Flyers-Islanders: 5 things you need to know

flyers-islanders-game-notes.jpg

Flyers-Islanders: 5 things you need to know

Losers of two straight at home and three out of their last four games, the Flyers (24-19-5) welcome the Islanders (19-23-7) to the Wells Fargo Center tonight.

Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. (TCN).

Here are five things you need to know:

1. Savin’ Mase
It’s easy to point fingers at the goaltender when a team allows a lot of goals over a short period of time as the Flyers have recently. In their last four games (1-2-1), the Flyers have surrendered 17 goals.

Steve Mason has allowed 11 goals in his last three starts and 28 in his last 10. While he has struggled to keep the puck out of the net, it’s not completely Mason’s fault. The Flyers’ defense has missed assignments, turned the puck over and left its goalies out to dry.

A perfect example would be the Flyers’ 4-1 loss at Madison Square Garden last Sunday in Ray Emery’s last start. The Rangers had a three-goal first period, including two goals in the first 2:42.

Emery wasn’t his sharpest, but it certainly wasn’t all his fault. At least two of those four goals were pinned on defensemen missing assignments, turnovers and lackadaisical play. Point is, not many goalies would stop those pucks.

Even with the struggles to limit goals allowed, Mason is 8-2-1 in his last 11 starts. In games he’s given up three goals or more, he's made plenty of game-saving stops as he has all season long.

Confidence is a major factor in how well a goalie plays. If the Flyers continue to play poor team defense in front of Mason, it won’t be hard for him to lose his confidence.

And if that happens, the Flyers are in trouble. 

2. Andrej the giant
Andrej Meszaros has had a couple of rough seasons.

Injuries have plagued the 28-year-old the last few years, but he's just finally starting to look like the player who won the Barry Ashbee Trophy in his first year as a Flyer.

Meszaros has seven points in his last five games, including a goal and an assist in the Flyers' 4-3 shootout loss Thursday to Nashville.

He's still making mistakes in his own zone with turnovers and coverages, but he's making more of an impact offensively, which makes up for his defensive deficiencies.

It's the same deal as Mark Streit: Do what you're supposed to do -- move the puck, provide offense -- and the team can live with the mistakes.

And Thursday's game was the best Meszaros has looked in a long time. Can he keep it up tonight?

3. Tavares time
Is there a hotter player in the NHL right now than John Tavares?

Tavares has eight goals and 11 assists in his last 11 games. In three of those he tallied at least three points and four have been multi-point affairs. The Isles are 9-2-0 during the stretch.

And his linemates Thomas Vanek and Kyle Okposo are benefiting from Tavares to boot. Vanek has 14 points in his last 10 games and Okposo has 17 in his last 14.

In two games against the Flyers this season, the Islanders’ captain has a goal and an assist. Tavares has eight goals and seven assists in 18 career games against the Orange and Black. He has four goals and two assists in his last five games against the Flyers.

Tavares’ 57 points this year is second behind Sidney Crosby’s 68, and he has more points than some of the league’s elite scorers: Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Kane and Corey Perry, to name a few.

It’s time to start recognizing the 23-year-old as one of the top five players in the NHL.

4. Settling in strong
One of the biggest reasons the Islanders have fought themselves back into the playoff picture (only seven points out of a playoff spot) has been the play of Kevin Poulin.

Poulin has been strong in net for the Isles since Evgeni Nabokov went out with injury. The 23-year-old netminder is 5-1-0 with a 2.23 goals-against average in his last six games.

However, in two games against the Flyers this season, Poulin has given up seven goals on 47 shots against. On the year, he’s 10-13-0 with a 3.01 goals-against average and an .898 save percentage.

Goaltending has been the Islanders’ biggest wart all season. They’re 28th in the league with a team .896 save percentage. If Poulin can give them solid goaltending the rest of the way, the playoffs aren’t that far out of the picture in a weak Eastern Conference.

5. This and that
• The Islanders have only three wins (one regulation) in their last 19 trips to Philly.

• Since the 2007-08 season, the Flyers are 32-4-2 vs. the Islanders.

• Three of Matt Read’s 10 goals this season have come against the Islanders.

• The Islanders have won eight of their last nine road games. They lost 13 of their first 17 road games.

• The Islanders have lost 30 total games to Metro opponents this year.

Claude Giroux's struggles mirroring Flyers' offensive issues

Claude Giroux's struggles mirroring Flyers' offensive issues

PITTSBURGH -- He was plus-1 with an assist.
 
No shots on goal and obviously, no goals.
 
Another day's useless energy spent by Flyers captain Claude Giroux, skating around the rink looking for the net and finding nothing but darkness.
 
He hasn't scored a goal in nine games, which is a major reason why the Flyers are 2-6-1 over that same span of time, including Saturday night's 4-2 loss to the Penguins at Heinz Field in the Stadium Series (see game recap).
 
Indoors, outdoors it makes no difference right now for Dave Hakstol's band of minstrels. As goes the captain, so go the Flyers, and it's rough sledding these days with the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference fast disappearing.
 
"Yeah, it’s frustrating," Giroux said this weekend. "You try to do the best you can do to help the team. Right now it’s not going in. I really believe we’re playing some good hockey, playing the right way and we’re going to get rewarded soon."
 
Asked whether he believed his own production is a mirrored reflection of the team he plays for, Giroux hedged.
 
"You try to play the right way, do what’s asked of you," he replied. "I've had a lot of chances, but at the end of the day, it has to go in. We’re done with excuses."
 
Thing is, Giroux really hasn’t had that many chances. Just 13 shots during this nine-game stretch. In four of those games, he had no shots at all.
 
Teammate Jakub Voracek says it’s going to come for Giroux. But when? Time is running out on the Flyers.
 
"He's always been a streaky player," Voracek said. "And not streaky that he's going to go on a tear for 10 games and then disappear for 10. He was streaky for 18 and then struggled for two, then he had another 20 games.
 
"It's only a matter of time. I think the last two games he played really well. For the guys who don't watch the hockey game, they look at the stat sheet and say, 'Oh, he didn't have any points.' But that's the way it is."
 
The Flyers used the word "desperation" before and after their outdoor loss to the Penguins. They played another pretty good overall game, but one thing stood out: they didn't make it difficult enough for Pens goalie Matt Murray in terms of traffic.
 
Pittsburgh's fourth goal was an example of what the Flyers couldn't do – screen out the goalie.
 
"I thought in the first couple periods we – not a whole lot, but I thought there were a few opportunities where we didn't make it difficult enough for [Murray] to find the puck," Hakstol said.
 
"But we had enough quality, no question. We did have good quality. Is it enough? Obviously tonight it wasn't. We didn't win the hockey game."
 
There were spurts where the Flyers carried the play, showed momentum, and then it died. When Shayne Gostisbehere made it a 3-2 affair early in the third, the Flyers needed to seize the moment. They didn't get the equalizer.
 
Eight minutes later, the Penguins scored from the point off a lost faceoff draw between Evgeni Malkin and Sean Couturier. Michal Neuvirth didn't see the puck soon enough. On Matt Cullen's wraparound goal that made it 3-1, Neuvirth was unaware.
 
Neuvirth wasn't very good in this game.
 
"There's no question they had two or three spurts where they carried some momentum for short periods of time, but I thought overall through the 60 minutes, our group did a good job and played the type of game that we wanted to play," Hakstol said.
 
Giroux was asked this weekend how much pressure he is putting on himself right now to salvage the Flyers' fading playoff hopes.
 
"It’s tough not to put a lot of pressure on yourself when it’s not going the right way," Giroux said. "At the end of the day, you have to take a step back and know what you’re playing for.
 
"I’ve been playing since I was three years old and I love the game so much, just try to go out and enjoy the game even if it’s not going your way. You have to find a way to love the game and play with passion."
 
You've seen the Flyers do that throughout all this losing – 3-7-1 in their last 11 – but passion doesn't always result in goals. Voracek had a goal in this game. His second in three games.
 
The Flyers need a bunch of guys to get going simultaneously like last season when they made their playoff charge. Over the last 16 games (6-9-1), the Flyers have scored just 25 goals. That's a bad trend that needs to be reversed immediately.
 
"Obviously, we haven't been able to score a whole lot," Hakstol said. "There's been a lot made of that. And you know what, fairly so. I think that's fair.
 
"Yet tonight, I look at the opportunities at this time of year, the type of opportunities and the number of opportunities that we generated were pretty reasonable.
 
"We've got to stick with it. We've gone through a tough stretch here, and through that stretch we've played for the vast majority, we've played some pretty good hockey.  ... We've got to make sure that we completely stay together as we have, and we've got to keep pushing the envelope."
 
Hakstol was pleading his case.
 
Whether he wins it, is another story.

Brandon Manning to face hearing for hit on Penguins' Jake Guentzel

Brandon Manning to face hearing for hit on Penguins' Jake Guentzel

As if Saturday night's deflating loss to the Penguins at Heinz Field wasn't enough, the Flyers could be coming out of the defeat minus a defenseman in the lineup.

Brandon Manning will have a hearing with the NHL's Department of Player Safety on Monday morning for his hit on Pittsburgh forward Jake Guentzel during the second period of the Stadium Series game.

That means a suspension is looming.

Just over three minutes into the second stanza on Saturday, Guentzel tried to corral a bouncing puck as he exited the Penguins' zone. He did not see Manning, who flattened him with a huge hit.

While the hit did seem a bit late in real speed to the naked eye, no interference penalty was called and play continued. Manning did look to leave his feet to the deliver the hit and make contact with Guentzel's head, though, so both could work against him during the hearing.

Video of the hit in question can be seen above.

Guentzel was not injured on the play, stayed in the game and finished the evening with two assists.

Manning has a clean history as he has never been suspended in the NHL.

If Manning does get suspended by the league, Michael Del Zotto is likely to draw back into the Flyers' lineup Tuesday against visiting Colorado.

Del Zotto, who is a prime candidate to be moved before Wednesday's trade deadline, has sat out the past three games as a healthy scratch.