Flyers-Blackhawks: 5 things you need to know

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Flyers-Blackhawks: 5 things you need to know

And so it continues.

The Flyers (35-25-7) host the Chicago Blackhawks (39-15-14) in the third game of a 12-game stretch against teams in playoff position.

Puck drop is set for 7:30 p.m. (NBCSN) at the Wells Fargo Center.

Here are five things you need to know:

1. Level elite
CBC’s Elliotte Friedman pens a column each week called “30 Thoughts.” It is one of the best reads of the week for hockey fans. In this week’s piece, Friedman praises the Flyers for the contracts of Sean Couturier and Matt Read, while also titling Couturier an “elite shutdown player.”

High praise from a well-respected media member, and how can anyone disagree with him after this weekend's sweep of the Penguins?

Couturier marvelously shut down Sidney Crosby, who was pointless in both games (only the second time in 47 regular-season games against the Flyers Crosby went pointless in back-to-back games).

At 21, Couturier's offensive game still hasn't peaked, but he has proven since he entered the league he is a strong defensive forward. He proved Saturday and Sunday he's among the league's best.

The Flyers will need Couturier against Chicago, the defending Stanley Cup champions. The Blackhawks score goals and a lot of them. They lead the NHL in scoring, potting 3.32 goals per game. The Hawks tallied seven in their win over the Flyers on Dec. 11.

Couturier will have his hands full but he's capable of handling the challenge.

2. MVP watch
Claude Giroux had a terrible start to the season -- so bad some Flyers fans questioned his captaincy. He went the first 15 games without a goal and the first five without a point.

That feels like years ago, because Giroux is now among the top scorers in the league. With 69 points, Giroux is tied for fourth in the NHL with Tyler Seguin and Kyle Okposo.

Since Dec. 11, Giroux has the most points in the NHL -- 49 in 38 games. He has 23 points in his last 15 games. He had four in the weekend sweep of the Pens.

Giroux has more points than Patrick Kane (68), Alex Ovechkin (68), Corey Perry (67) and Evgeni Malkin (66).

The 26-year-old has carried the Flyers from in the basement after a franchise-worst start to second place in the Metropolitan Division.

He won't win the Hart Memorial Trophy, but you can bet he will be a finalist.

3. Remember me?
Everyone remembers Patrick Sharp in Philadelphia. He's the guy who netted the Flyers Matt Ellison. Pretty obvious who won that exchange.

Sharp: 218 goals since being traded to Chicago in 2005; two Stanley Cups (2010, 2013); one All-Star appearance; one NHL All-Star MVP; 2014 gold medalist with Team Canada.

Ellison: Seven career games with the Flyers.

Everyone knows that was a bad move, even Bobby Clarke.

Sharp is one of the game's finest goal scorers and he's at it again this year. The 32-year-old has 29 goals and five multi-goal games -- including two hat tricks -- this season. His 65 points are tied for 14th in points with San Jose's Joe Thornton.

When the Blackhawks scored seven against the Flyers earlier in the year, seven different players scored. Sharp was one of them, but he also contributed to two other goals. He finished with a goal and two assists.

The good news? He hasn't scored in six games, but that probably means he gets three tonight. The Flyers have to play tight defense when he's on the ice.

4. Special teams
One of the biggest reasons the Flyers swept the Penguins this weekend was the play of their special teams. The Flyers were 3 for 7 on the power play against a penalty kill in Pittsburgh that entered the weekend as the top unit in the league and left as the third-best.

But more impressively, the Flyers were 9 for 9 on the penalty kill against the NHL's top power play. The Penguins weren't able to get anything going on the man advantage. A lot of that had to do with Couturier and Read, but the entire units were dominant.

Since Feb. 1, the Flyers have killed 87.0 percent of their opponents' power plays.

They'll have another huge test tonight as Chicago enters as the third-best PP in the league, scoring at a 20.8 percent clip.

5. This and that
• The Flyers are 9-2-1 since the start of February and 31-15-6 since Nov. 9.

• Chicago will play its second game at the Wells Fargo Center since winning the 2010 Stanley Cup here. The Flyers beat the Blackhawks, 5-4, on Jan. 5, 2012 -- the last time Chicago was in town.

• Somewhat shockingly, the Blackhawks enter tonight's game in third place in the Central Division. They were atop the NHL in points for most of the season.

• The Blackhawks' 106 road goals are the most in the league, their 88 second-period goals are second to Anaheim and their 77 third-period goals are second to Boston.

• Flyers milestone watch: Vinny Lecavalier needs two goals for 400 in his career; Jakub Voracek needs three for 100 in his career; and Luke Schenn needs three points for 100 in his career.

Ron Hextall talks Flyers' draft focus, scouting reports on top prospects and more

Ron Hextall talks Flyers' draft focus, scouting reports on top prospects and more

While the NHL draft doesn't begin until Friday evening in Chicago, the Flyers' scouting department and management have been in the Windy City since Tuesday.

Talk about getting a head start for Friday's No. 2 overall selection.

"After the last meeting, you sit and we're talking about players," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said this week. "There might be certain answers we need on players and they go back and do their homework.

"You have a couple more meetings and get back with a little more information. Things will change as we get more information to gather. Things will change a little bit but not too much, but we'll be more prepared."

The Flyers are expected to select either Halifax's Nico Hischier or Brandon's Nolan Patrick — both centermen — depending upon which player the New Jersey Devils tab at No. 1.

NHL Central Scouting's final rankings had the 6-foot-3, 198-pound Patrick ranked first over Hischier, who is 6-foot, 176 pounds. Hextall cautioned that the team doesn't always go by "public opinion," nor does its rankings always mirror those of Central Scouting.

"If you look at every team's list, they're way different," he said. "If you took the 31 lists, there would be a lot of differences."

The Flyers have 11 picks in the draft. Given they are very deep in defensive prospects and goaltenders, but short on wingers, they are expected to load up on forwards (see story).

"You kind of look at it that we do have a lot of defensemen," Hextall said. "Right now, in a perfect world, sit here and say, 'If we got seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie,' [that would be ideal]. We're not going to pick a goalie if we don't see a goalie as a value pick.

"If we get to a guy we like and he's still there, then we'll take a goalie, but we're not going to chase a goalie this year. I would expect we'll pick one, but we're not going to chase one. On D? If we get two, I'm OK with that."

There is separation after Patrick and Hischier in terms of how other players in the first round relate to them.

It's fair to say that had the Flyers been picking at No. 13 — their original spot before they got lucky in the draft lottery — the field would have been wide open with a number of players of equal ability at 13, whereas, at No. 2, there's a defined two.

"It's harder to sort," Hextall said of his original draft position. "Because there's a lot of good players. There really is. We were sitting there at 13 and we were kind of zeroing in and we were pretty excited about the player we were going to get at 13.

"People talk about this draft, they say it's not a very good draft. They're wrong. It's a good draft. It might not be like the last two were, but the last two were bumpers. This is a good draft."

Here's Hextall's quick take on a few of the top players in the first round, in no particular order after Patrick and Hischier:

"We had dinner with both of them," Hextall said of the top two players in the draft. "And we met with them at the combine. So we've got certain more information on those two than some other guys. There were some other guys we had more time with, too.

"They're both two-way players. They both make plays. They can both score goals. They both compete hard. Hischier has a little bit more quickness and speed to his game. Patrick's a little bit more looks for the right play and makes the play. They're both really good players. Both should be top NHL players."

Gabriel Vilardi: 6-2, 193-pound center, who played for Windsor in the OHL (see story).

"I was in Europe during the Memorial Cup," Hextall said. "He's another good player. Smart, really skilled, big body."

Klim Kostin: 6-3, 198-pound center/left wing, who played for Dynamo Moscow in Russia.

"He's a big horse, talented guy," Hextall said. "That's another thing, the Russian thing. How much do you put into it? But he's a high-end talent."

Cale Makar: 5-10, 175-pound defenseman, who played with Brooks in the Alberta Junior League.

"Really good," Hextall said. "He skates really well. He's got a really high skill level. Moves the puck well. Right-handed shot. Played in Brooks. Played at a level that's not the major junior level, but he's a really good player."

Miro Heiskanen: 6-0, 174-pound Finnish defenseman, who played with HIFK.

"Heiskanen's a really good player," Hextall said. "Very well-rounded defenseman, moves the puck. He's a good one."

Although he is not expected to be among the top 100 players taken in the draft, Keith Primeau's son, Cayden, a 6-2¾, 181-pound goalie, who played with Lincoln in the USHL, is expected to be drafted (see story).

Primeau was ranked seventh by Central Scouting among North American goalies.

"I saw Cayden here at the prospects game," Hextall said. "He's good, he's got good size, good positioning, he moves well. Seems to read the game pretty well. He's a good prospect."

Ron Hextall: Vegas 'obviously did their homework' on Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

Ron Hextall: Vegas 'obviously did their homework' on Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall on Wednesday night reacted to losing alternate captain Pierre-Edouard Bellemare to the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL expansion draft (see story).

"There were a number of guys I felt like there was a chance we would lose," Hextall said. "And Belly was on that list.

"Vegas obviously did their homework and have themselves a good player. Pierre-Edouard is a character member of our organization and he'll be missed."

Bellemare is the Flyers' second alternate captain to depart the club in the same calendar year. Mark Streit, whose "A" Bellemare inherited, was traded to Pittsburgh via Tampa at the NHL trade deadline.

Streit will likely see his name engraved on the Stanley Cup. The Penguins plan to petition to get his name on the Cup even though Streit did not play in the Final against Nashville.

As for Bellemare, the 32-year-old center was left unprotected by the Flyers last weekend. He signed a two-year contract in March that carries a $1.45 million cap hit per.

Bellemare had 17 goals and 34 points in 237 games in three seasons with the Flyers after signing with the team in June 2014.

"He's a terrific team player and an even better human being," Hextall said. "He was great in the community and he'll be a real nice piece for Vegas."