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.

Ron Hextall talks Flyers' draft focus, scouting reports on top prospects and more

Ron Hextall talks Flyers' draft focus, scouting reports on top prospects and more

While the NHL draft doesn't begin until Friday evening in Chicago, the Flyers' scouting department and management have been in the Windy City since Tuesday.

Talk about getting a head start for Friday's No. 2 overall selection.

"After the last meeting, you sit and we're talking about players," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said this week. "There might be certain answers we need on players and they go back and do their homework.

"You have a couple more meetings and get back with a little more information. Things will change as we get more information to gather. Things will change a little bit but not too much, but we'll be more prepared."

The Flyers are expected to select either Halifax's Nico Hischier or Brandon's Nolan Patrick — both centermen — depending upon which player the New Jersey Devils tab at No. 1.

NHL Central Scouting's final rankings had the 6-foot-3, 198-pound Patrick ranked first over Hischier, who is 6-foot, 176 pounds. Hextall cautioned that the team doesn't always go by "public opinion," nor does its rankings always mirror those of Central Scouting.

"If you look at every team's list, they're way different," he said. "If you took the 31 lists, there would be a lot of differences."

The Flyers have 11 picks in the draft. Given they are very deep in defensive prospects and goaltenders, but short on wingers, they are expected to load up on forwards (see story).

"You kind of look at it that we do have a lot of defensemen," Hextall said. "Right now, in a perfect world, sit here and say, 'If we got seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie,' [that would be ideal]. We're not going to pick a goalie if we don't see a goalie as a value pick.

"If we get to a guy we like and he's still there, then we'll take a goalie, but we're not going to chase a goalie this year. I would expect we'll pick one, but we're not going to chase one. On D? If we get two, I'm OK with that."

There is separation after Patrick and Hischier in terms of how other players in the first round relate to them.

It's fair to say that had the Flyers been picking at No. 13 — their original spot before they got lucky in the draft lottery — the field would have been wide open with a number of players of equal ability at 13, whereas, at No. 2, there's a defined two.

"It's harder to sort," Hextall said of his original draft position. "Because there's a lot of good players. There really is. We were sitting there at 13 and we were kind of zeroing in and we were pretty excited about the player we were going to get at 13.

"People talk about this draft, they say it's not a very good draft. They're wrong. It's a good draft. It might not be like the last two were, but the last two were bumpers. This is a good draft."

Here's Hextall's quick take on a few of the top players in the first round, in no particular order after Patrick and Hischier:

"We had dinner with both of them," Hextall said of the top two players in the draft. "And we met with them at the combine. So we've got certain more information on those two than some other guys. There were some other guys we had more time with, too.

"They're both two-way players. They both make plays. They can both score goals. They both compete hard. Hischier has a little bit more quickness and speed to his game. Patrick's a little bit more looks for the right play and makes the play. They're both really good players. Both should be top NHL players."

Gabriel Vilardi: 6-2, 193-pound center, who played for Windsor in the OHL (see story).

"I was in Europe during the Memorial Cup," Hextall said. "He's another good player. Smart, really skilled, big body."

Klim Kostin: 6-3, 198-pound center/left wing, who played for Dynamo Moscow in Russia.

"He's a big horse, talented guy," Hextall said. "That's another thing, the Russian thing. How much do you put into it? But he's a high-end talent."

Cale Makar: 5-10, 175-pound defenseman, who played with Brooks in the Alberta Junior League.

"Really good," Hextall said. "He skates really well. He's got a really high skill level. Moves the puck well. Right-handed shot. Played in Brooks. Played at a level that's not the major junior level, but he's a really good player."

Miro Heiskanen: 6-0, 174-pound Finnish defenseman, who played with HIFK.

"Heiskanen's a really good player," Hextall said. "Very well-rounded defenseman, moves the puck. He's a good one."

Although he is not expected to be among the top 100 players taken in the draft, Keith Primeau's son, Cayden, a 6-2¾, 181-pound goalie, who played with Lincoln in the USHL, is expected to be drafted (see story).

Primeau was ranked seventh by Central Scouting among North American goalies.

"I saw Cayden here at the prospects game," Hextall said. "He's good, he's got good size, good positioning, he moves well. Seems to read the game pretty well. He's a good prospect."

Ron Hextall: Vegas 'obviously did their homework' on Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

Ron Hextall: Vegas 'obviously did their homework' on Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall on Wednesday night reacted to losing alternate captain Pierre-Edouard Bellemare to the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL expansion draft (see story).

"There were a number of guys I felt like there was a chance we would lose," Hextall said. "And Belly was on that list.

"Vegas obviously did their homework and have themselves a good player. Pierre-Edouard is a character member of our organization and he'll be missed."

Bellemare is the Flyers' second alternate captain to depart the club in the same calendar year. Mark Streit, whose "A" Bellemare inherited, was traded to Pittsburgh via Tampa at the NHL trade deadline.

Streit will likely see his name engraved on the Stanley Cup. The Penguins plan to petition to get his name on the Cup even though Streit did not play in the Final against Nashville.

As for Bellemare, the 32-year-old center was left unprotected by the Flyers last weekend. He signed a two-year contract in March that carries a $1.45 million cap hit per.

Bellemare had 17 goals and 34 points in 237 games in three seasons with the Flyers after signing with the team in June 2014.

"He's a terrific team player and an even better human being," Hextall said. "He was great in the community and he'll be a real nice piece for Vegas."