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.

Flyers-Wild 5 things: Road trip about to become a horror story?

Flyers-Wild 5 things: Road trip about to become a horror story?

Flyers (33-31-8) at Wild (44-22-6)
8 p.m. on CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 7:30

A four-game road trip takes a daunting turn Thursday night when the Flyers play the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center.

Here are five things to know for the matchup:

1. Hazardous road
You thought things were already ugly?

It looks like it could get much, much worse.

The Flyers now visit three of the NHL's top five clubs, starting with the Wild, followed by the Blue Jackets and the Penguins.

Those three are a combined 137-58-21 overall and 79-24-5 at home.

And it's safe to say the Flyers don't have any momentum heading into this gauntlet. They're coming off a 3-2 loss to the Jets, a non-contender decimated by injuries, and are 4-15-3 on the road since Dec. 19 with a minus-36 goal differential.

"We need to have a better effort," Steve Mason said postgame Tuesday. "We keep playing like this and we'll be mathematically eliminated before we know it."

2. Hole gets deeper
With a win over the Blue Jackets on Wednesday, the Maple Leafs moved past the Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division, making Boston the current leader for the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot at 82 points.

The Flyers, with 74 points, trail the Bruins, Islanders (80), Lightning (77) and Hurricanes (75), who have a game in hand, as well. Oh, and the Panthers are just one point behind the Flyers.

Ten regular-season games remain and Dave Hakstol's group needs a miracle.

In search of some type of spark, the Flyers will strut out a different look against the Wild.

"We're running out of time here, so hopefully a couple line changes here gives us a little spark offensively," Matt Read said Wednesday. "We've still got to play better defensively, but you know it's kind of do-or-die right now. So hopefully chemistry clicks right away and things can start going off the bat."

3. A look at the Wild
Minnesota, which went 30-6-3 from the start of December to the end of February, has cooled off a bit but is still one of the most well-rounded teams in the NHL.

The Wild are 3-8-0 in March. For the season, however, they rank among the league's top 10 in goals per game (3.22 -- second), goals against per game (2.47 -- tied for sixth), power-play percentage (21.3 -- ninth) and penalty-kill percentage (83.8 -- seventh).

Mikael Granlund, Eric Staal, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker all have 20 or more goals, while netminder Devan Dubnyk has been a top-five goalie at 37-18-3 with a 2.17 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Jakub Voracek has no goals and an assist in his last six games for a minus-5 rating. When he's not providing offense, the Flyers predictably struggle. The good thing: Voracek owns 16 points in 18 career games against Minnesota.

Wild: Ryan Suter has been a stud for the Wild. The defenseman leads the NHL as a plus-34 and is third with 27:07 of ice time per game. The 32-year-old is Minnesota's backbone and the Wild are 21-6-1 in games that he has at least one point.

5. This and that
• Mason will make his 11th start in the last 12 games. He is 7-6-1 lifetime against Minnesota with a 2.59 goals-against average and .911 save percentage.

• Dubnyk is 2-4-1 with a 2.72 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in seven career games against the Flyers.

• Brandon Manning is back in the lineup for Michael Del Zotto (see Skate Update). Manning missed the last fives games with a shoulder injury.

• Former Flyer Ryan White is out for the Wild with an illness.

Flyers Skate Update: Brandon Manning back in lineup vs. Wild

Flyers Skate Update: Brandon Manning back in lineup vs. Wild

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Facing a critical road game in Minnesota on Thursday night, the Flyers will welcome back a key defenseman to their lineup.

Brandon Manning, who has missed the past five games with a shoulder injury, will return and pair with Radko Gudas on the blue line.

“We’re playing a heavy team tonight,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “They’ve got some size up front. They’re a heavy team down low. So, we’ll need that pair to play that way. They’ve got to be an abrasive pair and they have to be on the heavy side defensively.”

Michael Del Zotto will be the odd man out as the Flyers have seven healthy defensemen again. Manning, with three goals and seven assists in 57 games this season, said he’s not worried about conditioning or the injury.

“I’m not too worried about that,” Manning said. “I’m feeling good, I’m feeling strong. Did some contact a few days ago and not even thinking about it.”

Toronto’s win in Columbus on Tuesday night allowed the Maple Leafs to surpass Boston in the Atlantic Division. The Bruins now hold the No. 8 spot in the playoff race with 82 points with nine games remaining. The Flyers are eight points back, with three teams in between, and 10 games left in the season.

Their play on the road is one big reason why the Flyers are out of a playoff spot. They are 12-20-4 on the road this season, tied for the second-fewest road wins among Eastern Conference teams. They’re winless in their last six road games (0-5-1) as they play the second game of a four-game trip.

“I don’t think there’s panic,” Manning said. “I think the focus is on each and every night, not really looking too far down the road. Obviously, the last couple weeks, we’ve probably given up points we don’t want to give up and put ourselves in a pretty tough spot. But we got a good group of guys in here, and guys that have played pro hockey long enough that know what it’s like.”

With Del Zotto's being scratched for Manning, Nick Schultz will play what could be his final game in the Xcel Energy Center, where he spent 10 seasons with the Wild. Schultz, a second-round draft pick by Minnesota in 2000, ranks second in franchise history with 743 games played.

Hakstol said Schultz’s history wasn’t a factor in keeping the defenseman in the lineup.

“He’s filled his role well the last few games,” Hakstol said. “He’s been good in that role with Ghost. So, he’s staying in for that reason.”

Goaltender Steve Mason will start for the 11th time in 12 games. He has a 2.25 goals-against average and .923 save percentage in his last 10 games.

Lineup
F: Read-Giroux-Voracek
Weal-Filppula-Simmons
Schenn-Couturier-Weise
Konecny-Bellemare-VandeVelde

D: Provorov-MacDonald
Schultz-Gostisbehere
Manning-Gudas

G: Mason