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5 THINGS: Flyers vs. Flames

Alain Vigneault's Philadelphia Flyers (7-4-2) open a three-game homestand on Wednesday when they take on Darryl Sutter's Calgary Flames (8-3-4) at the Wells Fargo. Game time is 7:00 p.m. ET (NBCSP, 93.3 WMMR).

by Bill Meltzer @billmeltzer / philadelphiaflyers.com

GAME NOTES

Alain Vigneault's Philadelphia Flyers (7-4-2) open a three-game homestand on Wednesday when they take on Darryl Sutter's Calgary Flames (8-3-4) at the Wells Fargo. Game time is 7:00 p.m. ET (NBCSP, 93.3 WMMR).

Wednesday is also Flyers Hall of Fame induction night for Paul Holmgren and Rick Tocchet. The induction ceremony will start at 6:30 p.m. ET. Fans attending the game should plan to arrive early. 

This is the second and final meeting of the season between the Flyers and Flames. On Oct. 30 in Calgary, the Flames skated to a 4-0 shutout victory. 

The first period was scoreless. Sean Monahan (PPG) got Calgary on the board midway through the second period. Matthew Tkachuk (PPG) doubled the lead midway through the third period. Mikael Backlund (ENG) and Johnny Gaudreau tacked on added insurance. Carter Hart gave his team a chance, stopping 32 of 35 shots. He deserved a better fate. Jacob Markström recorded a 20-save shutout. He was barely tested for much of the game.

The Flyers enter this game coming off a 5-2 loss in Dallas on Saturday evening.Philadelphia controlled the first period but could not solve Anton Khudobin despite 19 shots on goal and an 11-7 scoring chance edge. Leading 1-0 entering the second period, Dallas took over the game and didn't look back. Martin Jones, as with Hart in the last Calgary game, had little to no chance to stop any of the four pucks that found the net on 29 shots. Dallas' final goal was an empty netter.

For the Flyers, James van Riemsdyk (2nd goal of the season, 1st goal at five-on-five) and Ivan Provorov (PPG, 1st) scored in a losing cause. A hasty whistle on a loose puck in the crease prevented a tap-in goal for Zack MacEwen in the late stages of the game from counting on the scoreboard, but the game outcome had already been sealed by that point. 

The Flames, who've played nine of their first 15 games this season on the road, will play their fourth tilt of a seven-game road trip. The team rattled off a five-game road winning streak and are 6-2-1 overall in away games to date, but saw the road winning streak end last Thursday with a 4-2 loss in Montreal. Over the course of the first three games of the current road trip, which were played over the span of four nights in three different cities, the Flames collected three of six possible points. On Friday, the Flames earned a regulation point but couldn't get the second in a 2-1 overtime loss in Toronto. On Sunday, the Flames scorched an Ottawa Senators team that had 10 players in COVID-19 protocol. The final score was 4-0.

Dan Vladar breezed to a shutout in goal; his first in the NHL. He saw 27 shots but almost all of them were unscreened from the perimeter. Ottawa had few second-chance opportunities or looks from the slot. Andrew Mangiapane,Elias Lindholm (1g, 1a), MatthewTkachuk and Nikita Zadorov scored for the Flames. 

 Here are five things to watch in this game:

1. Ellis out again, Seeler in.

After missing nine games with a nagging lower body injury that bothered him since the final game of the preseason. Flyers defenseman Ryan Ellis made his much-anticipated return to the Flyers lineup (18:45 TOI, one power play assist, two shots on goal, minus-one at 5-on-5). He was paired with Keith Yandle at five-on-five.

Unfortunately, the Flyers learned the day following the Dallas game that Ellis had reaggravated the same lower-body issue that had been causing him trouble. His availability is once again back on a week-to-week basis.

With Ellis sidelined again, the Flyers will recall Nick Seeler on Tuesday from the AHL's Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Between injuries to Rasmus Ristolainen (first two games of the season) and Ellis, the Flyers have only had both of their two primary offseason blueline acquisitions -- the others were Yandle and Seeler -- in the lineup on the same night on two occasions. Seeler has dressed in 11 of the 13 games the Flyers have played to date.

There was better news with Kevin Hayes. Sidelined throughout training camp and the first 12 games of the season, Hayes returned from abdominal muscle surgery and played in Dallas. He was understandably rusty but got through the game without any injury setbacks and also recorded an assist on the Provorov power play goal.

2. A "Reset" for Lindblom and a Start for Hart.

Until Saturday's game in Dallas, it could fairly be said of Oskar Lindblom that while he was struggling mightily to finish scoring chances (zero goals, one assist), his overall game had been strong throughout the early season on both sides of the puck. That was not the case on Saturday.

Moved down to the fourth line -- one night after being bumped up to the second line and the PP2 unit -- Lindblom was uncharacteristically among the off-puck culprits in two Stars goals. Lindblom was out on the ice for four Dallas goals in all. In fairness, the Flyers fourth line as a whole had a rough game. 

At practice in Voorhees on Monday, Lindblom filled in as a defenseman due to the unavailability of Ellis and (the not-yet recalled) Seeler. He also stayed on for extra practice at the end of the session, and helped gathered the pucks when it was finally time to exit. These were all telltale signs of a forward who was not in the starting lineup plan for the next game.

Sure enough, following practice, Vigneault confirmed to the media that Lindblom would be a healthy scratch in the Calgary game. More accurately, AV used the terminology of Lindblom needing a "reset", which has a more positive connotation of something short-term for a struggling player.

With Lindblom exiting the lineup and Nicolas Aube-Kubel now a member of the Colorado Avalanche after being claimed off waivers by the Flyers on Saturday, Patrick Brown will return to the Flyers starting lineup. 

In the meantime, Carter Hart will get the start in goal. He's coming off a brilliant performance in Friday's 2-1 win in Carolina. The Flyers anticipated lineup is as follows:

28 Claude Giroux - 14 Sean Couturier - 25 James van Riemsdyk
86 Joel Farabee - 13 Kevin Hayes -89 Cam Atkinson
19 Derick Brassard - 21 Scott Laughton - 11 Travis Konecny
38 Patrick Brown - 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

The Flames have been carving a team identity as a club that limits time and space for the opposition, and which is among the toughest teams in the NHL to pry the puck away from once they get on the attack. 

The reputation is supported by the stats, in this case. The Flames are the NHL's number-two ranked team in 5-on-5 Corsi percentage (total shot attempts for/against at 5-on-5) at 54.34 percent, number-three ranked in Fenwick percentage (shot attempts for/against that do not get blocked) at 53.88 percent and rank fourth in high-danger scoring chance differentials at 5-on-5 (53.94 percent). 

Beyond shot attempts and scoring chances, which matter less in the end than actual goals, what's come of it has been that the Flames are one of the best five-on-five goal differential teams in the NHL. They've scored 31 and allowed just 16 (plus-15 as a team). The Flyers still are a team plus-six at 5-on-5 (26 GF, 20 GA) but the recent team struggles in putting the puck in the net have eaten into the margin a bit and forced the Flyers' goalies to have very little margin for error of late.

On the defensive side of the puck, the Flames are the fifth-stingiest team in the NHL in terms of shots-per-game yielded (28.8 percent) while generating the second most shots on goal themselves (34.4 percent).

Tweet from @billmeltzer: Flyers vs. Flames: goal and shot differentials by period, special teams comparatives, GF/GA by manpower. pic.twitter.com/yQoVgmz638

Bottom line: The Flames spend more time attacking and less time defending than most teams in the NHL. However, with Tuesday's game being Calgary's fourth game in six nights traveling across eastern Canada and the northeastern U.S. corridor, the fatigue factor could set in for this game if the Flyers can play the sort of tight-checking, in-your-face style they threw at the Washington Capitals a week ago.

The Flyers were at a severe fatigue factor disadvantage heading into Dallas. Philly was in its third game in four nights across two time zones and three different cities. The Stars had been at home for six days and were playing for just the second time in that span. Since the loss in Dallas, the Flyers had an off-day on Sunday upon their return to Philadelphia and then a night after Monday's practice. Thus, Philly has a minor fatigue-factor edge over the Flames,at least on paper. However, it will be the Flyers execute on the ice that matters far more.

Both the Flames and Flyers have been good first period teams this year. The Flyers' Achilles heel this season has been the second period, which came into play yet again on Friday in Carolina and Saturday in Dallas. 

When some Flyers critics talk about the team being under water in puck possession, they neglect to mention that it has primarily been a second period problem.

Third periods have been a mixed bag but fairly even on the whole, with the Flyers still holding a 15-10 scoring edge over opponents. On Friday against Carolina, the Flyers came back from a 1-0 deficit after two periods to earn a 2-1 regulation win against what had been the NHL's most dominant third-period team. However, that huge victory over the Hurricanes was sandwiched in between a manageable game against Toronto that slipped away in the third period and a third period in Dallas that was OK in terms of process but a scoreboard negative.

Second periods are still the big problem. The Flyers are regularly getting out-possessed, out-shot and out-chanced in the middle frame. 

Even going back to the previous game against Calgary, the first period wasn't an issue. The problem was that the Flames made a heavy push in the second period -- although Hart limited the damage to one goal -- and the Flyers couldn't muster a response.

4. Behind Enemy Lines: Calgary Flames

 The Flames have five players with double-digit point totals so far and eight players overall who've posted seven points or more. Lindholm, who broke a three-game mini-slump with an outstanding performance against Ottawa, leads the team with 16 points and is plus-11 at even strength. Mangiapane, who leads the team with 10 goals to date, has tallied a goal in three of his last four games.

In net, Jacob Markström has had a couple of recent starts that have been below his usual standards. However, the Swede's overall season (5-3-3 record, 1.81 GAA, .935 SV%, four shutouts including the one against the Flyers at the end of October) have been of Vezina Trophy caliber so far.

5. Players to Watch: Couturier and Gaudreau

The last few games have not been up to Sean Couturier's usual high standards. He's even uncharacteristically struggled in the faceoff circle the last few games. The Flyers' team faceoff rankings, usually at the top of the league, have dropped a few notches after tough games in that department against Carolina and Dallas teams that are also very good at the dot. 

Couturier's line spent a little too much time in the defensive zone in the Toronto game (albeit matched up against Auston Matthews' line). Overall, Couturier and Claude Giroux still share the Flyers' scoring lead with 12 points apiece, but the Flyers could really use a big game against Calgary from that line both at 5-on-5 and the power play. Neither Couturier nor Giroux have had a performance in the team's last few games where one could say they put the team on their backs. The line now has James van Riemsdyk on its right wing after Travis Konecny had spent most of the first 11-plus games with them.

Johnny Gaudreau is second on the team scoring chart with 15 points (4g, 11a). "Johnny Hockey" always seems to step up when he returns to his hometown metro area. Recently, he's posted only one point (1a) in his last four games.

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