Game 31Get Out the Measuring Sticks, Flyers and Bruins in a Matinee Beast-Off

Game 31Get Out the Measuring Sticks, Flyers and Bruins in a Matinee Beast-Off

Storylines and notes on Saturday's tilt between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center. Are the rebuilt Flyers ready to beat the team that blew them to pieces in May?

When I see the Flyers have a game scheduled on a Saturday, I scan to the time and hope it's either 1 PM or 3 PM (preferably 1). Not that a Saturday night game isn't a good time whether down at the Well, on the TV hanging over the bar, or at home in the living room, but particularly around the holidays, that early start just sets a good tone for the day.

Especially when it's a matchup like this one. The Bruins are in town, bringing the best record in the Northeast Division to face the top team in the Atlantic. The Flyers have gone through a lot in the past few weeks, including getting the news that they'll be without Chris Pronger for the rest of the season and playoffs. They also haven't lost in the month of December, a seven-game streak that marks their longest run since 2002.

Can they make it eight straight today against a Bruins team that hopes to have its biggest threat back in the lineup? Whole lotta notes on both teams below.

Pronger's Out, But Chara Likely to Return
A seven-game winning streak in December is plenty of fun, filling us with confidence in a team that began its season filled with question marks. But we don't have to look too far into the history books to see that a team's plight isn't decided in December. We also know that last year, the Flyers were a better team with Pronger than without. I'm not going to spend much time raining on the great parade that's currently going on, but let's just say there's a lot of hockey left on the schedule, and the Flyers are down an undeniably big piece.

The Bruins, meanwhile, appear set to have their big blueliner on patrol after a week on the shelf. Zdeno Chara hurt his knee last Saturday against the Blue Jackets, but he's been skating and should be ready to go today, reports Sean Farrell of the Boston Globe.

Blistering, Balanced Beasts Square Off
The Flyers currently lead the league in generating goals, producing at an amazing clip of 3.7 per game. Second place in that stat? The Bruins, who CSN NE's Joe Haggerty points out are actually a relatively distant second at 3.3 goals per game. However, the B's have the league's top goals against average, a paltry 2.0 allowed per game. As if last spring's postseason run left any doubt, the Bruins are an elite hockey club, blending dangerous attackers with solid defense and the best goaltending in the league.

The Flyers' own goals allowed mark is still affected by its earlier woes on defense and in goal. The back line has been improved lately, and Ilya Bryzgalov has found a groove as sweet as a Stuart Zender bass line. After a night off saw backup Sergei Bobrovsky play admirably, Bryz is back between the pipes this afternoon to face the other apple of Ed Snider's eye—Tim Thomas.

Thomas… Well let's just admit that this old bastard owns the Flyers. He's lost just three times against Philly, one of which was the 2-1 season opener, hardly his fault.

Shooting Gallery?
Mike Morreale of NHL.com dug up a good stat that shows the Bruins have been leaning on the men in the masks quite a bit, particularly this past week without Chara. Both Tuukka Rask and Thomas set season highs in saves, with Rask stopping all 41 shots he faced in a 3-0 win over the Kings and Thomas stopping 47 of 49 against the Senators the next night. The shot totals were particularly heavy late in the game, so that's something to watch for in the third period today.

Everybody Is a Star
Pronger's done. Claude Giroux is trapped in indefinite like the two-dimensional prism in Superman II. That means other guys need to continue to step up at both ends of the ice. Matt Carle is logging bigger minutes and has been on the scoresheet in four straight games, including a three-assist night in Montreal. Kimmo Timonen is playing some inspired hockey, Andrej Meszaros is fresh off pounding a point shot home, something the Flyers will need more of down the stretch with no Prongs. Coburn is his usually steady presence, and the kids are alright in Kevin Marshall and particularly Marc-Andre Bourdon.

The attack hasn't been slowed either, buoyed by young talent up and down the lines as well as steady gamesmanship from guys like Max Talbot. Just as the shipping off of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter opened a huge channel for Giroux to shine, G's own absence forces other guys to step up. Sean Couturier has been the guy positionally given that task, centering G's usual linemates. We didn't get to see much of that against the Habs though, as three minors to #14 kept him off his regular shifts throughout much of the game. If he gets another shot today, we'll be looking forward to seeing what he can do between 19 and 68.

Danny Briere is quietly having a solid season, but could be in line for another big game this week. It might not come against the Bruins, but it'll come. He's been consistently putting up points, and he'll be relied on even more now. Jake Voracek has had some great pace on the ice, another guy who might start a run soon, like fellow newcomer Wayne Simmonds has done lately.

The guy we'd most like to see step up and get dominant? James van Riemsdyk. Like Briere, he's had a quietly successful season, but he's been more quiet than successful lately with only two assists to show for his past six games. Here's hoping a matchup with the Bruins sparks him. JVR was one of the few Flyers to show up at all in the four-game sweep by Boston last spring, scoring three goals over the first two games. We haven't quite seen that JVR this season so far. Even when he was hovering around a point-per-game average, he wasn't skating with the ownership we saw in April's Buffalo series.

Measuring Sticks
Flyers fans and media have spent a lot of time wondering about the reasons Paul Holmgren blew most of the team up this past offseason. Some of it probably had to do with chemistry, a need for change within the locker room, although who knows what role that played. One of the biggest reasons Homer likely hit that reset button has nothing to do with the team in the home locker room today, and much more to do with the one getting dressed in visitors' whites. The Bruins are the NHL's benchmark, and Mr. Snider wanted a team more like theirs (he likely wasn't the only owner with that sentiment). Homer went out and got a #1 goalie, sacrificing pieces that needed to go for the cap space, among other reasons. In so doing, he netted quite a few very talented hockey players, Bryzgalov among them. While he's not quite at Thomas' level, it's time for him to show he too can dominate. What better stage for that to play out than a visit from the Bruins?

The Flyers have kept pace with the team they were rebuilt to compete with at a better level than the shitshow we saw last spring. Are they good enough to do it without their two best players?

It won't be easy, but it should be entertaining. These two teams aren't fans of each other, and both sides want to be the top dogs, even in December, and they'll need to win today to do it.

Photo: Mark L. Baer-US Presswire

Best of NBA: Curry, Warriors demolish Cavaliers, 126-91, at home

Best of NBA: Curry, Warriors demolish Cavaliers, 126-91, at home

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors certainly looked ready to trade some more blows with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers come June.

The two-time reigning MVP hit five 3-pointers and had 20 points while matching his season best with 11 assists in Golden State's 126-91 rout of the defending champs Monday.

Klay Thompson scored 26 points with five 3s, and Curry made four steals. Draymond Green produced his third triple-double of the season with 11 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists while matching his career best with five blocks -- and had another dustup with King James in the process.

James had 20 points on 6-of-18 shooting and eight rebounds, and he and Green became the talk once more as their relationship turned even more testy.

Kevin Durant added 21 points, six rebounds, five assists and three blocks for the Warriors in a much-hyped matchup merely weeks after Golden State lost 109-108 in Cleveland on Christmas (see full recap).

Thomas explodes for 17 in fourth quarter to lift Celtics over Hornets
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas scored 17 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter, and the surging Boston Celtics beat the Charlotte Hornets 108-98 on Monday night for their ninth victory in 11games.

It was Thomas' 25th straight game with 20 or more points. He's been putting up big final quarters of late -- scoring 20 or more three times this season. No other NBA player had done it more than once entering Monday.

Al Horford had 22 points, while Kelly Olynyk and Jae Crowder added 15 apiece for Boston, which has won all three meetings with Charlotte this season.

Kemba Walker scored 24 points and Marvin Williams 21 for the Hornets, who lost their fifth straight -- all on the road.

Thomas scored 13 straight points, pushing Boston ahead 93-83 with his 3-pointer from the left wing with 7 minutes left.

Boston led 80-71 entering the final period (see full recap).

Wizards remain hot with win over Trail Blazers
WASHINGTON  -- Bradley Beal scored 25 points and John Wall had 24 as the Washington Wizards took a page from the Portland Trail Blazers' playbook by hitting 13 3-pointers in a comfortable 120-101 victory on Monday afternoon.

The Wizards, who rely less on the 3-pointer than almost any NBA team, were 13 of 23 from beyond the arc in their 12th consecutive home victory. The 3-pointer-heavy Trail Blazers shot 8 of 26 on 3-point attempts.

After Washington coach Scott Brooks called Portland guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum as good as any backcourt in the league, Beal and John Wall outplayed them. Lillard led the Blazers with 22 points and McCollum had 12, but they combined to shoot 11 of 29 from the floor.

The Wizards have won four of their last five games (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Penguins halt Capitals 9-game streak with wild 8-7 OT win

Best of NHL: Penguins halt Capitals 9-game streak with wild 8-7 OT win

PITTSBURGH -- Conor Sheary scored 34 seconds into overtime and the Pittsburgh Penguins ended the Washington Capitals' nine-game winning streak with a wild 8-7 victory Monday night that included nine second-period goals.

Sheary had two goals and an assist for the Penguins, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Evgeni Malkin picked up his 11th career hat trick during a frenetic second period, and Sidney Crosby collected his NHL-leading 27th goal to go with two assists. Bryan Rust and Nick Bonino also scored for Pittsburgh, and Matt Murray got the win despite allowing seven goals on 28 shots.

The Penguins trailed 3-0 before scoring six goals in less than 11 minutes in the second period, more goals than the Capitals had allowed in a game all season. Pittsburgh led 6-5 after 40 minutes.

Lars Eller scored twice for Washington, and T.J. Oshie, Brett Connolly, Nicklas Backstrom, Justin Williams and Andre Burakovsky also found the net. Philipp Grubauer made eight saves after coming on in relief of Braden Holtby, who was pulled during Pittsburgh's second-period deluge (see full recap).

Eichel scores twice to give Sabres' 4-1 win over Stars
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Jack Eichel scored two goals and the Buffalo Sabres defeated the Dallas Stars 4-1 on Monday.

Tyler Ennis scored 19 seconds into the first period. Ennis returned after missing 30 games with a groin injury that required surgery.

Jake McCabe also had a goal and Robin Lehner made 31 saves after missing the past three games with an illness.

The Sabres snapped a two-game losing streak and beat the Stars for the first time in four matchups.

Radek Faksa scored for the Stars in the opener of a three-game road trip. Kari Lehtonen stopped 25 shots. Dallas has lost two in a row and six of eight (see full recap).

Bishop anchors Lightning to 2-1 win over Kings
LOS ANGELES -- Brian Boyle scored the go-ahead goal late in the second period, and the Tampa Bay Lightning opened a six-game road trip with a 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Monday.

Ben Bishop made an early mistake that led to Kyle Clifford's goal for the Kings, but bounced back to make 31 saves in his second start back from a three-week absence with a lower-body injury.

Tyler Johnson scored in the first period for the Lightning, who won for just the second time in seven games.

Peter Budaj stopped 27 shots for the Kings.

Both teams played without stars due to illness. Kings captain Anze Kopitar missed his first game since Nov. 20, and All-Star defenseman Victor Hedman missed his first game of the season for Tampa Bay (see full recap).