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Game Day Preview #54, Los Angeles Kings @ Philadelphia Flyers

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The Flyers are the hottest team in hockey right now. Can the Kings stop them?

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Los Angeles Kings Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

HOW TO WATCH

Game Time: 4:00 PM Pacific
TV: Fox Sports West
Radio: iHeart Radio
The Opposition: Broad Street Hockey

February Road Trip Stats: 2-1-0

We Didn’t Think You Were Allowed To Win That Many In A Row

Good morning from the City of Brotherly Love, where the Kings are preparing to take on the hottest team in hockey. The Flyers have won eight straight and nine of their last ten games and have stormed back up in the standings to be within striking distance of a wild card spot.

The Flyers are no stranger to long, strange streaks—they also found themselves mired in an eight-game losing streak after firing former head coach Dave Hakstol. If you take it back even further, last season, the Flyers lost 10 straight games through November and early December (but still made the playoffs); the season before, they won 10 straight yet missed out on the post-season.

With their recent improved play, there’s some debate over whether the Flyers should be sellers at the deadline or if they should stay the course. Wayne Simmonds, a fan and locker room favorite, has been tabbed as the most likely to be moved, especially given his own improvement on the ice after a slow start to his season. But an interesting storyline could emerge out of this game. Their next opponent after the Kings is the low-hanging fruit of the other Southern California Tank Squad, the Anaheim Ducks. If the Flyers win both of those games, they find themselves welcoming their western Pennsylvania nemesis, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in order to take the win streak to 11. You want some peak Pennsylvania drama? That right there will get it done for you.

Does an 11-game winning streak change things for the Flyers? Does it depend on what happens with Columbus, if they do in fact throw in the towel on this season and look to move both Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky before they lose them for nothing after the season comes to a close? Does Carolina try to make a run at the playoffs? The mushy middle parts of the Eastern Conference are going to mean teams have some tough choices to make including the Flyers, who are looking more legitimate than they have in a while during this streak.

Carter Hart Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo

Of course, you can’t talk about the Flyers’ improved on-ice performance without talking about Carter Hart.

The Kings are used to facing off against one of the many mediocre-to-bad goalies the Flyers have iced over the years. They’ll be seeing a little something different tonight, as rookie phenom Carter Hart is expected to get the start.

The young goaltender has been developing buzz since he dominated the WHL, and while everyone tried to have reasonable expectations for a rookie goalie in his first pro season, it turns out Hart has had essentially no trouble at all adapting his game to the pace and skill of the NHL. He’s won seven straight games, only the second time in league history a goalie has done that at 20 years of age. Hart’s performance is giving the team confidence and at least dragging them even the tiniest bit back to relevance. For a team historically known to be the place where good goaltending goes to die, Hart’s been defying all the odds in net.

This Does Not Fit Into The Jack Hughes Plan

As for the Kings, while there are some hushed talks around the internets about how they too are within striking distance of a playoff spot, expectations should really be tempered. They beat the Rangers and the Flyers Devils. (I’m not saying I’m psychic but also what if that typo was actually a win predictions.) If they pull off wins in their next three games against the Flyers, Bruins, and Capitals, well—the best thing for the franchise is still to pick as high in the lottery as possible, but we’ll allow some optimism and what-ifs, particularly given how bad most of the Western Conference is.

Seeing players like Tyler Toffoli and Adrian Kempe playing with confidence is important though, both for the rest of the season and for the future state of the Kings. For Toffoli, there’s been no question that he’s a solid player mired in the most unfortunately timed streak of bad luck ever. For Kempe, it’s always been about consistency, something he hasn’t had much of, both in his own play (regardless of who he’s on a line with) and with who his linemates are. Kempe creating more chances gives the Kings greater depth and more of an ability to roll four actual lines, rather than just throwing Anze Kopitar out there, over and over again, and hoping for the best.

Other Notes Of Some Importance

There’s some line shuffling going on, with Mike Amadio switching places with Nate Thompson and going up to center the second line. That makes more sense than keeping Thompson playing elevated minutes, at least. Jeff Carter remains out, denying all of us another round of “hearing Jeff Carter get asked 845 questions about returning to Philadelphia”.

The more intriguing note from practice this morning is that Dion Phaneuf.

Phaneuf looks like he’ll sit as a healthy scratch tonight. The Kings defense would undoubtedly be better without Phaneuf, who’s also probably been impacting Paul LaDue’s ability to perform to his potential. But that’s a lot—a lot—of money and experience to sit down as a healthy scratch, and more importantly, sitting underperforming veterans isn’t generally something that’s in Willie Desjardins’ wheelhouse, no matter how improved the team would be by allowing Oscar Fantenberg, Sean Walker, and yes, even LaDue to get more regular ice time over a respected veteran who, frankly, isn’t that good anymore.

So it says something—about the team, about Desjardins, and about random people probably thinking that they can make a playoff push—that Desjardins confirmed that it’s a lineup decision to hold Phaneuf out tonight.

Also: Trevor Lewis Countdown is on.

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