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.

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.”