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5 THINGS: Flyers @ Panthers

Concluding a two-game Sunshine State road trip, Alain Vigneault's Philadelphia Flyers (8-6-3) are in Sunrise on Wednesday to take on Andrew Brunette's Florida Panthers (13-2-3).

by Bill Meltzer @billmeltzer /


Concluding a two-game Sunshine State road trip, Alain Vigneault's Philadelphia Flyers (8-6-3) are in Sunrise on Wednesday to take on Andrew Brunette's Florida Panthers (13-2-3). Game time at FLA Live Arena is 7:00 p.m. ET (NBCSP, 93.3 WMMR).

This is the second of three meetings between the teams, and the first of two in Sunrise. On Oct. 23 at the Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers dropped a 4-2 decision. Two pivotal sequences decided the game:

* With the Flyers leading 2-1, Travis Konecny made an ill-advised centering pass deep in the offensive zone with no one but Florida players around. Florida went into its deadly transition game with a 3-on-2. Mackenzie Weeger sent a weak backhanded cross-ice pass that eluded Travis Sanheim (after the game, Sanheim admitted it was a play he'd like back) and then went into the net off the skate of Owen Tippett and he drove down the slot. Replays confirmed that the puck was not sent into the net by a kicking motion. That tied the game at 2-2 with just 27 seconds left in the second period.

* With the score knotted at 2-2 and the Flyers on the power play, Keith Yandle turned the puck over and Sam Bennett sprung Jonathan Huberdeau to go in on Carter Hart. The Flyers' goalie made an outstanding, stretched out skate save but the puck took a Florida-friendly bounce right back to Huberdeau and he was able to bank his own rebound into the net at 7:53 of the third period.

Claude Giroux (PPG) and Cam Atkinson (SHG) scored for the Flyers in a losing cause on that night.

The Flyers are currently looking to snap a three-game winless stretch, which includes back-to-back regulation losses. On Tuesday night in Tampa, the Flyers suffered a 4-0 loss to the Lightning. 

The Panthers sport a perfect 10-0-0 record on home ice to start the season. Florida enters this game coming off a 5-4 home win on Saturday against the Minnesota Wild. Frank Vatrano had two goals and an assist to lead the way offensively for Florida. The game had a wild finish with three goals in the final minute with Minnesota scoring two 6-on-5 goals sandwiched around a Panthers' empty-netter. Sergei Bobrovsky improved his record to 8-0-2.

Here are five things to watch in this game:

1. Gut-check game.

Each of the three losses in the Flyers' current 0-2-1 stretch has gotten progressively more concerning. 

Last Thursday at home against Tampa, the Flyers overcame an atrocious second period to hold the Lightning to just three shots in the third period. Even after Steven Stamkos scored a late go-ahead goal from an impossible angle, the Flyers found a way to rescue one point with a Claude Giroux goal in the final 10 seconds. An anticlimactic shootout loss (0-2) followed an action-packed overtime that could have gone either way. 

On Saturday against Boston, the Flyers played a poor first period but battled back from a 2-0 deficit in the second period to tie the game on two goals by Derick Brassard. The air seemed to go out of the Flyers balloon after Boston reclaimed the lead late in the second period. Boston pulled away in the third period and defeated the Flyers, 5-2, without much of a push-back.

On Tuesday in Tampa, the Flyers trailed 1-0 at the first intermission but actually did not play a bad period overall. They outshot and outchanced Tampa Bay but couldn't solve Andrei Vasilevskiy. The final 40 minutes of the game, however, were downright ugly from a Flyers standpoint. 

The second period in particular was always entirely played in the Flyers end of the ice. The Flyers not only seemingly lost their will to compete -- with only a few exceptions, such as Zack MacEwen -- but they also saw their defensive structure fall apart. Hart was left to fend for himself and Tampa had no problem finding time and space to make plays. The third period didn't go much better.

The defensive collapse has now happened at key junctures of two straight games. That had not been the case previously this season, although second periods in general have been a concern. Overall, though, the Flyers had largely given Hart and Martin Jones a chance to play the angles and see the shots.

This was part of the reason why the Flyers' goaltending was able to do so much heavy lifting for the team prior to the last two games. Giving free reign in the attack zone to players like Steven Stamkos is setting your goalies up to fail.

Entering this game in Sunrise against an opponent that has been unbeaten so far on home ice, the Flyers would have to dig deep regardless of anything else that happened in the preceding games. The Flyers are also on the second half of a back-to-back while the Panthers have had a three-night break. We haven't even touched yet on the Flyers' offensive woes in recent weeks.

2. Goals needed.... from any source.

Unfortunately, the first item from Tuesday's Five Things needs to be repeated: the Flyers offense has gone AWOL. Goals are at a premium right now, and even the players who were carrying the team offensively early on have since stopped scoring either at even strength or on the power play. The power play is just 4-for-40 (10 percent) over the last 12 games.

The big picture: Dating back to Oct. 28, the Flyers are the NHL's lowest-scoring team at just 1.67 goals per game. The team's overall season totals are still somewhat masked by the fact the team started the season with 23 goals (four, six, six, two and five) in its first five games. Since that time, the Flyers have been shut out three times. Philly has only scored as many as three goals twice in their last 12 games. 

Sean Couturier, whose overall game of late has been a full notch below his typical standards, has just one point (0g, 1a) to show for the last seven games. Travis Konecny has one point (1g, 0a) in his last eight games. Cam Atkinson has produced one goal and two assists in the 12 games since he roared out of the gates with six goals in the season's first five games.

The downturn among the primary scoring sources has been accompanied by continuing offensive struggles for most of the secondary sources the team needs to step up: Joel Farabee (three goals, six points in the first three games, one goal and zero assists since that time), James van Riemsdyk (one PPG, one even strength goal all season to date), and Oskar Lindblom (zero goals, one assist all season). 

Claude Giroux has stepped up periodically to shoulder the load almost by himself in a few games but has been unable to do so on a nearly every-game basis at this stage of his career. Nonetheless, the team captain still leads the club with 16 points (7g, 9a) in 17 games. He's the least of the Flyers' problems. 

The ongoing absences of Ryan Ellis and Kevin Hayes have started to have a compounding effect on the lineup the longer they are out of the lineup. On the back end, the Flyers are having major issues with both halves of their third pairing -- Keith Yandle and Nick Seeler -- struggling. Ellis' absence has placed Justin Braun on the top pairing with Ivan Provorov on essentially a full-time basis. At the AHL level,both Cam York nor Egor Zamula have struggled this season to varying degrees. 

Up front, the Flyers are very thin down the middle without Hayes. On Tuesday, the problem may have worsened. Brassard left the game in Tampa with a lower body injury after skating just four shifts in the first period. He did not return. The Flyers may have no other choice but to recall Morgan Frost from the AHL's Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Frost has finally settled into a good groove -- both offensively and in his overall game -- the last two weeks after a roller coaster start to his individual season and what's been a very rough season thus far for the Phantoms team as a whole.

3. Inside the Numbers

Why have the Panthers been so good this season? It starts with their execution on both sides of the puck, especially at even strength. They pressure the puck in all three zones, get their transition game cranked up in a hurry and they've been relentless once they get the upper hand. The team is a collective plus-23 at 5-on-5 (49 GF - 26 GA). 

Meanwhile, after the Flyers got off to a strong start at five-on-five overall -- mainly in first periods and third periods -- the team has slipped to even (30 GF -30 GA) in their five-on-five goals for and against.

Tweet from @billmeltzer: Flyers vs. Panthers: goal/shot differentials by period, special teams comps, GF/GA by manpower.

There haven't been many bright spots for the Flyers the last few weeks apart from the overall strong goaltending. However, the penalty kill is one area that's shown some improvement. Entering this game, the Flyers rank 10th in the NHL with an 83.9 percent success rate. 

4. Behind Enemy Lines: Florida Panthers

The Panthers have some star-caliber talent on the roster, starting with Aleksander Barkov (9g, 8a), longtime Flyers nemesis Jonathan Huberdeau (6g, 12a) and defenseman Aaron Eklad (15 points, +17). But the team also has a lot of depth, both up front and on the blueline.

From an offensive standpoint, the Panthers get contributions from a wide variety of sources. In fact, with nine different players who've chipped in double-digit points through the first 18 games, the Panthers have spread the wealth better than just about any other team in the National Hockey League. 

In net, following a couple of down seasons, Bobrovsky has bounced back to the form he showed in some of his best years in Columbus. Entering this game, the veteran Russian netminder has posted a record of 8-0-2, a 1.99 GAA and a .937 save percentage. The team's play in front of him has helped, of course, but the goalie has been showing the type of quickness and recovery ability that seemed lost for a few years.

5. Players to watch: Couturier and Barkov

It's unknown whether Couturier is simply battling through an ill-timed slump or if he's stoically playing through a physical issue. It's been clear, though, that the Flyers' top center is having uncharacteristic struggles in many of his recent matchups. 

With Florida, Barkov is the backbone of the team's overall game. He's also riding a current 10-game point streak (7g, 5a) with his last pointless game coming against the Flyers on Oct. 23. 

It's nearly a must for Couturier to have a step-up game in Sunrise for the Flyers to have a fighting chance at taking points away from the game.

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