November 26 2010 07:05AM
The Flames have a Black Friday matinee this afternoon in the City of Brotherly Love, at a time where love of any sort for the team has been tough to come by. I can't imagine matters getting any easier today, as Calgary meets a very talented club that's also got the percentages working for them.
The Flyers steamrolled Minnesota 6-1 in St. Paul Wednesday evening as the Flames were scuffling around in the Jersey swamp, and Philadelphia is a club that is loaded with skill up front. My sense is that they've taken Chicago's mantle as the team with the deepest group of forwards in the NHL, and enter the contest scoring the most goals per game in the NHL. They certainly have shot the lights out so far, making more than 10% of their shots 5v5, but the possession numbers are good enough that one could presume that they'll still be a solid club at EV should the percentages slide a touch.
Mike Richards, Scott Hartnell and Claude Giroux are the main guys up front, to my eye. Richards is the type of top line center that most teams would envy, a player that can be used in any scenario with confidence, although this season is one where his good +/- is largely due to a lot of pucks going in. Hartnell's PDO is a gaudy 105.6, but he's been a proper outshooter against decent comp, and Giroux is also outplaying good competition thus far. Add in Carter, Briere, Van Riemsdyk, Zherdev and Leino, and it's easy enough to understand why Philly might not be a bad bet to repeat as Conference champions. Washington and Pittsburgh might have an edge at a position or two, but the edge isn't overwhelming, and Philly can roll quality line after line. Not many teams could heave Simon Gagne over the side without suffering, and the Flyers haven't missed a beat in his absence.
Part of that continuing good performance is because they aren't as short on D as they were last season, with Pronger and Timonen having a good support group this time around. Mezaros and O' Donnell aren't super stars, but they don't need to be coddled in the same manner that Oskars Bartulis was in last season's playoffs, so the third pairing can suck up some ice time without panic setting in.
It's in net where the Flyers have gotten the greatest bump, though and it's from a completely unexpected source. Sergei Bobrovsky has carried the load thus far, and his handiwork has allowed a very good team to run some pretty nice scoring differential numbers. The Flyers are 55GF/33GA during 5v5 play, largely due to Bobrovsky having a .941 EVSV%, 4th in the league for goalies with 10 starts or more. There have been plenty of goalies that have mustered good numbers over a brief period, so the jury is obviously still out, but he's gone from third string to main man in no time flat. Philly is only under the cap due to use of LTIR, so they probably won't be in the market for a Vokoun if the Russian hits a slump, barring the move of a major ticket.
Gamewise, the Flames were pretty pedestrian against an openly lousy team on Wednesday evening, so I can only hope that the atmosphere and opposition act as inspiration this afternoon. There are games that are markers in a team's season, and I don't think I'm overstating things to suggest that today and tomorrow are likely going to be those sorts of occasions for the Flames.