Flyers focused on 2 points, not Ilya Bryzgalov

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Flyers focused on 2 points, not Ilya Bryzgalov

EDMONTON, Alberta -- It was bound to happen eventually. After all, the NHL isn’t that “hu-man-gous big.”

When the Flyers take the ice tonight against the Oilers, a familiar foe will await them in the opponent’s net: Ilya Bryzgalov.

Bryzgalov had the remainder of his nine-year, $51 million contract bought out by the Flyers last summer. He signed a new deal with the Oilers in November, after a strange, brief stint with the ECHL’s Las Vegas Wranglers.

Known for his off-ice antics as much as anything he accomplished on the ice in Philadelphia, Bryzgalov adds a definite element of intrigue to the Flyers’ matchup with the Oilers. But, coach Craig Berube warned, he cannot become a distraction.

“Our team needs not to worry about him and who’s in net,” Berube said after the Flyers’ last practice before they took off for Canada. “They need to worry about their game and how they need to play … to get two points. That’s it. That’s it. If they don’t do that, we’re not going to be successful. You need to think properly, get your head on straight before the game.”

These Flyers are no strangers to facing former teammates. Just a few weeks back, they welcomed Danny Briere to the Wells Fargo Center for the first time since his contract was also bought out in June. As the season goes on, they’ll face off against Max Talbot, Jaromir Jagr and Sergei Bobrovsky -- just to name a few.

“We’ll approach it like any game,” Scott Hartnell said. “The same way you play Danny Briere or Simon Gagne, or Carts [Jeff Cater] and Richie [Mike Richards] when they were traded. I like Bryz. He was a goofy guy. You had to know how to take his personality.”

For any player who’s spent significant time in the NHL, competing against old friends and teammates is just part of the job.

“It’s like any old teammates,” Braydon Coburn said. “It’s weird playing against him. You compete against him all year in practice, and it’s kind of neat to play against guys who have been with you a while. When you get into the heat of the battle and things start moving quick out there, all pleasantries get pushed aside.”

There can be, though, a bit of an advantage to facing a goaltender you know well. Bryzgalov spent two seasons with the Flyers, a stretch during which most of the current team was on the roster. They know Bryzgalov. They know his strengths, his weaknesses, and what it takes to rattle him.

Bryzgalov has had a bit of a rough start with the Oilers. He’s 2-4-0 with a 2.80 goals-against average and .915 save percentage. Knowing how to get under his skin could help the Flyers even further. 

“Playing against him, you shoot against a goalie a couple years, you know where to shoot and what to do, and what creates havoc for him,” Hartnell said. “And we have to do that.”

Tonight’s game kicks off a significant six-game road trip for the Flyers, who could possibly pull away from some of the Metropolitan Division pack with a strong stretch (see story). Starting the trip with a win needs to be their focus -- not facing off against a wacky former teammate.

“It’s better for the media, it gives you something to write about,” Jakub Voracek said. “But for us, it’s just another game and we’ve got to get two points. It’ll be exciting to see and play against Bryz, but nothing more.”

Instant Replay: Flyers 3, Wild 1

Instant Replay: Flyers 3, Wild 1

BOX SCORE

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A much-needed win for the Flyers came in an unlikely spot: on the road against one of the Western Conference's top teams.

Sean Couturier, Matt Read and Jakub Voracek scored for the Flyers, and Steve Mason made 24 saves in a 3-1 win over the Wild on Thursday. It snapped a four-game winless streak on the road and kept the Flyers' playoff hopes alive.

Mason allowed an early goal to Zach Parise but recovered, and Couturier tied the game in the first. The Flyers responded as a whole and Read scored for the second time in an as many games, while Voracek had his first goal in 11 games with his 18th of the season.

Goalie report
Playing for the 11th time in 12 games, Mason was a little shaky at the start after not covering the puck twice and then coming far out of the cage, leading to a wraparound opportunity for Minnesota. But after Parise's goal -- one of the times Mason thought he had the puck covered -- the netminder was very steady. He didn't get out of position and allowed less than two goals for the fourth time in 12 games.

The victory marked Mason's 100th in a Flyers uniform. He is third in franchise history behind Ron Hextall (240) and Bernie Parent (232).

Faceoffs
The Flyers were dominant in the faceoff circle on Thursday, winning 61 percent of the draws.

Power play
The Flyers didn't take advantage of their one opportunity in the game as defenseman Ivan Provorov was called for a hooking penalty halfway through their lone power play. The Flyers are now 3 for 40 on the power play over the past 12 games.
 
Penalty kill
The penalty kill had one of its better performances in recent games. The Flyers killed off both penalties and allowed just two Minnesota shots in the three minutes of penalty time. Entering the game, the Flyers had allowed 10 goals in 28 occasions on the penalty kill in the previous nine games.

A small move
With the win, the Flyers were able to pull closer to the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Boston lost, 6-3, at home to Tampa Bay, allowing the Flyers to close within six points with nine games left. The Bruins have only eight games remaining. Two of the teams between Boston and the Flyers -- the Lightning and Hurricanes -- did win Thursday, while the Islanders were idle (see wild-card standings).

Lines change
Looking for a spark, three of the four lines were changed for Thursday's game. Claude Giroux centered Read and Voracek. Valtteri Filppula was between Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare teamed with Travis Konecny and Chris VandeVelde. Coach Dave Hakstol kept the line of Brayden Schenn, Couturier and Dale Weise together.

Blue line return
Defenseman Brandon Manning made his return after missing five games with a shoulder injury.
 
Scratches
Forwards Nick Cousins (upper body) and Roman Lyubimov (healthy), and defenseman Michael Del Zotto (healthy).
 
Up next
The third game of the four-game road trip is Saturday at Columbus. The Flyers are 0-1-1 against the Blue Jackets this season, including a 5-3 loss at home on March 13.

Flyers-Wild 5 things: Road trip about to become a horror story?

Flyers-Wild 5 things: Road trip about to become a horror story?

Flyers (33-31-8) at Wild (44-22-6)
8 p.m. on CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 7:30

A four-game road trip takes a daunting turn Thursday night when the Flyers play the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center.

Here are five things to know for the matchup:

1. Hazardous road
You thought things were already ugly?

It looks like it could get much, much worse.

The Flyers now visit three of the NHL's top five clubs, starting with the Wild, followed by the Blue Jackets and the Penguins.

Those three are a combined 137-58-21 overall and 79-24-5 at home.

And it's safe to say the Flyers don't have any momentum heading into this gauntlet. They're coming off a 3-2 loss to the Jets, a non-contender decimated by injuries, and are 4-15-3 on the road since Dec. 19 with a minus-36 goal differential.

"We need to have a better effort," Steve Mason said postgame Tuesday. "We keep playing like this and we'll be mathematically eliminated before we know it."

2. Hole gets deeper
With a win over the Blue Jackets on Wednesday, the Maple Leafs moved past the Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division, making Boston the current leader for the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot at 82 points.

The Flyers, with 74 points, trail the Bruins, Islanders (80), Lightning (77) and Hurricanes (75), who have a game in hand, as well. Oh, and the Panthers are just one point behind the Flyers.

Ten regular-season games remain and Dave Hakstol's group needs a miracle.

In search of some type of spark, the Flyers will strut out a different look against the Wild.

"We're running out of time here, so hopefully a couple line changes here gives us a little spark offensively," Matt Read said Wednesday. "We've still got to play better defensively, but you know it's kind of do-or-die right now. So hopefully chemistry clicks right away and things can start going off the bat."

3. A look at the Wild
Minnesota, which went 30-6-3 from the start of December to the end of February, has cooled off a bit but is still one of the most well-rounded teams in the NHL.

The Wild are 3-8-0 in March. For the season, however, they rank among the league's top 10 in goals per game (3.22 -- second), goals against per game (2.47 -- tied for sixth), power-play percentage (21.3 -- ninth) and penalty-kill percentage (83.8 -- seventh).

Mikael Granlund, Eric Staal, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker all have 20 or more goals, while netminder Devan Dubnyk has been a top-five goalie at 37-18-3 with a 2.17 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Jakub Voracek has no goals and an assist in his last six games for a minus-5 rating. When he's not providing offense, the Flyers predictably struggle. The good thing: Voracek owns 16 points in 18 career games against Minnesota.

Wild: Ryan Suter has been a stud for the Wild. The defenseman leads the NHL as a plus-34 and is third with 27:07 of ice time per game. The 32-year-old is Minnesota's backbone and the Wild are 21-6-1 in games that he has at least one point.

5. This and that
• Mason will make his 11th start in the last 12 games. He is 7-6-1 lifetime against Minnesota with a 2.59 goals-against average and .911 save percentage.

• Dubnyk is 2-4-1 with a 2.72 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in seven career games against the Flyers.

• Brandon Manning is back in the lineup for Michael Del Zotto (see Skate Update). Manning missed the last fives games with a shoulder injury.

• Former Flyer Ryan White is out for the Wild with an illness.