For the first time since their game seven loss at the hands of the New York Rangers in 2014, the Philadelphia Flyers will play a hockey game with neither Ron Hextall as general manager, or Dave Hakstol as head coach. Oh, and Carter Hart makes his NHL debut tonight. Just your average Tuesday, folks.
Indeed, times are changing. The Flyers head into tonight’s game coached by someone other than Dave Hakstol for the first time since the end of the 2014-15 season, with former Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon at the helm. Gordon enters his second head coach position at the NHL level, having formerly manned the bench for the New York Islanders from 2008-2010. After a wild couple of days, Flyers nation finally got their wish.
Now, the team turns their attention to the Detroit Red Wings and an actual hockey game to play tonight. After going 1-4-1 on their road trip, the Flyers return to the Wells Fargo Center to what should be a re-energized crowd despite the team’s record. The coach and GM are gone, and the most prized goalie prospect Philadelphia has seen in ages is set to make his NHL debut.
The team to face them is the Detroit Red Wings, a team fully cognizant of change and turnover over the past few seasons. Although their roster is comprised almost entirely of little known rookies and mediocre veterans, the Wings sit just six points out of a playoff spot behind Montreal in the second wild card. So, out of the plentiful options, what can we look forward to in tonight’s game?
1. Welcome to the show, Carter
As we learned this morning, we will be witness tonight to the NHL debut of star prospect goalie Carter Hart tonight, which makes this the most anticipated debut by a Flyers goalie since Ilya Bryzgalov — and the most anticipated debut by a Flyers goalie prospect since Sergei Bobrovsky. Sure, no one wanted to see Hart up on these circumstances, but he’s up here nonetheless and it is exciting. In 17 games this season, Hart has a .901 save percentage with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms but has been excellent of late.
In his past five starts, Hart has posted a .939 save percentage to go along with a 4-1-0 record. The NHL game is going to be a completely different animal for the Flyers prized goaltender, but the fact he’s on a hot streak hopefully helps Hart along. Regardless, if Hart performs well tonight, the crowd at Wells Fargo Center may be the loudest we’ve seen all season.
2. Let’s see some below the goal line offense, boys
The Flyers system under Dave Hakstol was highly criticized, and for good reason. His low-to-high offensive set up hurt the team more often than not, and kept them as far away as possible from getting consistent offense. Shots came from defensemen at the point way too often, and it created a boring and far too predictable offensive system for goalies and defenses to plan against.
Now, with the addition of Gordon, we may see instant dividends. Noticeable in players such as Travis Sanheim, Oskar Lindblom, and even Phil Varone since his callup, they’ve all shown a propensity to either get the puck below the goal line, or setup shop there. Something that would be nice to see more of the Flyers defensemen implement, is how Sanheim especially will first look to get the puck down low to his forwards. If this is something that Gordon can bring to this team — a strong below the goal line presence — this should help the Flyers immensely offensively.
3. Keep Detroit’s speed in check
Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou, and Gustav Nyquist are just a few of the Detroit speedsters the Flyers will need to watch tonight. The Red Wings may not be a great or even good hockey team, but they do have a lot of speed and energy to throw around. Although hopefully a new bench boss brings more life and a faster offensive pace to the Flyers, they still must be prepared for the speed the Red Wings will bring, especially the defensemen.
Possibly one of the more interesting aspects of the Flyers change under Scott Gordon will be how much the defensemen pinch compared to under Hakstol. While we may not see these changes tonight given this is the first game under Gordon, in the coming games it absolutely will be something to watch for.
Flyers Projected Lineup
Giroux — Patrick — Konecny
Simmonds — Couturier — Voracek
JVR — Laughton — Raffl
Lindblom — Varone — Weise
Provorov — MacDonald
Sanheim — Gostisbehere
Hagg — Gudas