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Flyers Week Ahead Doesn’t Look So Bad, But

Jan 10, 2012, 12:47 PM EDT

Our Philadelphia Flyers hockey club has been through a gauntlet of challenging teams and scenarios lately, including playing elite competition, a grueling stretch of away games, and the scrutiny of playing in the sport's most visible game, followed by the top team in the West and a home-and-home with an upstart conference foe. Fans, players, coaches, and owners alike probably wouldn't have it any other way. While the stretch hasn't been easy, it's been a great experience.

Our Philadelphia
Flyers hockey club has been through a gauntlet of challenging teams and
scenarios lately, including playing elite competition, a grueling
stretch of away games, and the scrutiny of playing in the sport’s most
visible game, followed by the top team in the West and a home-and-home
with an upstart conference foe. Fans, players, coaches, and owners alike
probably wouldn’t have it any other way. While the stretch hasn’t been
easy, it’s been a great experience.

Win or lose, I don’t think any of us would trade the privilege of
having the Flyers featured in the Winter Classic. And, even though the
lesson learned in a pair of recent matchups with the New York Rangers is
that the Flyers aren’t currently playing as well as the the Blueshits,
the timing of that schooling was ideal (aside from the fact that one of
the games happened to be the Winter Classic). Finding out you don’t
quite measure up in April is a huge problem. In December and January,
it’s a welcome reminder that nothing will come easy in a long series
against a great team, no matter how pretty your record on the last day
of the season. There are a lot of new faces on the Flyers, guys who
weren’t around when that lesson was learned by their teammates last
season. And, there’s still room for improvement in some significant
areas.

So, with one of the most difficult regular season stretches of the
season, the Flyers now settle in for the second half, which begins with a
couple of on-paper cupcakes. Don’t be fooled though—there could be
poison in the frosting.

Tonight, Lavy’s boys will skate in the city he once gave a Stanley
Cup. The Carolina Hurricanes are just one point out of last place in the
East, topping only the Flyers’ Thursday night opponent—the New York
Islanders.

Carolina has allowed a league-worst 146 goals, and no NHL team has
scored fewer goals than the Islanders (who in their meager defense have
played few games than most). Both are also perennial oft-picked on nerds
in the Bullies’ schoolyard, with few wins over the Flyers in recent
years.

Still, the Flyers are in a vulnerable position right now. Losses in
either game wouldn’t be devastating or anything close to it, but after a
brilliant early December stretch, the Flyers have traded wins with
losses, and need to regain form. Failure to do so against clearly
inferior opponents could have a solidifying effect on areas of downward
tendency.

Dominant scoring is often enough, but costly turnovers and poor
clearing of screens and slot traffic have seen the Flyers concede very
early leads as well as some dramatic come-from-ahead losses. Those kinds
of defensive miscues have a way of being opponent-neutral. Some of
these goals have hardly been skill shots, and NHL-caliber players will
bury you for mistakes in your own zone no matter what logo is on their
sweater.

It’s never a bad time to be facing a few weaker opponents though.
The Flyers are by no means playing terrible hockey, but they have some
work to do, and the Hurricanes and Islanders aren’t quite as dangerous
as the Blackhawks and the surprising Senators.

Flyers-Canes
Tonight, Ilya Bryzgalov gets a rest, with Sergei Bobrovsky likely facing Cam Ward.

Anthony San Filippo says Harry Z will play, with Zac Rinaldo getting the healthy scratch. Not a bad bit of rookie depth to be able to choose between those players as to which role you want in a given night.

Carolina has lost four of their last six, including a 5-2 defeat in
Nashville on Saturday that followed a 4-2 win over the Sabres.

Peter
Laviolette’s preceder and succeeder in Carolina, Paul Maurice, was
replaced by former Montreal Canadien Kirk Muller on November 29th. The
Hurricanes had lost their previous three games, and they lost the next
four as well. In 18 games with Muller behind the bench, they’ve won only
five times.

The Flyers may have the Canes’ number in most matchups, including
5-1 and 5-3 wins already this season, but they did lose the last time
they faced Carolina, 4-2. An L tonight wouldn’t wear well after a
clunker of a third period in Ottawa.