PREVIEW: Flyers continue tank-a-thon with Black Friday game against Pittsburgh Penguins
Let me start by being perfectly clear.
If the Flyers had any ounce of pride or dignity left in their souls, they would pause their free fall for just long enough to beat the Penguins on Black Friday.
If this team had any iota of heart left in their chests, they would channel the spirit of the 1986 Islanders and wipe the floor with their cross-state rivals for nothing greater than sheer pettiness.
Unfortunately, I don’t believe they have any of that said pride
How could they? After a massively disappointing 20-21 season, they’ve been in total free fall for the last year and counting. That pride was beaten away long ago, and I can’t even blame them.
So without the intangibles of pride and heart, we’re left with the brass tax of the matter.
The Flyers are a glorified AHL team.
Whatever NHL talent they had—and it was limited to begin with—has been wiped away by injuries. Now, without the pretense of people like Sean Coutorier or Cam Atkinson, we can recognize this team for what it is.
A contender for Connor Bedard.
Their “Stanley Cup” is the Draft Lottery, and their version of hoisting the trophy will be landing the coveted #1 pick. That is all this team can aspire to.
Hell, I’d take anything inside the Top 5.
Either way, I suppose we should talk about the actual hockey game. Let’s not look past the regular season with an eye on our pseudo-playoffs.
Flyers Projected Lineup:
The Top Line Must Shine
If the Flyers do have hopes of besting the Penguins, it will likely require the performance of a lifetime from their foremost forward line.
Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost, and Owen Tippett all need to have the game of their lives.
They’ll likely spend a lot of time lined up against Sidney Crosby, one of the greatest players ever, who has thus far seemed utterly ageless with 27 points in 20 games in his age 35 season.
The good news is: two of those line mates have some experience with playing exceptionally against the Penguins!
Will the Special Teams Start Being… Special?
The Power-Play is atrocious. So far, the man advantage has been so egregious that it might actually behoove the Flyers to decline penalties as though this were football.
That problem is a re-run from the last season. In fact, at 14.9% and seemingly only getting lower, it is very close to being an exact re-run of last year’s 12% conversion rate disaster.
The Penalty Kill has not been any better.
With a 74% kill rate this year, it’s almost exactly in line with last year’s 75% kill rate. And last year was a calamity. Thus far, it has somehow gotten worse.
For all the low price signings and the waiver wire pickups who were gonna “kill penalties”—in the words of Head Coach John Tortorella—the penalties have, thus far, not been killed.
If the Flyers have any design on winning, this trend has to change. Even if it’s only for the game.
Carter Hart Can’t Afford to be Human
After starting the season with a nigh 950 sv%, Hart’s numbers have taken a downturn after recent outings. His current .920 sv% is still respectable. Actually, hell, it would likely win a Vezina if done for the whole season.
Yet, Carter’s downturn from godlike goaltending to average netminding in recent starts is simply not enough.
Good teams can overcome stretches from their goalies—even star goalies—where they simply don’t have their A game. It’s natural over the course of a season.
But the Flyers are not a good team. A so-so night from Hart is most likely a loss.
If they don’t want tonight to be yet another loss, then Hart has to be the guy from October.
It’s a ridiculous proposition. It is a ludicrous thing to expect from a goalie. And yet, it is the Flyers’ only hope of winning.
Just how reliant have the Flyers been on unparalleled brilliance from Hart?
Just recently, analytics hub J-Fresh Hockey posted a survey for his followers to rank the front runners for the Vezina.
Even despite his recently average play, Hart still finished 5th.
The Flyers—despite a top-5 goalie in hockey—are 4 points out of a playoff spot. The other 4 goalies ahead of him are all in a playoff spot with various degrees of points to spare.
Prediction: 4-3 Penguins
The Flyers will simply find a way to lose and make this slide last 9 in a row.
It’s what they do best.
Mandatory Credit: Johnny Ulecka