Flyers-Hurricanes: 5 things you need to know

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Flyers-Hurricanes: 5 things you need to know

Flyers at Hurricanes
7 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet

Fresh off a 2-1-1 homestand, the Flyers (26-23-11) will hit the road for a matchup with the Carolina Hurricanes (21-30-7) at PNC Arena on Tuesday night.

Here are five things to get you ready for the tilt:

1. Into the wild
When the Flyers were 13 points out of a wild-card spot on Jan. 16, not many people believed they had a shot at climbing back into the playoff race.

A month later, the Flyers, to their credit, have made things interesting. They enter Tuesday just one point behind ninth-place Florida and four points back of Boston, which owns the second and final wild-card spot.

How have they done it? Having the third-best power play in the league certainly helps, but their 8-1-4 run is mostly because of their improved play on the penalty kill and their defense finally finding some consistency. It’s also important to note they’ve managed to stay afloat without No. 1 netminder Steve Mason, who is nursing a lower-body injury.

Really the only area of concern right now is the Flyers’ play at even strength. Head coach Craig Berube has juggled the lines over the past week in hopes of sparking his team. The changes paid off in weekend wins over Nashville and Washington.

Now it’s time to buckle down. The Flyers have 22 games remaining, 10 against teams who are not currently in a playoff position. We could be in line for a frantic finish.

2. Wreck-it Rinaldo
When are the Flyers going to learn? Sunday was a perfect example of how Zac Rinaldo is a detriment to the team every time he takes the ice.

An argument can be made that the minor for elbowing he was whistled for in the first period against the Caps was a reputation call. That’s fine. But in the second period, he launched himself at Mike Green and found himself in an altercation after Jason Chimera took exception to the hit attempt. Rinaldo actually showed some restraint for once, refusing to drop his gloves with Chimera, but was on the wrong end of a bare knuckle punch to the jaw. Did Rinaldo deserve a five-minute major for fighting? No. But it’s clear that referees aren’t giving him any breaks because of his checkered past.

“I know if it was me, I would have been kicked out, probably suspended,” Rinaldo told reporters after the game. “That’s what just pissed me off.”

When you refuse to change your habits that have gotten you suspended before, do you really expect officials to show some sympathy? Rinaldo, after serving an eight-game suspension for a cheap shot on Kris Letang and sitting out two games as a healthy scratch, has fallen into the same routine, collecting 17 penalty minutes in his first two games back in the lineup. He was handed a 10-minute misconduct on Saturday against Nashville because he wouldn’t shut his mouth after a whistle. He just can’t seem to help himself.

Reckless behavior aside, has Rinaldo really done anything to deserve a spot on the roster anyway? Look at the numbers: Zero goals, two assists, 27 shots and 92 PIMs in 38 games. Where is the value? I understand benching Vinny Lecavalier because he’s slumping, but trotting out Rinaldo isn’t anywhere near close to being an upgrade. How many more chances does Rinaldo deserve?

3. Just Staal-ing?
Sitting 15th in the Eastern Conference and dead last in the Metropolitan Division with just 49 points this season, it’s obvious the Hurricanes will be sellers at the trade deadline.

Carolina has a list of impending unrestricted free agents. Veteran defensemen Andrej Sekera and Tim Gleason and forwards Pat Dwyer, Jiri Tlusty and Jay McClement will draw significant interest from contenders looking to bolster their lineups for a playoff run.

There was also some speculation that Pittsburgh was interested in re-acquiring center Jordan Staal, but Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis put an end to that buzz.

“We’re not moving Jordan Staal,” Francis told News & Observer reporter Chip Alexander.

A big hurdle coming up for Carolina is what to do with longtime captain Eric Staal, whose contract expires after the 2015-16 season. The Staal brothers could bring back substantial returns if the Hurricanes intend to rebuild. Stay tuned.

4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: Claude Giroux snapped out of his offensive funk with a goal and an assist in Sunday’s 3-2 win over the Capitals. The Flyers’ captain has embraced a shoot-first mindset since being separated from winger Jakub Voracek, firing 11 shots on goal over his past two games. Wayne Simmonds has helped open things up for Giroux, who put an end to his 11-game goalless drought. Giroux will still get his chances with Voracek on the power play, but, for now, the trial separation seems to have sparked the top-line center.

Hurricanes: There hasn’t been many bright spots for Carolina this season, but the emergence of defenseman Justin Faulk is something Hurricanes fans can take solace in. The 22-year-old, who represented his team at the All-Star game last month, leads the Hurricanes in assists (26) and points (36) while averaging just over 24 minutes a game. He has tremendous confidence with the puck on his stick and a strong shot from the point. His defensive game is still a tad bit raw, but he’s certainly made up for it with his offensive acumen. He wears No. 27.

5. This and that
• The Flyers have killed off 34 of their last 38 shorthanded situations (89.5 percent).

• Jeff Skinner has six goals and six assists in 14 career games against the Flyers.

• Simmonds has six goals and four assists during a career-high eight-game point streak.

• Carolina has scored three goals against the Flyers this season. Eric Staal has two of them.

• The Flyers have received at least a point from their defensemen in six straight games with a total of two goals and 10 assists during that span.

Top NHL draft prospects Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier get CHL awards

Top NHL draft prospects Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier get CHL awards

Brandon center Nolan Patrick and Halifax center Nico Hischier, the projected top two picks in the 2017 NHL draft, on Saturday afternoon added some CHL hardware to their trophy case.

Patrick won the Sherwin-Williams Top Prospect Award, beating out Hischier and Windsor's Gabriel Vilardi, while Hischier edged Swift Current's Aleksi Heponiemi and Guelph's Ryan Merkley for the CCM Rookie of the Year Award.

Injuries forced Patrick to play just 33 games this season, but he still produced at a point-per-game pace for Brandon. He finished with 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists).

Hischier scored 38 goals and 86 points in 57 games with the Mooseheads, his first season in the QMJHL after coming over from Switzerland.

The Flyers have the No. 2 overall pick. If the draft goes as projected, the Flyers will come away with either Patrick or Hischier, whoever the New Jersey Devils do not pick.

The 2017 NHL draft is June 23-24 in Chicago.

Missing history
Flyers prospect Carter Hart had a chance to become the first goalie in CHL history to win the Vaughn CHL Goaltender of the Year Award twice, but this year's award went elsewhere.

Owen Sound goalie Michael McNiven on Saturday afternoon took home the 2016-17 CHL Goaltender of the Year Award. McNiven was 41-9-4 for the Attack this season. He posted a 2.30 goals-against average and .915 save percentage with six shutouts.

McNiven led the Ontario Hockey League in save percentage, and his six shutouts were tied with Windsor's Michael DiPietro for the league lead. His 41 wins were tops in the OHL.

Hart, 18, posted a 32-11-6 record in 54 games with the Everett Silvertips in 2016-17. His 1.99 goals-against average, .927 save percentage and nine shutouts were all ranked No. 1 in the WHL.

Despite missing out on the CHL Goaltender of the Year Award this year, Hart previously did win the Del Wilson Memorial Trophy as the WHL's Goaltender of the Year for the second straight season. He was twice named the Vaughn CHL Goaltender of the Week and had a shutout streak of 193 minutes and 48 seconds during the regular season.

Hart was one of three second-round picks by the Flyers in the 2016 NHL draft.

End to End: Who will Flyers protect, lose in expansion draft?

End to End: Who will Flyers protect, lose in expansion draft?

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

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

The topic: The expansion draft, who to protect and best guesses at Vegas' selection.

Dougherty
We have and will continue to discuss in detail the entry draft, but we haven't talked much about the June 21 expansion draft. That's what we're doing today.

The expansion draft will affect the Flyers' plans this summer because they will be losing a player to Vegas, but the impact will be a minimum. They will not lose any core pieces.

How the expansion draft works: Teams have two options in protecting players. They can either protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or eight skaters and one goalie. The expectation is the Flyers will protect seven forwards, three D-men and a goalie.

There are six forwards and two defensemen who are obvious protections: Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Valtteri Filppula, Shayne Gostisbehere and Radko Gudas. Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny are exempt.

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall will have decisions to make on who the seventh forward and third defenseman he protects. Then there is the goalie protection.

That leaves forwards Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Nick Cousins, Taylor Leier, Scott Laughton, Michael Raffl, Matt Read, Jordan Weal and Dale Weise; and defensemen Andrew MacDonald and Brandon Manning.

Losing any of those six forwards would not be major blows to the Flyers. Now on the blue line, it gets interesting. My prediction is that the Flyers will choose to protect Manning with the hope Vegas takes MacDonald's contract.

Probably isn't going to happen.

Of the goalies, I don't think Vegas will have any interest in Anthony Stolarz, especially since he tore his right MCL in April. So that should cut the question here. That would mean the Flyers protect Michal Neuvirth, whom they signed to a two-year extension.

So what is my best guess at who Vegas plucks from the Flyers?

I think it will be a toss-up between Laughton and Raffl. I suspect the Flyers will re-sign Weal before the draft and then protect him, or have a verbal understanding they'll sign him after the expansion draft. Both parties appeared interested in him coming back.

My pick? Let's go with Laughton, a former first-round pick who turns 23 on Tuesday.

Laughton hasn't panned out as the Flyers hoped. He spent last season in Lehigh Valley and both Leier and Weal earned call-ups over him. I think that is a telling sign here.

So I'm predicting Laughton going to Vegas, where a change of scenery helps him out and the Golden Knights get a young forward that can slot into a third- or fourth-line role and still has upside.

Hall
There's a lot to the expansion draft — tons of possibilities and things can still change before June 21 that could impact the Flyers' decisions.

Albeit unlikely, Steve Mason could re-sign, which would obviously affect the Flyers' protection plan at goalie. Assuming that doesn't happen, I think the Flyers protect Neuvirth, especially considering Stolarz's health is in question this offseason and he may not be the true goalie of the future. Stolarz is also a pending restricted free agent, so he'll have to receive his qualifying offer from the Flyers before the expansion draft.

Now, let's say the Flyers go with the seven-forward, three-defensemen approach.

The blueliners are pretty clear: Gostisbehere and Gudas will be protected, as it comes down to MacDonald and Manning. I feel the organization thinks a bit more of MacDonald and his versatility compared to Manning, whose two-year deal last summer was likely strategic on the Flyers' part in planning for this expansion draft.

As for the forwards, Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds, Schenn, Filppula and Couturier are staying put. I believe Weal will be re-signed and protected.

Ultimately, I could see Raffl being Vegas' choice. At 28 years old, he's not super young or inexperienced, but also not old by any means, and the winger can play all four lines because of a well-rounded game that complements different styles.

Raffl's injuries last season (abdominal, knee) may cause red flags. At the same time, the Golden Knights should be intrigued by the two seasons prior in which Raffl played all 82 games of 2015-16 (and was a plus-9) after scoring a career-high 21 goals in 2014-15.

A loss of Raffl wouldn't be ideal, but not as damaging given the Flyers appear to be gaining more depth and youth at forward.

Paone
June 21's expansion draft will be the biggest wild card of the NHL summer. And that's not just some corny pun because it involves an expansion team from Vegas.

It'll be the first piece of player movement during the offseason, coming before the entry draft and free agency. But since it will be the first piece of player movement of the offseason, it will help mold how the Flyers and the rest of the teams around the league approach their summers.

None of the Flyers' "big guns" will be on the move and my gut tells me the Flyers will be protecting Neuvirth as they want him to shoulder the starting load this coming season.

We don't know exactly what Vegas is looking for in the expansion draft because general manager George McPhee is keeping that close to the vest. But if I'm the Golden Knights' GM, youth is at the top of my wish list.

That leaves three Flyers to stick out in my mind — Weal (25), Cousins (turns 24 in June) and Laughton (turns 23 on Tuesday).

After the sparkplug Weal was down the stretch with eight goals and four assists in 23 games, the Flyers should reach a new deal with the UFA and keep him in Philadelphia.

That leaves Cousins and Laughton.

My instinct tells me Vegas will gamble (sorry, still getting used to this whole Vegas having a team thing) on Laughton, a former first-round pick.

There's a reason he was a first-rounder in 2012. The guy can play, even if he hasn't shown it consistently in Philadelphia. But remember he's been yanked back and forth between the AHL and NHL on numerous occasions and when he's been with the big club, he's either been in the press box as a scratch or been tossed back and forth between center and wing. That constant instability in both level and position can be detrimental to a young player. Vegas would give Laughton a fresh start, a fresh home and some fresh stability.

Plus, I know there are only so many protections to go around, but Cousins is a guy the Flyers should want to keep around. Just 16 points (six points, 10 assists) in 60 games isn't good enough offensively, but not many Flyers were great offensively last season. Everyone needs to be better there. But Cousins has that pest intangible that can be so effective, especially in the rugged Metropolitan Division, where basically every game is a rivalry game. It's a good quality to have.