The Caps head off to Philadelphia to take on the Flyers, a 2-0 team, in their home opener. Home… where feelings of warmth and love permeate. Where fans actually have counters taking the measure of how long it’s been since you last won a Stanley Cup. But then again, it’s a place where it’s always sunny, too.
For those of you who haven’t been to a Flyers game in sunny south Philadelphia, the club has a somewhat odd take on promotion nights.
Fans always look forward to “Make Your Own Snack Night” and the popular giveaway that makes the night possible (fans are advised to beware of nose bleeds from too many visits to the "snack bar"). Ladies can use the giveaway as an earring with the handy hook device.
And then there is the annual promotion for season ticket holders…
…yes, “Pick Your Seat Night.”
There is “Come as Your Favorite Thug Night,” in keeping with the general theme of the club. Now, in most places this might mean dressing up as Al Capone or, if you’re a couple, Bonnie and Clyde. Not in Philly, no sir…
Of course, no Flyer season would be complete without “Orange Tumor Night”
And there is always the perennial fan favorite, “Penny An IQ Point Night.” Although it hasn’t been confirmed, the story has it that no fan has ever paid more than 75 cents for admission on this special night.
The Flyers have to take special measures on this night, but sometimes, they don’t make it to all the facilities in time. Fans think they’re drinking premium beer without the lines over at the AT&T Pavilion.
On the ice, the Flyers are thought to be a Stanley Cup contender this year. Humor us, we didn’t say it first. But the Flyers, having taken on Chris Pronger, Ray Emery, Brian Boucher, Ian Laperriere, and O-K Tollefsen, not to mention adding phenom James Van Riemsdyk, are supposed to be good this year. Scary good. Rip your heart out and eat it in front of your face good.
Yeah, we’ll see.
The Flyers have won both of their opening road games, allowing only two goals in the process, which brings us to Ray Emery, the latest answer to the trivia question, “who is the goaltender for the Flyers?” This is a position that has been treated by the Flyers much the same way as a baby treats a diaper over the years. Since 2000, this group has included…
You see any perennial all stars in this bunch?
And now… Ray Emery. The latest contestant in the Flyer goaltending sweepstakes has gotten off to quite the auspicious start. 2-0-0, 1.00, .963, and a shutout is a way to endear oneself to the cheesesteak eating crowd, to be sure. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, since Emery has only once played more than half his team’s games in a season. In that season he was 33-16-6, 2.47, .918, and four shutouts, and led his team to a Stanley Cup final.
Of course, one must mention that Emery followed that up with the meltdown of a 12-13-4, 3.13, .890 season in 31 games that led him to be banished to Russia for a season.
Which Emery plays for the Flyers is probably the biggest factor – bigger than Pronger, bigger than Jeff Carter, bigger than Mike Richards, bigger than Lauren Hart – in whether the Flyers can contend for a Stanley Cup this year. Against the Caps in his career, Emery is 3-5-0, 2.82, .907, although he has lost four of his last five decisions against the Caps, giving up 18 goals in those five games.
Last year, the Flyers could score. They averaged 3.17 goals a game, which was good for fifth in the league. They also had a dangerous power play that finished the year sixth in conversion success rate (22.5 percent).
What they needed to improve was their defense. The Flyers finished 16th in goals allowed (2.83/game), even while they finished sixth in penalty killing (83.0 percent) and first in shorthanded goals (16).
That’s where Chris Pronger comes in. Pronger adds the requisite mean streak to the Flyers, but he also remain one of the elite defensemen in the league. He’s gotten off to the sort of start that will endear him to Flyer fans – two assists in two games, a plus-3, and six penalty minutes. For the purposes of this game, he is likely to provide some measure of relief for Kimmo Timonen, who has been called upon to keep an eye on Alex Ovechkin over the past couple of years, with indifferent results (Ovechkin is 5-4-9, even in eight regular season games against the Flyers in the last two years).
The offensive push for the Flyers is still going to be provided by the core of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne and Scott Hartnell. This quartet accounted for 140 of the Flyers’ 260 goals last year. They accounted for eight of the 13 goals the Flyers scored against the Caps last season. It is also an especially adept penalty killing group in this respect – they accounted for all 16 shorthanded goals that the Flyers scored last year.
What the Flyers lost, though, was scoring depth with the departures of Joffrey Lupul and Mike Knuble (52 goals between them last year). The Flyers hope to make up for that by getting a healthy year out of Daniel Briere (who seems now to be “Danny” in the official reports), who had only 11 goals in 29 games last year. He had 31 goals in his first year with the Flyers two years ago, following up on a 32 goal season in his last year in Buffalo.
But the Flyers are also expecting big things from rookie James Van Riemsdyk, the second overall pick of the 2007 draft. Van Riemsdyk is the leading scorer thus far for the Flyers (three assists) and brings some size to the left side for Philadelphia.
Jeff Carter had 12 game-winning goals for the Flyers last year, and two of those were had against the Caps (he was 3-4-7, plus-6 in four games against the Caps last year). Carter got off to a fast start in goal scoring last year, netting 34 in his first 52 games last year. But he didn’t finish nearly as strong, potting only 12 in his last 30 games. This being October, one might be watching out for that big start again.
And that brings us to Scott Hartnell. A guy who fits comfortably into the Flyers’ abusive mentality, Hartnell also was quite the thorn in the Capitals’ side last year. He scored four of the 13 goals the Flyers totaled against the Caps last year and assisted on two others on his way to a 30-30-60 season.
The Caps have to play four of the other five division winners from last year in their first seven games to open the season. By that standard, playing the Flyers should be something of a break. Yeah… right. The Flyers do not possess the raw top-end scoring talent that the Caps have, but they have considerable scoring depth. Their defense – a weakness last year – is improved. But it’s always about goaltending when it comes to the Flyers, and two games is not enough to assess whether the addition of Ray Emery is the answer to that annual problem.
It’ll be a big night in Philly, one that surely will have the Flyer fans on their best behavior (meaning low body count in the parking lot). Not that it will matter…
Caps 4 – Flyers 3