What a difference a week makes.
Healthy once again, the Philadelphia Flyers are on a high as they head into Pittsburgh for three games this week. They’re now riding a three-game winning streak after recording back-to-back 3-0 shutouts against the Buffalo Sabres over the weekend.
Elliott And Hart Shut The Door
Brian Elliott got his second straight start in net on Saturday and stopped all 23 shots he faced. On Sunday, Carter Hart got back between the pipes for the first time since he was pulled in Lake Tahoe a week earlier, after giving up six goals in two periods. He was perfect against the Sabres, who sent 28 shots his way.
Sean Couturier got the scoring started in both games. He now has five goals in just eight games played, and three have been game winners. He also has 11 total points in the six games since he returned from his rib injury.
The other goals were scored by Shayne Gostisbehere and Scott Laughton on Saturday, and by Michael Raffl and James van Riemsdyk on Sunday.
No More Covid Concerns
Laughton and his linemates Oskar Lindblom and Jakub Voracek were all back in the lineup for the first time on Saturday after missing nearly three weeks of action while on the NHL’s Covid Protocol list. So was defenseman Justin Braun.
Forward Travis Konecny was the last to come off the list, on Sunday. He skated Monday and is joining the team in Pittsburgh, where he’s expected to be a game-time decision when the three-game series against the Penguins kicks off on Tuesday at PPG Paints Arena.
After nearly getting buried under Covid-related absences and game postponements, it looks like the NHL now has the situation under control. As of Monday, only four players league-wide are on the list and just one postponed game still needs to be rescheduled.
For the Flyers, their reschedule games have led to a very busy month of March — 17 games in 30 days including three back-to-backs, all involving different opponents.
Here’s how it breaks down:
- Flyers vs. Penguins: 3 consecutive road games, Mar 2-6
- Flyers vs. Capitals: 3 games at home, Mar 7, then Mar 11-13
- Flyers vs. Sabres: 3 games – at home on Mar 9, then on the road Mar 29-31
- Flyers vs. Rangers: 4 games – on the road Mar 15-17, then home Mar 25-27
- Flyers vs. Islanders: 3 consecutive games – on the road Mar 18-20, the home Mar 22
- Flyers vs. Devils: 1 game – at home Mar 23
- Flyers vs. Bruins: no games!
The standings remain tight in the MassMutual East Division. With an 11-4-3 record so far this season, the Flyers have the best points percentage at .694. But they have played fewer games than any team in the division other than New Jersey. Their 25 points in 18 games have them sitting fourth in the division as of Monday, in that last playoff spot.
They’re Hextall’s Penguins Now
That’s just two points ahead of Pittsburgh, now at 20 games. The Penguins are freshly back home after a four-game road trip to Washington and Long Island. On both visits, they recorded an overtime win, followed by a regulation loss.
The Penguins started their season with a pair of losses to the Flyers. Amidst the surprise resignation of general manager Jim Rutherford, they put together a 5-5-1 record before former Flyers’ GM Ron Hextall and new president of hockey operations Brian Burke took the reins on Feb. 9.
In their first nine games of the new regime, the Penguins have gone 6-3-0. A big part of the credit goes to goaltender Tristan Jarry, who rebounded from a 3.92 goals-against average and .859 save percentage in the month of January to a much more solid 2.62 GAA and .915 save percentage in February.
Pucks On Net
As for Philadelphia, the club’s improved results over the last week have come along with an effort to improve the team’s shot differential.
Through their first 15 games, the Flyers managed just 23.3 shots on goal per game, while giving up 33.3 shots against. That gave them a league-worst shot differential of -10. In their last three games, they’ve restored the shoot-first mentality that was their calling card when they had success last season. Averaging 38.7 shots per game against the Rangers and Buffalo, while giving up just 26, that shot differential of +12.7 was the best in the league last week.
That’s a very promising trend. Last season, the Flyers were in the NHL’s top five in this category when the season was paused. With a shot differential of +2.7, they put an average of 31.4 shots on net while giving up 28.7.