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.

Best of NHL: Penguins halt Capitals 9-game streak with wild 8-7 OT win

Best of NHL: Penguins halt Capitals 9-game streak with wild 8-7 OT win

PITTSBURGH -- Conor Sheary scored 34 seconds into overtime and the Pittsburgh Penguins ended the Washington Capitals' nine-game winning streak with a wild 8-7 victory Monday night that included nine second-period goals.

Sheary had two goals and an assist for the Penguins, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Evgeni Malkin picked up his 11th career hat trick during a frenetic second period, and Sidney Crosby collected his NHL-leading 27th goal to go with two assists. Bryan Rust and Nick Bonino also scored for Pittsburgh, and Matt Murray got the win despite allowing seven goals on 28 shots.

The Penguins trailed 3-0 before scoring six goals in less than 11 minutes in the second period, more goals than the Capitals had allowed in a game all season. Pittsburgh led 6-5 after 40 minutes.

Lars Eller scored twice for Washington, and T.J. Oshie, Brett Connolly, Nicklas Backstrom, Justin Williams and Andre Burakovsky also found the net. Philipp Grubauer made eight saves after coming on in relief of Braden Holtby, who was pulled during Pittsburgh's second-period deluge (see full recap).

Eichel scores twice to give Sabres' 4-1 win over Stars
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Jack Eichel scored two goals and the Buffalo Sabres defeated the Dallas Stars 4-1 on Monday.

Tyler Ennis scored 19 seconds into the first period. Ennis returned after missing 30 games with a groin injury that required surgery.

Jake McCabe also had a goal and Robin Lehner made 31 saves after missing the past three games with an illness.

The Sabres snapped a two-game losing streak and beat the Stars for the first time in four matchups.

Radek Faksa scored for the Stars in the opener of a three-game road trip. Kari Lehtonen stopped 25 shots. Dallas has lost two in a row and six of eight (see full recap).

Bishop anchors Lightning to 2-1 win over Kings
LOS ANGELES -- Brian Boyle scored the go-ahead goal late in the second period, and the Tampa Bay Lightning opened a six-game road trip with a 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Monday.

Ben Bishop made an early mistake that led to Kyle Clifford's goal for the Kings, but bounced back to make 31 saves in his second start back from a three-week absence with a lower-body injury.

Tyler Johnson scored in the first period for the Lightning, who won for just the second time in seven games.

Peter Budaj stopped 27 shots for the Kings.

Both teams played without stars due to illness. Kings captain Anze Kopitar missed his first game since Nov. 20, and All-Star defenseman Victor Hedman missed his first game of the season for Tampa Bay (see full recap).

Changes coming? Ron Hextall says Flyers 'not very happy right now'

Changes coming? Ron Hextall says Flyers 'not very happy right now'

WASHINGTON — As the Flyers filed into the visiting locker room of the Verizon Center, no temper tantrums were thrown, nor were any chairs.
 
In the end, “What good does that do?” head coach Dave Hakstol asked.
 
Instead, the Flyers’ dressing area Sunday felt like a morgue. Players quietly and somberly stuffed their gear away. Once all dispersed, in walked Ron Hextall — and none too pleased.
 
“It’s been a tough couple of weeks for us,” he said softly, “and quite honestly, we’re not very happy right now.”
 
For a man that loathes losing more than anyone, nobody expected him to be. That much was already understood during the third-period catastrophe of his team’s demoralizing 5-0 defeat to the Capitals.
 
What wasn’t known was what follows? The Flyers have gone from 10 consecutive victories — the franchise’s longest winning streak in 31 years — to 11 losses over the following 14 games and a state of dismay.
 
As the Flyers limp into their NHL mandated five-day bye week, do players sense an imminent shakeup within the roster?
 
“It’s a good question,” Claude Giroux said, “but I don’t know.”
 
Despite never losing his sense of prudence, Hextall ruled nothing out.
 
“Obviously we always keep an eye on the big club and the Phantoms, as well,” Hextall said. “Right now, we’re going to stick with what we’ve got here and move forward. But on a day-to-day basis, I always look at how we can make our club better and, if there’s something that we think makes our club better, we’ll do it."
 
If Hextall wants to add some fresh blood from within, the organization is not lacking for young and spry prospects full of energy down at Lehigh Valley, where the Phantoms are 24-10-2 and third among the entire AHL entering Monday.
 
For the Flyers, who have surrendered a league-worst 144 goals, could defensemen T.J. Brennan, Travis Sanheim or Robert Hagg be options? Brennan owns NHL experience, has 30 points and is a plus-10 with Lehigh Valley. Sanheim, a big and touted prospect, is also a plus-10 to go along with seven goals and 11 assists. And Hagg, a seasoned 21-year-old, is “just about NHL-ready,” according to Flyers assistant general manager Chris Pryor, via ESPN’s Craig Custance (see Future Flyers Report).
 
“The worst thing you can do is overreact when things aren’t going right and that’s not going to happen,” Hextall said. “But if we can find a way to make ourselves better, we will.”
 
Hextall’s biggest gripe with his current team is its dearth of mental fortitude.
 
“Right now we’re making a lot of mental mistakes and it’s killing us,” he said.
 
And then it snowballs, Hextall said, which good teams prevent from happening.
 
“When things are going wrong, all of a sudden something happens and things tend to really go wrong,” he said. “That’s where we have to get better. Mentally we have to be better, have to be better. If something goes wrong, let’s move on. It happened a lot earlier in the year where things go wrong and we fought through it. Right now, the negative energy seems to be a landslide.”
 
Following the meltdown in Washington, players didn’t question the effort.
 
“We care,” Michael Del Zotto said. “No one likes losing. It’s not fun for anyone. But sometimes effort's not enough. Everyone wants to win in this league. It's a matter of execution. Whether it's offensively or defensively in all situations, we're not doing it.”
 
Hextall believes the effort has been “sufficient.”
 
“Again, the mental mistakes,” he said. “It seems like when something goes against us, it goes against us hard and that’s something we’ve got to battle through. You can’t let a little bit of adversity turn into a lot of adversity. You’ve got to nip it in the bud and we’ve got to do a better job of that.”
 
As for the leadership structure and coaching, Hextall defended both.
 
“Our leaders haven’t been good enough. Neither have our lesser guys,” Hextall said. “Nobody’s been good enough right now. You don’t win 10 and then go through a stretch like this without responsibility being everywhere.
 
“Line changes, different D combinations, flipping [Steve Mason] and [Michal Neuvirth]. Everything that’s there, Hak has tried. In the end, it comes down to our whole group just being better and not reacting the way we do when something negative happens. That’s the game of sports, right?”
 
The game goes away for the Flyers this week (see 10 observations). When it returns, who knows which team we’ll see.
 
“We all have to look at ourselves in the mirror, hold ourselves accountable,” Del Zotto said. “As far as changes and personnel moves, that's out of our control.”
 
That, of course, is up to Hextall.
 
“We’ve got to keep our heads now,” the GM said. “Nobody’s going to get us out of this. It’s the whole group. This isn’t about one thing or one move or one player not playing or one player playing. This is about our whole group.”