PHILADELPHIA FLYERS: 28-14-5 (61 PTS.) vs. FLORIDA PANTHERS: 22-15-10 (54 PTS.)
GAME TIME: 7:30 P.M.
OPPOSITION SITE: BROAD STREET BUZZ
A couple of “banged up” teams will face off against each other tonight at the Bank Atlantic Center as the Florida Panthers will host the Philadelphia Flyers in the final game for these two before the All-Star break. The Flyers are coming into town following a 6-5 shootout loss to the Boston Bruins on Sunday afternoon in a game that resembled some old time hockey. The game was chippy for sure as the 19 minor penalties, most of which were roughing to go along with three fighting majors, will attest to. Throw in a hat trick by Scott Hartnell, and some overtime hockey and you got your money’s worth.
After a seven game winning streak earlier, the Flyers have become inconsistent going 8-7-2 in their last 17 games, and have struggled to win consecutive games recently. Part of the reason for the inconsistency can be placed on injuries, although I despise that as an excuse. After losing Claude Giroux to concussion symptoms for a few games, he’s returned, but that has been followed by both James Van Rymsdyk and Daniel Briere missing action for the same reason. In addition, Jaromir Jagr is also out with a lower body injury (groin) as well, and is listed as day to day. The Flyers already have lost defenceman Chris Pronger to concussion problems for the entire season, but as we know, good teams overcome these things, and the Flyers have been fortunate to still be in the middle of the pack, even with their recent inconsistency.
With his hat trick Sunday, Hartnell now has 25 goals and is on pace for 45 which would far surpass his previous high of 30 in 2008-2009. Giroux still leads the team in points with 55 (17g, 37a) despite missing action with his concussion, and is just one of nine players who are in double digits in goals for the Flyers. This team, when healthy can score goals, as they currently are third in the league in goals for with 159.
Helping to chip in with the recent injuries are Matt Read and Sean Couturier. Both players are hot with each having eight points in their previous eight games. Read has 15 goals on the season so far, and Couturier has 10, and could have more, however has been brought along carefully after missing time with….yes….a head injury. Expect the Flyers forwards to come at the Panthers hard and try to dictate the pace of the game with their overall team toughness. a Flyer trait for years, that no matter who is on their team, seems to be the style. It can make the game fun to watch and get your adrenaline going, or it can frustrate you if your team isn’t able to match the physicality.
In recent years there has been a humonguuuuuuus (spelling, I know, but the reference is to HBO 24/7) issue with goaltending on Philadelphia teams. Since Ron Hextall in the late 80′s the Flyers have tried 156 different goaltenders and, thought that this year they had their man when the signed Mr. Universe Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine year deal for$55 million. Gulp. Breezy, has been inconsistent lately, and in 33 games overall has won 18, with 10 regulation losses and four overtime losses. His GAA is 2.99 and his save percentage is .895. Splitting time with Sergei Boborovski the two netminders have given up 140 goals, which come playoff time will be a problem if not resolved. In his last 11 games Bryzgalov is 4-5-2 with a 3.48 GAA.
The Panthers come into this game after a thrilling shootout win in Winnipeg Saturday, and a spirited practice Monday after having the day off on Sunday. With good news however always seems to come bad, as two injuries popped up Monday for the Panthers, adding to their season long list. At a time when the forwards are getting healthy for the most part, the blue line is now taking a beating. Dmitry Kulikov joins Ed Jovanovski with an injury that will keep the young defender out of the lineup for 6-8 weeks. Taken Kulikov’s place in the lineup will be Tyson Strachan a veteran of 67 NHL games with the St. Louis Blues. This puts a significant amount of pressure on the rest of the defence, and will be an opportunity for players like Erik Gudbranson and Keaton Ellerby to shine.
Back to the good news however. Kris Versteeg has hopefully broken out of his minor funk with two goals against the Jets on Saturday. Versteeg’s scoring is crucial to the Panthers winning, and you have to hope that this is the start of another goal streak for the good natured forward. A three point night against the Jets could be just the antidote to spark him, and the rest of the club. It seems as though coach Kevin Dineen has split up the FlashMob line recently, that may be a good idea to spread the wealth of scoring and balance the lines as well until things get a bit more consistent. Tomas Fleischmann however needs to find his touch again and has been struggling. The evidence was there for all of us to see, as Flash missed a golden opportunity in overtime and was stuffed by Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec. As Flash skated to the bench, you could see him talking (more like yelling) to himself.
Marcel Goc and Tomas Kopecky have been contributors lately and that can’t come at a better time. The two gritty forwards have combined for six points in the last four games, and it’s been Goc’s timely goals, and TomKop’s hard work along the wall that has really stood out. Speaking of grit, Jack Skille is another player that most likely won’t be in the lineup tonight. His shoulder may not be 100% and the Panthers want to be cautious with him. With a game against the Flyers, there’s no doubt he’ll take a few hits, so sitting him might make some send, plus it gives him a solid heel to heal some more.
Scott Clemmensen is coming off another solid performance, and even though Winnipeg scored three goals, Clemmensen made 41 saves, kept the Panthers in the game, and more importantly made the important saves in overtime and the shootout. He gets the start tonight and no matter how the players in front of him play, he will have to play a stellar game again. These two points have significant meaning to the Panthers for positioning in the Southeast division, and conference.
The Flyers on the other hand have a 17-7-2 road record and have won three consecutive games against the Panthers at the Bank Atlantic Center. A one point lead over Washington and a three point lead over Winnipeg going into the game this evening. A win, would clearly be the best option as being in first place in the Southeast heading into the break would be a phenomenal feat, that no one would have predicted.
* Florida has lost 188 man games to injury.
* Jose Theodore is one win shy of 275 in his career. (doesn’t appear he gets it tonight).
* The Panthers are 17-1-4 when scoring three or more goals.
* Jason Garrison leads all defencemen with 13 goals.
* The Flyers lead the series 40-24-7-1.
*Flyer tough guy Jody Shelley recorded his 1500th penalty minute in a fight Sunday against the Bruins.
* Flyers Senior Vice President Bobby Clarke was the Panthers first General Manager.
* Flyers defenceman Andreas Lilja played with the Panthers for 135 games, recording 7 goals and 12 assists for 19 points.
* Panther forward Scottie Upshall played three seasons for the Flyers, playing in 134 games. He had 27 goals and 37 assists.
* Kris Versteeg played a partial season for Philadelphia, appearing in 27 games. Versteeg had seven goals and 4 assists.
* Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen played for five seasons with the Flyers, was their 10th captain in team history. He had 88 goals, 88 assists, and 575 penalty minutes.
* Panthers assistant coach Gord Murphy was the 189th pick by the Flyers in 1985 and played for four seasons with the Flyers.
* Florida assistant coach Craig Ramsey was an assistant coach for the Flyers from 1998-2000, and head coach during the 2000-2001 season.
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