Skate Update: Downie to return vs. Oilers

Skate Update: Downie to return vs. Oilers

The Flyers talk about their struggles on the road

December 28, 2013, 4:00 pm
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In 31 games between the Avalanche and Flyers this season, Steve Downie has three goals and 16 assists. (USA Today Images)

EDMONTON, Alberta – Understandably, Flyers coach Craig Berube doesn’t want to tinker much with his lineup right now. The Flyers are 3-1-1 in their last five games, and have been playing some of their best hockey of an up-and-down season.

He’s happy, however, that forward Steve Downie will return tonight against the Edmonton Oilers. Downie had been out since Dec. 19 with an upper-body injury.

“He’s been a good player for us,” Berube said. “Steve brings an element of skill and grit. He’s effective in a lot of different areas, so it’s nice to have him back.”

Downie is expected to center a line with Zac Rinaldo and Adam Hall tonight. Hall, who missed Friday’s practice because of illness, feels better and will be ready to play, too.

“I feel good,” Downie said. “I’m excited, it’s been a long break. Just excited to get going here.”

Even while nursing his injury, Downie was skating daily either alone or with teammates. That’s key, as oftentimes conditioning is the first thing to get rusty when a player misses significant time. He doesn’t expect it to be an issue against the Oilers.

“I was skating every day, so the lungs were there,” Downie said. “So that wasn’t a problem. It was more my hands and my stick and my shooting. It feels good.”

Start strong
Tonight’s game kicks off a significant six-game road swing for the Flyers, who would like to return to Philadelphia in 2014 with a better record than their last trip. The last time they played six in a row away from home, they went 2-3-1 and lost ground in the Metropolitan Division.

Starting off with a win is vital, according to the coach.

“It’s always important,” Berube said. “I look at that last big road trip, we end up starting off with a win, then we had another win, but faltered at the end of it. We put ourselves in positions to do well on that road trip later on, and we just didn’t get it done. … Our focus is obviously to get a good start on the trip, but to finish it off too. I think it’s really important on this trip that we play some real good hockey.”

The Flyers look at this trip as an opportunity to correct some of the things they’ve struggled with away from the Wells Fargo Center this year – playing complete games, shutting down the opposition on the penalty kill, scoring more than two goals a night.

“It’s huge,” Sean Couturier said. “We hadn’t had success lately on the road, so we want to make a point and get some huge wins coming up. It’s a crucial road trip, could change a lot of things at the end of the year. We’ve got to take it one game at a time, not think too far ahead either.”

Mason is in
It will be Steve Mason who gets the call against Bryzgalov and the Oilers tonight.

Mason carried a rather strong stretch of games into the break, going 4-0-1 in his five starts before the Flyers adjourned to celebrate Christmas. He’s 14-9-4 on the season, with a .923 save percentage and 2.35 goals-against average.

Rough at Rexall
Though the Flyers had little trouble taking down the Oilers the last time these two teams met, Nov. 9 at the Wells Fargo Center, they’ve struggled historically in Edmonton

Since 2001, the Flyers are 0-3-1 at Rexall Place. It can be a difficult place to play.

“There’s a lot of tough buildings,” Adam Hall said. “I think this place is a fun place, obviously with the history of this building. … You take it as a challenge. I think anybody at this level, you’re a competitive guy, this is a competitive league, you relish the challenge of coming on the road, playing in hostile atmospheres.”