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.

Best of NHL: Lightning capture OT win over Red Wings

Best of NHL: Lightning capture OT win over Red Wings

DETROIT -- Nikita Kucherov scored 3:28 into overtime to lift the Tampa Bay Lightning over the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 on Friday night.

Situated on the edge of the crease, Kucherov redirected a hard pass from Brayden Point into the net.

The Lightning are one point behind the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders for the final Eastern Conference wild card.

Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg opened the scoring 8:03 into the second period. Taking a backhand pass from Gustav Nyquist, Zetterberg flipped a knuckling wrist shot toward the goal and over the stick-side shoulder of goalie Andrei Vasilievskiy, who struggled to find the puck through the screen of teammate Point (see full recap).

Islanders notch shootout win over Penguins
PITTSBURGH -- John Tavares and Anthony Beauvillier scored in the shootout to lead the New York Islanders over the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 on Friday night.

Beauvillier opened the shootout with a goal, and Tavares snapped a wrist shot past Marc-Andre Fleury in the next round. Sidney Crosby scored in the shootout for Pittsburgh, but Jaroslav Halak, making his first start since Dec. 29, stopped Phil Kessel and Nick Bonino.

Anders Lee scored his 28th goal of the season, while Brock Nelson got his 17th and Casey Cizikas his eighth for the Islanders, who moved into the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. New York is tied with Boston at 82 points, but the Islanders have a game in hand on the Bruins. The Islanders have 18 wins in 31 games since Doug Weight was named interim coach on Jan. 17, replacing Jack Capuano.

Halak, a former All-Star, made 37 saves (see full recap).

Cracknell nets first hat trick in Stars' win
DALLAS -- Adam Cracknell got his first hat trick in seven NHL seasons and the Dallas Stars handed the San Jose Sharks their fifth straight loss, 6-1 on Friday night.

Cracknell opened the scoring in the first period, capped a three-goal flurry in the second and beat goalie Aaron Dell on a short-handed breakaway in the third for his career-high 10th goal of the season.

The Sharks entered two points ahead of Anaheim and Edmonton in the Pacific Division despite their longest losing streak of the season. San Jose has been outscored 16-5 during the stretch.

Brett Ritchie, Jamie Benn and John Klingberg also scored for the Stars.

Joe Thornton scored for San Jose on the power play in the second period. Dell had 23 saves.

Dallas' Kari Lehtonen made 20 saves four nights after shutting out San Jose (see full recap).

Flyers-Wild 10 observations: Sean Couturier shows flash, Matt Read answers call & more

Flyers-Wild 10 observations: Sean Couturier shows flash, Matt Read answers call & more

You know Dave Hakstol has reached crisis measures when he takes a skill player in Travis Konecny and throws him onto the fourth line while promoting Matt Read to the top line.

This was risk-taking at its craziest to generate some enthusiasm and life into a Flyers squad that didn't show much of a pulse a few nights earlier in Winnipeg.

Guess what?

It worked during a 3-1 victory on Thursday, the Flyers' fifth straight win over the Wild going back a few years (see Instant Replay).

Their playoff hopes still flicker.

As much as the fan base hated the lineup moves, consider this: general manager Ron Hextall was very explicit this week in saying that the roster Hakstol has right now is what it is. Hextall is not going to promote any young Phantoms into a bad situation when they are headed for what could be a decent playoff run in the AHL.

Therefore, as my former colleague Bill Lyon would say, here are 10 things I think, I think …

1. The Flyers began the game as they have so often this season with yet another turnover and scoring chance against them. Rinse and repeat. The Flyers had three turnovers in less than five minutes to start the game.

2. Minutes later, Steve Mason coughed up a bad rebound off his stick and Zach Parise burned him with a gimme goal for a 1-0 lead. Mason had issues in this one with rebounds that were looking like grenades, but he settled down with a strong final two periods with 24 saves. This was Mason's 100th win as a Flyer (see game story).

3. You had to see it to believe it. Sean Couturier with a nice backhand shot through Devan Dubnyk's five-hole to make it a 1-1 game near the end of the opening period (see feature highlight). I haven't seen that kind of offensive move from Couturier in quite some time. Question is, why can't he do that nightly instead of semiannually? That's the offensive spark you know Couturier is capable of providing.

4. The Wild were very aggressive in this one as they were trying to clinch a playoff spot, so the Flyers had to match that intensity. The Flyers more than matched it. This was far, far better than what Hakstol's team brought to the ice in Winnipeg. Not even close, as the Flyers dominated.

5. Matt Read had a quick stick -- no other way to explain it -- on his goal in the second period off a series of Wild turnovers that came about because of a play set up by Jakub Voracek. That goal seemingly stunned Dubnyk. It was Read's second goal in the last two games. He was all over the ice in this one. Many nights this season, Read was invisible. Not this game.

6. The Flyers had some genuine scoring chances in this game. You had to wonder where this desire to skate, create and score was all through the month of February and into March. The Flyers had strong forecheck pressure and a rebound-attack mentality the entire second period. If that had happened with regularity down the stretch, this team would be sitting in the wild card right now.

7. While the shake-up of the lines obviously benefited Read, it did little for Konecny and actually set him back. He was invisible. No shots. No hits. Invisible with little ice time. Really can't figure this move out but obviously, Hakstol is upset with him for some reason.

8. Minnesota went all in at the NHL trade deadline to get Martin Hanzal and Ryan White, forking over four draft picks, including a first-rounder. The Wild were leading the Central Division before losing six straight (and eight of nine) that allowed Chicago to regain the top spot in the division. The Wild don't look like the same confident, surging team it was a month ago in the Western Conference.

9. Minnesota had a strong push in the final five minutes and the Flyers had some initial difficulty answering that until the final minute when Wayne Simmonds picked up his 300th point as a Flyer on Voracek's empty-net goal to seal the deal. A nice way to finish off a complete effort by everyone involved.

10. The Flyers picked up two points on Boston, which lost to Tampa Bay, and are six behind the Bruins in the wild card. They still remain a l-o-n-g shot to make the playoffs, given the sheer number of teams ahead of them that they need to climb over.