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5 THINGS: Flyers vs. Lightning

In the second game of a three-game homestand, Alain Vigneault's Philadelphia Flyers (8-4-2) will host Jon Cooper's Tampa Bay Lightning (8-3-3) at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night. Game time is 7:00 p.m. (NBCSP, 93.3 WMMR).

by Bill Meltzer @billmeltzer /


In the second game of a three-game homestand, Alain Vigneault's Philadelphia Flyers (8-4-2) will host Jon Cooper's Tampa Bay Lightning (8-3-3) at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night. Game time is 7:00 p.m. (NBCSP, 93.3 WMMR). Thursday's game is the Flyers' designated Hockey Fights Cancer Night.

This is the first of three meets between the teams this season,and the first of two in Philadelphia. The teams will rematch next Tuesday (Nov. 23) in Tampa before the season series wraps up back at the Wells Fargo Center on Dec. 5.

The Flyers have been alternating wins and losses since the end of October. Coming off a 2-1 overtime win against the Calgary Flames on Tuesday, the team will look for its first back-to-back wins since Oct. 27 (in Edmonton) and Oct. 28 (in Vancouver).

In the game against Calgary two nights ago, goaltender Carter Hart's run of excellent performances continued. Yielding only a first-period goal that deflected off teammate Sean Couturier and changed direction, Hart stopped 33 of 34 shots. The Flyers scratched out a regulation goal by Kevin Hayes (1st goal of the season) and an overtime-winning rebound goal by Cam Atkinson (7th) off an initial shot-for-the-pads by Couturier.

The two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning bring a 4-1-1 road record on the still-young season into this game. During a three-game homestand prior to traveling to Philadelphia, the Lightning collected five of six possible points in games against the Carolina Hurricanes (2-1 overtime loss), Florida Panthers (3-2 overtime win) and New York Islanders (4-1 victory).

In the game against the Islanders on Monday, the Bolts spotted Bary Trotz's team an early first period goal by Mathew Baral, but led 2-1 by the first intermission. After a scoreless middle stanza, the Lightning pulled away in the third. Mathieu Joseph (2nd goal of the season), Anthony Cirelli (4th), Brayden Point (6th) and Steven Stamkos (PPG, 8th) scored for Tampa. . Andrei Vasilevskiy earned the win with 25 saves on 26 shots.

Here are five things to watch in this game:

1. Flyers power play realignment.

The Flyers' power play clicked during the season-opening four-game homestand but has been struggling ever since that time. The team is just three for its last 34 on the man advantage and has plummeted to being ranked 25th in the NHL with a 15.6 percent overall success rate. 

Of late, the power play issues have been exceptionally pronounced: getting entries and generating puck movement has been elusive. In some games, Philly has yielded more opposing shorthanded chances than they've created power play looks at the net. 

Last Saturday in Dallas, the Flyers seemed to take baby steps forward in terms of getting set up on the power play (albeit against a club that has struggled on the penalty kill). They even got a third-period goal from the second unit. On Tuesday, however, the Philadelphia power play was once again momentum-negative at worst or momentum-neutral at best. The Flyers had to rely on Hart to stop two different 2-on-1 shorthanded rushes by Calgary.

The last few weeks, the Flyers have had a lot of personnel shifting and structural tweaks on the power play in the hopes of finding something that provides a special team spark.The juggling continued at practice in Voorhees on Wednesday. Cam Atkinson took a maintenance day, and Travis Konecny toop reps on both PP1 and PP2 but Atkinson will reassume a spot come Thursday night. Possible alignment:

PP1: Claude Giroux (left circle), Joel Farabee (bumper), Derick Brassard (right side), Konecny (net-front), Ivan Provorov (point). 

PP2: Kevin Hayes (left side), Konecny (bumper), James van Riemsdyk (net-front), Sean Couturier (right side), Keith Yandle (point).

Tampa has been strong on the penalty kill this season so far, clocking in at 85.1 percent overall (9th in the NHL) and 18-for-21 on the road. Meanwhile, Tampa has yet to get fully untracked on the power play this season but the Flyers would be wise to avoid undisciplined penalties against a team with as much offensive talent as the Lightning has. Tampa is 8-for-42 overall on the power play (19 percent, 16th in the NHL) and 4-for-15 (26.7 percent, 5th in the NHL) in away games.

2. With Brown Down, Lindblom Returns.

Flyers fourth-line left winger Patrick Brown suffered a thumb injury late in the first period of Tuesday's game, and did not return. He is on a week-to-week basis, per Vigneault. 

Prior to Saturday's game in Dallas, Oskar Lindblom had been doing a lot of things well in his 200-foot game but was snakebitten offensively all season. Moved to the fourth line in Dallas on the night that Hayes returned to the lineup and various 5-on-5 combos were juggled, Lindblom uncharacteristically struggled on both sides of the puck.  

As a result, Vigneault decided to give Lindblom a "reset game" (a more positive connotation than "healthy scratch") against Calgary. The plan all along was to get Lindblom back in the lineup quickly. The Brown injury sealed it, with the Flyers now down to 12 healthy forwards.

Barring other tweaks on game day, the Flyers could line up this way against the Lightning.

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
23 Oskar Lindblom - 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

While the Flyers have had power play issues this season, they've been much improved in terms of their 5-on-5 defensive play and own-zone structure. A couple of back-door tap-ins yielded in the Dallas game were out of step with how the team has played overall in their own end of the ice. They've helped their goalies out and, in turn, Hart and Martin Jones have bailed out the team repeatedly when there's been an opposing push or counterattack. 

Each period of Tuesday's game against Calgary took on decidedly different complexions. Despite nearly even shot on goal totals in the first period, Calgary significantly outworked and outchanced the Flyers. The second period was a wide-open track meet with numerous high-end scoring chances at both ends. The Flyers dominated the majority of the third period, generating a lot of positive puck possession, playing very physically and taking away time and space when Calgary had the puck. Philly then prevailed in OT.

There will always be ebbs and flows to any game but the Flyers have gone to some extremes. The usual flow has been like this: strong first period, struggling second period, fairly even third period (but with Flyers outscoring opponents overall). The pattern on Tuesday was different and very well could be dissimilar again against Tampa.
Tweet from @billmeltzer: Flyers vs. Lightning: goal/shot differential comparatives, special teams comps, GF/GA by manpower.

The important part against the Flames was that Philly got better and better as the game went along and they carried emotion, physicality and increased puck control right on over through the end of regulation before prevailing in 3-on-3 sudden death after an opposition turnover (by Calgary's Johnny Gaudreau). 

The main concern right now for the Flyers -- which is partially due to all the power play struggles -- has been putting the puck in the net. While a team has to be able to sometimes win 2-1 games and it's easier to stay competitive that way than as a team that has to regularly try to outscore its mistakes (see the 2020-21 Flyers season), goalies need a bit more goal support than the Flyers have been providing of late to Hart and Jones.

While anything can happen on a given night and the Bolts' roster isn't quite as deep as it was in their Cup-winning 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons, the Lightning remain a team that can rack up goals in a hurry. Even without the services of injured superstar Nikita Kucherov, Tampa is averaging 3.07 goals per game (12th in the NHL). 

4. Behind Enemy Lines: Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa is a team that can lurk around the middle of the pack for a month or two early in the season and then hit the accelerator and leave everyone in their dust. There's still plenty of elite talent on this team despite Kucherov's absence. The main difference is that the lineup is perhaps a bit more top-heavy than it was a year or two ago.

The names are familiar to hockey fans leaguewide. Stamkos has already bagged eight goals (four on the power play with his overpowering one-timer) and collected 16 points. Brayden Point has a dozen points (6g, 6a). Superstar defenseman Victor Hedman is logging 25:37 of all-situations ice time and has 13 points (2g, 11a) in 14 games played. In net, Vasilievskiy boasts a 7-2-3 record, 2.20 GAA and .924 save percentage. 

Alex Killorn has averaged a point-per-game to date (7g and 7a in 14 games). The long-underrated Ondrej Palat has 10 points. Anthony Cirelli, whose name has swirled the "future Selke winner" circles for a few years brings strong off-puck play as well as 10 points to the table. 

Thus far, the team has missed the motor that Yanni Gourde (now with Seattle) and the departure of Blake Coleman (now with Calgary) has taken another nibble into the Lightning's depth, although with the off-season trade that sent Barclay Goodrow to the New York Rangers. The top-end cast, however, is still mostly together.

In terms of depth, Patrick Maroon is still around to supply the "heaviness" element and the team added still-feisty 36-year-old power forward/ agitator Corey Perry in the offseason. On the back end, Ryan McDonagh still plays a big role on the team and logs heavy ice time while Zach Bogosian is a depth piece at this stage of his career. The blueline corps is Hedman, McDonagh and Mikhail Sergachev as the backbones of their respective pairings.

There are two familiar faces to Flyers fans on the Tampa roster: bottom-six center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (14:07 TOI, penalty killing regular) and backup goalie Brian Elliott.

Tampa's fourth line wingers: Boris Katchouk on the left side and power forward Taylor Raddysh on the right have a connection to Flyers center prospect Morgan Frost (currently with the AHL's Lehigh Valley Phantoms). 

Raddysh and Katchouk, who cracked the Lightning's NHL roster this season, were Frost's his primary linemates with the Ontario Hockey League's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in 2017-18. Katchouk played with Frost regularly all season and Raddysh joined following his acquisition immediately after the World Junior Championships.. 

That year, the trio was the best collective line in the OHL and possibly the entire CHL. They always seemed to have the puck and their chemistry was a sight to behold. Frost racked up 112 points and a CHL-best plus-70 ranking that year.

At the NHL level thus far, Raddysh's main role has been to supply some strength down low and along the boards. He has a heavy shot and an ability to score goals in close but that's not his NHL role (nine shots in goal in 14 games). 

Katchouk is a versatile player who hounds the puck, throws his body around (16 hits in six games played) and gets under opponents' skin. In his junior days, he had a 42-goal season benefiting from Frost's playmaking talents, but topped out at 14 goals in his three AHL season before getting his first NHL opportunity this season.

Projected lineup:

18 Ondrej Palat - 21 Brayden Point - 71 Anthony Cirelli
17 Alex Killorn - 91 Steven Stamkos - 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: Ristolainen and Point

It took a few weeks for Flyers offseason acquisition Rasmus Ristolainen to settle into his new team's systems, work through a late training camp injury that kept him out of the first two games of the regular season and start to develop chemistry with regular defense partner Travis Sanheim. 

More recently, Ristolainen has rattled off six consecutive strong all-around games. In Tuesday's game, he was credited with nine hits and three blocked shots in addition to making a good keep in the offensive zone that started the sequence that ended in Hayes' goal that tied the score at 1-1. Tampa will be a tough test for the Sanheim-Ristolainen pairing as well as the top pairing duo of Ivan Provorov and Justin Braun (off a strong start this season). 

Over Brayden Point's career to date, the Tampa forward has victimized the Flyers on numerous occasions. Thus far, he's not scoring at his accustomed pace but is capable of breaking loose at any time.

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