Flyers-Canadiens: 5 things you need to know

matchup-flyers-canadiens-2015.jpg

Flyers-Canadiens: 5 things you need to know

Flyers at Canadiens
7:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet

Winners of five of their last six, the Flyers (23-22-8) will continue their four-game road trip when they travel to the Belle Centre for a matchup with the Montreal Canadiens (34-15-3) on Tuesday night.

Here are five things you need to know before puck drop:

1. Ray of hope?
With Steve Mason sidelined for the immediate future, backup Ray Emery is now firmly in possession of the Flyers’ crease, and perhaps the team’s dim playoff hopes.

Mason’s latest injury came during a TV timeout on Sunday, when he was stretching by the Flyers’ bench and suddenly appeared to tweak his right leg, which he could not put any pressure on. Emery relieved Mason and wound up making five saves on six shots to pick up the win against the Capitals.

Rob Zepp, who was called up twice from the Phantoms this season, has a lower-body injury of his own, giving the Flyers no choice but to recall young Anthony Stolarz, the club’s top goalie prospect, to serve as Emery’s backup until Mason’s length of absence is determined.

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall admitted Stolarz probably isn’t ready to play at the NHL level on Sunday, so don’t expect the 21-year-old to see much action. The brunt of the workload belongs to Emery, who has a 3.34 goals-against average and .886 save percentage in 21 appearances this season.

Unfortunately, Emery’s first start since Jan. 27 will come against Montreal. The veteran netminder has allowed nine goals on 66 shots in two games against the Habs this season, both losses. If the Flyers are to continue their run of success, they’ll need Emery to find his 2013 Chicago form.

2. Weise guy
Dale Weise isn’t exactly what you would call a top-line player.

Don’t get me wrong, the 26-year-old is a nice complementary forward who has good size and a stellar work ethic. But he lacks the natural talent to contribute on a nightly basis.

No matter, Weise has proved to be a nice fit with center David Desharnais, the NHL’s reigning Third Star of the Week, and left winger Max Pacioretty on the Canadiens’ top offensive unit over the past two games. Weise scored twice in a 6-2 win over the Devils on Saturday before adding another marker and an assist in Sunday’s 3-1 victory over the Bruins. Chemistry can be a funny thing, eh?

Shutting down Weise, who potted two goals against the Flyers on Nov. 15, and Montreal will be a difficult assignment. The Habs, who have defeated the Flyers twice already this season, have won two straight and seven of their last nine overall.

In fact, the Canadiens’ current surge has them on the verge of overtaking the Tampa Bay Lightning for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. A Montreal win and a Lightning regulation loss at Nashville on Tuesday would catapult the Habs into first in the East even though they have three fewer games played than Tampa.

3. Injuries
Forward Michael Raffl (pneumonia) returned to practice on Monday, but still has some conditioning to do before he’s ready to play in a game. According to CSNPhilly.com Flyers Insider Tim Panaccio, Raffl is 10 pounds under his playing weight of 195 (see story).

Defenseman Braydon Coburn, who hasn’t played since Jan. 12 because of a foot injury, is also skating with the team. He’s battling his way toward a return — literally (see story).

For Montreal, Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau (concussion) is out. It’s a lucky break for the Flyers as Parenteau collected both game-winning goals for the Habs against the Flyers this season.

4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: Claude Giroux snapped a three-game pointless drought on Sunday in Washington, D.C. He was a factor on two of the Flyers’ three goals, earning secondary helpers on Mark Streit’s second-period goal and Jakub Voracek’s empty-netter. The Flyers’ captain also played a strong physical game. Giroux is at his best when he’s strong on the forecheck and actively pursuing the puck. Look for a carryover performance.

Canadiens: Max Pacioretty is having a terrific season in Montreal. He leads the Canadiens in most offensive categories, including goals (24), points (45), plus/minus (plus-28) and shots on goal (194). The 26-year-old has tremendous speed and quick hands. He can be a threat on any given night, as evidenced by his three goals and four assists over his last six games. It’s hard to miss No. 67 on the ice.

5. This and that
• The Flyers have allowed just 10 regulation goals during their 5-0-1 stretch.

• Andrei Markov has one goal and four assists in two games against the Flyers this season.

• Brayden Schenn has two goals and an assist in two games against the Canadiens this season.

• Emery is 9-8-1 with a 3.05 goals-against average, .901 save percentage and one shutout in 18 career games — 17 starts — against Montreal.

• Carey Price is 10-9-0 with a 2.70 goals-against average, .915 save percentage and two shutouts in 20 career games — 19 starts — against the Flyers.

Playing with 'swagger,' Gostisbehere flashes glimpse of rookie self vs. Canucks

Playing with 'swagger,' Gostisbehere flashes glimpse of rookie self vs. Canucks

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – The Flyers’ “Ghost” headed home Monday on a high note — for a change.

Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere recorded three assists for the first three-point night of his NHL career Sunday as the Flyers edged the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 in the final game of a three-game Western Canada road trip (see story). In one night, he matched his offensive output of his previous 10 games played. 

He was a healthy scratch for three games in the meantime. On many other occasions, he has struggled while dealing with the NHL’s proverbial sophomore jinx following a standout rookie season. 

“It’s been a while coming,” Gostisbehere said. “It’s good to get some points, but I thought it was more important to get two points for our team.”

The win moved the Flyers (28-24-7) within a point of the eighth and final playoff spot, currently held by Toronto, in the Eastern Conference. With considerable thanks to Gostisbehere, the club’s much maligned power play scored on two of three man-advantage opportunities. 

“He played great,” Wayne Simmonds said of Gostisbehere. “He had his confidence and a little bit of swagger.”

Gostisbehere’s first assist enabled the Flyers to get off to a quick start offensively as Simmonds deflected in his point shot only 1:11 into the game. On the Flyers’ second goal, Gostisbehere head-manned the puck to Sean Couturier on a rush. Jakub Voracek easily put Couturier’s big rebound into a gaping net with Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller caught out of position.

One minute and 27 seconds later, Brayden Schenn took Gostisbehere’s pass and put in a shot from the slot. Altogether, Gostisbehere’s assists enabled the Flyers to build an insurmountable 3-0 lead in the game’s first 23 minutes.

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

Gostisbehere now has four goals and 18 assists on the season. Until Sunday, the 23-year-old had seemed like an apparition of his former self. 

He had a less-than-ideal recovery period from offseason hip (labrum) and abdominal surgeries, due to his participation with Team North America in the World Cup. Then he suffered a facial cut in the Flyers’ season opener and took a bruise on his right hand in December.

He also struggled defensively to the point where he was scratched — for the first time in his NHL career — in November and was later benched and pulled out of the lineup again. Heading into Sunday’s game, he had a woeful minus-22 mark, but he was only on the ice for one Canucks' goal.

He helped the Flyers shut out the Canucks in the first and third periods. 

“We don’t like how they came back, but we held the lead and, like I said, we got the two points,” Gostisbehere said.

Ghost’s offensive showing evoked memories of his seemingly other-worldly 2015-16 season. In 64 games last season, he notched 17 goals, the most by an NHL rookie defenseman since Dion Phaneuf, then with Calgary, who scored 20 over a full 82-game schedule in 2005-06. Gostisbehere also enjoyed a historic 15-game point streak in 2015-16, the longest ever for a first-year rearguard, and he was a runnerup for the league’s Rookie of the Year award.

His return to form Sunday bodes well as the Flyers face two Metropolitan Division rivals this week, first Washington at home on Wednesday and then the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Saturday in an outdoor game that will pack plenty of hype and pressure. 

After those games, the Flyers face a more compressed schedule than they have lately. The Feb.12-27 portion of their calendar contains only five games. But starting Feb. 28, they will play their final 21 games of the regular season over 41 days as they push to make the playoffs.

“We definitely know we’re a playoff team, for sure,” Gostisbehere said. “It shows. It’s a big test for us (this) week, playing these really good teams.”

Flyers, at this point, should sell a few valuable veterans ahead of deadline

Flyers, at this point, should sell a few valuable veterans ahead of deadline

Dave Hakstol’s Flyers returned home from Vancouver on Monday not quite resembling conquering heroes.

Sure, they salvaged two points from their three-game trek to Western Canada, but for a team that supposedly sees itself as a wild card, that just ain’t gonna get it done.

The Flyers required at least four points — ideally, five — from the trip to give us some proof they’re a legit contender for the wild card.

Right now, their wild-card hopes remain on life support.

Yes, they’re only two points behind Toronto. Thing is, the field of wild-card contenders have officially caught up and even passed them.

When the Flyers left for the trip, they were even in points with the Maple Leafs while holding down the 9-seed in the Eastern Conference. Toronto had the second wild card.

Hakstol's team is the 11-seed now. Toronto, Florida and the New York Islanders are ahead of them with games in hand.

This trip should offer enough evidence to general manager Ron Hextall that his team is still floundering.

There are no moves Hextall can initiate at the trade deadline that will guarantee a playoff spot without mortgaging the future.

Since their return from the All-Star break, the Flyers are 3-5-1. Those numbers don’t suggest they’re headed to the playoffs.

And even if the Flyers were to qualify as the second wild card, they would face a very early exit against the Washington Capitals.

Again.

At this point, with the March 1 NHL trade deadline staring Hextall in the face, he has to be a seller at the deadline.

If you trust Hextall’s long-term plan of patience, you understand that what this is about is preserving assets and preparing young players to be integrated into the system next year and the year after, and the year after that.

Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto are two unrestricted free agents who could help someone else right now.

Streit has been strong this season on the power play, which is his forte. He’s the perfect deadline rental.

Even if Hextall would like to have Streit’s veteran leadership on the blue line next season on a one-year, low salary to “tutor” Robert Hagg or Sam Morin or Travis Sanheim, he could still move Streit now and re-sign him later this summer.

Del Zotto, at 26, will get a nice return in draft picks or a prospect. Del Zotto is going to want a big contract this summer (he’s making $3.87 million now).

There’s no incentive for Hextall to go that direction given the sheer number of young, outstanding defensive prospects in the system that will be arriving shortly, all of whom come with very low salary cap hits.

Don’t blame Hextall for not getting involved in the Matt Duchene/Gabriel Landeskog saga that is going on in Colorado. GM Joe Sakic is asking a lot.

Hextall seems reluctant to part with any future prospects or young players just to get the same in return.

Much of the fan base has been saying for a while now it’s time to move team captain Claude Giroux. He's in the midst of his fourth consecutive season in which his numbers have declined, and in some respects, dramatically from his two best seasons — 2011-12 (93 points) and 2013-14 (86 points).

Yet there is no indication from Hextall or anyone in the Flyers' organization that such is even being contemplated.

Or that the organization feels Giroux’s leadership abilities have been assumed by Wayne Simmonds, who is arguably the most popular Flyer, two years running now.

Hextall still sees veterans such as Giroux, who is only 29, as a player who would help the transition of younger pups coming along — Travis Konecny, German Rubtsov, Nick Cousins, Jordan Weal, etc. — and he also believes Giroux can recapture his offense.

In short, Hextall is not going to tear his roster apart nor is he going to make a blockbuster trade next Wednesday. But he will likely try to sell veteran assets that make the team younger in some way.

Which is the correct thinking for the Flyers now and right into this summer, as well.