th (25-for-113, 22.1 percent) with only one shorthanded goal yielded. The Dallas penalty kill comes in ranked 8th at 82.8 percent success (opponents are 23-for-134) and the team has scored four shorthanded goals.
While some of the Stars underlying team numbers are beneath those of the Flyers, one would think Philly would gladly trade records, respective standings positions and team GAAs with the Stars.
(Subject to change)
FLYERS (Tuesday's starting lines)
25 James van Riemsdyk- 28 Claude Giroux - 11 Travis Konecny
23 Oskar Lindblom - 14 Sean Couturier - 93 Jakub Voracek
21 Scott Laughton - 21 Scott Laughton -17 Wayne Simmonds
12 Michael Raffl - 44 Phil Varone - 22 Dale Weise
9 Ivan Provorov - 6 Travis Sanheim
53 Shayne Gostisbehere - 3 Radko Gudas
8 Robert Hägg - 26 Christian Folin
79 Carter Hart
[56 Mike McKenna]
Scratches: 15 Jori Lehterä (healthy), 40 Jordan Weal (healthy), 47 Andrew MacDonald (lower body), 41 Anthony Stolarz (IR, lower body), 30 Michal Neuvirth (lower body), 37 Brian Elliott (IR, lower body), 10 Corban Knight (IR, collarbone), 5 Sam Morin (ACL surgery).
14 Jamie Benn - 91 Tyler Seguin - 47 Alexander Radulov
43 Valeri Nichushkin - 12 Radek Faksa - 18 Tyler Pitlick
17 Devin Shore - 90 Jason Spezza - 27 Erik Condra
13 Mattias Janmark - 24 Roope Hintz - 15 Blake Comeau
23 Esa Lindell - 3 John Klingberg
4 Miro Heiskanen - 45 Roman Polak
5 Connor Carrick - 42 Taylor Fedun
30 Ben Bishop / 35 Anton Khudobin
Scratches: 6 Julius Honka (healthy), 25 Brett Ritchie (healthy), 33 Marc Methot (IR, lower body), 16 Jason Dickinson (IR), 11 Martin Hanzal (IR, back),28 Stephen Johns (IR, post-concussion issues).