Flyers-Coyotes: 5 things you need to know

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Flyers-Coyotes: 5 things you need to know

Updated: 1:15 p.m.

The Flyers (20-17-4) will try to bounce back from their first loss on their six-game road trip when they clash with the Phoenix Coyotes (20-11-9) Saturday evening.

Puck drop is set for 8 p.m. (CSN) at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Ariz.

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Who gets promoted?
Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Michael Raffl have combined for 11 goals and 25 assists since head coach Craig Berube decided to place Raffl on the Flyers’ top line, replacing Scott Hartnell, 10 games ago.

The Flyers went 7-2-1 during that stretch, but lost Raffl to a concussion in the first period of Thursday’s 2-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

So with Raffl sidelined for the near future, who will get bumped up to the top line? When Raffl went down in Colorado, Steve Downie, Brayden Schenn and Zac Rinaldo all saw time with Giroux and Voracek.

With the recent success of the Schenn-Hartnell-Wayne Simmonds line, it wouldn’t make much sense to split them up. Downie has experience playing with top-line caliber players. He skated alongside Steven Stamkos in Tampa and even saw time with Mike Richards during his first stint in Philadelphia. But this season, Downie has played his best hockey on a line with Sean Couturier and Matt Read, who could return Saturday, so Berube may go another route. Rinaldo? Probably not the best route.

How about Vinny Lecavalier? He has just one assist since returning from a back injury six games ago, so playing with the red-hot Giroux and Voracek could serve as a nice confidence booster. 

Update: Berube said Read will not play on Saturday and Downie will move up to the top line. Here's how the offense will look:

Downie-Giroux-Voracek
Hartnell-Schenn-Simmonds
Lecavalier-Couturier-Rinaldo
Rosehill-VandeVelde-Hall

2. Halfway there
The Flyers reached the midway point to the season on Thursday and will begin the second half of their schedule on Saturday.

With 44 points through the first 41 games, the Flyers currently sit in the third and final playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division -- two points ahead of the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers.

CSNPhilly.com Flyers Insider Tim Panaccio recently caught up with Berube to play a word association game, asking him to say the first thing popped into his head about his players’ performances in the first half (see story).  

3. Captain Coyote returns?
It’s been a frustrating couple of weeks for veteran forward Shane Doan.

The Coyotes’ captain last played on Dec. 4 after feeling flu-like symptoms from an illness doctors initially had trouble diagnosing. In mid-December, it was determined Doan was suffering from a form of Rocky Mountain Fever -- a bacterial disease that affects the lining of blood cells and is often contracted by ticks.

The 37-year-old started to improve by taking antibiotics and steadily increased his activities. He returned to practice New Year’s Eve after a slow recovery and was initially expected to return sometime next week. But on Friday, doctors gave him the green light to play against the Flyers.

Phoenix head coach Dave Tippet said “it would be hard to keep him out of the game” because Doan is so anxious to return.  

The Coyotes would welcome Doan back with open arms if he plays, as they have won just four games in his absence. It’s also worth mentioning that despite the significant amount of time missed, Doan still leads the team in goals with 12.

4. Injuries
Read will not play Saturday night after originally be listed as a game-time decision. The 27-year-old, who has 10 goals and nine assists this season, suffered an upper-body injury in Tuesday’s win over the Calgary Flames and did not play in Thursday’s loss to the Avalanche.

Out for the Flyers are Raffl and Erik Gustafsson. Raffl (concussion) will be evaluated by team doctors when the Flyers return to Philadelphia. Gustafsson has been sidelined since Dec. 21 with a left knee sprain and is expected to make his return to the lineup in seven to 10 days.

The Coyotes could be missing a key player on defense against the Flyers. Oliver Ekman-Larsson took a nasty hit from Derek MacKenzie in Phoenix’s 2-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday and missed practice Friday because of an upper-body injury. He played just over four minutes before the violent collision. There was no penalty assessed on the play, but the NHL handed MacKenzie a three-game suspension for the hit Friday.

Fellow defenseman Zbynek Michalek will not play Saturday. Michalek has missed the Coyotes’ last seven games because of a lower-body injury.

5. This and that
• This is the second and final game between these two clubs this season. Phoenix came away with a 2-1 win over the Flyers on Oct. 11 at Wells Fargo Center. Derek Morris and Ekman-Larsson scored for the Coyotes, while Max Talbot registered the Flyers’ lone goal.

• Hartnell has two goals and five assists during his current six-game point streak.

• Team USA snub Keith Yandle has two goals and three assists in the Coyotes’ past four games.

• Simmonds has at least one point in seven out of his last eight games. During that span, he’s collected eight goals and four assists.

• Prior to their loss to Columbus, the Coyotes had played in five consecutive games that needed overtime or a shootout to decide the outcome.

Flyers focused on actual game instead of Stadium Series event

Flyers focused on actual game instead of Stadium Series event

VOORHEES, N.J. -- The toughest challenge for the Flyers this weekend might be themselves.

They’re playing the Pittsburgh Penguins outdoors on Saturday as part of the NHL’s Stadium Series event. That should be a big deal.

Yet, given their circumstances right now, how can they possibly enjoy the moment?

Maybe had this game been played in early January, before the team hit a crisis point in the standings, and was winning, it would be easier to relax.

The fact is, the Flyers have lost seven of their last 10 games, are drifting as the 11th team in the Eastern Conference, and the second wild card they held for so long seems far from their reach.

Tough to have fun and soak up the atmosphere when there’s so much pressure to start making up ground in the playoff hunt.

“Yeah, we’re there to have two points,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said Thursday. “If this was earlier in the season, we could take it in a bit more, but it’s all business for us right now. It’s just playing.”

That attitude extends right up to coach Dave Hakstol, who didn’t break a smile when talking about what’s really important here.

His team is desperate for points. There are 22 games left in the regular season and 19 are against Eastern Conference opponents.

The Flyers need to win a bunch of games and get hot like they did last season in March if they are going to recapture a wild-card berth.

“Honestly, it’s business first,” Hakstol said. “There is something to the event and certainly something important with family and the type of event it is. But, let’s be honest. Right now, it’s business first. That’s what our focus will be.

“Points. Simple as that. It’s two points. We need the two points and it’s a road game and it happens to be in an event-type situation.

“So we’ve got to make sure we handle all of that in terms of our preparation. But the bottom line is it comes down to the two points that are at stake on Saturday night.”

Michal Neuvirth will make his sixth consecutive start in goal for the Flyers. He was a backup to Semyon Varlamov at Heinz Field during the 2011 Winter Classic as a member of the Washington Capitals against Pittsburgh.

“We’ve got to focus on the game,” Neuvirth said. “There is going to be a lot of distractions. Lot of families and friends in town. But we’re gonna go there and it’s all about business and trying to get the two points.”

Hakstol is only slightly concerned about the hype taking away from the players’ focus. If the Flyers were coming into this game on a win streak, he and his players wouldn’t be quite as uptight as they are right now.

You can cut the tension in the Flyers' dressing room these days with a skate blade.

“You need a little mental attention to detail there,” Hakstol said. “That’s what it is. We’re in that mold. I don’t think that’s a big hump to overcome. I think we’ll be OK.”

Heinz Field holds 68,000 people. The NHL expects 60,000 in attendance. Regardless, it will be the largest crowd ever to witness a Flyers game.

“It’s more exciting and a must-win for us,” said Michael Raffl, who played outdoors once in Europe. “A huge game no matter where we would have played it. We could play it at Skate Zone and we’d be excited.”

Giroux said it will be “weird” being on the ice because his past experiences in outdoor games saw him drown out the fans as much as possible. Yet he admitted the sheer number of fans this time might make that difficult to do.

“It’s pretty exciting to play in the Steelers' stadium,” he said. “Playing against Pittsburgh, it should be a great game.”

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).