Flyers-Coyotes: 5 things you need to know

Flyers-Coyotes: 5 things you need to know
January 4, 2014, 11:00 am
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Updated: 1:15 p.m.

The Flyers (20-17-4) will try to bounce back from their first loss on their six-game road trip when they clash with the Phoenix Coyotes (20-11-9) Saturday evening.

Puck drop is set for 8 p.m. (CSN) at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Ariz.

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Who gets promoted?
Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Michael Raffl have combined for 11 goals and 25 assists since head coach Craig Berube decided to place Raffl on the Flyers’ top line, replacing Scott Hartnell, 10 games ago.

The Flyers went 7-2-1 during that stretch, but lost Raffl to a concussion in the first period of Thursday’s 2-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

So with Raffl sidelined for the near future, who will get bumped up to the top line? When Raffl went down in Colorado, Steve Downie, Brayden Schenn and Zac Rinaldo all saw time with Giroux and Voracek.

With the recent success of the Schenn-Hartnell-Wayne Simmonds line, it wouldn’t make much sense to split them up. Downie has experience playing with top-line caliber players. He skated alongside Steven Stamkos in Tampa and even saw time with Mike Richards during his first stint in Philadelphia. But this season, Downie has played his best hockey on a line with Sean Couturier and Matt Read, who could return Saturday, so Berube may go another route. Rinaldo? Probably not the best route.

How about Vinny Lecavalier? He has just one assist since returning from a back injury six games ago, so playing with the red-hot Giroux and Voracek could serve as a nice confidence booster. 

Update: Berube said Read will not play on Saturday and Downie will move up to the top line. Here's how the offense will look:

Downie-Giroux-Voracek
Hartnell-Schenn-Simmonds
Lecavalier-Couturier-Rinaldo
Rosehill-VandeVelde-Hall

2. Halfway there
The Flyers reached the midway point to the season on Thursday and will begin the second half of their schedule on Saturday.

With 44 points through the first 41 games, the Flyers currently sit in the third and final playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division -- two points ahead of the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers.

CSNPhilly.com Flyers Insider Tim Panaccio recently caught up with Berube to play a word association game, asking him to say the first thing popped into his head about his players’ performances in the first half (see story).  

3. Captain Coyote returns?
It’s been a frustrating couple of weeks for veteran forward Shane Doan.

The Coyotes’ captain last played on Dec. 4 after feeling flu-like symptoms from an illness doctors initially had trouble diagnosing. In mid-December, it was determined Doan was suffering from a form of Rocky Mountain Fever -- a bacterial disease that affects the lining of blood cells and is often contracted by ticks.

The 37-year-old started to improve by taking antibiotics and steadily increased his activities. He returned to practice New Year’s Eve after a slow recovery and was initially expected to return sometime next week. But on Friday, doctors gave him the green light to play against the Flyers.

Phoenix head coach Dave Tippet said “it would be hard to keep him out of the game” because Doan is so anxious to return.  

The Coyotes would welcome Doan back with open arms if he plays, as they have won just four games in his absence. It’s also worth mentioning that despite the significant amount of time missed, Doan still leads the team in goals with 12.

4. Injuries
Read will not play Saturday night after originally be listed as a game-time decision. The 27-year-old, who has 10 goals and nine assists this season, suffered an upper-body injury in Tuesday’s win over the Calgary Flames and did not play in Thursday’s loss to the Avalanche.

Out for the Flyers are Raffl and Erik Gustafsson. Raffl (concussion) will be evaluated by team doctors when the Flyers return to Philadelphia. Gustafsson has been sidelined since Dec. 21 with a left knee sprain and is expected to make his return to the lineup in seven to 10 days.

The Coyotes could be missing a key player on defense against the Flyers. Oliver Ekman-Larsson took a nasty hit from Derek MacKenzie in Phoenix’s 2-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday and missed practice Friday because of an upper-body injury. He played just over four minutes before the violent collision. There was no penalty assessed on the play, but the NHL handed MacKenzie a three-game suspension for the hit Friday.

Fellow defenseman Zbynek Michalek will not play Saturday. Michalek has missed the Coyotes’ last seven games because of a lower-body injury.

5. This and that
• This is the second and final game between these two clubs this season. Phoenix came away with a 2-1 win over the Flyers on Oct. 11 at Wells Fargo Center. Derek Morris and Ekman-Larsson scored for the Coyotes, while Max Talbot registered the Flyers’ lone goal.

• Hartnell has two goals and five assists during his current six-game point streak.

• Team USA snub Keith Yandle has two goals and three assists in the Coyotes’ past four games.

• Simmonds has at least one point in seven out of his last eight games. During that span, he’s collected eight goals and four assists.

• Prior to their loss to Columbus, the Coyotes had played in five consecutive games that needed overtime or a shootout to decide the outcome.