GAME PREVIEW: Flyers vs. Atlanta Thrashers

The Game: In the second half of a home and home against the Atlanta Thrashers, the Flyers will look to salvage two points from their Eastern Conference foe and move up in their positioning in the conference standings.

Last night, the Flyers neglected to match the desperate intensity the Thrashers brought to Philips Arena, and as a result, fell in the contest convincingly by a score of 5-2.  If the Flyers decide to come to play tonight, they once again would find themselves in solid shape as the NHL season nears its final ten regular season games.  However, as we’ve come to learn from the Flyers lately, that’s a gigantic “If”.  If Brian Boucher plays well, if the forecheck is solid, if they can maintain consistent offensive pressure – if, if, if.  It’s got to start becoming a matter of “when” – not “if” – the Flyers will take control of a game and get the two points.  IF they don’t do this, they will likely see a short playoff run on their hands WHEN the postseason begins (did you like that?).

The Story: It’s hard to basically rewrite exactly what I did for last night’s game, but then again, it’s hard not to come into tonight’s game with the same prerogative.  The Flyers know what they are getting in the Thrashers – a group of rag-tag players that are competing recently as if they are going to be mass murdered if they lose a hockey game.  The Flyers know what they are getting in Johan Hedberg, the Thrashers goalkeeper: a ‘tender that absolutely owns them and is 3-0-0 against the Orange and Black this season.  It’s up to the Flyers to take what they know and translate that to success in tonight’s contest.  This team needs to be able to learn an opponent and react to their strengths and weaknesses, something the Flyers have – for the most part – failed at doing this season.  Tonight would be a good place to start as the playoffs are right around the corner.

Who to Watch on the Thrashers: Jim Slater, Center.

Slater's play away from the puck has been giving the Flyers fits in their season series with Atlanta

Jim Slater has successfully become Sean Avery#2 for the Flyers of late.  His non-stop agitation of the Flyers players paid dividends for the Thrashers last night, and it’s only reasonable to expect that he will try to continue that trend tonight.  Atlanta will look to Slater to be a sure-fire spark plug in what should be a raucous atmosphere tonight at the Wachovia Center – at least on the ice.  Slater only has 15 points in 50 games for the Thrashers this season, but if he can set up opportunities for Atlanta as well as he did last night, expect the Thrashers to reap the benefits.

The Skinny: I didn’t really care for home-and-homes before I started this blog.  However, now that I have this blog going, I care for them even less.  The Flyers need to win tonight.  It will be huge for them both in the standings and mentally.  There is no other option.  A shootout loss is unacceptable.  An overtime loss is unacceptable.  The Flyers don’t need one point tonight, they need two.  It’s up to them to actually make that happen and take it home.  Brian Boucher needs to be solid between the pipes and the Flyers need to find another level of energy that hasn’t been seen since their victory over Chicago a couple weeks ago.

Notes: I wouldn’t be shocked to see some sort of line-up change tonight.  If Arron Asham is in for Ville Leino, I wouldn’t be surprised, but that doesn’t necessarily make it the right move.  At this point and time it’s crucial for Peter Laviolette to find himself a line-up that he will use night in and night out in the playoffs, and right now he hasn’t made up his mind yet.  Regardless, whoever is in the line-up needs to bring the utmost amount of intensity from top to bottom.  As Coach Laviolette said last night: “You can talk the talk, but it comes down to how you walk. Tonight they walked with a really good swagger and good pace. We played like it was just another game.”

****Couple of Last minute updates: Krajicek out, Bartulis in on Defense.  Leino out, Asham in on offense.  For ATL: Hedberg Out(???), Pavelec in goal.

Tonight, the Flyers need to talk to the talk and walk the walk.

Jim Jackson, Keith Jones, and Steve Coates have the call from the Wachovia Center on Comcast SportsNet at 7PM EST.

I will be watching the game courtesy of my good friend who some of you may know from the Official Philadelphia 76ers SportsBlogNation Blog, “Liberty Ballers”.  His Slingbox is my friend tonight, as is he.  Follow him on Twitter, will you? @LBMikeBourn

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