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.