Monday, February 03, 2014

Flyers looking to break the spell of 13 in San Jose

SAN JOSE, CA -- Thirteen years, one month and 13 days ago, the Flyers defeated the San Jose Sharks by a 4-3 score in Philadelphia.

It was December 21, 2000. Rick Tocchet -- now in his second turn with the franchise -- had the game winner and Roman Cechmanek was in goal for the triumphant hosts. The Orange and Black also won the secondary statistic battle, outshooting San Jose 34-28.

The law of averages says Philadelphia should win on Monday as it closes out a three-game California road trip dubbed the "Triangle of Death," but it also borders on the definition of insanity to think the result will be different after 13 years of the same.

Sharks head coach Todd McLellan said his team isn’t putting any stock in that history:
"We haven’t seen this team for two years, coaches change, players change. In past years we only played them once sometimes, whether it was in our building or their building. There isn’t even a story there as far as I’m concerned."
Asked whether the Flyers gave any thought to the 13-year drought, defenseman Braydon Coburn said:
"No, we play these guys so little. Obviously, they’ve had a lot of good teams here for a lot of years so I think more than … anything, we’re just focused on tonight and trying to get two points."
Ancient history may be irrelevant, but the numbers one and three will be important. Monday’s game could come down to the first and third period scoring habits of the Sharks and the Flyers. The Sharks have scored 56 goals in the game's first 20 minutes, to the Flyers' 37. The Flyers have scored 60 in the third, to the Sharks’ 45. The teams are almost even in the second period.

Every game is a new start. Both teams won their last games. Craig Berube's club walked out of LA with an improbable 2-0 victory, while McLellan's charges took a 2-1 shootout victory against Central Division-leading Chicago. Both of those wins ended troubling losing streaks.

The Sharks are battling for home ice in the playoffs. They have a ten point cushion between them and the next Pacific Division rival, the Kings. That doesn’t mean they are not being pushed by Central Division teams, McLellan said:
"We don’t want to be caught by teams underneath us in the Central Division and we’d like to claw our way ahead of a couple that are within reach. I do believe we’re being pushed, we have to scratch and claw to get those points."
Scoring is one of the things the Sharks have had trouble doing lately. In their last two games, they have scored just one goal in each during regulation. That does not do much to reassure the Sharks -- nine points back of the Anaheim Ducks in the Pacific Division -- that they have their mojo back. They were shut out two games in a row and much of a third before the shootout win last Saturday. Conspicuous among the non-scoring are linemates Joe Thornton and Brent Burns, both pointless in the past four games. Still, McLellan is not too worried:
"I think Joe’s get-going part is going to come off of what the others do, because he’s such a good passer and he sets people up to score. So if they accomplish … the finish part, Jumbo will be on the board quickly.  The power play is a big part of it… last couple of games it’s been very dangerous, provided us with a lot of momentum and we ask that of it. Now it’s the finish part, can we get one or two on it?"
The opposition will do their best to answer that question in the negative. Berube stated of his team’s California trip so far:
"I thought we played our best game in Anaheim, we grinded out two points against LA, and we’re going to have to do the same tonight. I think it’s important to stay out of the penalty box and we have. We’ve done a good job and that has to continue tonight, with this power play. You can’t put yourself in a bad situation."
The Flyers are bouncing in and out of wild-card status, in and out of the playoff picture in a competitive Metropolitan Division.  They are in that position due to a well-documented very poor start to the season. They do not and will not have any breathing room.

These teams don’t know each other very well, in this season’s version or any other. Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi spent some quality time with the Flyers in 2010, but that was a long time ago in a galaxy far away.

Preparing to play each other is a challenge, especially when you average less than one contest per season and haven't seen each other in almost two calendar years. McLellan also stated that the Sharks’ recent wins over Chicago showcased their defense, and that is what they need against Philadelphia as well:
"They have the ability to score in bunches, a number of their forwards are already in double-digit goal scoring, so it can come from anywhere. So we’ll need that commitment level again."
Coburn additionally shared his take on the Sharks after morning practice:
"Obviously they have some really big guys like Marleau and Thornton and Pavelski and Boyle … But the thing about them is they’re a team, they’re a hard-working team, so we’ve got to be sure we match their work ethic and skate with them."
One of the adjustments the Flyers have to make playing the Sharks is the heavy playing style common to teams in the West. They should have made that adjustment by now, after the games in Anaheim and Los Angeles. How different is it? Flyers defenseman Nicklas Grossmann played for six seasons with the Dallas Stars before being traded to Philadelphia. He has played a lot of games on both sides of the Mississippi:
"Hockey-wise I’d say East would be a little more up and down game, maybe a little North-South, kind of chip and chase, grind, a little more hitting I’d say. While the West, I think, would be a little more hold on to the puck, make plays kind of game. I think it changed a little bit over the years … I think they’re kind of flowing together. You see some teams from the West, it feels like playing East teams."
Is it difficult to make the adjustment in one road trip?
"… it’s not really like you’re going into a game and saying ‘well, these guys don’t hit.’ Every team hits, every team plays. It’s just kind of the feeling you get overall from these teams."
While the Flyers need to focus on their own game, some of the players are familiar with each other. Grossmann remembers quite a bit from his time in the West:
"One thing, you go back to the West and you’re kind of familiar with a lot of teams, a lot of  players and you’ve played against them in a lot of games. You kind of know a few tricks here and there that they used to try and pull on you. That’s always good."
The Sharks enter tonight’s game 7-3-0 over their last 10 games. Their home record for the season is 20-3-3, and 6-0-1 since coming out on the wrong end of a 3-1 score against the Flyers on Nov. 5, 1999. The Flyers are 4-4-2 in their last ten games. Their road record this season is 13-13-5. Both teams prosper when they score first. Both teams have dismal stats when they trail going into the third period.

The starting goalies are expected to be Antti Niemi for the Sharks and Steve Mason for the Flyers.

Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen will not play for the second consecutive game due to a lower-body injury.

Sharks defenseman Jason Demers will not play due to a lower body injury. Forwards Logan Couture, Raffi Torres and Adam Burish skated this morning with the team but are not expected to play.

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