Preview: Flyers Take On Blues. Beware The Trap Game?
The Blues have been struggling. The Flyers have been performing well beyond expectations. The Blues are on the second half of a back-to-back, and the first half featured a loss to the ever-formidable Bruins. The Flyers are the more well-rested team, and are playing on their home ice.
All of this sounds like the ingredients for a successful Flyers game. Of course, that is exactly the problem. It is far too obvious, and so I’m concerned about the Flyers’ ability to meet these lofty expectations.
For one thing, the Blues are a much better than their recent struggles would indicate. They have a lineup that is stacked with talent from perennial Selke candidate Ryan O’Reilly to world-class playmakers like Robert Thomas to dynamic goal-scoring threats like Vladimir Tarsenko.
Contrastingly, the Flyers are a worse team than their recent success would indicate. Between the otherworldly and superhuman play of Carter Hart and some “timely finishing” that is bound to become less timely as a season wears on, the Flyers have scraped out a very respectable record despite putting up some of the worst possession numbers in hockey.
None of this would be a problem, if the Flyers had access to the otherworldly brilliance of Carter Hart. Unfortunately, the burgeoning superstar will not be in net. Thanks to an illness, he’s been pulled from the game and Felix Sandstrom will take his place.
That is an issue. It isn’t so much an insult to Felix Sandstrom, who has performed like a perfectly serviceable backup to date. But the Flyers can’t actually be relied on to win a hockey game without receiving unparalleled brilliance from their netminder, and their 0-3-0 record outside of Hart’s starts would back that up.
The young netminder will be seeking his first win in the NHL, and he deserves to get it. Helping him–or trying to help him–reach that milestone will be Rasmus Ristolainnen,
Ristolainnen has not endeared himself to the head coach, John Tortorella. Torts sat him after the Toronto game and decided to run with Egor Zamula.
He’ll have another chance to earn his coach’s affections after being thrusted into the lineup tonight, while Egor Zamula is loaned to the Phantoms in what I assume to be a paper move that allows Samuel Ersson to be on the roster as Sandstrom’s backup.
In order to do that, Ristolainnen will have to demonstrate a proficiency with using his reach and his physicality to “stop plays” on the defensive end, and stop the other team from ever achieving sustained possession while he’s on the ice.
I, too, would like to see Ristolainnen stop plays. While he has the physical gifts required to do that at the NHL level, I’m extremely skeptical that he has the keen defensive instincts that are even more important to the endeavor.
Ristolainnen will have the chance to prove me wrong, and I hope he does. The Flyers could use someone like that, and Brad Shaw truly is an excellent coach of defenseman.
My Projected Lines (Flyers):
Morgan Frost absolutely deserves to move up from the 4th line after his performance against Ottawa, where the Flyers controlled play to ridiculous degrees while he was on the ice. It was a stellar bounce back performance after his benching in Toronto.
That said, I don’t fault Tortorella for sticking with what worked last game. Frost did good there, so let’s see if he does well again. If he does, he should absolutely be getting more time on ice than the average 4th liner during the game.
Wade Allison’s spot is likely in danger to Zack MacEwan. John Tortorella has been less than enamored with Allison’s playmaking ambitions, and even threatened to pull him from the lineup altogether if he continued that behavior.
Given that MacEwan just scored his third goal of the season and Torts’ fondness for his style in general, I wouldn’t be surprised if the middle-six right wingers are to swap places.
My Prediction: 4-3 Blues
I expect the Blues to come out firing in the first period, looking to prove a point. The barrage will result in a few early goals that the Flyers do their best to battle back from as the game wears on, and the Blues’ lack of legs betray them.
I just don’t see the Flyers coming all the way back from the early hole.
But I do hope I’m wrong!