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.

Flyers Skate Update: Power play shakeup seems to be working

Flyers Skate Update: Power play shakeup seems to be working

VOORHEES, N.J. — They had taken another “0-for” on the power play on the road and lost a game in which they deserved to at least get a point.

Dave Hakstol had seen enough. Numbers don’t always tell a story. Yet, in the Flyers' case, they did: 4 for 42 on the power play over 12 games, including that 3-1 loss at Calgary.

The next morning in Edmonton, Hakstol met privately with Jakub Voracek to discuss, among other things, the power play. That night, Hakstol moved Voracek off the first unit power play and replaced him with Ivan Provorov.

He then told Shayne Gostisbehere to change his location on the power play on the half wall and let Provorov, the Russian rookie, worry about the blue line.

In the two games since, the power play is 3 for 6 and has the Flyers back up to ninth in the NHL after falling to 13th during that 12-game span of utter futility.

How the power play goes tonight against the Washington Capitals is critical if the Flyers have any shot of taking points away from the top club in the league.

“It’s a little bit different look,” Hakstol said. “We’re comfortable with either of the setups we have there. Whether it’s with Jake on the flank of the [Claude] Giroux unit or having Ghost there.

“Both are effective. Within the game, we can go back and forth with the other. We’ve had some pretty good play out of the other unit, regardless of the setup.”

Provorov has a very accurate point shot. Gostisbehere has the hardest shot of any on the top unit. The rest of the first unit – Giroux, Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds – hasn’t changed.

“We can’t score,” Provorov said bluntly. “We needed to change something up to spark the scoring. It definitely helped us. Now the two units have a different setup in the zone.

“Just a little different. It took us first game to get used to. We did pretty good in the second game [Vancouver].”

Ghost has never played the half-wall. He thinks this will help him snap a 32-game goal drought. He had three assists – two on the power play – against the Canucks on Sunday.

“It’s completely different,” Gostisbehere said. “I’ve always been at the top [blue line]. It’s definitely a different perspective from that view. I think I’ll get a lot more shots and plays that can be made.”

Voracek watches him when that unit is on the ice and offers advice after the shift.

“I have been talking to Jake a ton for pointers,” Gostisbehere said. “When I am out there, if you see something I could have done, please tell me. He is such an easy guy to talk to. He will give you the pointers right away.”

Hakstol said moving Ghost closer to the net has a payoff.

“He is in a pure one-timer side there if he gets himself in the right position,” Hakstol said. “But there is still some work we have to do there in terms of his overall positioning in that spot.

“He brings a different element than Jake does in that spot. Both of them were very, very effective in that spot. They just have different weapons.”

Even though there have been changes, Voracek still rotates back to the first unit if Provorov is on the ice the previous shift before the power play begins.

Because of Travis Konecny’s knee and ankle injuries, Sean Couturier’s second unit has changed the most. Mark Streit anchors from the point with Coots, Nick Cousins and Matt Read below the blue line and Voracek on the right-wall.

That unit has more player rotation on the ice than the top unit.

Hakstol doesn’t buy the argument the Flyers' power play crashed because it became too predictable. 

“In the game now, there’s not much hidden,” Hakstol said. “Everyone knows what the other team is trying to do, regardless of 5-on-5 or special teams.

“For us, it was a good time to make a small change that changes the look for our guys on the ice.”

Loose pucks
• A dozen players showed up for the optional morning skate at Skate Zone, more than half of what was expected. 

• Michal Neuvirth will start in goal tonight against Washington. 

• On Tuesday, Voracek got hit with a puck below the belt, during a tip drill in which Voracek tipped a shot into himself. “Feeling better,” he said today. 

• This morning was goalie Steve Mason’s turn to get hit. He took a point shot from Andrew MacDonald in the mask. Mason was temporarily shaken but no damage to either him or his mask.  

Lineup
F:
Schenn-Giroux-Simmonds
Weise-Couturier-Voracek
Raffl-Cousins-Read
VandeVelde-Bellemare-Lyubimov

D: Provorov-Manning
Gostisbehere-Streit
Del Zotto-Gudas

G: Neuvirth

Flyers-Capitals 5 things: Washington on ridiculous roll into Wells Fargo Center

Flyers-Capitals 5 things: Washington on ridiculous roll into Wells Fargo Center

Flyers (28-24-7) vs. Capitals (39-12-7)
8 p.m. on NBCSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

After finding some offense to finish up a 1-2-0 road trip, the Flyers return home for a not-so-glorious welcome when they host the NHL-leading Washington Capitals on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

We’ll get into that and more with five things to know:

1. Capping things off
What’s the Flyers’ reward for salvaging the final game of a road swing through Canada? A date with the Capitals, who are the NHL’s hottest team since New Year’s Eve, and by a landslide.

Just how dominant has Washington been?

Dating back to Dec. 31, the Capitals are 19-3-2 and have scored an incomprehensible 104 goals in those 24 games. That’s 4.33 goals per game, while yielding only 50 markers over that stretch.

Meanwhile, the Flyers have scored an NHL-low 40 goals since New Year’s Eve and allowed 62 for an Eastern Conference-worst goal differential of minus-22.

Washington, coming off its first back-to-back defeats since Dec. 27-29, has lost three straight games only once this season.

2. A Ghost sighting
On Sunday, for the first time in close to four months, we saw the Shayne Gostisbehere from the Calder Memorial Trophy (top rookie) runner-up season last year.

The sophomore blueliner delivered his first three-point game of his career to ignite the Flyers to a 3-2 win over the Canucks.

Although Gostisbehere has made it clear he’s focused on his defensive game, the Flyers are a different animal when he’s generating offensive chances at 5-on-5 and the power play.

“He had his confidence and a little bit of swagger,” Wayne Simmonds said of Gostisbehere’s performance Sunday.

“Ghost has had his ups and downs this year, but he's a heck of a player and has unbelievable skill. He can be a catalyst offensively for us, that’s for sure.”

3. Good cage match
This one makes for an intriguing goalie matchup between Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby, who were once battling for the net in Washington.

Holtby is having another stud season after winning the 2015-16 Vezina Trophy (top goalie). Among all netminders, he is tied for first in goals-against average (2.01) and shutouts (seven), while he hasn’t been beaten in regulation since Dec. 27.

The 27-year-old blanked the Flyers twice in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs and stopped 149 of 154 shots over the first-round series that the Capitals won in six games.

Neuvirth hasn’t been too shabby himself, starting eight of the Flyers’ last 10 games. Aside from a bad showing in a 6-3 loss to the Oilers, Neuvirth has not surrendered more than two goals in any other outing during that span.

A 2006 second-round pick of Washington, Neuvirth was brilliant last postseason against his former club, making 103 saves on 105 shots faced to get the Flyers two victories.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare can be crucial in these types of games. The fourth-line forward often sees work against the opposition’s top offensive threats and is the Flyers’ most important piece to the penalty kill. Bellemare has played 16-plus minutes in both meetings with the Capitals this season, while the PK is 15 for 17 in February and tied for the NHL’s third-fewest goals against this month.

Capitals: T.J. Oshie is such an underrated asset for Washington. The right winger, who played his college hockey at North Dakota under Flyers coach Dave Hakstol, leads the NHL with a 22.8 shooting percentage, a big reason why the Capitals are scoring 3.34 goals per game, good for second most in hockey. Oshie has 26 points (13 goals, 13 assists) in his past 22 games and is a plus-24 on the season.

5. This and that
• Neuvirth has just two career regular-season matchups against the Capitals, going 1-0-0 with a 2.44 goals-against average and .914 save percentage.

• Holtby is 6-4-7 with a 2.71 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in 18 lifetime matchups with the Flyers.

• The Flyers are three points out of the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot, trailing the Panthers, Bruins and Islanders, all of whom have 66 points.

• Simmonds has four goals in his last five games.

• Claude Giroux has two points (one goal, one assist) in his previous 10 games.

• Washington ranks first in the NHL with a plus-69 goal differential.

• Jordan Weal (upper-body injury) is expected to miss his second straight game.