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.

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 time he had earned a victory. He’s fresh off his first win in over a month, a gigantic 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.”