Flyers-Hurricanes: 5 things you need to know

flyers-hurricanes-matchup.jpg

Flyers-Hurricanes: 5 things you need to know

Two struggling Metropolitan Division clubs will hit the ice on Tuesday night.

The Flyers (4-9-0) will look to carry over momentum gained in a 1-0 win over the New Jersey Devils when they take on the depleted Carolina Hurricanes (2-6-2) for the second time this season.

The puck will drop at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. at 7:30 p.m. (CSN). Here are five things you need to know for the contest:

1. Welcome back, Vinny
After missing one game because of a facial injury suffered in a fight with Washington’s Steve Oleksy on Friday, Vinny Lecavalier will return to the Flyers’ lineup against Carolina (see story).

The Flyers’ big offseason acquisition practiced on Claude Giroux’s line with Scott Hartnell on Monday. Lecavalier denied reports that he had a broken jaw, but did still have some swelling on the left side of his face.

In order to protect himself, Lecavalier will wear a helmet with a half-shield, half-cage. He tried using a bubble shield, but quickly switched to a different bucket.

“I wanted to try both,” he said. “I was happy I started off with the cage because I felt a lot better with the thing [Sidney] Crosby wore last year -- the little protective thing. It fogs up a little bit, but I had better vision with the second one.”

Lecavalier, who missed three games earlier this season with a lower-body injury and four overall through the first 13 games, leads the Flyers with five goals and is tied with Brayden Schenn for the team lead in points with seven. Steve Downie, who is out indefinitely with a concussion, also has seven points but he recorded all of them as a member of the Colorado Avalanche.

2. Eye of the storm
It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the Hurricanes. Carolina enters Tuesday with a five-game losing streak and has several key players sidelined with injuries.

Leading-scorer Jeff Skinner -- nine points in 10 games -- is out with an upper-body injury and missed practice Monday to seek a second opinion on whatever is bothering him. The Hurricanes haven’t clarified exactly what the 21-year-old’s injury is, but he has had concussion problems in the past.

To make matters worse, both of Carolina’s netminders are on injured reserve with lower-body ailments. Starter Cam Ward isn’t skating yet and backup Anton Khudobin, who stopped 17 of 18 shots in the Hurricanes’ win over the Flyers earlier this season, is progressing slowly.

Radek Dvorak (lower body) skated with the ‘Canes on Monday and could be activated from IR to play against the Flyers. In addition, Tim Gleason and Kevin Westgarth are both listed as day-to-day with upper-body injuries and are questionable for Tuesday’s game.

Finally, former Flyer Joni Pitkanen (heel) is out for the season, leaving a big hole on Carolina’s blueline. With the exception of Downie, the Flyers will field a healthy roster.

3. Defensive carousel
The Flyers have already used all eight of their defensemen on the active roster this season, mostly because of inconsistent play on the blueline.

Head coach Craig Berube has inserted Andrej Meszaros and Erik Gustafsson in and out of the lineup a few times, but made another move on Saturday. Luke Schenn was a healthy scratch and Hal Gill made his official Flyers debut.

Gill, now in his 16th NHL season, played nearly 15 minutes and was aggressive in front of the Flyers’ net. Only Braydon Coburn logged more shorthanded minutes than Gill among defensemen. The Flyers allowed just 14 shots and did not register a single giveaway in the win.

At practice Monday, Berube’s defensive parings were identical to the ones used in the New Jersey game. It looks like Gill and Meszaros will remain in the lineup, leaving Gustafsson and Schenn to be scratched again.  

4. Struggling offenses
The Flyers and Hurricanes are two of six NHL clubs averaging under two goals per game in the early going.

The Flyers’ offensive struggles returned after a 5-2 win over the New York Islanders. In the three games since that victory, the orange and black have netted just three markers. In addition, their 21 goals are an NHL-low.

Carolina has only five tallies during its current losing streak. The ‘Canes have 27 goals in 14 games overall.

5. This and that
• Luke Schenn netted the Flyers’ lone goal in a 2-1 loss to Carolina on Oct. 6. Dvorak potted the game-winner for the ‘Canes.

• Steve Mason is 5-1-0 with a .941 save percentage and 1.84 goals-against average in six career starts against the Hurricanes. Ray Emery’s numbers are even better. He’s gone 5-0-0 with a .977 save percentage, 0.74 goals-against average and two shutouts against Carolina.

• The Hurricanes will open a five-game homestand on Tuesday.

Steve Mason rediscovers himself in New York just before Flyers return

Steve Mason rediscovers himself in New York just before Flyers return

It had been a while since Steve Mason saw himself.

Walking into the Barclays Center on Sunday, the Flyers’ goalie was 0-6-2 with a 4.03 goals-against average and .844 save percentage over his last 10 appearances (see more recent Flyers numbers and stats).

A far cry from how Mason truly sees himself in net.

But heading into Wednesday’s rivalry clash with the Rangers, Mason will have something to build on, something he couldn’t say since Dec. 21 - the last previous time he had earned a victory. He’s fresh off his first win in over a month, a massive one for Mason considering all the key moments on Sunday the Flyers hope invigorate his confidence.

Without numerous clutch stops from their goalie, the Flyers don’t come back from two goals down to beat the Islanders, 3-2, in overtime. Mason made four saves  — three on four-time All-Star John Tavares — in just over a minute of a third-period power play. The Flyers ended up having to kill two New York man advantages in the final 10 minutes of regulation in order to force overtime.

The extra session is when Mason was just as good, if not better, stoning Tavares on a breakaway attempt that had game-winner written all over it. Mason made four saves in overtime after 13 in the third period.

“I was happy with the way that, personally, this game went for myself,” Mason said Sunday. “It’s been a tough stretch and this is more the type of game that I expect of myself. In recent games, the team was lacking the big saves and tonight it shows what kind of difference it can make.”

It was a massive performance heading into a massive three-game stretch against the Rangers, Maple Leafs and Hurricanes.

“Mase made some huge saves for us,” Simmonds said. “It allowed us to get back in that game.

“It’s not just Mase [with the] ups and downs. Everyone in here has been kind of fighting it and squeezing sticks pretty tight. That one felt good and I think Mase led the charge for sure.”

Mason understands just one game doesn’t turn around a season.

“It’s nice to feel good after a game,” Mason said. “At the same time, whether you’re winning or losing, you have to have a short mindset and get ready for the next one.”

That brings the Flyers to Madison Square Garden Wednesday to face the Rangers, who they’ve lost five straight games to dating back to last season. Mason hasn’t had much luck against New York this season, allowing seven goals in two losses with an .860 save percentage. However, in 2015-16, Mason put up a 1.74 goals-against average and .941 save percentage in five games against the Rangers.

“That’s going to be a tough game going into MSG,” Mason said Tuesday (see story).

The good thing: Mason was in New York two days ago, remembering what he can be.

Flyers in familiar spot in standings as critical games before break await

Flyers in familiar spot in standings as critical games before break await

While many people believe the Flyers are in far better shape right now than where they were a year ago, the fact is, they are pretty much the same.
 
After 48 games played, the Flyers have the same number of points now as they did last season – 52.
 
The critical difference – and this is why fans say they’re better off – is that a year ago at this juncture, the Flyers were five points behind Pittsburgh in the wild-card chase.
 
Right now, they own the second wild-card spot, but there are five teams behind them within four points or less of catching them, two of which have games in hand.
 
Earlier this week, Toronto was ahead of them and the Maple Leafs have three games in hand, which makes Thursday’s showdown against the upstart Leafs at Wells Fargo Center a very critical game.
 
That game represents the back end of the Flyers' 13th back-to-back set, which starts Wednesday with a date at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers.
 
If ever two games in a short week prior to the All-Star break were of prime significance, these next two seem to qualify.
 
“A hundred percent,” said Jakub Voracek, the Flyers' leading scorer with 42 points. “It’s the same for every game. Practice and come to the rink with a win in your head.”
 
To a man, the Flyers go into the nationally televised showdown with the Rangers feeling great about themselves because of the extraordinary effort they showed in Sunday’s 3-2 comeback victory against the Islanders in OT.
 
“I felt like we won the Stanley Cup with that overtime goal,” Voracek kidded. “That’s how happy we were. There was a lot of relief. Now we have to keep going.”
 
Just five points separate nine teams from the second wild-card position right now. The Eastern Conference is just as tight as it’s always been. Within the Metropolitan Division, just five points separate the Flyers from the three times tied for last in the conference - the Islanders, Sabres and Lightning.  
 
“It’s been that way,” said coach Dave Hakstol. “Right from the drop of the puck in October, it was going to be a battle. You can’t get too distracted by it. You worry about the job in hand and that’s tomorrow.”
 
The focus this week is rather narrow: two games left before the All-Star break begins on Friday.
 
“Yeah, both these games have implications directed to us in the standings,” said goalie Steve Mason, who will start against the Rangers. “Both being Eastern Conference teams and they are right with one another.
 
“We have to have a short mindset. We have the Rangers and that’s going to be a tough game going into MSG. Once that game is over, we focus on the Leafs.”
 
The Rangers have beaten the Flyers twice this season already – both in South Philly. While the games were mostly competitive, there remains a huge disparity in one critical area for both teams this season: goal differential.
 
The Rangers have a plus-40 differential while the Flyers check in at minus-18. As poor as Henrik Lundqvist (2.75 goals against average) has been this season – although his recent performances are trending upward – he still owns the Flyers.
 
In his last 15 games against the Flyers, going back to Jan. 1, 2013, Lundqvist is 11-3-0 with a 1.91 GAA and .938 save percentage.
 
“This is huge, especially in MSG,” Voracek said. “We lost two games in a row to them at home. Hopefully, we get points.”
 
In his last three starts this month, Lundqvist is 3-0, with a 1.32 GAA and .952 save percentage. In other words, the “old” King Henrik appears to have regained his throne just in time to face the Flyers.
 
“Their goaltender has been outstanding over this past stretch for them,” Hakstol said. “Their team is playing well.
 
“We have to worry more about our team. We’re not going to control what their side is going to do. We can control what we do.”