Flyers, Bolts prepare for offensive showdown
Two of the NHL's top goal-scoring clubs that feature two of the most dynamic young scorers in the league meet Wednesday in ESPN.com's Game of the Week.
Of course, when you expect that kind of game, you get the opposite; both head coaches are keenly aware of the opposition's lethal arsenal.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette told ESPN.com on Tuesday his game plan was to maintain the balanced approach that has worked for his team so far this season, with a few tweaks meant to help penetrate Tampa's defensive system.
And he was quick to point out that while the Flyers lead the league in goals per game, that statistic is distorted somewhat by the 17 goals his team scored in two games -- a 9-2 win over Columbus on Saturday and a 9-8 loss to Winnipeg last month. In other words, we're not quite looking at the 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers (all-time NHL record 5.75 goals per game).
"But I do think we have good depth and good balance on the lines," Laviolette said. "The defensemen move the puck up well. It seems like we're able to generate opportunities."
"That top line has been real good," Laviolette said. "Hartnell has played well, Jagr has really been amazing since he's been here, and Claude continues to blossom into that upper-echelon player. But I think it's from a balance that things happen."
Laviolette also pointed to the contributions from Danny Briere, James Van Riemsdyk, Matt Read, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier -- up and down the lineup, the Flyers can score, which leads to matchup problems for opposing teams.
Still, no one is producing better than Giroux right now. The pride of Hearst, Ontario, isn't just scoring.
"He plays a lot of different roles for us," Laviolette said. "He plays on the penalty kill, the power play, plays against the other team's top line -- he's just really starting to spread his wings out there. He's a very complete player that's passionate about what he does. He plays the game hard; he plays it the right way."
On the flip side, the Flyers have been a leaky team at times. There is great concern (just ask the fans lighting up the message boards) over a 23rd-ranked goals-against average. Help is on the way in captain Chris Pronger, who is expected to return tonight after missing six games with an eye injury (he'll be wearing a visor).
Either way, the Flyers can play better defensively.
"There's obviously the game that sticks out against Winnipeg, when they scored nine goals, so that skews it a little bit," Laviolette said. "But we've had so many caroms and redirect goals; I'm going to say 20 have been off of something or through something, maybe more than 20. Defensively, we are one of the lowest shots-against teams in the league. But there's been tough bounces and tough breaks, and that's OK. I'd rather have them now than at the end of the year. We don't give up a lot, but maybe we need to do a better job protecting the front of the net and watching for caroms, tying up sticks and maybe getting some better bounces, too."
The Flyers are giving up only 28.1 shots per game, fifth-fewest in the league. That's an important statistic in our book. If that trend continues, there's almost no way the club remains in the bottom 10 for goals against as long as the goaltending is there. (Ilya Bryzgalov's postgame video after the Winnipeg game went viral after he chastised himself for his play, but he has since settled down nicely. "The last three starts have been terrific," Laviolette said.)
Bryzgalov and the Flyers' defense will be tested Wednesday night. Then again, so will Tampa Bay's.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
Stay On Your Skates
Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos is third overall in the NHL with 10 goals in 14 games. He is also tied for fifth in shots on goal (54).
Stats & Information
Points to watch for in Wednesday's game:• The Flyers are 3-0-1 in their past four games (were 1-4-0 in previous five games); they are also 4-1-0 on road this season (4-3-1 at home).
• Flyers forward Jaromir Jagr is in the midst of a seven-game points streak (six goals and five assists).
• Flyers forward Claude Giroux is riding a five-game point streak (four goals and five assists).
• The Lightning are 6-2-0 in their past eight games and 4-1-0 at home (3-4-2 on the road).
Hockey Today: 11/8
John Buccigross talks to Edmonton Oilers D Ryan Whitney about the team's hot start and his upcoming return to the lineup. Plus, Buccigross answers emails and talks stats with Vince Masi.
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