Flyers-Blues: 5 things you need to know

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Flyers-Blues: 5 things you need to know

The Flyers (37-25-7) will aim to win their fifth straight game when they host the St. Louis Blues (47-15-7) Saturday afternoon.

Puck drop is set for 1 p.m. (CSN) at the Wells Fargo Center.

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Wayne’s world
All eyes have been on Claude Giroux over the past few months -- and rightfully so -- but Wayne Simmonds reminded everyone Thursday night why he’s been a key to success for the Flyers all season long.

Simmonds beat Stars goalie Tim Thomas twice in the Flyers’ 4-2 win over Dallas and moved into a tie for second place in the NHL in power-play goals with 13 after a first-period tap-in marker. Capitals sniper Alex Ovechkin is the only player in the league with more goals (20) than Simmonds on the man advantage this season.

The 25-year-old has become a much more complete player since joining the Orange and Black in 2011. He’s been focusing on puck possession and is showing more patience when entering the offensive zone.

Earlier in his career, Simmonds would be more inclined to dump the puck and grind it out of the corners before heading to the front of the net. Now, he’s built up the confidence to gain the zone and either shoot or pass before getting to the middle of the ice.

Simmonds’ growth has paid dividends for the Flyers. He’s become a legitimate threat on the power play and the league is starting to take notice. It’s also worth noting that Simmonds has already set a career high in points with 52, which ranks second on the team, through 69 games this season.

2. Reinforcing the line
Andrew MacDonald has now played seven games with the Flyers since being acquired from the New York Islanders and he’s already done everything that was expected of him.

MacDonald has brought stability to the Flyers’ back end. He has blocked shots, run smooth breakouts and -- most importantly -- has developed chemistry with Luke Schenn.

Schenn has struggled to find consistency this season but has looked much more relaxed and confident since MacDonald came on board.

“We complement each other well,” Schenn said Friday (see story). “He’s helped me out there. He’s a steady player to play with. We knew what type of player he was: steady and consistent.”

MacDonald has just one assist since leaving Long Island, but the Flyers have gone 5-1-1 with him in the lineup. The MacDonald-Schenn pairing has also given the Flyers a more versatile look on the blue line and allows them to use their three pairings in multiple situations. So far, so good.

3. Welcome back
Saturday will mark the first of two meetings between these two clubs this season. Thanks to the NHL lockout that shortened last season to 48 games, the Flyers and Blues haven’t faced off since Oct. 22, 2011.

In that game, Carlo Colaiacovo had a goal and an assist to help St. Louis come away with a 4-2 victory at the Wells Fargo Center. Danny Briere and Matt Carle registered the Flyers’ two markers.

The Blues entered the weekend at the top of the NHL standings with 101 points. They are built around an outstanding defensive corps and balanced offense.

St. Louis got even scarier when they acquired netminder Ryan Miller and gritty forward Steve Ott from the Buffalo Sabres just prior to the deadline.

The Flyers will need to play better than they did Thursday if they want to shut down the Blues. They are a hardworking group that has an active forecheck and won’t shy away from contact.

4. Injuries
The Flyers are a healthy bunch.

For St. Louis, Magnus Paajarvi is listed as questionable for Saturday’s matinee with an upper-body injury.

The Blues will be without Jordan Leopold (high right ankle sprain) and Vladmir Tarasenko (right hand).
 
5. This and that
• The Flyers are 23-0-2 when they score four or more goals this season.

• Miller has allowed two or fewer goals in seven of his nine games with the Blues (seven wins).

• With one more marker, Mark Streit will become the Flyers’ ninth player to reach double digits in goals this season.

• T.J. Oshie, who leads St. Louis with 54 points, has a goal and three assists in his last three games.

• Giroux has at least one point in five consecutive games and has collected five goals and 10 assists since the Olympic break.

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane scored three goals for his third career hat trick to lead the surging Chicago Blackhawks past the Arizona Coyotes 6-3 on Thursday night for their third straight win and eighth in nine games.

Kane has 23 goals to lead Chicago, which closed within three points behind first-place Minnesota in the Central Division and Western Conference.

Rookies Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman each had a goal and assist. Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival scored his first goal of the season in his first game since Jan. 15.

Chicago captain Jonathan Toews added two assists to extend his points scoring streak to five games and increase his output to 22 points in his past 13.

Jakob Chychrun, Ryan White and Radim Vrbata scored for the Coyotes. Chychrun and Vrbata each scored for the second straight game (see full recap).

Rangers outlast Maple Leafs in shootout
TORONTO -- Mika Zibanejad scored the shootout winner and the New York Rangers continued a strong February with a 2-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Henrik Lundqvist made 32 saves and J.T. Miller scored the game-tying goal in the third period for the Rangers, who improved to 8-1-1 this month.

New York moved into third place in the Metropolitan Division with 80 points.

Connor Brown scored for Toronto, which fell to 1-7 in shootouts this season. Frederik Andersen had a stellar performance in defeat with 37 saves.

The Leafs hold the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division (68 points), two points back of Ottawa (70) and four back of Montreal (see full recap).

Islanders shut out Canadiens
MONTREAL -- Rookie Anthony Beauvillier scored in the first period, Thomas Greiss made 24 saves, and the New York Islanders beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 Thursday night.

Anders Lee scored in the second period and John Tavares added an empty-netter in the final minute to seal the Islanders' third straight win. New York has won the first two games on a crucial nine-game road swing and improved to 12-4-2 since interim coach Doug Weight replaced the fired Jack Capuano.

Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson each had two assists, and Greiss got his third shutout of the season.

Carey Price finished with 21 saves as the Canadiens lost coach Claude Julien's 1,000th NHL game. Montreal is 1-2-0 since Julien replaced Michel Therrien last week and has totaled just 14 goals while going 2-7-1 in the last 10 games, including four shutouts (see full recap).

Flyers' outdoor game vs. Pens different because of football stadium

Flyers' outdoor game vs. Pens different because of football stadium

VOORHEES, N.J. -- He grew up as a youngster in Judique, Nova Scotia, as a Toronto Blue Jays fan even though the Boston Red Sox were closer geographically.

“My brother was the Red Sox fan,” Andrew MacDonald said.

While hockey was his passion, MacDonald loved to watch baseball. Joe Carter’s walk-off home run in the 1993 World Series clinched it for Mac, then a 7-year-old.

“Didn’t see it for a while though because we only had two TV channels,” MacDonald laughed.

“Yeah, I was Blue Jays fan from Canada.”

On Saturday, the Flyers visit Heinz Field for an outdoor game against their most bitter rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2017 Stadium Series.

MacDonald was a starter for the Islanders during the 2014 Stadium Series game held at the new Yankee Stadium against the Rangers. He likes outdoor games in baseball stadiums even though that is not where this game will take place.

“When I had been to New York, I had gone to a few Yankee games at Yankee Stadium,” MacDonald said Thursday after practice. “Obviously, I got to take in the experience of being a fan there. It’s a pretty great stadium. To be on the field, although it’s a different sport and setting, it was pretty special.”

Michal Neuvirth was the backup goalie for Washington in the 2011 Winter Classic held at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

“It’s just as big as if you played inside for two points,” Neuvirth said. “I just backed up that game there but it was awesome. The big crowd and we won the game with Washington. A good feeling afterward.”

MacDonald said his experience at Yankee Stadium was similar.

“It was great,” he said of the Bronx affair. “Not everyone gets to play in one of those games, so it was special. Just being in that outdoor environment and the capacity of the crowd. Really like a center stage, special experience.”

In both previous Winter Classics involving the Flyers, they were held in baseball stadiums -- Fenway Park in 2010 and Citizens Bank Park two years later. Incidentally, Claude Giroux is the only Flyer to have played in both of the franchise's two Winter Classics.

This “Stadium Series” game will offer a different “look” for players and fans because it occurs in the Steelers’ football stadium.

“Obviously, the setup of the ice surface will be right in the middle of the field as a rectangular field as opposed to baseball where it’s kind of on a different angle,” MacDonald said.

“It’s good. We’ll get a good skate in. A family skate. Yeah, I hope [weather cooperates]. It might not be the best ice, but hopefully, it goes according to plan and go off without a hitch.”

Hot temperatures Friday followed by heavy rain on Saturday could make things difficult.

“Tough to say as to what to expect,” said Neuvirth, who will start in goal. “For me, I am going to prepare myself for 8 o’clock and play my game.”

The most unusual thing that players say affect them during outdoor games is not having fans on the glass. They’re far away in the stands.

Yet in a baseball stadium, some of those fans are a lot closer to the ice than the setup in a football stadium.

“Yeah, it was kind of unique and took a while to get used to,” MacDonald said. “There’s no fans on the glass. You are kind of isolated by yourself there on the middle of the field.

“It’s not until the TV timeout where you can look around and take it all in. It's almost a practice-type mentality when you are first on the ice and then you get acclimated.

“Obviously, once the puck drops you are ready to go and know what to do. It’s definitely a unique experience once you get going.”

When he played at Fenway Park as a freshman at Union College, Shayne Gostisbehere said his only regret was not taking time out to just stop and absorb what was happening around him.

He was so focused on the game against Harvard that day in 2012, he forgot to cherish the moment.

MacDonald said that is something NHL players sometimes forget to do, as well. Take it all in because it might never occur again.

“Everyone is a little different,” he said. “You do have to play it as if it’s like every other game. There is a little adjustment period there with the fans so far away.

“That being said, you have an opportunity to embrace the moment. At the same time, you have to focus on what we’re trying to accomplish out there. Try to get the win like any other time.”

Loose pucks
• Flyers forward Jakub Voracek left the ice early Thursday with a slight limp. He was not available after practice but general manager Ron Hextall confirmed Voracek is fine and will play Saturday. The Flyers' leading scorer was hit with a deflected puck earlier this week in practice in his groin area but played without incident during Wednesday's game against Washington. 

• The Flyers left for Pittsburgh this afternoon.