Sharks at Flyers Preview: Lindblom’s revenge
Oskar Lindblom deserves a 20-minute standing ovation.
The San Jose Sharks face off against the Philadelphia Flyers in the final game of this four-game road trip. The second-period woes continued against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday morning, giving up 20 shots and two goals on the way to a 2-1 loss. Meanwhile, the Flyers won 3-1 against the Nashville Predators thanks to Joel Farabee scoring a goal and two assists. With both teams traveling to Philly on the second day of a back-to-back, this could be a sloppy affair.
The Flyers have been surprising, starting this year 4-1-0 with some impressive wins, including a 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Many projected the Flyers to be in the bottom of the league’s standings, but behind new head coach John Tortorella, Philly has been competitive in every game they’ve played in front of a resurgent Carter Hart.
It’s a stark contract to the 2021-22 team that finished dead last in the Metropolitan Division with a 25-46-22 record and 61 points after firing Alain Vigneault in December. Prior to last season’s trade deadline, the Flyers parted ways with longtime captain Claude Giroux. Giroux played his 1,000th game in orange and then was shipped off to the Florida Panthers for a 2024 first-round pick, a 2023 third-round pick and former 10th-overall pick, Owen Tippett.
At the draft, the Flyers added USNTDP forward Cutter Gauthier with the fifth-overall pick. The other major move at the draft was acquiring controversial defenseman Tony DeAngelo. The Carolina Hurricanes received a 2022 fourth-round pick, a 2023 third-round pick and a 2024 second-round pick. The Flyers then proceeded to sign DeAngelo to a two-year, $10 million contract.
During free agency, Philadelphia were supposedly a dark horse team in the Johnny Gaudreau sweepstakes, but didn’t offer the South Jersey native a contract due to an “inability to move contracts.” They bought out fan-favorite Oskar Lindblom prior to free agency and signed defender Justin Braun to a one-year, $1 million deal after sending him to the New York Rangers at last year’s trade deadline.
The Flyers are dealing with a rash of injuries early this season. Ryan Ellis is expected to miss the entire season with what could be a career-ending injury. Patrick Brown is also on LTIR after an off-season back surgery. Analytics community darling Sean Couturier is also on injured reserve to start the season while dealing with an upper-body injury. Defensive turnstile, Rasmus Ristolainen and forward Tippett join Couturier on IR to start the season. Cam Atkinson is also considered day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
Can the Sharks stop the second period stumble?
The second period has not been kind to the Sharks so far this season. They’ve been outscored 16-4 and outshot by over 50 shots in the second stanza. The Flyers have outscored opponents 6-2 through four games this season. With both teams coming off a back-to-back, whoever is able to drive the second period could end up winning the game, as both teams might be gassed by the third.
If San Jose want any hope of salvaging the season, they need to defeat the second-period demons. Kaapo Kahkonen saved the team’s bacon more than one time in the 2-1 loss on Saturday, but continually getting caved in the defensive zone is not a sustainable way to play hockey. The Devils utilized a ferocious forecheck to keep the Sharks from getting the puck out of the zone. San Jose must find answers to these forechecking problems, either by adding more support from the forwards coming back or by quickly moving the puck out of the zone.
Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl are ice cold to start the season. Meier has yet to score a goal and Hertl hasn’t scored since the first game of the season in his hometown of Prague. This could be a get-right game for both of them. The Flyers are one of the worst teams in the league at giving up shot attempts at even-strength — the problem is that the Sharks are not much better.
The first line of Meier, Hertl and Alexander Barabanov against the Flyers’ top line of Joel Farabee, Kevin Hayes and Travis Konecny could provide a chance for both teams to get the top line going.
Meier has played some of the best games of his career against the Flyers, including his first career hat trick. If Timo Time can’t come in Philadelphia, he might actually be cursed and an exorcism might be the only option left to get Meier back to normal.
The Sharks have been able to stay in most games with depth players like Nico Sturm and Evgeny Svechnikov contributing, but if Meier and Hertl can start to heat up to their usual degree, that will be the difference-maker to start winning more of the games where the team is otherwise competitive.
Both teams are on the second half of a back-to-back, so it’s safe to assume that rested James Reimer will face off against Felix Sandstrom in net. Reimer has been nothing short of superb to start the season and was rewarded for his effort with a win against the Rangers on Thursday night. He has posted saved 3.1 goals above expected to start the season, 2.78 goals-against average (GAA) and .918 save percentage (SV%) despite (gestures at the mess in front of him).
After old mutual friend Martin Jones left for deep sea blue pastures, the Flyers have turned to Swedish netminder Felix Sandstrom, who has been working his way through the organization’s goaltending pipeline. The 25-year-old played 44 AHL games for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms last season, posting a solid 2.89 GAA and .902 SV%. He’s played 6 NHL games so far and is still looking for his first win in the big leagues. The cap-strapped organization is asking a lot of the unproven netminder, to hold down the fort behind Hart.
If San Jose can lay the pressure on early, it could rattle the young Swede and maybe result in more than three regulation goals in a game — for once.
Bold Prediction: Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl both light the lamp and the top line finally gets going, closing out the road trip with a 5-2 win over the Flyers. Oskar Lindblom also scores and stares down Chuck Fletcher, unnerving him enough to haunt the Flyers general manager for the rest of the season.