After finishing last in the NHL in goals against in the 2020-21 season, general manager Chuck Fletcher put a defensive revamp at the top of his offseason to-do list.
Philadelphia has opened the season well, with a 2-1-1 record. But the Flyers have only had both of their new rearguards in the lineup for one of their four games so far — the satisfying 6-3 beatdown of the Boston Bruins.
Ristolainen missed the first two games of the season with an upper-body injury, then Ellis was sldelined for last Saturday’s 4-2 loss to the Florida Panthers with an undisclosed ailment.
And while Ellis has accompanied the Flyers on their three-game road trip to Western Canada this week, he’s not expected to suit up Wednesday night, when the Flyers face the Edmonton Oilers.
On Monday in Philadelphia, coach Alain Vigneault said it was all part of the plan for Ellis to be a partial participant in practice, including power-play drills, but to skip the more physical work toward the end of the session.
But Ellis was not on the ice for Tuesday’s practice session in Edmonton, and isn’t expected to suit up Wednesday night.
"This is lingering a little longer than we originally thought and planned," Alain Vigneault said of Ryan Ellis's injury. He's still day-to-day but won't play tomorrow.
— Giana Han (@giana_jade) October 26, 2021
Ep 12: Biting, Montreal, COVID, and Penguins Sale Updateby Full Press Coverage on December 1, 2021 at 5:52 pm
Mike, Jim, and Chris […]
He’ll be missed against the Oilers, who boast two of the highest-scoring players in the league. Connor McDavid is outdoing even himself with 2.6 points per game in the early going while Leon Draisaitl is right behind with 2.2. And the Oilers’ power play has been clicking at an insane 47.1% through five games, tops in the NHL.
Expect to see Ivan Provorov paired once again with Justin Braun. The two were frequent partners last season. Braun also moved into that spot during the Flyers’ 4-2 loss to the Florida Panthers last Saturday.
The Oilers are off to a terrific 5-0-0 start, even though starting goaltender Mike Smith has missed the last two games with a leg injury. Mikko Koskinen has done an admirable job in relief so far. He has given up just five goals in 148 minutes of action, for a 2.03 goals against average.
But the Flyers pose a bigger offensive threat than the other teams that Koskinen has faced. Anaheim, Arizona and Vegas all rank in the bottom half of the league in goals per game; the injury-riddled Golden Knights have not yet scored a single power-play goal. Meanwhile, the Flyers head into Wednesday’s game tied ranked third overall in both goals per game (4.60) and power-play efficiency (4-for-11 for 36.4%).
Ellis’ scoring touch will be missed. He had four points in his first three games, including a power-play assist. But Keith Yandle has also been an important offensive addition on the back end. He has five points in his first four games, including two with the man advantage. And up front, the club is enjoying solid production from both of its top lines. The new combination of Cam Atkinson and Joel Farabee flanking Derick Brassard has drawn the lion’s share of the attention. All three members of the top line, Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Travis Konecny, also have a point a game or better in the early going.
All that run support makes life easier for Carter Hart, who has been solid in the early going. Though he’s just 1-1-1 so far, his .914 save percentage through three games is identical to his performance from his impressive 2019-20 season. That’s a marked improvement from last year’s .877.
Wednesday’s game is a big one for the 23-year-old. Hart grew up in Sherwood Park, Alberta, roughly a half-hour’s drive from Edmonton’s Rogers Place. And he’ll be hoping for a better performance than his first start in his home town, two years ago. On October 16, 2019, Hart was pulled after giving up four goals on 14 shots through 34:32 of game action. Connor McDavid had a five-point night as the Oilers defeated the Flyers 6-3.
It'll be back-to-back hometown starts for the Flyers netminders.
Carter Hart will start on Wednesday in Edmonton while Martin Jones will be between the pipes on Thursday in Vancouver. pic.twitter.com/tGne5qjOH7
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) October 25, 2021
As it turns out, both Flyers goalies will get the opportunity to play in their home towns during this trip. A native of North Vancouver, B.C., Martin Jones is set to get the start on Thursday against the Vancouver Canucks.
As a member of the San Jose Sharks, Jones had tremendous success in Vancouver. He put up a 6-1-1 record in eight appearances, with a .938 save percentage and 1.86 goals-against average.
The Flyers’ Western Canadian road swing will wrap up on Saturday in Calgary. Then, they’ll start the month of November with four of six games away from Wells Fargo Center. A three-game homestand is set for mid-month.