Flyers-Avalanche: 5 things you need to know

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Flyers-Avalanche: 5 things you need to know

Flyers at Avalanche
9 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet

The Flyers (14-16-6) will look to close out 2014 on a positive note when they battle the Colorado Avalanche (13-15-8) at the Pepsi Center on New Year's Eve.

Here are five things to get you ready for Wednesday's clash in Denver:

1. Same old song
Let's face it, the Flyers aren't going anywhere unless they fix their much-maligned special teams.

They've gone six consecutive games without a power-play goal. Six. The franchise hasn't had a longer drought on the man advantage since going seven straight games without a PP tally in November of 2002.

“Special teams make a lot of difference in games,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said (see story). “Our power play has to find a way, and it doesn’t matter if it is pretty or not. ... We just have to find a way.”

Then there's penalty killing, or lack thereof. The Flyers have not fared well in shorthanded situations on their trip. They've surrendered six power-play markers and have dropped to dead last in the NHL in PK effectiveness (74.0 percent).

Despite a 3-2-0 record in the first five games of their trip, the Flyers have somehow managed to lose two points in the standings since departing Philadelphia. The final three stops on their eight-game tour are all seemingly winnable matchups (Colorado, Carolina and New Jersey) and should result in six points. The key word there is should. If the Flyers don't clean up their special-teams play, it will be incredibly difficult to gain ground in the Metropolitan Division.

2. Ummm ... berger?
One of the few bright spots from Monday's loss in Arizona was the third-period surge led by R.J. Umberger. Yes, R.J. Umberger. If you needed to re-read that sentence or do a double take, I understand.

It's no secret the veteran forward has struggled in his first season back in a Flyers sweater, but he had his best outing in what seems like a lifetime against the Coyotes. He potted two goals in the third period and almost guided the Flyers to a comeback. Who could make that up?

It's a shame the Flyers waited until eight minutes were remaining in the game to show some fight, though. If they can rally back from a three-goal deficit in such a short time frame, imagine what they'd be capable of doing if they played a full 60 minutes.

3. Aving a tough time
With a star-filled lineup featuring players such as Jarome Iginla, Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and Danny Briere, it would be safe to assume the Avalanche would have no problem finding the back of the net.

Surprisingly, that hasn't been the case. Second-year bench boss Patrick Roy's biggest concern is the lack of scoring from his key forwards.

MacKinnon has scored just once in his last 18 games. Duchene has just one assist in his past seven. Briere has been held goalless in 11 straight contests. And Landeskog hasn't found twine since Nov. 29.

What is going on in Colorado? Well for starters, the Avs aren't getting pucks on net. They registered a season-low 16 shots in Monday's loss to the St. Louis Blues and are averaging just 26.2 shots per game in December.

Much like the Flyers, the Avs have been crippled by inconsistent play this season. After stringing together a three-game winning streak heading into the Christmas break, Colorado has dropped back-to-back contests. Sound familiar? That's because the Flyers have done the same exact thing. This game could be a barn burner.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Vinny Lecavalier was actually one of the Flyers' most productive forwards against Arizona. He had has feet moving the entire game and finished with a team-high six shots on goal. It was an encouraging performance for the veteran, who has just five goals and nine points in 22 games this season. He's looked much better since being placed with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris VandeVelde on the fourth line. With the way the trio has been forechecking, Lecavalier should continue to get quality chances.

Avalanche: As mentioned above, Colorado has no shortage of skilled forwards. So it's somewhat shocking to see Alex Tanguay, an aging veteran, leading the team in scoring with 24 points (12 goals). That's not to say Tanguay isn't gifted, quite the opposite. The 35-year-old has the ability to hold onto the puck for long periods of time and has terrific vision. And with many of his teammates mired in scoring slumps, Tanguay has found a way to consistently produce. He just needs some help.

5. This and that
• This will be the final meeting between these two clubs this season. Giroux and Jakub Voracek had three points apiece in a 4-3 win over Colorado on Nov. 8 at the Wells Fargo Center.

• The Flyers haven't won at the Pepsi Center since Dec. 27, 2002.

• The Avalanche have allowed 1,217 shots on goal this season, third-most in the NHL.

• The Flyers have gone 0 for 14 on the man advantage during their current trip.

• Colorado has four skaters who are minus-10 or worse this season.

With increased workload, Steve Mason settling in as unquestioned No. 1 goalie

With increased workload, Steve Mason settling in as unquestioned No. 1 goalie

As Steve Mason has gone recently, the Flyers have gone right with him.

That theme held true in Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime win over the Florida Panthers, as the Flyers extended their winning streak to six games on the back of a 42-save performance from Mason.

For Mason, it was not only his fifth consecutive win, which equals a career high, but also the fifth straight game that he’s surrendered no more than two goals.

"Biggest thing is the saves we got, no doubt about that,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “I thought Mase, it was one of those nights where he was our best player."

"He's been amazing,” Jakub Voracek said. “He's had a lot of streaks like this through his career. Last five, six games, he's been outstanding. Last year he pushed us to the playoffs, he was outstanding. When he got traded here, he was outstanding. It's good to see him play like that."

"Mase was the difference tonight,” Wayne Simmonds said.

On a night where the Flyers’ overall play could be best described as sloppy, Mason was sharp from the opening puck drop.

Despite facing of barrage of shots early, Mason was locked in, stopping 14 of the whopping 15 shots he faced in the first period. The only blemish on his opening period record was a goal from the slot area off the stick of Aleksander Barkov, who beat Mason to his short side on a perfect cross-ice feed from Mark Pysyk.

After the Flyers rebounded with a cleaner second period to take a 2-1 lead, Mason was forced to stand on his head for the final 20 minutes of regulation. The Panthers dominated puck possession yet again in the third, outshooting the Flyers, 17-4, and tying the game at two with just under five minutes remaining.  

"It was a game where you had to come up with big saves,” Mason said. “We spent a lot of time in our own end. It was good to come up with two points, but I think we all understand we have to be better."

While Jussi Jokinen, who was unaccounted for on a Florida rush, tallied the equalizer late in the third period, the Flyers were lucky that wasn’t the go-ahead goal thanks to a highlight-reel save by Mason earlier in the period.

An Aaron Ekblad shot from the point hit a screened Mason in the shoulder and bounced right onto the stick of Jokinen, who went around Mason and shot the puck on an open net.

But Mason made a last-ditch effort and dove at the puck, just getting his glove on it to protect the Flyers’ lead and cap off a spectacular save

"The original shot came through cross body and hit me in the shoulder so I didn't pick that up initially through the screens,” Mason said “Went down to my right there and just made a desperation attempt to get anything on it and fortunately I was able to get the glove on it.

“They had their chances. We were able to come through when we had to. Simmer comes up with some key goals again. At the end of the day we have to be better. The first period we weren't good enough, the second was a little bit better, but then again in the third we have to be better overall."

Mason began the season as a part of a goalie tandem with Michal Neuvirth. Neither goalie got off to a hot enough start to put a claim on the position, but Mason was trusted into the No. 1 role after Nuevirth went down with a lower-body injury against the Wild on Nov. 12.

Through his first 10 games prior to Nuevirth’s injury, Mason was stopping just 87.4 percent of the shots fired his way, while allowing an average three goals per outing.

Since then, Mason’s made 11 of a possible 12 starts and his increase in workload has coincided with his turnaround, boasting a .929 save percentage since becoming the consistent starter. During his current five-game winning streak, the 28-year-old carries a .947 save percentage and a 1.80 goals against average. 

And Mason getting hot at the same time he’s back as the Flyers’ unquestioned starting goaltender isn’t any coincidence either.

"You do read things at a higher level and that's something that you always work for,” Mason said of the increased workload. “To be reading plays and kind of reading things before they happen. It all goes back to practicing and working hard. You work hard sometimes you get rewarded for it.
 
“I've said it numerous times, I want to be playing lots of hockey. This is a position that I'm used to being in and where I'm most comfortable. So just have to keep continuing to put my work in and whenever Hak calls my name be ready."

Best of NHL: Last-place Islanders take down rival Rangers

Best of NHL: Last-place Islanders take down rival Rangers

NEW YORK -- Andrew Ladd scored in the second period and Jaroslav Halak stopped 36 shots to lead the New York Islanders to a 4-2 victory over the crosstown-rival Rangers on Tuesday night.

John Tavares, Jason Chimera and Scott Mayfield also scored at the Barclays Center to help the last-place Islanders improve to 4-0-1 in their last five games.

Jimmy Vesey and Marc Staal scored for the Metropolitan Division-leading Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist finished with 28 saves. The Rangers have alternated wins and losses in regulation in their last eight games.

Halak beat Lundqvist for the ninth time in their last 10 matchups. Halak had won eight straight -- including the last five after joining the Islanders before the 2014-15 season -- before Lundqvist ended the streak in the Rangers' 5-3 win in the season opener Oct. 13 at Madison Square Garden. Lundqvist is now 1-6-1 in his last eight against the Islanders (see full recap).

Schwartz lifts Blues over Canadiens in OT
ST. LOUIS -- Jaden Schwartz got his second goal of the game in overtime, leading the St. Louis Blues to a 3-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night.

Paul Stastny also scored for St. Louis, which has won four of five. The Blues rallied from a 2-0 deficit and have a point in their last 13 home games.

Tomas Plekanec and Paul Byron scored for Montreal, which completed a five-game trip 2-3.

Goalie Jake Allen made 28 saves to improve to 13-3-3.

Schwartz lifted a backhander past goalie Al Montoya with 1:22 left in overtime.

Stastny and Schwartz scored in a 2:51 span in the third period to tie it at 2 (see full recap).

Blackhawks blank Coyotes to snap modest skid
CHICAGO -- Marian Hossa had two goals, Scott Darling made 22 saves and the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Arizona Coyotes 4-0 on Tuesday night to snap a two-game slide.

Artem Anisimov and Dennis Rasmussen also scored to help Chicago maintain a three-point lead over St. Louis in the Central Division.

Darling made a handful of tough stops but wasn't heavily tested in his first shutout this season and third of his career. He started his third straight game in place of No. 1 goalie Corey Crawford, who had an appendectomy in Philadelphia on Saturday.

The 37-year-old Hossa scored his team-leading 13th and 14th goals in his 27th game -- surpassing his total of 13 last season in 64 contests (see full recap).