Later this week, the Flyers will embark on a road trip against two Metropolitan Division teams — the 3-3-2 Pittsburgh Penguins and the 5-1-3 Washington Capitals.
With Penguins captain Sidney Crosby’s return to the lineup and Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals ranking fourth in the league in goals (32), each team will provide steep competition for the Flyers. But before the Flyers can focus on their Metro foes, they can’t overlook Tuesday night’s game against the winless Arizona Coyotes (0-8-1).
“We haven’t talked about those two games,” captain Claude Giroux said of the Penguins and Capitals. “We’re just worried about the next game coming up here.”
The Coyotes dwell at the bottom of the league in several major statistical categories — they’re last in goals (13), goals against (38), penalty-kill percentage (58.62%), and are second-to-last in power-play percentage (8%) with just two goals on 25 opportunities. Regardless, Flyers center Sean Couturier refuses to underestimate the lowly Coyotes.
“Their record doesn’t show the kind of team they are,” Couturier said. “They compete hard, and they’ve been into some really tight matches against some really good teams. We’ve got to be ready from the start.”
Power play remix
After scoring on both power-play opportunities against the Boston Bruins on Oct. 20, the Flyers have struggled to replicate similar success in each of their following outings. Over the course of the next four games, the Flyers have gone 2-for-14 in their man-advantage situations.
As a result, coach Alain Vigneault mixed up the personnel on the power-play units at Monday’s practice in advance of the Flyers’ game against the Coyotes. The new-look units feature winger Cam Atkinson and defenseman Ivan Provorov in the first group (formerly of the second group) and winger James van Riemsdyk and defenseman Keith Yandle in the second group (formerly of the first group).
“I’ve been wanting for a while here to make tweaks,” Vigneault said after practice. “We’re early into the season, to see what other groupings might look like. At the same time, you want to show consistency and familiarity to some of the players so that they can read off one another. But I decided today in practice to take a look at these tweaks.”
Vigneault said Atkinson, who has been one of the Flyers’ best offensive forwards at five-on-five, was deserving of the promotion to the top unit. Through seven games played, Atkinson has registered seven points (six goals, one assist), one of which was a shorthanded goal against the Florida Panthers.
Giroux, who set up on the right side of the 1-3-1 power-play formation with Atkinson on the left, said he’s looking forward to playing with the former Columbus Blue Jacket.
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“When he was in Columbus, to see a player the way he works, he battles, and he can put the puck in the net,” Giroux said. “You always think a little, ‘I would like to play with him,’ and this is our opportunity to see if the chemistry’s there and see if it works. He likes to shoot, and I like to pass it, so I don’t see why it wouldn’t work.”
Atkinson is just as eager to team up with Giroux and bring his shoot-first mentality to the top unit.
“Obviously excited to get the opportunity to play with the big boys,” he said. “Looking forward to it. You know, when you get put with good players that can pass the puck, it’s my job to finish it. I know I’m going to get some good looks, and just have to do my part and score some goals.”
Couturier, who was born in Arizona, will be facing the Coyotes his 700th NHL game, all of which have come with the Flyers. He currently ranks 12th all-time among Flyers in games played. He is just 26 games from tying forward Gary Dornhoefer’s total. ... Carter Hart was the first goalie off the ice at morning skate, indicating he’s the likely starter against the Coyotes. Hart has a .915 save percentage and a 2.79 goals-against average through five games this season.