The Flyers lost seven of their first eight games and have been at the bottom of the conference standings virtually all season. They’re currently six points worse than any other team in the East.
The Senators are third-worst with 19 points, and only recently climbed out of the Northeast Division basement by winning three of their last four games.
Ottawa finished with a conference-best 113 points last season, and Philadelphia tied for the fourth-most with 101. Both teams went on to lose to Buffalo in the playoffs—the Flyers in the first round and the Senators in the conference semifinals.
Ottawa is in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 1995-96. Philadelphia hasn’t failed to qualify since 1993-94.
While the Senators could be on the verge of turning things around, the Flyers don’t seem to be despite a coaching change. Ken Hitchcock was fired on Oct. 22 and replaced by John Stevens, who has gone 4-8-1 since taking over.
“I know that we have work to do here, but I do see a lot of potential for this hockey team,” said Stevens, who received a two-year contract on Monday. “I want to be the guy who brings success here. I’ve been in Philadelphia for a long time and I know what it means to win here.”
Slow starts have been a big problem for the Flyers. They fell into an early two-goal deficit in a 6-1 loss at San Jose on Saturday, and trailed by three goals after the first period in a 5-3 home defeat to Pittsburgh on Monday.
Philadelphia has been outscored by a 62-29 margin over the first two periods this season and is 0-12-1 when giving up the first goal of the game.
Former starting goalie Robert Esche continues to play horribly when getting a chance. He gave up all six goals and was pulled midway through the second period of Saturday’s loss, and he’s allowed at least four goals in all but one of his seven appearances this season.
Antero Niittymaki has given up at least three goals in eight straight starts, winning only once in that span.
The goaltending situation for Ottawa, meanwhile, appears to be in much better shape. Since sitting out two weeks with a sprained wrist, Ray Emery has won three of four starts. He is 6-3-0 with a conference-leading 2.03 goals-against average this season.
Emery made 42 saves on Monday in a 5-3 win over Minnesota. He helped Ottawa’s 4-0 lead stand up as the team was outshot 37-16 over the final two periods.
“We were fortunate enough to get a lead,” Emery said. “I think we kind of woke them up with a big first period. They definitely came hard. We played hard as well, and some of those games you’ve just got to hang on and use that lead to your advantage, and that’s what we did.”
These teams are meeting for the first time this season. The Senators scored three goals in each of the last six matchups, going 2-4-0. They lost both of their visits to Philadelphia last season.