NHL Extra: Breaking down Flyers vs. Rangers

Looking for the numbers breakdown for how these two teams stack up? Look no further as we’ve got you covered as the Rangers take on the Flyers at 12:30 p.m. ET from Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

Insider’s Preview

CSN Philly’s Tim Panaccio wonders which Flyers team will show up against the Rangers this afternoon.

Team scoring

Overall this year, the Rangers have scored 220 goals, a mark that puts them 15th in the NHL. Their average is… well, rather average at 2.72 goals per game  – a number that puts them 17th overall in the NHL. Brandon Dubinsky is their leading scorer with 52 points (23 goals, 29 assists). Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan each have 23 goals this year leading the charge there. The Rangers have five players with 20+ goals (Dubinsky, Callahan, Marian Gaborik, Brian Boyle, and Derek Stepan).

Philadelphia’s offense is a bit better. They’ve scored 245 goals this season, a mark that puts them fourth overall in the NHL. They goals per game average is a stellar 3.10, a mark that only trails Detroit, Vancouver, and Chicago in the league. Claude Giroux is leading the team in scoring with 72 points (25 goals, 47 assists) while Jeff Carter and Daniel Briere are the top goal scorers with 36 and 32 respectively. Unfortunately for Philly, Briere is out of today’s game.

Goaltending

There’s a stark difference between these two teams and it comes in goal. The Rangers come at you with all-world superstar Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist is 33-26-5 this season with a 2.26 goals against average and a .923 save percentage. Add in the 11 shutouts he’s got this year and you’ve got yourself a potential Vezina Trophy finalist. Lundqvist has been the biggest reason for the Rangers success this year. Now if they can just get him the goals to support him…

Philadelphia has been working an effective two-headed monster approach in goal with Brian Boucher and rookie Sergei Bobrovsky. Boucher this season is 17-10-4 with a 2.45 goals against average and a .914 save percentage. Meanwhile, Sergei Bobrovsky’s record is 28-12-6 with a 2.49 goals against average and a .918 save percentage. Bobrovsky gets the call to start this afternoon.

Special teams

The Rangers penalty kill runs at 83.2% efficiency, good for 13th in the NHL. Their power play, while still average, has improved a bit since Bryan McCabe arrived. The Rangers score 17.2% with the man advantage. A rate like that is good for 15th in the league. Acquiring McCabe didn’t make huge headlines, but it’s made a difference on the man advantage.

Philadelphia;s power play has been a bit more inept since we last saw them. The Flyers score 16.4% of the time, good for 21st in the league. The Flyers PK is outstanding killing 83.8% of the power plays they face, a mark good for eighth in the league. If you can’t score on the man advantage, you’d better be able to stop the opponents and the Flyers can do that.

Streaks and standings

The Flyers are the top team in the Atlantic Division with 102 points. After Washington’s overtime win over Buffalo last night, the Flyers are out of the Eastern Conference’s top spot for the first time in a long time this year. They’re three better than Boston in second place in the East. Meanwhile, the Penguins are lurking behind them in the Atlantic  by two points. A win for the Flyers today would get them back into first in the East and pad their lead on Pittsburgh. The Flyers have lost six of their last nine games to help put themselves in this precarious position.

New York is eighth in the Eastern Conference with 87 points. Their lead on ninth place Carolina is just one point and tenth place Toronto lurks behind them by three points. With the Rangers struggles of late losing three of their last four, Carolina and Toronto both have crept back into the picture. A Rangers win today would be destructive to both of their causes as it would then put Buffalo in eighth with 88 points and put both Toronto and Carolina another point further behind in the race for the playoffs.

NHL Extra

If you’d like to ask James and I questions and get our thoughts on today’s game, you can join us for NHL Extra online and follow along with the action that way. To join us for NHL Extra click here. We’ll be kicking things off at 12:30 p.m.

Predators first-rounder Tolvanen becomes youngest to score hat trick in KHL

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Talk about making a great first impression.

Nashville Predators prospect Eeli Tolvanen became the youngest KHL player to score a hat trick while adding an assist in his debut for Jokerit against Dinamo Minsk.

Tolvanen turned 18 in April. It’s ludicrously early, but with a night like this, people are already wondering if the forward was a steal; the Predators nabbed him with the 30th pick of the 2017 NHL Draft.

Here’s some footage of his performance:

If that Jokerit debut is any indication, he could have a special season, especially for an 18-year-old in the KHL.

A scouting report from Pension Plan Puppets touted Tolvanen’s shot as the best in the 2017 draft, and they believed he could be one of the big steals. And that was if he ended up landing in the teens, let alone No. 30.

BREAKING: Predators GM David Poile and his staff know what they’re doing.

Hextall deserves to see Flyers rebuild through

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This post is part of Flyers day at PHT…

If you look at GM Ron Hextall’s playing career, you might have expected the Philadelphia Flyers to continue their charming-yet-maddening run of impulsive, often-reckless moves. After all, Hextall echoed Billy Smith in goalie-stick-swinging rage.

Instead, Hextall’s almost writing the blueprint for how to rebuild a team in a tasteful way. Almost to the point where you wonder if his absence may partially explain the erosion of the Los Angeles Kings’ salary structure.

(Hextall was even rebuilding on the fly without the typical run of lottery ball luck, but that trend changed in Philly’s favor when they ended up with the second pick and Nolan Patrick.)

Let’s consider the great job Hextall is doing, even if there’s some fear that someone else might ultimately get the greatest credit if management grows impatient with this incremental approach.

Cleaning up

Hextall inherited an absolute mess in Philly, and he’s been making lemonade out of Bobby Clarke’s lemons.

Moving Vincent Lecavalier and Luke Schenn for Jordan Weal and a third-rounder felt like wizardry. The assets he managed for Kimmo Timonen, Brayden Schenn, and Braydon Coburn brought the Flyers a mix of picks, solid roster players, and financial breathing room.

Even mixed moves seem to point to better things in the future.

One imagines the Flyers getting a little more than they did when they took Valtteri Filppula off of Tampa Bay’s hands, especially since the Bolts didn’t retain salary in the process. You’d expect Jori Lehtera‘s time with Philly to be short, as the team seemingly took on his contract merely to get nice picks from the Blues for Schenn.

Prospects and picks

Hextall has assembled quite the war chest of prospects that mixes quantity with, ideally, quality choices.

Even heading into the 2018 NHL Draft, the Flyers currently hold an extra choice in the first, fifth, and seventh rounds. That’s promising, especially since they’ve already made a lot of picks.

Take a look at their draft history during the last three years.

2015: two first-rounders, zero second, two third-rounders, two fourths. Nine picks.
2016: Normal number of picks, except: three second-rounders and two sixth-rounders. Ten picks.
2017: two first-rounders, plus Isaac Ratcliffe, who was close to a first-rounder at 35th. Also two fourth-rounders. Nine picks.

And, again, they currently hold 10 choices in 2018. If the Flyers can aim those “darts” with even any accuracy, things look good for the future.

Still some problems

The troubling thing is that the Flyers don’t exactly look like a no-brainer playoff team in 2017-18. (Vote on that subject here.)

They’re standing as something of a fringe team even as they still spend quite a bit of money; they’re only about $5 million under the cap ceiling right now, according to Cap Friendly.

Still-troubling spending is part of the reason why Claude Giroux ($8.275 million per year) is under pressure. It’s not necessarily that Giroux and Jakub Voracek ($8.25M) are bad, but there are questions about one or both of them slipping, and with contracts that begin to look frighteningly long.

Combine those deals with Andrew MacDonald‘s $5M punchline of a cap hit and that’s about $21.5M on the books, just like that.

There’s a path to greater financial freedom, especially if they part ways with Filppula ($5M) and Lehtera ($4.7M). Hextall’s run of strong goalie moves continues with the cheap pairing of Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth after Steve Mason‘s surprisingly impressive run, and Philly isn’t locked into any Bryzgalovian deals in net.

So there are a lot of positives, even if it still feels like Hextall is hitting the “backspace” button on some salary cap death sentences.

Who gets to see the light at the end of the tunnel?

The Flyers boast a bounty of prospects, especially on defense; plenty of teams likely look at that farm system with some envy.

Will everything fall into line at the right time, though? Key forwards such as Giroux, Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds might see declines in the near future, to the point that Hextall must be willing to at least consider bold moves there, too.

Philly is getting close to the finish line as far as cap struggles go, which means that, sooner or later, they need to start making bigger gains toward being a stable contender. Hextall deserves to see it through, but we’ve seen more than a few examples of a GM laying the groundwork for someone else to put together the finishing touches.

Maple Leafs may look to Russia to improve defense (again)

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Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reports that the Toronto Maple Leafs confirmed that Mike Babcock and Lou Lamoriello recently made a visit to Russia, but they didn’t admit why they went.

It turns out that they were scoping out KHL defenseman Igor Ozhiganov, who plays for CSKA, according to Johnston and others.

Ozhiganov, 24, did not go drafted. He does, however, have some interesting NHL connections. For one thing, he suited up for the same team that Nikita Zaitsev did, so that experiment has already worked out quite well for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

As you can see from the tweet above, Ozhiganov will play in the KHL through 2017-18. That’s impressive due diligence from the Leafs’ brass, although you wonder if such maneuverings might put the defenseman higher on the radars of other teams hoping to add depth to their bluelines in the future.

Raw Charge notes that Ozhiganov is a buddy of Tampa Bay Lightning star Nikita Kucherov, who definitely sings the defenseman’s praises. Even with Mikhail Sergachev in the mix, the Bolts are a group that will probably want to bolster their mix (especially in the uncomfortably likely event that Dan Girardi disappoints).

Either way, NHL fans will need to wait at least a season to see what Ozhiganov is capable of … and where he lands.

Devils give Jimmy Hayes a shot with PTO

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The New Jersey Devils have made dramatic moves to improve their forward group over the last few years, but even with Taylor Hall, Marcus Johansson, and Kyle Palmieri in the mix, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

With that and the Devils’ recent struggles in mind, it only makes sense for GM Ray Shero to be open-minded to “reclamation projects.”

Perhaps that will be the case with towering forward Jimmy Hayes, then. The Devils announced that the winger has been invited to training camp on a PTO.

Look, there’s no doubt that Hayes has frequently struggled to make a difference at the NHL level. Not that long ago, he broke a 35-game pointless streak.

Still, it’s probably fair to give him an incomplete grade instead of a failing mark from 2016-17. After all, there are only so many players who can produce much offense when they’re receiving 9:14 TOI per game.

Hayes went from averaging 15:09 per contest in his best season (2014-15, when he scored 19 goals for Florida) to 13:50 TOI with Boston in 2015-16 and then that new low last season.

So, no doubt about it, Hayes’ stock couldn’t get much lower.

We’ve seen fringe guys become valuable assets after getting clean slates, including with bigger forwards. Zack Kassian resurrected his career following some significant struggles, just to name a recent example.

The Devils could use another NHL-caliber forward, particularly with valuable center Travis Zajac slated to miss a chunk of 2017-18. Maybe Hayes can be part of the solution.