Flyers-Islanders: 5 things you need to know

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Flyers-Islanders: 5 things you need to know

Adding two more points Thursday with a 4-1 win over the Sabres, the Flyers have 11 out of a possible 12 points in their last six games. They’ll look for two more Saturday night.

The Flyers (9-10-2) welcome the Islanders (8-12-3) to South Philadelphia before heading to Florida for games with the Panthers and the Lightning. A win would give them four straight at home after starting the season 2-7-0 in their own building.

Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. at the Wells Fargo Center. The game will be televised on The Comcast Network.

Here are five things you need to know:

1. Third line on fire
How good has the Flyers’ third line been during the team’s six-game point streak?

The trio of Sean Couturier, Steve Downie and Matt Read has collected a combined 14 points during the stretch and nine in the last two games, carrying the Flyers to victories at home.

Couturier scored his first goal in 25 games Tuesday against Ottawa. He has four points during the six-game stretch, including two assists on Thursday. Read added two goals Thursday and has five points during the streak. And Downie padded his stat sheet Thursday with two helpers.

The 26-year-old Downie, acquired from Colorado, returned to the lineup Nov. 12 in Ottawa after missing four games from an injury sustained in fight in his first game with the team. In five games since returning, he has five assists, registering at least one assist in four of those five contests.

Has Downie made a huge difference since returning?

“He’s a smart player out there,” Couturier said of Downie after Thursday’s win (see story). “He’s creating some plays and creating some space for us, me and Reader. Ever since he’s gotten here, it’s been easier. He’s all over the ice and it’s nice to play with him.”

Meanwhile, when Read scores a goal this season, the Flyers are 4-1-0. He tallied a marker in the Flyers’ 5-2 win over the Islanders on Oct. 26.

The takeaway? Get Matt Read a goal.

And play the third line as much as possible tonight against the Islanders. It’s working.

2. Plenty of goals
Remember when the Flyers couldn’t score any goals? You should, it wasn’t that long ago.

There’s no shortage of goal scoring now, as the Flyers have 22 tallies in the last six games, equaling their total in the first 15 games. They went from a team that averaged 1.47 goals per game to a team that’s scoring 3.67 per game in the last two weeks.

What’s changed? The Flyers are getting accustomed to head coach Craig Berube’s system. They’re skating harder, in better shape and working harder, and with that comes more goals, especially in the third period, which the team has outscored opponents, 9-3, during their streak.

“It’s the mentality of the team trying to go out there and win a game in the third period rather than sit back or scared to go win the game,” Berube said (see story). “We’re young and you’re tight in the third period. Now we believe we can win the game.”

Another major issue to start the season that’s been turned around is the team’s power play. The Flyers’ PP started the season 6 for 64 but has six goals in its last 19 opportunities. They’ve gone five straight games with a PP goal.

“Power play was an issue,” Kimmo Timonen said. “I don’t think it was a work ethic. It was more paying attention to detail on the power play and scoring more goals five-on-five.”

Saturday night, the Flyers have to capitalize on their power plays. They didn’t do a good enough job against the Sabres, going 1 for 7 and wasting two two-man advantages.

The Islanders’ penalty kill unit ranks 30th in the NHL, having surrendered 21 power-play goals in 71 times shorthanded. They gave up two power-play goals in a 4-3 loss to the Penguins Friday night.

This is a different Flyers team than the one that faced the Islanders back in October. And that squad scored five goals. What can they do tonight against a reeling New York club?

3. Sixty minutes
As hot as the Flyers are heading into tonight’s matchup, the Islanders are equally cold, with seven losses in their last nine games. The Flyers must pounce early and often and not let up because they should have learned something in Thursday’s win.

No team in the NHL, no matter how bad things are going, is an easy victory.

For the first 35 minutes Thursday, the Sabres carried the play. They carried a 1-0 lead into the first intermission, the first time they did that this season. Eventually, the Flyers woke up and the rest is history. But if the Flyers do that tonight, the outcome will be different.

This Islanders team isn’t the Sabres. It’s a much more talented group and a team that can score goals -- entering the game 12th in the league, scoring 2.74 goals per game, whereas Buffalo scores an anemic 1.67 goals per game, worst in the league.

Captain John Tavares leads the team in scoring with 27 points. The Isles are getting some unexpected offense from Frans Nielsen, who is leading the team with 10 goals. Now that Thomas Vanek has returned from injury, that’s another offensive weapon. He added two goals in his first game back from an upper-body injury Friday.

New York’s problem is simple, but not an easy fix. They give up way too many goals. The Islanders are allowing 3.26 goals per game, third-most in the league behind Calgary and Edmonton. Their goaltenders have the third-worse save percentage (.891) as well.

Evgeni Nabokov was retroactively placed on injured reserve on Monday. He’s nursing a groin injury, but hasn’t been very good even when healthy. The 38-year-old has a .892 save percentage and a 3.30 goals-against average in 14 games.

His replacement Kevin Poulin, who has started the last six games, hasn’t been much better.

Poulin, 23, has a 2.92 GAA, a .896 save percentage and has allowed at least three goals in seven of his 10 games played. He was in net against the Flyers in that Oct. 26 meeting -- giving up four goals, the fifth was an empty-netter.

The Flyers have scored plenty of goals of late, and they face a team that gives up a ton on a daily basis, but turning in anything less than a 60-minute effort against the Islanders will equal a loss. Go for the knockout in the first and keep punching until its finished.

4. Special teams matter
When these two teams met in October, the Islanders’ power play was the league’s top unit, with 10 goals in 33 chances. Then the Flyers shut them out on the power play, 0 for 3, and that commenced the team’s PP struggles.

In their last 13 games, the Islanders have converted only four times in 49 chances (8.2 percent). Perhaps trading Matt Moulson, who had five PP goals in 11 games with the Isles, could be an explanation for the team’s struggles there.

Regardless, the Islanders’ power play isn’t clicking, which is good for the orange and black because the Flyers’ penalty kill has struggled lately, giving up at least one PP goal in each of the last four games.

Whichever unit blinks first will likely determine the team who comes away with two points.

5. This and that
• The Flyers’ 5-2 win over the Islanders on Oct. 26 was the first time the team scored more than three goals. Overall, the Flyers have five games with at least three goals. They’re 5-0 in those games.

• Islanders D Andrew MacDonald leads the NHL with 83 blocked shots. Flyers D Nick Grossmann is tied in fifth two players with 56 blocked shots -- he had four Thursday against Buffalo.

• Your daily Adam Hall faceoff update: He won two of three draws against the Sabres and has lost just eight in his last seven games (43 for 51). He’s won 63.4 percent of his faceoffs this season (see story).

• Vanek's two goals Friday give him three in seven games with the Islanders. He had four in 13 with the Sabres. But before Friday night, the 29-year-old had just one goal in six games before missing five games with an upper-body injury. He has 13 goals and 26 points in 30 career games vs. the Flyers.

• The Islanders are 2-9-0 when they give up the first goal, and the Flyers are 8-3-1 when they’ve scored the first goal. Thursday was the first time this season the Flyers won a game after going down 1-0.

Dave Hakstol: Travis Konecny on 4th line 'makes sense in a lot of respects'

Dave Hakstol: Travis Konecny on 4th line 'makes sense in a lot of respects'

PITTSBURGH -- The curious line juggling of Travis Konecny continued Sunday night.

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol again started Konecny on Pierre-Edouard Bellemare's fourth line with Chris VandeVelde, but just as he did in Columbus, Hakstol moved the rookie around.

This was Konecny's third straight game off Valtteri Filppula's unit with Jakub Voracek at the start. The obvious message to Konecny seems to be: Get yourself into a more defensive-minded role early and then let the offense come to you.

Konecny has made some defensive strides.

"It makes sense in a lot of respects," Hakstol said of the move to Bellemare's unit. "He's playing with two players with a lot of structure. He excels in that type of setting.

"If you look at [Saturday], he can bounce around the lineup with different lines and we used him that way. He didn't just play with his two linemates. He moved around a little bit. He's very effective in that role when we're able to get him out there. He gives us a good boost, a good push."

Against Columbus on Saturday, Konecny played on two units with Sean Couturier -- one featuring Jordan Weal and the other, Dale Weise. He also played a few shifts with Filppula and Wayne Simmonds.

The same thing happened Sunday in the Flyers' 6-2 rout of the Penguins (see game story). Konecny finished with an assist and plus-1 in just 8:02. He is one of the very, very few Flyers who is an even. Most are minus.

Konecny, who just turned 20, and Weal, 24, gave the Flyers a lift on Sunday. Weal had a goal and an assist in 13:06.

"No matter who it is contributing, everyone is excited for everybody," Konecny said. "A lot of guys put up some numbers tonight and contributed. It was a good team effort. That's what we want to see."
 
The Flyers were so relaxed it makes you wonder if the pressure of trying to make the playoffs is gone because their odds are so stacked against them.
 
"We’re at that point where you just need to win and just show up," Konecny said. "There's nerves in the back of your mind. We're pretty loose and trying to enjoy it as much as we can going through a stressful time.
 
"We've handled it well. We played a good team, we knew they would push but we pushed harder."
 
Konecny said he's not fazed by the different line combinations he's a part of, often in the same period.
 
"It's not too bad," he said. "I kind of expected it going into a game. I know when I am playing with Belly and Vandy that throughout the game, there's going to be times like penalty kills come up and he'll fill me in with another line.
 
"At the start of the third [tonight], I filled in another line. I know it's going to come. I just expect it. I've played with pretty much everybody on the team. I'm comfortable out there."
 
Loose pucks
The six goals on the road against Pittsburgh last happened on Feb. 20, 2013, when the Flyers won, 6-5. ... Sunday was the Flyers' largest margin of victory in Pittsburgh since March 31, 2003, when they beat the Penguins, 6-1, at Mellon Arena. ... Weal picked up the second two-point game of his career -- both of which have taken place this month. ... Weise has three goals in his last seven games. ... Claude Giroux had two assists, and now has two goals and eight assists for 10 points in 13 games this month.

Future Flyers Report: Merrick Madsen steals the show at NCAA Tournament

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Future Flyers Report: Merrick Madsen steals the show at NCAA Tournament

Before this week begins, it's time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.

In this week’s report, we highlight a Flyers goaltender prospect continuing to make waves in the NCAA Tournament over the weekend and much more as the season winds down.

Merrick Madsen, G, 21, 6-5/190, Harvard (NCAA)
Former Flyers general manager and current team president Paul Holmgren deserves a ton of credit for Madsen because the 21-year-old goaltender was a 2013 sixth-round pick and has developed into a legitimate goalie prospect. Last Friday night, Madsen proved again he has a future in professional hockey with a show-stealing 41-save shutout of Providence in Harvard's 3-0 win. He followed that up with another solid performance in net -- 27 saves, including several big ones in the final minutes to preserve a 3-2 win over Air Force on Saturday night to send Harvard to the Frozen Four. Madsen has now won 16 straight games -- a Harvard school record. He surpassed Grant Blair last weekend for the Crimson's single-season win record -- now at 28 victories. He earned the ECAC Tournament's Most Outstanding Player last weekend and also earned all-tournament honors; he's on the all-Ivy League first team, a finalist for the Ken Dryden ECAC Hockey Goaltender of the Year award and a semifinalist for the Mike Richter Award -- NCAA Division I's best goaltender. With the Flyers' goalie situation next season, it's likely Madsen will come back to Harvard for his senior season, but his growth has been exciting to track. He's been excellent all season.

Philippe Myers, D, 20, 6-5/209, Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL)
After finishing the regular season on a seven-point, five-game point streak, Myers exploded for three points in Rouyn-Noranda's 5-4 loss to Halifax in Game 1 on Friday night. The right-handed blueliner registered his first goal of the postseason in the third period with a power-play tally with the Huskies down, 5-2. Myers began the play with the puck before handing it off to Jean-Christophe Beaudin and setting himself up for a one-timer in the circle. He added two assists in in the loss and finished as a plus-one. In Game 2, Myers was held pointless and finished as a minus-1, as Rouyn-Noranda won, 3-2, in overtime. The Huskies and the Mooseheads are now tied 1-1 with Game 3 scheduled for Tuesday night.

Wade Allison, RW, 19, 6-2/205, Western Michigan (NCAA)
Allison's freshman campaign is now over after Western Michigan was bounced from the NCAA Tournament Friday night in a 5-4 loss to Air Force. It was a rough return to the lineup for Allison, too, who finished the game as a minus-4 and received a five-minute major for charging with 1:13 left in the game shortly after WMU made it 5-4. He finished the season tied for fourth on WMU with 29 points -- 12 goals and 17 assists -- in 36 games.

Quick hits
Tanner Laczynski assisted on Ohio State's game-tying goal in the third period Friday night in its 3-2 overtime loss to Minnesota-Duluth. Laczynski finished the season with 32 points in 34 games and never regained his form he had before the world juniors.

• Phantoms defenseman Robert Hagg returned to the lineup Saturday for the first time since March 3. Hagg was a minus-1 with two penalty minutes in his first game back, a 4-0 loss to Wilkes/Barre-Scranton. He sat out Sunday as a healthy scratch as scheduled.

Matej Tomek's sophomore season came to an end, too, over the weekend, as North Dakota was eliminated with a 4-3 double-overtime loss to Boston University. Tomek was a healthy scratch and has played just two games in his collegiate career thus far.

• After missing a lengthy period of time because of a concussion, Taylor Leier added a goal and two assists in four games last week with the Phantoms.

Connor Bunnaman finished as a minus-3 and received a five-minute major for slew footing in Kitchener's 9-1 loss to Owen Sound in Game 1 of their playoff series Friday night. Bunnaman was suspended two games for the incident and missed Game 2 on Saturday. He'll serve the second game Monday night in Game 3 of the best-of-seven game series.

Anthony Salinitri picked up an assist in Sarnia's 9-3 loss to Erie Saturday night in Game 2 of its best-of-seven series. The Sting and Otters are knotted up 1-1. Game 3 is on Monday.

German Rubtsov (upper body) missed Games 1 and 2 of Chicoutimi's series with Victoriaville last weekend. Game 3 is scheduled for Tuesday. Chicoutimi is up 2-0.

Pascal Laberge scored Victoriaville's lone goal in the Tigres' 2-1 loss to the Saguenéens in Game 2 on Saturday night. He had two penalty minutes in a 4-3 loss last Friday.

Samuel Dove-McFalls didn't factor in any of the scoring for Saint John's in its wins vs. Rimouski in Games 1 and 2 over the weekend but did win 63.3 percent of his faceoffs.

• Kelowna's Carsen Twarynski potted two goals and was named the first star in the Rockets' 4-0 win over Kamloops in Game 1 on Friday. He was pointless in Game 2 Saturday.

Carter Hart has Everett tied, 1-1, in its best-of-seven series with Victoria. In Game 1, Hart turned away 30 of 32 shots in a 4-2 win but yielded four goals in a 4-3 loss Saturday night.

Oskar Lindblom picked up an assist on Brynäs IF's game-winning goal over Linkoping in a 1-0 overtime win in Game 4 on Friday. He had just one point in four playoff games last week. Brynäs leads the best-of-seven series, 3-2.