Flyers-Coyotes: 5 things you need to know

flyers-coyotes-matchup.jpg

Flyers-Coyotes: 5 things you need to know

The Flyers may have gotten their first win of the 2013-14 season out of the way on Tuesday, but the club is still searching for goals in the early going.

Headed into Friday’s matchup against the Phoenix Coyotes (2-2-0), the Flyers (1-3-0) have netted just five goals in four games.

With puck drop set for 7 p.m. on CSN, here are five things you need to know for Flyers-Coyotes:

1) Get “G” going
Claude Giroux, who has led the Flyers in scoring the past three seasons, has struggled to find his offensive game so far in this campaign. He has fired 10 shots on net, but has zero points in the team’s first four games.

Giroux on Wednesday said his hand, which required surgery in August to repair severed tendons from a freak golfing accident, isn’t bothering him but his confidence is (see story).

“The confidence is not there,” Giroux said. “I don’t think it’s the hand -- the confidence is just not there. I will be fine. A few bad games, you always have a stretch like that during the season. Going day by day. We have a new system today and guys did a good job working it. It’s an ugly win, but we’ll take it.”

Although Giroux netted two markers in the Flyers’ first two games last year, the 25-year-old didn’t get off to the best start. He had just two assists -- both in a 7-1 rout of the Florida Panthers on Jan. 26 -- in the club’s next six games.

Giroux isn’t the only forward struggling to find the back of the net, but if the Flyers want to be successful they’re going to need their captain -- and main offensive weapon -- to find his confidence soon.

2) Schenn-sational
Is 22-year-old Brayden Schenn finally poised for a breakout season?

It sure looks like it through the first four games. Schenn has registered 11 hits, seven shots and three points and has shown some chemistry with first-year Flyer Vinny Lecavalier on the Flyers’ second line.

The young forward hasn’t quite lived up to his much-talked about potential since being acquired by the Flyers as part of the Mike Richards trade in 2011. In his first two seasons in orange and black, Schenn scored 20 goals and assisted 26 more in 110 games.

Schenn’s contract expires after this season. In the preseason, he said he wasn’t worried about his contract situation and was more focused on finding “consistency.”

The season is still young, but don’t be surprised if you see a lot more from No. 10 this year.

3) Between the pipes
Steve Mason has the hot hand in net as the Flyers prepare for Phoenix. Granted, Mason has started three of the Flyers’ first four games, but the netminder has put up impressive numbers (.936 save percentage, 2.02 goals-against average) and was the main reason why the Flyers came away with a 2-1 win over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday.

New head coach Craig Berube hasn’t named a No. 1 goaltender and isn’t expected to any time soon. He reiterated earlier this week that the goaltending situation will “work itself out.”

The Flyers enter their second back-to-back situation this season with the Coyotes in town Friday and a matchup with the Red Wings in Detroit on Saturday. It’s likely Mason and Ray Emery will split those games.

4) Catching up with the Coyotes
Thanks to last year’s lockout-shortened season, in which teams played only within their conference, the Flyers have not played the Coyotes since Dec. 3, 2011. The orange and black won that game, 4-2.

The last time the Coyotes traveled to Philadelphia was Nov. 17, 2011. The Flyers handed Phoenix a 2-1 loss at Wells Fargo Center on that night.

The Coyotes went 21-18-9 and finished 10th in the Western Conference last year, failing to reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-09 season.

5) This and that
• In 2011-12, Matt Read collected two goals and two assists in two games against Phoenix. Giroux and Scott Hartnell added a tally and a helper each in the season series.

• Coyotes captain Shane Doan has had plenty of success in his NHL career, but not against the Flyers. In 21 regular-season games against the orange and black, Doan has just four goals and is a minus-9.

• Zac Rinaldo is averaging less than 10 minutes per game, but has registered 24 hits in the Flyers’ first four games.

End to End: What adjustment would you make on Flyers' defense?

End to End: What adjustment would you make on Flyers' defense?

Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

With the Flyers on their bye week, let’s discuss a few topics.

Going End to End this week are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

Today’s question: What adjustment would you make on the Flyers' defense?

Dougherty
There is not much in Dave Hakstol’s arsenal to significantly improve the team defense with a lineup change. Sure, scratching Andrew MacDonald could be a positive step, but that does not solve the problem here. We can point fingers at the defensive group because the Flyers have allowed the league’s second-most goals at 144. They’re part of the problem.

What is plaguing the Flyers is not just the play of their six defensemen on any given night; it’s their overall team defense. Some forwards are quitting on the backcheck, and not providing enough support in their own zone, missing their own assignments.

The Flyers, I believe, are struggling with the lack of practice time. And while it is true that every team is dealing with the same compact schedule as the Flyers, Hakstol has to maximize the little practice time he gets going forward and preach team defense. Gaps have been a major issue with the current group of blueliners, and that is an area assistant coach Gord Murphy has to fix. Hakstol has singled out the team’s rush defense as an issue, and that’s another area the team has to work on, too.

A lot of the same issues that were appearing in the beginning of the season when the Flyers were struggling are reappearing in their game now. They were able to make adjustments earlier in the season to hone their game defensively. More film study and more coaching are just a couple of the adjustments I’d make with the current options.

Hall
Sometimes it takes a fresh face, some new blood to spark change.

If anything, it sends a bit of a message.

The Flyers have options at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley and general manager Ron Hextall didn’t rule anything out last Sunday.

But, of course, given the Flyers’ salary cap conundrum, it’s not as simple as just calling up a player.

So, the easiest thing that can be done is change within the current personnel. That means scratching MacDonald from time to time, just how Hakstol has done so with Shayne Gostisbehere, Brandon Manning, Michael Del Zotto, Radko Gudas and many Flyers forwards.

MacDonald hasn’t been as bad as some may think. Oftentimes, his mistakes are magnified more than others. But too frequently do we see him out of position or misreading a play on a goal against. And that’s been true for all Flyers defensemen, yet MacDonald seems to be one of the only spared of the consequences.

Benching MacDonald isn’t a drastic fix and it may not do much at all, but it’s something we haven’t seen since Nov. 19.

Paone
This a really tough question because, to be quite frank, there is no easy solution here to fixing a Flyers defense that has been mired in a state of miserable play and has played a large part in the team's allowing 3.50 goals per game in the 14 contests since the 10-game win streak ended in mid-December. 

It's not like Hakstol or Hextall can push some magic button here and have things fixed in a matter of moments. The Flyers have salary cap and roster issues, so it's going to be tough to bring in a player via trade to help fix things on the back end. Same goes for bringing up a prospect because space on the roster would have to be made first.

This situation leaves the Flyers to fix the problem from within with the defensemen they currently have at the NHL level. They're going to have to play their way out of this. And that's why I'm interested in focusing on the younger defensemen like Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov right now. We know what the veteran defensemen on this team are and they've been through this sort of thing before. This will not be the last team-wide rut the younger defensemen will play through in their careers. It will happen again. They're going to have to learn how to play through this and not let it affect their individual play. That's why I didn't agree with Ghost's benching in Boston last weekend.  Sure, he has not played well this season and the warts to his game have been evident. And there are times when sitting back, taking a breather and watching can be beneficial. But I'm a believer that a young player has to play through his growing pains and grow from them.

This isn't going to be an answer most of you will like to hear, but with the way the Flyers' hands are tied, they're just going to have to play their way out of these defensive struggles with what they have.

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

MONTREAL -- Eric Fehr and Jake Guentzel scored in the second period to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins past the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 on Wednesday night.

Defensemen Ian Cole and Olli Maatta also scored for Pittsburgh, which won its second game in a row after a three-game skid.

Sven Andrighetto scored for Montreal, which lost its second straight and has only two wins in its last six games. The Canadiens' offense remained in a rut coming off a 1-0 loss Monday in Detroit.

Penguins goalie Matt Murray was back in form after Monday's wild 8-7 win over Washington, making 19 saves. But Carey Price's woes continued as Pittsburgh outshot Montreal 26-20. Price allowed three or more goals for the eighth time in 10 games (see full recap).

Vanek, Nielsen lead Wings over Bruins
DETROIT -- Thomas Vanek and Frans Nielsen scored in a shootout, lifting the Detroit Red Wings to a comeback 6-5 win over the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night.

The Red Wings rallied from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits in the first period, and with 3:04 remaining in regulation, Gustav Nyquist scored to pull them into a tie.

In the shootout, Tuukka Rask and Petr Mrazek stopped the first shots they faced before Vanek scored for the Red Wings and Brad Marchand countered with a goal for the Bruins. Nielsen, who like Vanek joined the team last summer as a free agent, scored on the team's third attempt and Vatrano missed the net with a chance to extend the 1-on-1 duels.

The Bruins were dominant early before blowing a chance to keep Detroit at a distance in the Atlantic Division standings (see full recap).

Burns, Pavelski push Sharks past Kings
LOS ANGELES -- Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels scored in the San Jose Sharks' seventh win at Staples Center in their last eight trips, 3-2 over the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night.

Joe Thornton had two assists and Martin Jones made 22 saves for the defending Western Conference champion Sharks, who wrapped up their regular-season series against their biggest rivals with three victories in five games.

After Burns scored his 19th goal in the opening minutes, San Jose hung on through a scoreless third period to continue its recent domination in downtown Los Angeles, including three victories in last season's first-round playoff series.

Tanner Pearson and Marian Gaborik scored for the Kings, who ended a seven-game homestand with four defeats (see full recap).

McDavid scores in OT, Oilers edge Panthers
EDMONTON, Alberta -- Connor McDavid scored the winning goal in overtime as the Edmonton Oilers won their fourth game in a row, 4-3 over the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night.

McDavid, who also had two assists in the game, got a breakaway late in overtime and got the puck away with 2.6 seconds left. Florida's James Reimer made the glove save, but the puck was ruled to be across the line via video review.

Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu and Jordan Eberle also scored for the Oilers, who have their longest winning streak since December 2015.

Vincent Trocheck, Michael Sgarbossa and Greg McKegg had goals for the Panthers, who have lost two straight (see full recap).