Jan 22, 2012, 2:21 PM EDT
In recent games against the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins, the Flyers have given reason for doubt that they’re among the Eastern Conference elite. True, they did beat the Bruins and spoil the Garden’s Stanley Cup raising banner, but a 6-0 loss in mid December and three losses to the Rangers have left the Flyers with plenty to prove.
Unfortunately, they’ll be shorthanded as hell when they try. Already without their towering defensive foil to Boston’s Zdeno Chara, the Flyers lost Jaromir Jagr and Danny Briere yesterday, and James van Riemsdyk was already on the shelf. Will they have enough firepower without them to crack one of the league’s stingiest defenses and its unquestioned top goaltender?
There are a few things in the Flyers favor, and a few factors decidedly against them…
First, defenseman Andrew Ference has been suspended for his hit on Ryan McDonagh yesterday. That hit came at 1:50 of overtime, and the Rangers scored the winner on the ensuing power play.
Second, the Flyers played a hell of a game yesterday, defying expectations in more ways than one. In particular, they struck twice against the league’s best penalty killing unit. Their defense was also on point, allowing shots but not necessarily a multitude of dangerous chances. Ilya Bryzagalov turned in his second straight outstanding performance, and he’ll get the opportunity to further solidify his role as the team’s number one goaltender. To date, he has that role only because of the contract he’s signed. A week shy of February, he has some time to establish it on merit as well.
We’ll see some line juggling today, with three top-six forwards out of the lineup. The talented rookie trio of Sean Couturier, Matt Read, and Brayden Schenn will see their minutes increase, with the first two likely on the same line and Schenn possibly skating with Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell.
Hartnell grabbed the goal glory yesterday, but Wayne Simmonds may have been the best player on the ice. His hard work along the boards and in front of the net needs to continue today, a matchup that could require some dirty goals and certainly will take some toughness.
The defense will have to look a lot more like it did yesterday than it did on Thursday. Boston can flat out fly, leading the league in goals per game with 3.5.
Ben Holmstrom and Tom Sestito have been called up. Tim Thomas is expected to draw the start after talented understudy Tuukka Rask played yesterday.
The Bruins are no joke. They’re the team the Flyers need to be, and beat, in order to emerge from the “just shy of greatness” yoke. With any luck, today will look more like the season opener than the December 17th massacre.
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