Flyers-Devils: What you need to know

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Flyers-Devils: What you need to know

Flyers vs. Devils – 7:30 p.m., CSN
Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia

Records
Flyers: 19-21-3 (Fourth in Atlantic Division, 11th in Eastern Conference)

Devils: 15-17-10 (Fifth in Atlantic Division, 12th in Eastern Conference)

Last meeting
Ilya Bryzgalov made 27 saves and the Flyers came away with a 2-1 shootout win over the Devils in the last matchup between these two clubs. Max Talbot scored the Flyers' lone goal in regulation, while Matt Read and Claude Giroux each beat Johan Hedberg in the shootout. A major reason why the Flyers earned the victory was because of their play on the penalty kill. They killed off all five Devils power plays, but more importantly stopped a 5-on-3 situation in the first period with the game still scoreless.

Thursday will mark the fifth and final meeting between the Flyers and Devils this season. New Jersey has owned the 2013 series, taking three of the four contests and outscoring the orange and black by a 14-7 margin.

Previous games
The Flyers received a strong performance from Steve Mason, who made 38 saves in his first home start at the Wells Fargo Center, and topped the New York Rangers, 4-2, on Tuesday. Brayden Schenn, Erik Gustafsson, Kimmo Timonen and Jakub Voracek each scored for the Flyers, who climbed to within five points of the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference standings.

The Devils were shut out for a second consecutive game and fell to the Toronto Maple Leafs, 2-0, on Monday. Martin Brodeur turned aside 11 of 12 shots but it wasn't enough to keep New Jersey from losing its 10th game in a row. Phil Kessel was the only Leaf to beat Brodeur, before Jay McClement sealed the victory for Toronto with an empty-net marker.

Devil of a time
When the Flyers take the ice tonight, they will not have to worry about New Jersey's top sniper or two of the Devils' best defenseman. Neither Ilya Kovalchuk nor captain Bryce Salvador will play because of injuries and Anton Volchenkov will be serving the third game of a four-game suspension for elbowing Boston's Brad Marchand.

This is a huge break for the orange and black. Kovalchuk has lit up the Flyers for 10 goals and 20 assists since becoming a member of the Devils in February of 2010. It's also worth mentioning that New Jersey has not won a single game since Kovlachuk went down with a right shoulder injury on March 23 (0-6-4).  The Devils have struggled to find offense with Kovalchuk out of the lineup. During their 10-game skid, the team has potted just 16 goals.

On the other end of the ice, the Flyers have a chance to keep their offense going with Salvador and Volchenkov absent from the Devils' blueline. After scoring just three goals during a four-game losing skid, the Flyers have gone off for 11 tallies in their last two contests combined. With New Jersey missing two key shut-down defenseman, the Flyers  need to capitalize on this opportunity if they want to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.

Scoreboard watching
Entering tonight's game, the Flyers trail the Rangers by five points for the final postseason position in the East. The Devils are back six points for the eighth seed.

The Rangers, who have one game in hand on the Flyers, will also be in action. They host the Florida Panthers at 7 p.m.

Winnipeg and Buffalo -- the two teams ahead of the Flyers and Devils -- are also in the hunt for a playoff position, but are idle on Thursday.

Keep an eye on ...
Look for Jakub Voracek to come out strong against the Devils. The 23-year-old has been one of the few bright spots for the Flyers this season and has been playing with a ton of confidence alongside Claude Giroux. In the win over the Rangers, Voracek collected his 19th goal, a new career high, with an empty-net tally. With 43 points in 2013, he trails only Giroux (44) for the team-lead in scoring.

One Devil that always seems to hurt the Flyers is Patrik Elias. The veteran forward has faced the orange and black 80 times in his career. In those games, Elias has registered 35 goals and 45 assists. It's been the same story in 2013 as Elias has two goals and three assists in the four meetings between the two bitter rivals.

Did you know?
The Devils have not gone winless in 11 straight since an 0-7-4 slide in the 1990-91 season.

Injuries
Flyers: Andrej Meszaros (left shoulder), Braydon Coburn (separated left shoulder), Nicklas Grossmann (concussion), Bruno Gervais (abdominal surgery), Kent Huskins (concussion), Max Talbot (broken left leg), Zac Rinaldo (high left ankle sprain) and Jody Shelley (left hip) all remain sidelined.

Devils: Kovalchuk (sprained right shoulder) and Salvador (bruised right wrist) will not play against the Flyers and could miss the remainder of the season if New Jersey falls out of playoff contention.

Sound off
Will the Flyers hand New Jersey its 11th straight loss tonight? Explain why or why not below.

Flyers Notes: Promising performances from young defensemen

Flyers Notes: Promising performances from young defensemen

The most impressive thing about the Flyers' 4-0 preseason win over the Islanders on Tuesday night was the play of the their young defense and the outstanding work by the penalty kill.

Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers each gave a strong accounting of themselves while veteran Andrew MacDonald proved why experience helps with some terrific PK work during an extended five-on-three Islanders power play in the third period.

“Overall, they did a good job,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “I look at some of the opportunities we gave up, especially in the second period, we gave up three or four Grade A opportunities that Mase (goalie Steve Mason) was great on, but I put those on our forwards.

“We’re still not into regular-season form on our play without the puck. I thought as a whole, the group of defensemen did a good job and the young guys in there were good tonight.”

Sanheim had strong plays the entire game from the point and picked up two assists (see highlights). He gets the puck quickly on net and joins the play up front.

“It took me a little bit, even in this game,” Sanheim said. “As I play more, I started to jump up more and you start to see my game more. It’s something I want to bring to this next level.”

Provorov logged 21:43 of ice time following nearly 29 minutes at New Jersey. He had 5:17 on the PK. Some of his clears weren’t deep or hard enough, at times, possibly because of fatigue.

He also took a bad boarding hit on Joshua Ho-Sang in the third period that set up an Isles five-on-three power play. It became extended because of a trip call to Myers but MacDonald did yeoman’s work on the extended PK.

Provorov quarterbacks the first-unit man advantage for now until Shayne Gostisbehere joins the crowd. He had some very skillful passes. The Russian can find the seam up the ice on the breakout quickly and had a no-look, hard pass to Nick Cousins in the second period for a quality one-timer on net.

Expect Provorov to handle the second-unit power play during the season, should he make the roster.

The goals
Although the Flyers, using a better NHL lineup, were lacking for offensive chances early against the Isles' "B" squad, they found their way in the final four minutes of the opening period.

First, Dale Weise had one of those pinball goals as a bouncing puck hit a couple of players in the slot, including goalie Chris Gibson, to make it 1-0 during four-on-four play.

That was the Flyers' first goal of preseason in three games. A little more than a minute later, Wayne Simmonds scored off a rebound just as a Flyers power play ended. Simmonds had two goals in the game, including a wrister from the left circle to open the final period.

Smallish (5-foot-7) — but bullish — centerman Andy Miele, a former Hobey Baker Award winner as college hockey’s top player (Miami-Ohio), made it 3-0, out-battling Thomas Hickey for the rebound of Michael Raffl’s shot.

The shield
Simmonds is wearing a visor for the first time. It’s an experiment for now.

“Everyone is all over me about it,” he said. “We’ll see what happens. It wasn’t too bad tonight. The only thing is trying to track pucks in the sky when you are getting the glare from the lights. A little bit of an adjustment."

He said neither his mother nor girlfriend had pushed him as hard to wear the shield as someone else: “Ron Hextall,” he said flatly. “He gave me a call.”

Because of his tenacious play in the slot where sticks are high and pucks are deflected, a shield makes sense.

“Yeah, I think so, being that front guy and doing work on the PK,” he said. “Getting sticks in lanes like that, the game is really fast and pucks get deflected.

“Sometime you don’t know where they’re going and can’t react to that. Obviously, the shield is good for that."

He added he would wear the shield in a fight, too.

“Every time I fight and someone has a shield on, I’m at a disadvantage so I guess this evens it up,” he said.

Loose pucks
Weise did a nice job sticking up for teammates late during a melee after a Ben Holmstrom crosscheck to linemate Nick Cousins. “It was a bad crosscheck and you’re defending your teammates,” he said. “The ref was in the way and I kind of went overtop him. That’s what I’m about. Guys take liberties on my linemates, I’ll stand up for them.” … Matt Read had just 6:54 ice time through two periods. Fourth-liner Boyd Gordon had more ice time there — 9:39 — but Read finished with 13:55 to Gordon’s 13:41. More than half of Gordon’s ice time was on the penalty kill. … Goalie Steve Mason faced some point-blank chances among the first 17 shots he faced and finished with 23-save shutout.  

Roman Lyubimov getting comfortable, impressing with hard, heavy style

Roman Lyubimov getting comfortable, impressing with hard, heavy style

Ron Hextall said when Flyers training camp began there were spots to be won and spots to be taken from others.

Even though it’s still early in camp, it seems fairly clear Russian forward Roman Lyubimov is going to steal someone’s job among the bottom-six forwards.

He’s been the right wing on Boyd Gordon’s line in camp with Chris VandeVelde on the left side. 

That fourth line worked again Tuesday night as the Flyers opened their home preseason schedule with a 4-0 win over the Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center.

The 6-2, 207-pound Lyubimov plays a heavy game. He is tenacious in one-on-one battles and, perhaps more importantly, jumps on loose pucks after faceoffs as demonstrated during the 2-0 loss in New Jersey on Monday.

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol took notice.

“It’s a nice trait for a player to have automatically and it’s an important trait,” Hakstol said.

“His competitiveness and his battle level on 50-50 pucks, things like that, hasn’t changed from Day 1.”

After spending six years in the KHL, it appears Lyubimov has found a home here. He’s already making a nice adjustment to the smaller rink, too.

“Last couple of years, playing for the Red Army team, there were some pretty physical games,” he said, via translator Slava Kouznetsov. “I think it was pretty close to NHL games. I just have to adapt to the smaller ice.”

He logged 3:55 ice time on the penalty kill against the Devils — second only to rookie defensive prospect Ivan Provorov — and Hakstol has his sights set on using him in that capacity if he makes the final cut.

While playing for the Russian Army, Lyubimov was used in a shutdown role and on the PK with little power-play time.

“I was more defense-oriented,” he said. “If you don’t let the [opponent] score on you, it’s easier to win games. Here, I’ll see what the coaches want me to do. I watched a lot of NHL games. One of my criteria was to be good at the penalty kill.”

The only hard question Hakstol has to answer is Lyubimov’s adjustment to the smaller rink.

“I think he is still working through that but he is game for it,” Hakstol said. “He doesn’t look for open ice in terms of shying away from traffic areas. He is battling in those high traffic areas.”

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare made the adjustment quickly, coming over from France. Michael Raffl played a couple games with the Phantoms after coming over from Austria.

It’s possible the Flyers could start Lyubimov with the Phantoms and then call him up.

“He plays a small-ice type of game,” Hextall said of Lyubimov. “He goes hard to the net, he’s good on the wall, does all those little things. Space I don’t think will affect him as much as other guys.”

He had a prime scoring chance in Tuesday’s game against the Islanders, chasing down a puck behind the net and getting a wraparound that was blocked at the post by defenseman Kyle Burroughs.

Lyubimov finished with 12:07 of ice time and two shots.

His best shot to make the cut is to take away VandeVelde's spot on the fourth line (see story). Once Bellemare returns from the World Cup of Hockey, someone has to go. Another factor here is whether the club carries 23 players instead of 22.

Lyubimov said what impressed him about the Flyers was how players are treated here, on and especially off the ice.

That was always something former Flyers loved about their late owner Ed Snider. He treated them as family, not employees.

“There is a difference,” Lyubimov said. “Everything here is comfortable and done for the players. Here I live five minutes from the rink. In Moscow, it’s 45 minutes. Everything works for me here.”

So much so, Lyubimov is bringing his wife, Katrina, and their 1-year-old daughter Alexa, over this fall to live here even though he has just a one-year deal worth $925,000.

“I want to stay here more than a year,” he said. “I will do whatever I have to do. This is the place I wanted to come.”