PREVIEW: Flyers Take On Sputtering Maple Leafs in Toronto
The Flyers wasted a herculean effort from Carter Hart last night, and it was an immensely frustrating things to watch. Their reward for such a putrid effort is to head to Toronto and take on the Maple Leafs for the second half of a back to back.
Normally, taking on the Maple Leafs in the second half of a back to back would be a punishment. Funny curses aside, they’re one of the most talented teams in hockey and have the firepower to run with anyone in the league. On paper, this isn’t just a punishment for the Flyers. It’s a hilariously exotic form of torture.
But it may well turn out to be a reward, given how the Maple Leafs have started the season. Their 4-4-2 start to the season includes losing to the hopeless Coyotes, the struggling Ducks, and the clumsy Sharks.
Only a hockey team in complete disarray could manage all of that. One might even begin to wonder if their funny postseason curse has now spread into the regular season, and they’re just totally compromised.
Of course, I wouldn’t bet on that. The Maple Leafs are far from the first Cup contender to start slow, and they won’t be the last. This will turn around for them, so long as they don’t panic and do something extraordinarily stupid. Like their fans want them to do.
The mission for the Flyers is to delay that turnaround one more night. If the Coyotes could take advantage of these Leafs, then the Flyers certainly can. What will it take to add one more feather of pain to the cap of suffering on the Leafs’ heads?
Lineup Changes Panning Out:
Justin Braun and Morgan Frost will be sitting out the second half of the back-to-back in order to get Tanner Laczynksi and Egor Zamula into the action.
Laczynksi for Frost is an interesting substitution, given the wide array of alternative options there were to resting Frost. But Tortorella clearly likes his team blindly chasing play and never catching up to it.
Let’s see how that works out for him! Hint: his team has yet to win a game without Carter Hart to carry them.
Zamula for Braun is an adequate decision. Frankly, Seeler and Braun are equal degrees of: get them the hell off the ice as soon as possible. Maybe a slight edge to Seeler?
Felix Sandstrom Comes Out Strong:
In all likelihood, Carter Hart will not be starting for the Flyers. So I won’t rant and rave about how spectacularly good he’s been. Suffice it to say, he’s been so good that it has hardly been believable.
And if the Flyers have any hope of taking down the Leafs, Sandstrom is going to need to have a strong performance of his own.
The young netminder has athleticism in spades, able to move from post to post with an impressive athleticism that allows him to get to pucks other people just can’t reach. But the technical aspects of goaltending–the nuances of the art that Hart has mastered–can still elude Sandstrom.
His .900 save percentage is not a completely fair measure of his play, but it isn’t totally off-base either. He has the potential to be much more than that number suggests he is, and he’ll need to show it tonight.
Evade the Leafs’ Forecheck:
When thinking about the Maple Leafs, it’s typically the transitional dominance of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner that springs to mind. A pair of supremely gifted offensive players who can skate down the ice and make lateral plays as well as anyone in the league.
An underrated aspect of the Leafs’ attack–and one that’s been firing on all cylinders in the early going–is the relentless forechecking and clever cycling of the line led by John Tavares and William Nylander. Their line has been making life a living hell for defenseman all across the league.
And I have written already about the Flyers’ Defensemen’s struggles to move the puck beyond their first pair.
That’s a recipe for disaster, especially without access to the inimitable Carter Hart for the night.
Simply put, this disaster must not be allowed to manifest if the Flyers want to avoid a blowout loss.
Tippett and Konecny Continue Recent Firebrand Play:
Owen Tippett has been stellar ever since he returned from the injured list against the Hurricanes. He has one goal in these last two games, but his shining moments have been as a playmaker. He’s been protecting pucks excellently, using his skating to find space, and hitting open teammates.
Travis Konecny has been a force. He’s been seemingly magnetized to the puck. And whenever it’s on his stick, he usually finds a way to create offense. Most often with raw speed and handling ability that culminates in a shot from the faceoff circle off the rush.
Both of them will need to turn their good offensive moments and chances into points on the board if they want to keep up with one of the league’s most talented teams, especially as they have something to prove.
How Does it All Go?
The Maple Leafs are about tired of being clowned on, and Carter Hart isn’t here to bail the Flyers out of their terrible play.
Prediction: 6-2 Maple Leafs.
Mandatory credit: Johnny Ulecka