The San Jose Sharks haven’t been a thorn in the side of the Flyers — they’ve been a hatchet.
Since the lockout of 2004-05, Philadelphia has gone 0-4-2 against the Western Conference power, being outscored 30-16 during that span. And that’s just lately. The Flyers haven’t cracked the Sharks in 11 previous meetings, dating back to Dec. 21, 2000, which marks their last win over the Bay Area teals.
However, this season, the two squads have been on different paths. And come 7 PM tonight at the Wells Fargo Center, it could be the Flyers that go Shark hunting and bring that near decade-long winless drought to an end.
Sitting at 13-9-4 in the West, the Sharks, led by Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Joe Pavelski and Patty Marleau, are armed with a potent and high-scoring offense that ranks 10th in the league. But lagging San Jose’s progress has been its inconsistent play. The Sharks have only strung together more than one consecutive win three times this season, two of which were followed by an equally lengthy losing streak. It’s their last 10 games, the Sharks are just 4-4-2. And coming off a big win against the Detroit Red Wings on Monday, following routine, they could be in prime position to fall at the hands of the Flyers.
Led by Danny Briere’s 14 goals, the Flyers have the NHL’s third best attack, averaging 3.36 goals per game. Depth being key, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Claude Giroux, along with Briere, all have reached double digits in goals. Only one player, Dan Carcillo at minus-2, isn’t a plus.
But the crux to Philly’s success has been its ability to match its potent offense with an equally stingy defense. Led by Kimmo Timonen and Chris Pronger (13th and 17th in blocked shots), Philly ranks third in the league in goals against per game with 2.39.
The key to the contest will be getting off to a quick start. The Flyers, who are a shaky 5-3-2 in their last 10 games, have been dominant when playing with the lead. Philly is 10-1 when winning after the first and a league-leading 14-0-1 when controlling play after two.
Magnifying the importance of an early Philly burst, San Jose is just 1-5-1 when trailing after the first period and 7-1 when holding the advantage.
The contest could be won or lost in the first 20 minutes.
The Sharks’ will start former Flyer Antero Niittymaki (8-3-3 — 2.34 GAA) against Philadelphia’s Sergei Bobrovsky (14-4-2 — 2.21 GAA). Niittymaki went 0-2 last season against the Flyers as part of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
San Jose will see some familiar faces in Philadelphia. Current Flyers’ Jody Shelley, Brian Boucher and Matt Carle all spent varying time with the Sharks.