Friday Night Hockey – Flyers Over Sharks and Our Pick for Each Game
After a huge Thursday night slate Friday pops back up with a quiet four game schedule before all the fun over New Year’s starts. If you’ve been following the world juniors as well you know just how special it is to have this much hockey this time of year, and every game feels a little bit more important over the holidays. That feeling continues on Friday as the countdown to 2017 heats up. Let’s dive into the four games.
Philadelphia Flyers at San Jose Sharks
- Philadelphia (+145) at San Jose (-165)
- Philadelphia (+1.5) at San Jose (-1.5)
There were, and continue to be many analysts and pundits who claim that the Philadelphia Flyers’ hot streak is simply unsustainable. We tend to agree. Yes, the Flyers have been one of the hottest teams in the NHL over the last two months, but it’s not without some red flags.
For starters, despite a ten game win streak that just ended, Philly still owns a goal differential of -1. The best teams in the league don’t get scored on more than they score, and yet that’s where the Flyers find themselves 37 games into the season. Their combination of high powered scoring and low powered defense has led to some victories, but not in a way that instills any confidence.
Any coach worth his salt will tell you a “win’s a win” but the way in which those wins pile up will soon start turning into losses if Philadelphia doesn’t do something about their defense.
The Sharks are a model of consistency. They’ve won three straight, are 7-3-0 in their last ten games and have a comfortable lead over Edmonton and Anaheim in their division. Year after year they churn out great regular season results, and this season is feeling no different.
San Jose continues to stay relevant despite a changing and improving conference, and while the Stanley Cup continues to elude them, it’s only a matter of time before their consistency during the regular season translates into raising Lord Stanley’s Mug.
Great, so the Sharks and Flyers are winning this season, and that’s great for the long haul, but what’s going to happen on Friday night?
The only reason the Flyers have been as successful as the have this season is their ability to put the puck in the net. Their 3.05 goals a game are good for 6th in the NHL and Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds are setting the league on fire.
All three have more than 30 points this season on their way to a total of 97 on the year and only Pittsburgh’s potent trio of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby have combined for more (119!) .
They’re doing most of their damage on the powerplay where the Flyers rank 7th in the league this season. Philly is finding the back of the net on 22.14 percent of their opportunities and when you combine that with their 3rd ranked 3.54 opportunities a game it becomes pretty clear why Philly has been so dominant with the puck this season.
San Jose has had trouble scoring the puck this season in comparison to their opponents and while that may not be a huge problem for them in terms of wins and losses on the season, it could be a problem if it turns into a barn burner on Friday Night.
The Sharks are scoring just 2.57 goals a game which ranks well below the league average of 2.72. Despite having some of the best puck-moving defensemen in the league, the powerplay has been downright abysmal. The Sharks are connecting on just 15.52 percent of their powerplays which is almost a full seven percentage points worse than the Flyers.
Joe Pavelski has been the only consistently dominant source of points from the forwards this year in San Jose. His 33 points are nine higher than Joe Thornton who comes in at second, and the offense needs to figure it out up front in order to start putting pucks in the net with the man advantage.
The good news for San Jose? What they lack in offense they more than make up for on the defensive side of the puck. The Sharks are letting in just 2.20 goals a game which is behind only Columbus and Minnesota in the entire league.
They kill off 83.87 percent of their penalties and have some of the most gifted defensemen in the league patrolling the blueline. Brent Burns is firmly in the Norris Trophy conversation with 34 points in 35 games and an excellent +13 on the year. When you combine his offensive prowess with the defensive-minded Marc-Edouard Vlasic and sprinkle in Justin Braun and Paul Martin it starts feeling like a pretty daunting task to score on these Sharks.
The same can’t be said for the Flyers. Despite how dominant their offense has been this season their defense raises some serious question marks. Radko Gudas is their only D-man with a positive plus/minus rating at the season, and at just +2 it’s not exactly anything to brag about.
They have an incredibly difficult time controlling their own zone, and that’s an area of the ice the Sharks love to spend time in. Shayne Gostisbehere has yet to fully catch up to the speed and power of the NHL game and Ivan Provorov is just 19 years old. The future along the blueline may be bright for the Flyers, but the future isn’t going to win you games right now.
All the blame for the Flyers’ defensive woes can’t just be blamed on the young guns failing to live up to their potential. Steve Mason has been asked to do a lot between the pipes this season and probably too much. He’s started in a whopping 30 games and the wear and tear is beginning to show.
He stopped just 19 of 24 shots in his last loss and now rocks a.905 save percentage and 2.78 goals against average on the season. With all the offense his team is piling up in front of him, you would expect a bit more form a number one netminder, but the results just aren’t there.
Martin Jones is a model of consistency in comparison. He stopped 34 of 36 shots in his last win and now has a .920 save percentage and a 2.08 goals against average. He’ll face a tough test against the high-scoring Philly offense, but at least he has that dominating D in front of him.
Brent Burns against Claude Giroux. The two veterans are enjoying incredible seasons so far and are both strong, powerful offensive threats despite playing two totally different positions. Bring it on.
The Sharks have won four straight against the Flyers, are a much more balanced team and are enjoying a nice win streak. They’re 12-4-2 at home this season and we see no reason to be scared of the Flyers, even with their strong offense. Take San Jose on the spread to make the money stretch and hope they can shutdown Philly’s offense.
Chicago Blackhawks at Carolina Hurricanes
- Chicago (-105) at Carolina (-115)
- Chicago (+1.5) at Carolina (-1.5)
The Blackhawks enter Friday night’s game in Carolina as the best team in the Western Conference and coming off a huge road win against the Nashville Predators. The Preds had lost only four games all season in their own building before the mighty Blackhawks showed up.
Patrick Kane scored the game winning goal and added an assist for his 700th career NHL point, and the other familiar Blackhawks showed up as well. Jonathan Toews looks fully healthy now and both Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin grabbed a point and show no signs of slowing down.
Still, their test on Friday may not be as easy as it sounds against the Hurricanes. Carolina is 6-2-2 in their last ten games and an impressive 10-3-1 at home. They’re coming off a tough one goal loss to the dominant Penguins, and rookie Sebastian Aho is heating up. He’s grabbed seven points in his last nine games and may be spark the Hurricanes need to make a second half push.
Jeff Skinner against Jonathan Toews. Toews is capable of scoring the puck, but his most impressive skillset may lie in stopping the best player on the other side of the ice. That will likely be Jeff Skinner in a game the Hurricanes would love to win to get some momentum heading into 2017.
Take Carolina at home on the moneyline. They pay well, and have a real opportunity in their own building. They’ve also won the last two meetings by a combined score of 7-1 including a 5-0 shutout their last time out.
Nashville Predators at St.Louis Blues
- Nashville (+130) at St.Louis (-150)
- Nashville (+1.5) at St.Louis (-1.5)
How tough is this mini stretch for the Predators? First they lose at home on a Patrick Kane game-winning goal to the Blackhawks, then have to immediately turn around and play the second half of a back to back against the Blues in St.Louis.
Not only do the Predators resemble a farm team on the road this season (they’re just 5-9-2) they now have to play against one of the best home teams in all of hockey. The Blues are 14-2-4 in their own building this year and coming off a beatdown of the Flyers 6-3.
They score the second most goals in the West and have the third best powerplay. They’re being carried by Vladimir Tarasenko but a new face has emerged to help carry the load. Robby Fabbri scored his first NHL hat trick in the 6-3 win and now has 10 goals in his sophomore season. Look for him and the rest of the Blues to get rolling early.
Vladimir Tarasenko against Pekka Rinne. Tarasenko is a dynamo with the puck on his stuck and with 39 points this season he has a legitimate chance at the scoring trophy. One way to improve his chances is to get pucks by a struggling Rinne. Nashville’s netminder has struggled of late going 3-5-2 In his last nine with a goals against average above 3.
A tired Nashville team playing on the road in St.Louis? It basically spells out a Blues victory, but we don’t blame you if the moneyline isn’t enticing enough. Go big and take the spread.
Anaheim Ducks at Vancouver Canucks
- Anaheim (-125) at Vancouver (-105)
- Anaheim (-1.5) at Vancouver (+1.5)
It’s the Ducks and Canucks in Vancouver in our favorite rhyming matchup, but that’s about the only area these two teams are similar.
Anaheim is sitting comfortably in the standings thanks to one of the most balanced attacks in the league. They rank 6th in the West in goals for and 7th in goals against while rocking the best powerplay with a beautiful 24.78 percent rate.
They have some of the most depth in the league on defense with Cam Fowler taking a huge step forward this season. If there’s a weakness on this Ducks team it’s the goaltending. John Gibson has a brutal .876 save percentage in his last four games and has been disappointing as the starting goalie this season.
The good news for Gibson and the Ducks is that the Canucks can’t score. Vancouver averages just 2.44 goals a game and only Boston, Colorado and Detroit have a worse powerplay. The Sedin twins simply don’t have what it takes to carry this team anymore and the supplementary scoring is nowhere to be found.
John Gibson against Ryan Miller. Both goalies had high expectations to start the season and both have failed to reach them. We still like Gibson’s potential, but Miller may just finally be reaching the backup goalie point of his career.
Anaheim did play last night, but the distance between Calgary and Vancouver is minimal, and the Ducks are coming off an important win. Take them on the spread and watch them expose Vancouver’s lack of scoring.