Philadelphia Flyers

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.

NHL Notes: Rangers ink Mika Zibanejad to 5-year extension

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USA Today Images

NHL Notes: Rangers ink Mika Zibanejad to 5-year extension

NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers have signed center Mika Zibanejad to a $26.75 million, five-year deal.

Zibanejad will count $5.35 million against the salary cap through 2021-22 as the Rangers count on him to take on a bigger role following the trade of Derek Stepan. General manager Jeff Gorton announced the contract Tuesday morning, before the team and Zibanejad were set to go to arbitration.

The 24-year-old Swede had 14 goals and 23 assists for 37 points in 56 games last season, his first with New York. The Rangers acquired Zibanejad from the Ottawa Senators for Derick Brassard a year ago.

Zibanejad has 188 points in 337 NHL games with the Senators and Rangers since Ottawa drafted him sixth overall in 2011 (see full story).

Olympics: Team Canada names Burke GM for 2018 Games
Sean Burke will be the general manager and Willie Desjardins the head coach for Canada at the first Olympics without NHL players since 1994.

Hockey Canada named its management and coaching staffs for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics on Tuesday. St. Louis Blues assistant general manager Martin Brodeur will work under Burke on the management side, while Desjardins will be assisted by Dave King, Scott Walker and Craig Woodcroft.

Canada has been grooming Burke for this responsibility for some time as he served as assistant GM for the 2017 world championships, GM for the 2016 Spengler Cup and Deutschland Cup and director of player development for the 2016 worlds. Desjardins coached Canada's 2010 world junior team and assisted in 2009.

USA Hockey has not yet named its GM or coach (see full story).

Sabres: Goalie Lehner re-signed to 1-year deal
BUFFALO, N.Y.  -- The Buffalo Sabres have re-signed goaltender Robin Lehner to a $4 million, one-year contract.

The team announced the deal Tuesday. Lehner was a restricted free agent.

The 26-year-old Swede showed he could stay healthy last season, setting career highs with 59 games played, 23 wins and two shutouts. He ranked third in the NHL with 1,758 saves and finished with a .920 save percentage and 2.68 goals-against average.

Bothered by injuries and concussion problems, Lehner had never before played more than 36 games in his NHL career. The Sabres took a chance on Lehner when they traded a first-round pick to the Ottawa Senators for him at the 2015 draft.

Lehner will again be a restricted free agent next summer when this contract expires.

Devils: 3 restricted free agents re-signed
NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils have re-signed restricted free agent defenseman Mirco Mueller, forward Joseph Blandisi and goaltender Scott Wedgewood.

Mueller got a two-year deal worth an average of $850,000 a season, Blandisi a two-year, two-way deal worth an average of $680,000 in the NHL, and Wedgewood a one-year, two-way deal worth $650,000 in the NHL. General manager Ray Shero announced the contracts Tuesday.

Re-signing Mueller for two years was the most significant move after New Jersey acquired the 22-year-old from San Jose before the Vegas expansion draft. The Swiss defender has just six points in 54 NHL games with the Sharks, but still is considered a good prospect after being a first-round pick in 2013.

Mueller will make $775,000 next season and $925,000 in 2018-19.

There's a new game in town: The Philadelphia Rebels

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John Boruk/CSNPhilly.com

There's a new game in town: The Philadelphia Rebels

The opportunity to watch a Briere play again in Philadelphia will be an exciting reality for hockey fans this season.

No, Danny Briere isn’t coming out of retirement as the former Flyers forward has committed to handling the day-to-day operations of the organization’s newest ECHL team.  

However, Briere will be keeping close tabs on his younger son, Carson, who’s currently on the Philadelphia Rebels' 30-man roster and is setting his sights on making the team’s final cuts during training camp.

“It’s great,” Briere said Monday. “Growing up here for most of my life, I love Philly. It’s fun getting to play in the same city that [my dad] did. Whenever I think of him playing, I always think of that playoff run [in 2010] for the Flyers.”

After spending the past two seasons at IceWorks in Aston, Pennsylvania, the NAHL’s (North American Hockey League) Rebels are moving their operation to the Penn Ice Rink at the Class of 1923 Arena, where they made the formal announcement on Monday. It will be the organization’s third different home rink in the past four seasons after relocating from the Rio Grande Valley in 2015.

“It was a no-brainer,” team owner Marko Dundovich said. “When the opportunity presented itself, it was very easy. I think it will give the boys a better opportunity to play, get them seen and I think it’s going to continue to grow here, and our business and organization will do much better here.”

The Rebels and junior hockey simply didn’t attract a broad appeal in the Philadelphia suburbs like ownership had hoped, and as a result, attendance lagged as the team typically averaged around 125 fans a game.

“It was the first time we tried Junior A hockey here,” Dundovich said. “If we had a 300-, 400- or 500-person fan base, we would have been OK in Aston, but I think it was tough to sell a junior hockey ticket in Aston. It’s a difficult sell in a small town.”   

Conversely, hockey fans in Philadelphia haven’t had much of an alternative to the Flyers since the Phantoms left the city in 2009 for Glens Falls, New York. Rebels forward Aaron Maguyon, who stays with former Flyers captain Keith Primeau throughout the season, feels the team cannot only fill the 2,500-seat ice rink, but the players will greatly benefit from the college vibe.  

“I think it prepares us for the future and playing college hockey, for sure, so in that way, it’s like a sneak peek for what’s to come," Maguyon said. "I think it helps pull guys closer together. We have restaurants we can go to or just activities we can do in the city."

According to the league website, the NAHL set a new single-season NCAA record with 280-plus commitments, and the Rebels had 12 commit to Divison I programs. Head coach Joe Coombs has built a tier-II junior hockey powerhouse over the past two years. Last season, the Rebels finished with the NAHL’s best regular-season record, advancing to the championship game of the Robertson Cup in Duluth, Minnesota, where they came up short in a 2-0 loss to the Lone Star Brahmas. 

“This is business,” Coombs said. “Let’s bring the game to the people. Over the last two years, we struggled with our attendance. I didn’t even know this place was here — UPenn hockey rink — and we couldn’t think of a better venue right here in University City to try and market our brand of hockey and bring our game to the people.”  

And who knows? You might just see a few former Flyers in the seats, as well.