This is the second of three meetings this season between the teams, and the lone game in Tampa. The season series wraps up at the Wells Fargo Center on Dec. 5. Last Thursday in Philadelphia, Tampa prevailed via shootout, 4-3 (2-0).
Claude Giroux (6th goal of the season) and Travis Konecny (5th) gave the Flyers a 2-0 lead in the first period. Goals by Brayden Point (power play, 7th) and Mathieu Joseph (3rd) evened the score at 2-2 in the second period.
Late in the third period, a severe angle goal by Steven Stamkos (9th) was canceled out by Giroux's second goal of the game (7th) in the final nine ticks of regulation. Neither team was able to score in a fast-and-furious overtime.
In the shootout, neither Sean Couturier nor Giroux were able to convert their attempts against Andrei Vasilevskiy. Both Stamkos and Point scored against Carter Hart.
Hart had played excellently until Stamkos' flat angle goal somehow got through the netmider's pads. He finished with 29 saves on 32 shots during the 65-minute hockey game. Vasilevskiy denied 27 of 30 Flyers shots.
Since that game, the Flyers lost a 5-2 home decision to the Boston Bruins to finish a three-goal homestand with a 1-1-1 record. The Lightning, who will be playing for the third time in four nights, sustained a 5-3 home loss to the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night and then beat the Minnesota Wild via shootout, 5-4 (1-0, Stamkos with the lone goal), on Sunday.
Here are five things to watch in Tuesday's game:
1. Shot Quantity vs. Quality
Goals have been hard for the Flyers to come by since opening the season with 23 goals (four, six, six, two, and five) across their first five games. In the 11 games since that time, the Flyers rank 30th in the NHL with a meager 1.82 goals per game average including two shutout losses.
What's gone wrong? It's not one particular thing. There are many factors. The power play is just 10.3 percent (30th in the NHL) over that span. Secondary scoring has dried up, putting nearly the entire onus on the top of the lineup to carry the load. At the top of the lineup, Sean Couturier has recently been playing a bit below his normal standards. The team has also started to feel the effects of constantly playing without the injured Ryan Ellis and Kevin Hayes.
There are other ways the scoring issues can be sliced and diced: Period-to-period inconsistency. Not enough controlled breakout, speed through the neutral zone or controlled offensive zone entries. Not enough consistent traffic to the net. Some recent games where the Flyers uncharacteristically struggled on faceoffs.
In the bigger picture, in recent weeks, the quality of the Flyers' shots have not matched up to the quantity. The team ranks 14th over the last 11 games with an average 32.1 shots per game. There have been a few games where the Flyers legitimately ran into stellar goaltending. However, there have been others where the shot totals have been deceptive: none more than Jack Campbell's 36-save shutout of the Flyers on Nov. 10.
Vasilevskiy is one of the NHL's elite goaltenders; capable of stealing games if he needs to. The Flyers got three pucks past him last Thursday. To match or surpass that total this time, the Flyers will need to be opportunistic when they get scoring opportunities.
2. Giroux to the rescue again?
Sooner rather than later, the Flyers will need the likes of Joel Farabee, James van Riemsdyk and Oskar Lindblom to start scoring goals. They'll need Couturier to work through a current stretch of roughly five games where he hasn't looked like himself in various details -- including offensive execution -- in which he normally excels. They'll need Travis Konecny to emerge from a current stretch where he has just one point (1g, 0a) in his last seven games.
Derick Brassard scored two goals in the second period of the Boston game, temporarily pulling the Flyers back even after falling behind 2-0. Philly will need others to follow suit.
With Ellis out once again on a week-to-week basis, the Flyers will need to figure out a way to rebalance their defense corps. Right now, the team is burning the candle at both ends with Justin Braun playing on the top pairing with Ivan Provorov. Braun has done an admirable job. In the meantime, the current third pairing of Keith Yandle with Nick Seeler has had some issues in recent weeks, with Yandle also seeming out of sorts on the power play.
In light of the issues the team has been working through, what has been going right? Start with the goaltending of Hart and, minus his last start against Boston, Martin Jones.In the meantime, the one Flyers forward who has stepped up several times when needed has been team captain Giroux.
Heading into this game in Tampa, Giroux leads the team with 16 points in 16 games (7g, 9a). Over the last two games, he's figured directly in four of the Flyers' last five goals (2g, 2a). The Flyers may very well need another step-up game from Giroux in order to defeat the Lightning.
Bottom line; There are reasons why the Flyers have not won back-to-back games since Oct. 27 and 28. However, there are also reasons why the Flyers didn't lose back-to-back games all season until their last two games; and the loss to Tampa was via shootout.
Barring any recalls, the Flyers starting lineup could look like this:
86 Joel Farabee - 14 Sean Couturier - 25 James van Riemsdyk
28 Claude Giroux - 19 Derick Brassard - 89 Cam Atkinson
23 Oskar Lindblom - 21 Scott Laughton - 11 Travis Konecny
71 Max Willman - 44 Nate Thompson - 17 Zack MacEwen
9 Ivan Provorov - 61 Justin Braun
6 Travis Sanheim - 70 Rasmus Ristolainen
3 Keith Yandle - 24 Nick Seeler
79 Carter Hart
[35 Martin Jones]
3. Inside the Numbers
Early in the season, the Flyers' "typical" game saw them have a strong first period, a struggling second period and then a solid third period. That hasn't necessarily been the case of late but it's notable that the team has generally stayed in "win a period, come away with one/two points" territory.
On Thursday, the Flyers took a 2-0 lead to the first intermission against Tampa. The underlying numbers weren't favorable, but Philly not only emerged with a lead where it mattered most, there really wasn't a big discrepancy in scoring chances. On the flip side, the second period was every bit as ugly for the Flyers as the underlying numbers looked. The Flyers, actually, were fortunate, to enter the third period with the score tied at 2-2.
In the third period, however, the Flyers shut down Tampa. The Lightning were held without a shot on goal for more than half the period and only had three for the entire period. All three were routine/harmless looking but the third one was Stamkos flat-angle goal late in the period. That goal was canceled out by Giroux's goal in the final 10 seconds right off a faceoff win by Brassard.
Against Boston on Saturday, the Flyers saw the Bruins pull away in the third period. Ultimately, the 5-2 outcome was the product of spending too much time chasing the game and getting average goaltending on that night.
4. Behind Enemy Lines: Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay is 8-1-2 over their last 11 games and 5-1-2 in the last eight. The team could be without Point for an extended time; he is out indefinitely with an upper-body injury sustained on Nov. 20.
Per the team's official website, their projected lineup against the Flyers is as follows:
18 Ondrej Palat - 91 Steven Stamkos - 12 Alex Barré-Boulet
17 Alex Killorn - 71 Anthony Cirelli - 7 Mathieu Joseph
14 Pat Maroon - 41 Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - 10 Corey Perry
13 Boris Katchouk - 79 Ross Colton - 16 Taylor Raddysh
77 Victor Hedman - 44 Jan Rutta
14 Ryan McDonagh - 3 Zach Bogosian
98 Mikhail Sergachev - 52 Cal Foote
88 Andrei Vasilevskiy
1 Brian Elliott
5. Players to Watch: Provorov and Hedman
The Flyers have seen many times over the years why Tampa defenseman Victor Hedman is a perennial Norris Trophy candidate. That was the case again in Thursday's game in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, the Flyers could certainly use a stellar two-way outing from perennial TOI leader Provorov in this game.