Spying on the Saboteur: Philadelphia Flyers vs New York Rangers

After an eleven-day break, the Philadelphia Flyers host the New York Rangers at the Wells Fargo Center at 7pm.

It has been eleven days since the Philadelphia Flyers last played hockey. During that stretch, COVID19 handcuffed the NHL. Several players had to quarantine due to COVID19 protocol procedures.

Tonight, the Flyers will be without six familiar faces. Vital members of the team have yet to clear the COVID19 protocol. Not only will these players not dress versus the New York Rangers, but they won’t travel to Lake Tahoe either. Standing in third place within the Mass Mutual Eastern Division, Philadelphia could face their greatest challenge in 2020-2021.

Back at the Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers will take on the Rangers for the first time this season. The Rangers rank towards the bottom of the Eastern Division, only ahead of the Buffalo Sabres. While Philadelphia hasn’t played in eleven days, the Rangers own a 0-3-1 record in the same stretch. Though the Flyers will employ a makeshift lineup due to COVID19 protocol, they arguably have the momentum. How will Philadelphia answer at puck drop without their usual lineup?

New York Rangers – Forward Spotlight

Two days ago, the Rangers lost to the New Jersey Devils in regulation. In the 5-2 loss, Chris Kreider registered a point late in the second period when Pavel Buchnevich scored. His assist helped tie the game, but the Devils scored three unanswered goals to secure the victory.

Overall, Kreider provided the most quality minutes in the loss to New Jersey. When he and Buchnevich were both on the ice, the Rangers were playing their best hockey. Kreider helped the Rangers dictate the pace when he was on the ice, tying the game headed into the third period. It’s important to note the Rangers were without Artemi Panarin, who returns tonight.

His level of play will challenge the Flyers lineup. For the first time this season, Philadelphia is more stable defensively than offensively. The Rangers’ top line is known to give the Flyers fits, especially Mika Zibanejad. Philippe Myers will play on the first pair with Ivan Provorov. If the Rangers want to get ahead of Philadelphia, David Quinn will create line changes to take advantage of Robert Hagg and Erik Gustafsson.

New York Rangers – Defensive Spotlight

Without question, the ace for the Rangers on defense is Adam Fox. Fox is the player the Rangers will build around on defense. Defensively speaking, the Rangers are unstable. A sign pointing to that is the ice-time Fox displayed versus the Devils. On February 16th, Fox played just over 25-and-a-half minutes, leading the team.

Fox is arguably the player the Rangers most rely on in 2020-2021. Without him on the ice, the defense is flawed. To help the Rangers on defense, K’Andre Miller will return to the lineup on the second pair.

Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes must be spectacular with their linemates tonight. As of late, Nicolas Aube-Kubel has inspired Philadelphia with his physical play. Nolan Patrick will be the anchor for the bottom-six, alongside Connor Bunnaman and David Kase. Alain Vigneault will manage short shifts from his inexperienced bottom-six forwards. The Flyers will rely heavily on their top-six but need a spark from their taxi-squad participants.

New York Rangers – Goaltender Spotlight

During the Rangers’ losing streak over the past ten days, Igor Shesterkin is 0-3-0. In two of those losses, he possessed a save percentage greater than 93%. Against New Jersey, he allowed four goals. It was his worst performance in that stretch. Oddly enough, he played his best against the division-leading Boston Bruins.

Tonight marks the first time Shesterkin could face Philadelphia. His teammate, Alexandar Georgiev, is 1-3-0 all-time against the Flyers. In a head-to-head discussion of goaltenders, Philadelphia wins the battle on paper. Neither goaltender on the Rangers roster has a winning record in 2020-2021, but only Shesterkin has a save percentage above 90% and a goals-against average under three.

Flyers Phlight Deck

Taking The Taxi To The Show

In the Flyers lineup from the taxi squad are Samuel Morin, Andy Andreoff, David Kase, and Maksim Sushko. The only player yet to skate in the NHL is Sushko, making his debut tonight. Earlier this season, Morin made his debut at left-wing against the New York Islanders. Last season, Andreoff and Kase earned ice-time. Andreoff played in fourteen games, while Kase participated in six.

Kase left a positive impression during his six games in 2019-2020. He logged a game-winning goal and finished with a plus-one rating in his short stint. While averaging less than ten minutes a game, Kase lent a helping hand defensively, forcing more takeaways than turnovers.

Combine that with Morin, who became Philadelphia’s hired gun in 2020-2021. Vigneault wanted to maximize physicality, which worked with Morin in the lineup. In one game at his new position, Morin tallied three hits and a booming shot on goal. For a defenseman who made a change in training camp to left-wing, that contribution is what you want to see.

Andreoff is the veteran forward of the promoted taxi-squad bunch. Before arriving at the Flyers, he spent his career with the Los Angeles Kings. At optimum, Andreoff totaled ten points in sixty games. Under Vigneault, Andreoff could thrive in a short stint. As a depth player, he is physical and offers help on the forecheck.

Sushko is the unknown entering the lineup tonight. Last season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, he offered a balanced attack on the way to 21 points and a plus-seven rating. This season, he’s only played three games with the Phantoms. If all goes well, Sushko could tally his first point of 2020-2021 in the NHL instead of the AHL.

Rangers vs Flyers Prediction

Would you believe me if I told you Philadelphia is the favorite tonight? The odds barely favor the Flyers, but currently at -113 to the Rangers at -106 are the money lines. The oddsmakers believe the Rangers are awful, or they think Philadelphia has a chance with a lineup that reflects a preseason game. I believe the Flyers will have a tough time adapting before they head to Lake Tahoe. Known Philadelphia killer, Panarin, returns to tag-team with Zibanejad (more nightmare fuel.)

Prediction: Rangers 3, Flyers 2.

Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre

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