The Next Level: Flyers look to improve to 3-0 tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning
After a pleasantly surprising 2-0 start to the season, the Flyers will have the opportunity to make a statement tonight in Tampa Bay. A win against the Lightning won’t be enough to officially label them underrated and a surprise contender. It is, after all, still only Game 3 of 82.
But while there are questions about the quality of New Jersey’s goaltending or Vancouver’s defensemen, there are no questions about the quality of the Tampa Bay Lightning. From top to bottom, they are–in my eyes–the most talented team in the NHL. If you disagree, you have them in your Top-3.
They have, quite probably, the best goalie in the world in Andrei Vasilevskiy.
They have a talented core of defensemen led by Norris winner Victor Hedman, who is quite probably the most well-rounded defenseman on planet earth.
They have a dynamic collection of forwards. Who leads that group? Take your pick. Is it Nikita Kucherov, a man whose career high in points surpasses McDavid? Is it their captain and all-time franchise points leader, Steven Stamkos? Is it their electrifying number one center in Brayden Point?
Point being: the Flyers are facing the cream of the crop tonight. And how they fare against this team can tell us a lot about the direction of this team moving forward.
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But it’s more than just the score at the end of the game that matters. Here are some finer details to watch for in the game tonight:
Can the Young Guns Make the Difference?
Morgan Frost scored 2 goals in his first game. And while he didn’t register a point in the win against Vancouver, that’s primarily because Thatcher Demko robbed him of a couple assists with his expectedly elite goaltending. Frost has created offense in both of his 2 outings so far, and the second Power-Play unit–the one in which he serves as the entry-man and the presence on the half-wall–has thus far been more consistent than the more prestigious Power-Play 1.
Can Frost keep it up against one of the league’s best teams? If the Flyers are going to win this game, Frost putting someone in a blender is going to be a critical part of the victory. He is this team’s most talented offensive engineer, and they need him to play like it.
Joel Farabee is someone who might beg to differ when I crown Frost the team’s most talented offensive engineer. He has a pretty good case himself. And while he hasn’t registered a point yet, he’s looked fast and dynamic carrying the puck into the zone for the first Power-Play unit. And his defensive play has been intelligent as ever.
Is this the game where Farabee breaks out onto the scoresheet? He is the team’s best sniper. The man I trust to finish his chances more than anyone else on the team. It’s just a matter of how many chances he creates for himself.
As for intelligent two-way play, Noah Cates is a walking definition of the term. This experiment with running him as the second center has thus far provided interesting results.
His defensive ability has remained as impressive as ever, but whatever offensive dynamism he had on the wing has seemingly vanished completely from his game. Is this the game where he puts it all together?
Hot Starts for the Core:
This is not the first time Travis Konecny has started the season on a tear. He’s done it every year for the past three years before this. In 2019-20, he continued that start all the way through the COVID pause.
For the two seasons before that, he vanished from the scoresheet for long stretches of time soon after his initial scorching start. Is this start any different?
I think so. I see a Travis Konecny who is playing with more speed than usual. I see a Travis Konecny playing with more aggression than I’ve ever seen from him, including his All-Star year.
And I don’t mean the aggression that comes from his Marchand-like determination to annoy his opponents. I mean aggression with the puck, and aggression in his willingness to attack the net. All three goals have come either: off the rush, in the slot, or in the crease.
Those are the high danger chances that opponents don’t give up freely. The ones you have to work–either with skill or tenacity–to obtain. Thus far, Konecny has exhibited both.
But will he continue to show both skill and tenacity in equally impressive measure?
Ivan Provorov is another core player who has gotten off to a scorching hot start. And like Konecny, he’s done it by showing skill and tenacity in equally impressive measure. He’s carrying the puck effectively up ice, and orchestrating breakouts for a team in desperate need of them.
But he’s also laying down hits at a silly rate. With 9 hits in his 2 games, he’s on track to deliver 369 hits during this 82 game season. Now, that number will surely come down to earth a bit. But by how much?
Before Alain Vigneoult had him playing like a complete pussy, Provorov would lay down 150 hits across a season without thinking about it. That number went to 60 under the inimitable “AV”.
It isn’t that hits are necessarily an important part of defending. But Provorov is a player who thrives when he’s taking the initiative and hits is one way of measuring his aggression level in the game as a whole.
I want Provorov playing aggressively tonight and every night moving forward.
Scolded Acquisitions Playing Unexpected Dividends?
Admittedly, I don’t know how people managed to delude themselves into believing that Tony DeAngelo is not an exceptional hockey player.
Apparently, they hate the person so much that they couldn’t fairly evaluate the player before seeing him in their favorite team’s jersey.
Tony DeAngelo earned the trust of notorious hardass coach Rod Brind’Amour, a coach whose style is every bit as demanding as Flyers’ bench boss John Tortorella.
He earned Rod’s trust to such an extent that, besides Jaccob Slavin, there was no defenseman Rod wanted on the ice more by the end of the season.
Thus far, DeAngelo has proven to be an exceptional partner to Ivan Provorov and added a level of dynamism to the Flyers’ top pair. I expect this trend to continue throughout the season.
But will it? Tampa Bay represents an opportunity for Tony DeAngelo to prove that he really is a top-pair quality defenseman, and that Coach Rod didn’t just deliriously put a third-pair player next to his defensive superstar when his team had Stanley Cup aspirations.
More disdained by the fanbase than the Tony DeAngelo acquisition was the 4 year contract handed out to 31 year old 4th liner Nic Deslauriers.
Now, let me be clear. That contract is still foolish, and ridiculous.
Now, let me be equally clear here: Nic Deslauriers has had a notably positive impact on the Flyers.
In two separate games, Deslauriers stepping on the ice has changed the momentum of the game. His willingness to fight and pound people into the dust has waked up the skilled players on the bench.
It provided a jolt of energy and interrupted the flow of a game that–before Deslauriers’ shift–was going against them. And it allowed the Flyers on the bench to view the opposition as a set of dudes who just got pancaked by Nic Deslauriers, as opposed to the talented athletes who just spent the last three minutes dangling around them at will.
Those intangibles like confidence in the skill guys and shifts in momentum matter. Can Deslauriers continue to provide it? If he can, he will be worth his admittedly measly $1.75M cap hit.
I have no idea if the Flyers will win tonight’s game. It is unlikely, if the Lightning are playing at the top of their game.
But the win isn’t the most important thing that can come out of tonight.
If all of the questions I posed above are answered in a positive way, and the Flyers still lose 3-2, I think there’s still plenty of reason for optimism.
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