Flyers-Capitals: 5 things you need to know

flyers-at-capitals-gamenotes.jpg

Flyers-Capitals: 5 things you need to know

Flyers at Capitals
8 p.m. on NBCSN

Fresh off a seven-goal outburst against one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference, the Flyers (17-19-7) will hit the road for a divisional clash with the Washington Capitals (23-11-8) at the Verizon Center.

Let's take a closer look at Flyers-Caps:

1. Another defenseman down
Already without the services of Nicklas Grossmann (shoulder), the Flyers' defensive corps took another significant hit in Monday's 7-3 shellacking of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Braydon Coburn, who blocked a shot attempt from Nikita Kucherov early in the first period, is expected to miss at least four weeks with a suspected left foot fracture. You may recall the same injury cost Coburn 12 games earlier this season after he blocked a shot in the opener against the Boston Bruins. Chalk it up to some unfortunate luck.

Coburn's season, much like many of the Flyers', has been mired by inconsistent play. He's been uncharacteristically weak when handling the puck, which has led to numerous glaring turnovers. The veteran blueliner has also had difficulty clearing lanes in the slot, usually an area of strength in his game.

It should be interesting to see how the Flyers perform with Coburn sidelined. They've gone 6-4-2 without him in the lineup this season, and a string of wins over the next few weeks could potentially damage his trade value. He's unquestionably a solid second-pairing defenseman, but moving the 29-year-old would clear a good chunk of a cap space — something the Flyers desperately need — and provide an opportunity for young prospects to compete for the vacant spot. Let's not forget, Nick Schultz and Michael Del Zotto are on one-year deals, too.

In the meantime, Carlo Colaiacovo will step in to fill Coburn's void. Many fans have wanted Colaiacovo reinserted to the lineup anyway, but don't be surprised if he shows some signs of rust in his first game back. Remember: He hasn't played since Nov. 19 against the New York Rangers.

2. In the crease 
It was somewhat startling to see head coach Craig Berube give recent call-up Rob Zepp the start against Tampa Bay over backup Ray Emery.

Then again, Emery hasn't exactly been dependable in net as of late. The team was in need of a spark, which Zepp ultimately provided.

Berube rewarded Zepp with another start Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

Maybe the Flyers' coaching staff is losing faith in Emery. Maybe it was just a gut decision. No matter, Emery holds no resentment for the decision.

“You always want to be in there and want to contribute,” Emery said (see story). “I want the team to do well. I can’t control when I play. ... I try to use it as motivation to get better and contribute when I get in there.”

Emery has had the same positive attitude since rejoining the orange and black. He has struggled to find a rhythm, but has a well-respected voice in the locker room. With that said, it remains imperative for Emery to elevate his game with Mason out. 

3. Catch the Caps?
It's going to be mighty tough to catch the Caps for the third and final automatic playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division.

The Flyers enter Wednesday 13 points back of Washington and have played one more game than their divisional foe.

It doesn't help that the Caps are one of the hottest teams in the NHL. They've picked up at least a point in 17 of their last 18 games and have allowed just 36 non-shootout goals during that stretch. Oh yeah, and they are riding a six-game home winning streak. Like we said, one of the hottest clubs in the league.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: The one thing that has been consistent for the Flyers' defense this season has been Mark Streit's offensive production. The 37-year-old has five goals and 26 assists in 43 games after tallying a marker and two helpers against the Lightning. Streit, who is on pace for 60 points, has the tendency to cough the puck up now and again, but he's never been relied on to shut down the opposition's top lines. He's paid to provide some extra offense, and that's exactly what he's done.

Capitals: Nicklas Backstrom is like a man possessed when he faces the Flyers. The 27-year-old has 12 goals and 29 assists in 27 career games against the orange and black. It shouldn't come as a surprise, however. The veteran centerman displays outstanding patience when handling the puck and has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He enters Wednesday leading the Caps with 42 points in as many games. Why hasn't this guy ever been an All-Star? Arguably the biggest offensive snub from this year's festivities.

5. This and that
• The Flyers have won their last four meetings with Washington.

• The Capitals have gone 13-1-4 in their last 18 games.

• Zepp had 21 saves on 24 shots Monday, but stopped the last 12 he faced.

• Braden Holtby is 0-1-2 with a 4.74 goals-against average in his last four starts against the Flyers.

• Claude Giroux has 12 goals and nine assists in his last 15 games against the Caps.

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. “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 kinda 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 players say that affects 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 kinda unique and took a while to get used to,” MacDonald said. “There’s no fans on the glass. You are kinda 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 has 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 play 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 forget to cherish the moment.

MacDonald said that is something NHL players sometimes forget to do, as well. Take it all in because it night 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 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. 

• Flyers left for Pittsburgh this afternoon.

Flyers' disallowed early goal costly for team struggling to score

Flyers' disallowed early goal costly for team struggling to score

It was just pouring out of Flyers swing forward Dale Weise after Thursday’s 4-1 loss to the Washington Capitals.

A disallowed goal because of him.

A strong game in every respect from his teammates.

A realization that things never seem to change for Dave Hakstol’s club.

“We come out with a great start,” Weise said. “Get on the forecheck. The building is lively. We score what we think is a first goal which we haven’t done a lot this year.

“I’m not going to say it’s a game-changer. Whatever it was, it didn’t end the game. But that’s a pretty big part of the game.” 

Weise ended up grabbing Caps goalie Braden Holtby. He said he did so for support or he would have knocked him over since he was trying to position his stick.

Funny things is, Holtby apparently never felt the contact. When the Caps challenged Jakub Voracek’s goal on the first shift of the game, it was overturned.

“Yeah, I obviously didn’t see the interference part I just kind of followed the puck and next thing I know it was kind of out of the play so a little fortunate, a great call by our video coaches,” Holtby said.

Weise wasn’t sure what he did amounted to much because it happened before Voracek’s shot and not during the act of shooting that would have prevented Holtby from getting position.

“To be really honest with you I don’t think I really touched him that hard,” Weise said.

Goals are so hard to come by these days for the Flyers. To score one a half-minute into play in a huge rivalry game, with them so desperate for points, and then to lose the goal and the momentum early, it becomes a significant event in the overall outcome.

The Caps made the most of their chances. Just like Calgary did last week.

“Winning and losing is so thin in this league and when you’re playing a team like that who just has loads of offensive talent, you give them one, two opportunities and they score on it,” Weise said.

“For a team like us that doesn’t score very often, that’s tough. We are playing behind the eight ball every night. It’s frustrating. I’m not going to lie and say it’s not in our head when we get down because you can see the way we play.

“We’re gripping the sticks. I really liked our effort though. I thought we played hard the whole night. Full marks to our team but it’s just kind of the same story every night.”

It’s trite but the term “snake bit” has been used a lot lately in talking about the Flyers since their 10-game win streak ended.

“That’s a good way to put it,” Weise said. “Look at that one there. Touch the goalie, goal disallowed. [Ivan Provorov] hits the cross bar. We had a couple other chances in tight. Snake bitten, I don’t even know if there’s a word for how I feel right now.”

It doesn’t get any easier this weekend with the Flyers' playing in their first outdoor game in five seasons.

Another even more bitter rival: the Penguins at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field on Saturday night. Taking two from the Pens will require a supreme effort and maybe a little luck for a change. The Flyers have been real short on luck all season.

The Flyers' dressing room after games, of late, has the feel of a morgue sometimes. Over the last 10 games, the Flyers have seven losses (including overtime). In six of those losses, they have scored one goal or no goals.

“We got a pretty positive group in here,” Weise said. “We try our best to come in every day and be positive. It’s a tough situation right now. Every day we’re fighting for our playoff life so that’s in the back of everyone’s mind.

“It makes it more frustrating when you’re playing, so well. I thought we played a pretty good game tonight. That goal disallowed we come right back. They make it two nothing on the power play.

“We kept going. We played well. We had a lot of chances. Good start to the second period again. We came out strong but we just can’t seem to finish.”

Veteran defenseman Mark Streit said they're playing well, but losing doesn’t make up ground in the standings. The Flyers remain three points out of the wild card going into the weekend.

Of their remaining 22 games, 19 are against the Eastern Conference, so mathematically, they have a chance to recoup points.

“We keep telling that we’ve been playing pretty well but lose a lot of hockey games,” Streit said. “We just got to find a way ...

“We have to find a way to turn it around, to get the bounces, just to get a little bit lucky out there, and to get the ugly goal. It’s tough. It’s frustrating. But it’s also the bloody truth.”