Flyers-Islanders: 5 things you need to know

flyersisles.png

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.

Connor McDavid, Oilers' speed, skill present Flyers with 'real good challenge'

Connor McDavid, Oilers' speed, skill present Flyers with 'real good challenge'

VOORHEES, N.J. — They are among the very best – and highest scoring — lines in the NHL this season.
 
And they’re gunning for the Flyers on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
Connor McDavid’s unit with Milan Lucic and Leon Draisaitl have a combined 30 goals and 78 points worth of offense. 
 
Among them, the lightning quick McDavid leads the NHL with 36 points. All 11 of his goals are even strength. 
 
He doesn’t have a single power-play goal, but is tied for the league lead with several players, including Claude Giroux, with 10 power-play assists.
 
You can expect to see Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s unit with Chris VandeVelde and Dale Weise against this line with defenseman Ivan Provorov drawing McDavid for the first time this season.
 
“Speed and skill that Edmonton has up front presents a real good challenge for our team,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “We have to be better with the puck tomorrow. 
 
“We didn’t do enough when we had the puck. Gave it up a little too easily and because of that, you end up playing defense a lot of the night and that’s what happened last night to us.”
 
Bellemare, who had his share of forward battles with Jaromir Jagr in Tuesday, likes to analyze the matchups against McDavid.
 
“He’s one of the best players in the world,” Bellemare said of the 19-year-old McDavid. “It’s tough not to be excited when playing against a guy who plays like this. He competes every second he is on the ice. That line is an impressive line.”
 
The Flyers better have some bad, choppy ice to slow McDavid down. Edmonton has some of the fastest ice in the league and the Oilers use it to their full advantage. 
 
Asked of McDavid’s tendencies, Bellemare said, “Is that a tendency? To be super fast?”
 
Yes it is. 
 
“When you play against them, he is a kid who is freaky fast right from the start,” Bellemare said. “Against that line, you saw [against Buffalo] that everyone knows how fast he is and he still had two breakaways.”
 
Which means the Flyers need to watch their turnovers, especially in the neutral zone where McDavid can go 60 feet in a flash.
 
“Even blue line to the top of the circle, you can’t turn the puck over,” Bellemare said. “Or he’s gone. This is a tendency we have to be careful of. All of the ice, you can’t give him any time or space. The less time you give him, the bigger chance you have to frustrate a player like this.”
 
Bellemare did some talking with Jagr a couple times in Tuesday’s game. So did Provorov. Bellemare says it helps to add psychology to the mix.
 
“You try to be in his face,” Bellemare said. “If you can win that battle against that line and our first line can win the battle against their fourth line, then it’s a win-win situation. I was trying to be in [Jagr’s] face.”
 
Jagr actually got angrier at Provorov and it showed with his hooking calls. But when Bellemare and Jagr went into the corner, Jagr got testy with his stick there as well.
 
“He was trying to give it to me a little harder,” Bellemare said. “Exactly what I need. If he is less focused on the puck, then maybe I have a chance to win that puck.”
 
McDavid’s focus will be solely on the puck.
 
“McDavid has been playing some pretty good hockey,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “They’re a high-tempo team. A smart team. We’ve got to be ready.”
 
Loose pucks
Boyd Gordon came off long term injured reserve onto the active roster to give the Flyers 13 forwards. In doing that, Matt Read (oblique pull) went on injured reserve. … Defenseman Michael Del Zotto will sit against the Oilers while Radko Gudas returns from an illness. Gudas will be paired with Mark Streit, as Ivan Provorov remains with Andrew MacDonald for now. … Steve Mason, who did not practice Wednesday, will start in goal.

Ivan Provorov passes latest rookie test by shutting down Jaromir Jagr

Ivan Provorov passes latest rookie test by shutting down Jaromir Jagr

VOORHEES, N.J. — Maybe he saw some old video of how Chris Therien did it.
 
Or maybe Ivan Provorov just shrugged his 19-year-old shoulders and figured he’d do it his way.
 
Whatever the Flyers' rookie defenseman did, he shut down the ageless Jaromir Jagr during Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime victory against the Florida Panthers. 
 
Just like Therien used to do back in the day. 
 
Provorov frustrated Jagr into taking penalties. And when he wasn’t in the box for hooking the rookie, you could visibly see Jagr’s frustration across his face.
 
At one point, they were talking to each other on the ice. A Russian and a Czech. What was said?
 
“It stays in the game,” Provorov said with a smile Wednesday.
 
Provorov said he didn’t spend time watching a ton of video.
 
“We did our pre-scout in the morning,” he said. “That was it.”
 
Provorov, with help from centerman Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, held Jagr to one shot. His teammates were impressed.
 
“Unbelievable, a 19-year-old kid going against Jaromir Jagr,” Wayne Simmonds said. “I think he did a pretty good job. 
 
“I think he has done a great job all year long and he is only going to get better. If you watch him play, he is getting better and better, not every game but every shift.”
 
Provorov had an assist and two blocked shots, including a critical block on Reilly Smith that could have been a game-winner in overtime.
 
“Well we haven’t used him a lot in the 3-on-3 but we felt that it was time,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “Again, coming off of a real solid night where he’s playing against really good players all night long, he continued that right through the OT. 
 
“The impressive thing on that play is the read that he made to make that block … I haven’t looked at it on the replay or on tape yet. But I think that Mase might have been over on it but that play that Provy made was potentially a game saving play right there.”
 
Provorov doesn’t make flashy plays. He just makes the steady play every time he needs to. At season’s start, he was struggling to get his shot off without being blocked. Now he finds space along the blue to better position himself to get his shot through. He thinks before he reacts.
 
Behind the net, he is one of the few Flyers defensemen who almost never loses a puck battle. It’s often hard to believe he’s as young as he is.
 
“He moves so well and makes good reads, he’s a very intelligent player,” Andrew MacDonald said. “He has great poise with the puck, and not just for a 19-year-old, but for any aged player. 
 
“Defensively he always seems to be in the right positions and communicates well. We were fortunate to have some time together in camp, and a few games. I feel like we picked up where we left off the past few games.”
 
Jagr’s assets are size, strength — especially his lower core — and a skill set of moves without blinding speed.
 
Thursday will present a new challenge for Provorov: Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, the NHL’s leading scorer with 36 points. McDavid is all about youth and raw speed. 
 
“They’re different players, but it doesn’t matter,” Provorov said. “You take away time and space. Don’t give him time to get a lot of speed.”
 
This is another learning experience for Provorov. In a different age category. Hakstol credits assistant coach Gord Murphy for bringing Provorov up to speed at the NHL level.
 
“I think Murph has done a really good job in managing that progression along, most importantly, with Provy, managing it," Hakstol said.
 
“You can go back to the tell-tale sign of the tough night back in Chicago [third game]. That didn’t shake or rattle Provy in any way. He came back with pretty good determination the next day.
 
“You have to be an honest evaluator of your own game. I think Provy … whether it’s a real good night or a tough night, that allows you to keep an even keel and an even balance. I think that’s a real strength.”

Injury update
The Flyers on Wednesday placed left winger Matt Read on injured reserve and activated center Boyd Gordon. Gordon has been out since Nov. 3.