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.

Radko Gudas shooting pucks, 'pretty close' to 100 percent

Radko Gudas shooting pucks, 'pretty close' to 100 percent

VOORHEES, N.J. — Injured Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas is getting closer to returning to game action.

Gudas, recovering from a fractured right wrist (his shooting hand), has been cleared to shoot pucks for the past couple of days and was shooting and hitting in practice Wednesday at Flyers Skate Zone. He has yet to play in a preseason game but said he’s “pretty close” to 100 percent.
 
“I can’t say it’s really 100 percent, but it’s getting there soon,” Gudas said following practice.
 
“There’s a lot of time for me to get in top, game-like shape. There’s not a chance I would miss the start of the season.”
 
Gudas said the most important aspect of the healing process is keeping it stable by wearing a brace to limit too much movement.
 
“It’s better. I’m shooting on it in practice — feels better every day,” he said. “I’m working on a lot of it every day with the strength guys and the doctors here. We’re going day to day, I’m seeing myself sooner than later jumping on the ice.”
 
The second-year Flyer would like to play in preseason games before the start of the regular season but also understands the importance of not rushing to avoid costing him regular-season games.
 
“That’s the main part — feeling pain-free,” Gudas said. “Throughout the season, there’s not a lot of time off so we need to make sure everything is the best it can be before the season starts.
 
“Obviously it’s going to be the coaches’ decision when to put me in. I’m sure they’re talking with the staff for when would be the proper time.”
 
The 26-year-old Gudas signed a four-year contract extension in June after playing a career-high 76 games and recording 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 2015-16.
 
After practice, Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol did not have an update on Gudas or defenseman Nick Schultz, who was shaken up Tuesday night.
 
“Everybody wants to play at least a game or two before the season,” Gudas said. “I don’t think it needs to be said.
 
“He wants to have me ready and I want to be ready.”

Flyers Notes: Ivan Provorov not in ‘younger’ lineup; Travis Konecny gets chance with NHLers

Flyers Notes: Ivan Provorov not in ‘younger’ lineup; Travis Konecny gets chance with NHLers

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers’ morning skate Wednesday came with youthful flavor.
 
Ivan Provorov was no part of it.
 
The 19-year-old was with the big-boy contingent on the opposite ice, a group of mostly NHL players that will not play in tonight’s preseason game against the Devils at the PPL Center, home of AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.
 
Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said a younger lineup is set for the team’s fourth preseason game.
 
“Every game is a little different,” Hakstol said. “[Tuesday] night we had a more veteran group dress, so not only are we looking at individual performances but we would expect to see a little more of our structure come into play. Tonight’s roster is a little more younger, so we’re still obviously looking to build some of the concept and some of the systems and detail.”
 
Provorov, the Flyers’ prized blue-line prospect and No. 1 roster hopeful of training camp, was featured in the NHL-heavy lineup Tuesday night, playing 21:43 with key minutes on the power play and penalty kill. This followed a night of 28:48 ice time in the Flyers’ split-squad preseason opener Monday.
 
So it was highly unlikely Provorov would play Wednesday, but the fact he was saved for a veteran-laden game instead of a prospect-filled one is telling.
 
Then again, Provorov is far from your typical 19-year-old hockey player.
 
“Right from day one, I think we’ve all saw that early,” Hakstol said. “A year ago, the focus, the ability to be detailed and to handle himself like a pro, albeit a young pro. Ivan has a great level of maturity to him.”
 
Provorov has done his work thus far. It’s his time to watch for a game.
 
“You look for him to be able to go out and do things consistently and efficiently,” Hakstol said. “I think for the most part, Ivan was able to do that [Tuesday] night.
 
Konecny with Schenn, Raffl
While one 19-year-old sits, another gets his chance.
 
Although prospect Travis Konecny — also looking to make the NHL jump — did not play Tuesday, he’ll still have a chance to open eyes with NHL forwards tonight.
 
The talented winger will be paired with Brayden Schenn and Michael Raffl, both of whom were clearly especially selected to play tonight with Konecny.
 
“They see the ice real well, I’ve just got to move my feet and get in the good areas and I’m sure they’re going to find the spots,” Konecny said. “I’m going to try to not do too much tonight and just let the game kind of take care of itself — and take care of the little things I can control.”
 
The 24th overall pick of the 2015 draft amassed 101 points at the junior level last season. Putting NHL talent around him should only help and it serves as an amplified audition of sorts.
 
“It gives him an opportunity to play with two veteran players,” Hakstol said. “Travis is no different than anyone else, just go out and play his game. Every player, it’s one of the challenges coming into camp, to go out and make an impression. Every player needs to do that from Day 1. We’re getting into our fourth exhibition game here now, so it’s an opportunity for Travis to go out and play the way he plays. He has an opportunity to do that with two veteran players.”
 
Konecny, 5-foot-10 with speed and skill, is keeping things simple in his second NHL camp.
 
“I think this year I’m trying to approach it and play the game the right way,” he said. “Last year, I came in excited and I had my feet going, my energy, but I was kind of all over the place. I’m trying to follow the system and play the right way this year.
 
“My first game a couple days ago, it was quick pace, I wasn’t really expecting it — it’s been a long time since I was in that kind of speed. So I think tonight’s game I’ll be a little more relaxed and ready to go.”

Roster moves
The Flyers on Wednesday assigned Mark Dekanich, Chris McCarthy, Maxim Lamarche, Martin Ouellette, Jesper Pettersson, Steve Swavely and Kevin Sundher to Lehigh Valley, which opens its training camp Friday. The Flyers' roster now stands at 49.
 
Loose pucks
Other NHLers expected to play tonight: Defenseman Brandon Manning and center Boyd Gordon. “Boyd has had a good camp,” Hakstol said. “He got in game action the first time [Tuesday]. As you’d expect, he did a real good job within his role of starting with faceoffs and the responsible style of play he has.” … Alex Lyon and Anthony Stolarz will be the goalies. Both will compete for starting time with the Phantoms this season.