ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Facing a critical road game in Minnesota on Thursday night, the Flyers will welcome back a key defenseman to their lineup.
Brandon Manning, who has missed the past five games with a shoulder injury, will return and pair with Radko Gudas on the blue line.
“We’re playing a heavy team tonight,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “They’ve got some size up front. They’re a heavy team down low. So, we’ll need that pair to play that way. They’ve got to be an abrasive pair and they have to be on the heavy side defensively.”
Michael Del Zotto will be the odd man out as the Flyers have seven healthy defensemen again. Manning, with three goals and seven assists in 57 games this season, said he’s not worried about conditioning or the injury.
“I’m not too worried about that,” Manning said. “I’m feeling good, I’m feeling strong. Did some contact a few days ago and not even thinking about it.”
Toronto’s win in Columbus on Tuesday night allowed the Maple Leafs to surpass Boston in the Atlantic Division. The Bruins now hold the No. 8 spot in the playoff race with 82 points with nine games remaining. The Flyers are eight points back, with three teams in between, and 10 games left in the season.
Their play on the road is one big reason why the Flyers are out of a playoff spot. They are 12-20-4 on the road this season, tied for the second-fewest road wins among Eastern Conference teams. They’re winless in their last six road games (0-5-1) as they play the second game of a four-game trip.
“I don’t think there’s panic,” Manning said. “I think the focus is on each and every night, not really looking too far down the road. Obviously, the last couple weeks, we’ve probably given up points we don’t want to give up and put ourselves in a pretty tough spot. But we got a good group of guys in here, and guys that have played pro hockey long enough that know what it’s like.”
With Del Zotto's being scratched for Manning, Nick Schultz will play what could be his final game in the Xcel Energy Center, where he spent 10 seasons with the Wild. Schultz, a second-round draft pick by Minnesota in 2000, ranks second in franchise history with 743 games played.
Hakstol said Schultz’s history wasn’t a factor in keeping the defenseman in the lineup.
“He’s filled his role well the last few games,” Hakstol said. “He’s been good in that role with Ghost. So, he’s staying in for that reason.”
Goaltender Steve Mason will start for the 11th time in 12 games. He has a 2.25 goals-against average and .923 save percentage in his last 10 games.