Flyers-Islanders: 5 things you need to know

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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.

Best of NHL: Lightning capture OT win over Red Wings

Best of NHL: Lightning capture OT win over Red Wings

DETROIT -- Nikita Kucherov scored 3:28 into overtime to lift the Tampa Bay Lightning over the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 on Friday night.

Situated on the edge of the crease, Kucherov redirected a hard pass from Brayden Point into the net.

The Lightning are one point behind the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders for the final Eastern Conference wild card.

Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg opened the scoring 8:03 into the second period. Taking a backhand pass from Gustav Nyquist, Zetterberg flipped a knuckling wrist shot toward the goal and over the stick-side shoulder of goalie Andrei Vasilievskiy, who struggled to find the puck through the screen of teammate Point (see full recap).

Islanders notch shootout win over Penguins
PITTSBURGH -- John Tavares and Anthony Beauvillier scored in the shootout to lead the New York Islanders over the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 on Friday night.

Beauvillier opened the shootout with a goal, and Tavares snapped a wrist shot past Marc-Andre Fleury in the next round. Sidney Crosby scored in the shootout for Pittsburgh, but Jaroslav Halak, making his first start since Dec. 29, stopped Phil Kessel and Nick Bonino.

Anders Lee scored his 28th goal of the season, while Brock Nelson got his 17th and Casey Cizikas his eighth for the Islanders, who moved into the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. New York is tied with Boston at 82 points, but the Islanders have a game in hand on the Bruins. The Islanders have 18 wins in 31 games since Doug Weight was named interim coach on Jan. 17, replacing Jack Capuano.

Halak, a former All-Star, made 37 saves (see full recap).

Cracknell nets first hat trick in Stars' win
DALLAS -- Adam Cracknell got his first hat trick in seven NHL seasons and the Dallas Stars handed the San Jose Sharks their fifth straight loss, 6-1 on Friday night.

Cracknell opened the scoring in the first period, capped a three-goal flurry in the second and beat goalie Aaron Dell on a short-handed breakaway in the third for his career-high 10th goal of the season.

The Sharks entered two points ahead of Anaheim and Edmonton in the Pacific Division despite their longest losing streak of the season. San Jose has been outscored 16-5 during the stretch.

Brett Ritchie, Jamie Benn and John Klingberg also scored for the Stars.

Joe Thornton scored for San Jose on the power play in the second period. Dell had 23 saves.

Dallas' Kari Lehtonen made 20 saves four nights after shutting out San Jose (see full recap).

Flyers-Wild 10 observations: Sean Couturier shows flash, Matt Read answers call & more

Flyers-Wild 10 observations: Sean Couturier shows flash, Matt Read answers call & more

You know Dave Hakstol has reached crisis measures when he takes a skill player in Travis Konecny and throws him onto the fourth line while promoting Matt Read to the top line.

This was risk-taking at its craziest to generate some enthusiasm and life into a Flyers squad that didn't show much of a pulse a few nights earlier in Winnipeg.

Guess what?

It worked during a 3-1 victory on Thursday, the Flyers' fifth straight win over the Wild going back a few years (see Instant Replay).

Their playoff hopes still flicker.

As much as the fan base hated the lineup moves, consider this: general manager Ron Hextall was very explicit this week in saying that the roster Hakstol has right now is what it is. Hextall is not going to promote any young Phantoms into a bad situation when they are headed for what could be a decent playoff run in the AHL.

Therefore, as my former colleague Bill Lyon would say, here are 10 things I think, I think …

1. The Flyers began the game as they have so often this season with yet another turnover and scoring chance against them. Rinse and repeat. The Flyers had three turnovers in less than five minutes to start the game.

2. Minutes later, Steve Mason coughed up a bad rebound off his stick and Zach Parise burned him with a gimme goal for a 1-0 lead. Mason had issues in this one with rebounds that were looking like grenades, but he settled down with a strong final two periods with 24 saves. This was Mason's 100th win as a Flyer (see game story).

3. You had to see it to believe it. Sean Couturier with a nice backhand shot through Devan Dubnyk's five-hole to make it a 1-1 game near the end of the opening period (see feature highlight). I haven't seen that kind of offensive move from Couturier in quite some time. Question is, why can't he do that nightly instead of semiannually? That's the offensive spark you know Couturier is capable of providing.

4. The Wild were very aggressive in this one as they were trying to clinch a playoff spot, so the Flyers had to match that intensity. The Flyers more than matched it. This was far, far better than what Hakstol's team brought to the ice in Winnipeg. Not even close, as the Flyers dominated.

5. Matt Read had a quick stick -- no other way to explain it -- on his goal in the second period off a series of Wild turnovers that came about because of a play set up by Jakub Voracek. That goal seemingly stunned Dubnyk. It was Read's second goal in the last two games. He was all over the ice in this one. Many nights this season, Read was invisible. Not this game.

6. The Flyers had some genuine scoring chances in this game. You had to wonder where this desire to skate, create and score was all through the month of February and into March. The Flyers had strong forecheck pressure and a rebound-attack mentality the entire second period. If that had happened with regularity down the stretch, this team would be sitting in the wild card right now.

7. While the shake-up of the lines obviously benefited Read, it did little for Konecny and actually set him back. He was invisible. No shots. No hits. Invisible with little ice time. Really can't figure this move out but obviously, Hakstol is upset with him for some reason.

8. Minnesota went all in at the NHL trade deadline to get Martin Hanzal and Ryan White, forking over four draft picks, including a first-rounder. The Wild were leading the Central Division before losing six straight (and eight of nine) that allowed Chicago to regain the top spot in the division. The Wild don't look like the same confident, surging team it was a month ago in the Western Conference.

9. Minnesota had a strong push in the final five minutes and the Flyers had some initial difficulty answering that until the final minute when Wayne Simmonds picked up his 300th point as a Flyer on Voracek's empty-net goal to seal the deal. A nice way to finish off a complete effort by everyone involved.

10. The Flyers picked up two points on Boston, which lost to Tampa Bay, and are six behind the Bruins in the wild card. They still remain a l-o-n-g shot to make the playoffs, given the sheer number of teams ahead of them that they need to climb over.