Flyers at Golden Knights Preview: Vegas looks to prey on Flyers squad mired in losing streak
Vegas, meanwhile, has a chance to collect a season-best fourth consecutive win.
The Vegas Golden Knights continue their four-game homestand tonight with a Friday-night tilt against the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Golden Knights will try to extend their three-game winning streak, looking to build on Wednesday’s thrilling 5-4 win against the Dallas Stars. It may not have been the prettiest effort, but it was a gutsy performance that is sure to make this a confident bunch headed into tonight’s game.
The Stars came in to T-Mobile Arena having won seven games in a row; similarly, the Flyers enter tonight’s game in the midst of a lengthy streak of their own, though it is of a slightly different nature.
That’s assuming a 17-game swing can be considered slight.
But there’s nothing slight about the Flyers’ situation, as the team has lost 10 straight games (0-8-2), getting outscored by a 3-to-1 margin (21-7) in four games this month and 46-18 overall in the last 10.
Loss No. 8 in that stretch — Sunday’s lackluster 7-1 loss to Tampa Bay — proved to be particularly significant.
Following a three-day break that included two practice days, it was a must-win game for the team; the uninspired effort was the last straw for general manager Chuck Fletcher, who fired head coach Alain Vigneault along with assistant coach Michel Therrien less than 12 hours later.
Tonight will be the third game in Mike Yeo’s tenure as interim head coach, which should be relatively short-lived since the Flyers remain winless with him at the helm (and he was on Vigneault’s staff). The Flyers are reportedly conducting a search for Vigneault’s replacement, with Rick Tocchet rumored to be a top candidate.
But all the Flyers are focused on right now is getting that first win.
The Knights will do everything they can to prevent that from happening, but no matter what, one streak is coming to an end tonight.
One player who won’t be part of the battle is Nolan Patrick, who surely has had this game circled on the calendar for months. It’s disappointing for the young forward — who has been out of the lineup since Oct. 22— given his experience in Philadelphia; no team understands a revenge narrative quite like the Golden Misfits.
There is some irony in the fact that he wouldn’t have gotten to face Vigneault; there certainly was no brotherly love between the two. The same could be said about Robin Lehner, who called Vigneault out on Twitter before the start of the season.
One player who will have some narrative in the mix, however, is Patrick Brown, who was claimed off waivers by Philadelphia just prior to the start of the regular season. Brown played five regular-season games with Vegas over the last two seasons but skated in 14 postseason contests; he scored three goals in the postseason, including one in each of the Minnesota and Colorado series from Vegas’ most recent playoff run.
He has yet to score for his new team, which currently sits at 8-12-4, good for seventh overall in the Metropolitan Division; only the New York Islanders have fewer points, and they have two games in hand.
Interestingly, the Flyers were firing on all cylinders at the start of the season. A newly-formed line of Cam Atkinson and Derick Brassard — both acquired in the offseason — as well as Joel Farabee combined for 19 points in the first five games of the year, and the team was running set plays to perfection.
Carter Hart was excellent as well. In fact, through mid-November, Hart was ranked fifth in save percentage (.935) and sixth in goals-against average (2.19) among regular starters.
It was quite a turnaround considering the Flyers had the worst goaltending in the NHL last year; while his numbers have since dropped (he now holds a 5-8-3 record with a 2.90 goals-against average and .911 save percentage), it’s been a marked improvement notwithstanding some inconsistencies.
Even offseason addition Martin Jones has exceeded expectations with three wins, a 3.41 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage.
But both have struggled of late.
In fact, Hart has lost five games in a row, giving up 20 goals in that time. That’s not surprising considering the team is stuck in a 10-game losing skid. Plus, to be fair, his goal support in those five games consisted of five total goals, three of which came in one game.
Though Hart has had some less-than-stellar performances this season, he’s not the reason the Flyers are on this trajectory.
However, the Golden Knights can take advantage of some of Hart’s weaknesses. One, in particular, has been an issue since opening night, and it’s one the Knights should try to exploit.
Hart has not been strong on the post.
He has struggled to get over and has left daylight both under his pads and between his pad and the post. In other words, the side of the net has been his main vulnerability.
Mac Truck coming through! 🚛 pic.twitter.com/Kscdoexcqw— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) December 5, 2021
The Flyers’ defense hasn’t helped, allowing opposing players to get behind them and leaving them wide open, failing to clear people out of the crease and blowing coverage on a regular basis.
Hart also has given up some facepalm-worthy goals as he’s struggled to handle rebounds off the end boards and behind the net.
COREY PERRY! 🚨— Bally Sports Sun: Lightning (@BallyLightning) December 5, 2021
The @TBLightning score back-to-back goals! Bolts up 2-0 on the Flyers! #GoBolts pic.twitter.com/mILAxvLkcS
Going hard to the net and using the trapezoid could pay dividends for Vegas.
So could addressing special teams.
One of the most glaring aspects of Vegas’ 5-4 win over Dallas on Wednesday was the Knights’ special teams. Suffice to say, they were far from special.
In fact, Vegas surrendered three power-play goals (on three shots), the third of which led to Lehner getting pulled. The fans seemed to miss the point (and were anything but subtle), but Pete DeBoer’s momentum play helped wake up the Knights. That doesn’t mean Lehner was to blame for the goals, though. Should he get the nod tonight, it will be interesting to see how he responds.
It can’t hurt that the Flyers’ scoring has dried up. Plus, they will be without Farabee, whose 2021-22 shooting percentage of 20.6 percent falls just shy of Chandler Stephenson’s (21.4 percent).
The Flyers are averaging 2.33 goals per game on the year but just 1.8 over their last 10 games.
Captain Claude Giroux leads the team in scoring with 21 points; he and Atkinson are tied for the team lead in goals with nine (though Atkinson has just three in his last 19 games); Giroux also has a team-high 12 assists.
The Knights and Flyers have split the all-time series with three wins and three losses apiece, but it has been nearly two calendar years since they squared off.
In the last meeting, the Knights scored four goals in the first period and survived Philadelphia’s late 6-on-3 opportunity to hang on in a 5-4 win. Cody Glass and Jon Merrill scored two of Vegas’ goals.
But one thing the two clubs have in common is an inexplicable ineptitude on the power play. The Knights should use that both ways.
The Golden Knights are one of just three teams in the league with a power-play percentage lower than Philadelphia’s.
But that still puts both teams in the bottom four; Philadelphia has clicked at a meager rate of 13.9 percent, while Vegas has converted on a whopping 13.6 percent of its power plays.
That still works in Vegas’ favor, since it’ll give the penalty kill a chance to bounce back. The same can be said of the Knights’ power play since Philadelphia’s penalty kill operates at 79.2 percent (22nd in the NHL).
At 5-on-5, Vegas shouldn’t have much of an issue controlling play or suppressing chances.
Philadelphia’s possession stats all sit in the 40-percent range.
Notably, the Flyers’ 42.05 percent goal share is the fifth-worst in the league, while its 44.81 percent expected goal share ranks 31st (ahead of only Arizona).
The Flyers have the lowest scoring chance share (43.14 percent) and lowest high-danger Corsi share (40.97 percent) in the league.
By contrast, the Knights’ numbers all hover around 50 percent, though that is somewhat low compared to previous seasons.
The area with the greatest discrepancy in Philadelphia’s favor is faceoff percentage. The Flyers perennially rank at or near the top with the likes of Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier; four out of five Flyers who have taken at least 100 faceoffs this season have at least a 50-percent win rate, the lone exception being Scott Laughton (48.8 percent). Giroux is second overall (62.1 percent) in the NHL, trailing only Patrice Bergeron. Brown sits at 70.8 percent but has taken just 48 draws.
As a team, the Knights are ranked 28th (46.5 percent).
However, that didn’t hamper their efforts the other night against the Stars, who won 65 percent on the night, so the Knights will just have to find another workaround.
How to watch
Time: 7 p.m.
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9