Hotbird Huck: Carolina Flyers

The Philadelphia Phoenix (4-6) travel south to take on the Carolina Flyers (7-2) for the Hotbird’s final road game of the season. After starting the season 1-6, Philadelphia has started to find its legs, winning three in a row. Carolina has mirrored Philly’s performance, starting a commanding 7-0 before back-to-back losses dropped them to second place in the division.

This game is largely for pride, as neither team needs it for playoff positioning. Philadelphia is locked out of the playoffs for the second straight season, while Carolina is guaranteed a top two seed, and can secure first place in the division by beating Atlanta in Atlanta for the final game of the season, regardless of whether or not they win this game. These teams have played each other twice before, and stand at one win a piece. Carolina will be looking to prove that last years Hotbird victory was a fluke, whereas the Phoenix need to demonstrate that they can beat a team of players with social security numbers—not Canadians.

Carolina looked unstoppable in their 7 wins, which makes their two losses perplexing, particularly their 12 point defeat at the hands of the Breeze last weekend. Carolina converted on just 38% of hold opportunities, their lowest hold rate in 5 years. Only twice during that five year period has Carolina held on 55% or fewer opportunities: last week against DC, and last year against Philadelphia.

While the Flyer offense struggled, the Breeze defense can’t take too much credit. Of Carolina’s 23 turnovers, the Breeze only had 11 blocks, meaning at least half of the Flyer turnovers were their own mistakes, not DC interceptions. This was distinctly not the case in Philly’s 2023 victory, where they had 12 blocks on 18 Carolina turnovers. It is unlikely we will see such an uncharacteristically sloppy performance from the Flyer offense, and Philly will need to get blocks in order to hang with Carolina this game, and they will have to do it without 2024 blocks leader Max Trifillis, who is unable to attend.

Another factor in defeating Carolina will be containing Anders Jeungst. Jeungst is averaging 2.5 goals and 2 turnovers per loss, versus 3.3 goals and 0.8 turnovers in wins. A focal point of the Flyers offense, Jeungst also struggled against Philadelphia in 2023, with no goals, assists, or blocks, and 2 turnovers. It should be mentioned that he was recovering from an injury that kept him out of the 2022 season, when the two teams met in 2021 Anders had 3 goals, 300 yards, and no turnovers. Smart, small, and powerful, Jeungst presents an interesting matchup for a Philadelphia team that is geared more towards larger offensive pieces. We could see Allan Michel return to the d-line—Michel was a mainstay on the Phoenix D-line from 2018 to 2022—or more playing time for someone like David Perry, who saw Jeungst up close during his time with the Atlanta Hustle.

The Phoenix offense is coming off its hottest streak in years, and will once again see a shift in the lineup as Calvin Trisolini returns. It will be interesting to see if Coach Chu disrupts the flow that Eric Nardelli and Brandon Pastor have brought to the O-line in favor of a bigger handler presence in Trisolini. With Suvorov likely returning, plenty of spots on the offense are in question. Only Houston and Detroit have had more players with 40 or more offensive points played this season than Philadelphia, so it will be interesting to see if the Phoenix favor consistency or firepower in this game.

I think the Phoenix can win this game, but it will require them to play offense at the same level they have achieved against Toronto, Montreal, and an Empire team missing almost all of its star players. The Flyers rank top 10 in defensive efficiency, and are sixth in the league in blocks per game, compared to a Rush and Royal squad that are bottom five in both categories. One wrinkle could be success in the deep game. The Hotbirds and Flyers rank second and third respectively in huck completion percentage, and both teams are towards the top of the league in hucks per game. Carolina, however, has one of the best huck defenses in the league, whereas Philadelphia has one of the worst, allowing an unfathomable 70% opponent huck completion. If Philly can clamp down on Carolina’s deep game, it will go a long way towards beating Carolina.

Were this another game against DC or New York I would feel differently, but under Coach Chu Philadelphia has won 15 of 16 games against teams not named Breeze, Empire, or Glory, including a win against the Carolina Flyers. The Phoenix offense has improved drastically since the beginning of the year, and the defense is starting to return to their 2023 form. Figuring out how to stop opponent hucks is the last piece of the puzzle. Philly 22 - Carolina 20. Go Birds!