Flyers-Islanders: 5 things you need to know

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Flyers-Islanders: 5 things you need to know

Flyers vs. Islanders
7 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet

After a five-day break, the Flyers (22-22-7) will try for a fifth consecutive win when they host the New York Islanders (32-17-1) at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night.

Here’s what you should know before puck drop:

1. On the mend
The time off served as a chance for a few Flyers to get healthy.

Defenseman Nicklas Grossmann, who missed the last 10 games with a shoulder injury, and center Scott Laughton, who sat out seven straight while recovering from a concussion, are expected to be back in the Flyers’ lineup on Thursday.

Grossmann wasn’t paired with his usual partner, Mark Streit, at practice on Wednesday. Instead, the veteran defenseman skated with Andrew MacDonald. That means Carlo Colaiacovo will likely be the odd man out against the Islanders.

As for Laughton, the 20-year-old rookie will skate on a new line with Ryan White and Wayne Simmonds on his wings. This combination gives the Flyers two forwards who can take faceoffs in Laughton and White.

Still out for the Flyers, however, are winger Michael Raffl (pneumonia) and blueliner Braydon Coburn (foot).

2. Battle of special teams
The Flyers boast the NHL’s fourth-best power play (23.4 percent). Meanwhile, the Islanders enter Thursday with the league’s worst penalty kill (72.7 percent). Seems like a favorable matchup for the orange and black, right? Not exactly.

The Isles are a sneaky bunch when down a man. They have superior speed, which is a major reason why the club has collected eight shorthanded markers this season — most in the NHL.

The Flyers have to take care of the puck when they go on the man advantage in this tilt. Zone entries and handling passes at the blue line will be crucial. The Isles tend to cheat up high if they’re confident they can intercept a pass. Think sharks swimming in circles around their prey.

“They do a good job of reading plays and going the other way,” Flyers coach Craig Berube said (see story). “It’s really important that we are good with the puck. That’s the thing for me. It’s always a sloppy play that guys get a breakaway.”

The Flyers have seen this firsthand. Nikolai Kulemin blocked a Matt Read shot attempt from the point and scored on a shorthanded breakaway in the Isles’ 7-4 rout of the Flyers on Jan. 19. The scary thing is Kulemin isn’t even the Isles’ fastest penalty killer. Michael Grabner can turn the jets on in a flash. It would be wise for the Flyers to err on the side of caution, especially up high. If they make clean passes, cycle the puck and avoid turnovers, they’ll easily reveal why the Isles possess the league’s worst PK.

3. In the cage
How about another goaltending duel?

The last time Steve Mason and Jaroslav Halak squared off, both netminders were virtually unbeatable in a 1-0 Islanders win at Nassau Coliseum on Nov. 24. It’s not often you see two goalies pick up a shutout in the same game, but Mason and Halak most definitely earned the accolade. Mason turned aside 46 shots in regulation and overtime, while Halak made 21 saves before picking up the win in a shootout.

Halak wasn’t as sharp in the second meeting between the Flyers and Islanders this season, but played well enough to help his team to a victory on Jan. 19. Mason missed that game because of a lower-body injury.

Since returning, however, Mason has been lights out. He’s gone 5-0-0 with a 1.15 goals-against average and .964 save percentage in his last six appearances.

Facing Halak will be no easy task, though. The veteran netminder has won his last four starts against the orange and black while posting a 1.22 goals-against average.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: You have to love the way Michael Del Zotto has elevated his game over the past month. The first-year Flyer is currently riding a six-game point streak (three goals, four assists), which is a career high. More importantly, he’s been much better in the defensive zone. An argument can be made that Del Zotto and Luke Schenn have been the team’s best pair since mid-January. Who saw that coming?

Islanders: Every time he laces up his skates, John Tavares is the Islander to watch. The 24-year-old enters Thursday with a team-high 23 goals and 49 points. He doesn’t shy away from heavy traffic areas and has excellent hand/eye coordination, which makes for plenty of offensive opportunities. It should be interesting to see how he fares without right-hand man Kyle Okposo, who is sidelined with a detached retina.

5. This and that
• Since the start of the lockout-shortened 2013 season, the Flyers have posted a 5-2-3 record against the Islanders.

• The Islanders are 16-2-0 against Metropolitan Division foes this season.

• The Flyers have outscored their opponents by a combined 13-7 margin during their four-game winning streak.

• Over their last seven games, the Islanders have killed off just nine of their 19 shorthanded situations.

• Del Zotto has five goals and 17 points in 39 games this season. He had just three goals and 16 points in 67 total games between the Rangers and Predators in 2013-14.

Flyers' poor division record biggest factor in being out of playoff picture

Flyers' poor division record biggest factor in being out of playoff picture

PITTSBURGH -- There's a bit of tragic irony to how the Flyers' season will end over the next two-plus weeks.
 
They have seven games left on the schedule. Six of them are teams residing in the Metro Division. Tuesday's opponent, Ottawa, is the lone exception.
 
There are so many reasons why the Flyers are scrambling now, clinging to the desperate belief they can still make the playoffs -- mathematically, they're alive -- against all rational thought.
 
They're six points behind Boston for the second wild-card spot, but they still have to hurdle Carolina, Tampa Bay and the Islanders just to get to Boston.
 
Yet one major reason for the Flyers' dilemma seems pretty obvious: They've been simply awful in head-to-head play against their own division.
 
The Flyers have a winning record against both divisions in the Western Conference.
 
That's not the case, however, in the East where the Metro Division is the only division with three teams over 100 points and where the Flyers have failed miserably to challenge from within.
 
Sunday's 6-2 rout of the Penguins in Pittsburgh left the Flyers with a poor 9-13-2 record against the Metro. It's the only division they have a losing record against.
 
Last season, Dave Hakstol's group finished 14-10-6 against their own division. That was a critical factor in enabling the Flyers to make the playoffs.
 
"We know where we are in the standings and it's not going to be easy to make the playoffs," Jakub Voracek said. "We all know that. We have to work off results of the other teams and try to play relaxed and loose."
 
Against the Eastern Conference overall, the Flyers are close to .500 (21-22-4) yet realize they should be better.
 
These two records represent a very large reason why the Flyers are sitting on the outside looking in as the playoffs near.
 
Right now, at least four clubs from the Metro -- half the division -- will make the playoffs. That says a lot about why games within your section are so pivotal at season's end.
 
"The numbers don't lie," Hakstol admitted on Sunday. "It's a tough road every single night. You've got to do a good job within your division, within your conference.
 
"We've played a lot of tight, hard games. The reality is, we're a number of points out of the playoffs and those points within your division are very valuable."
 
It's something the Flyers have to greatly improve upon next season if they want to be sitting in a playoff spot a month before the season ends instead of playing catch-up when the odds are hopelessly against them.
 
Pens killers
Every team in the NHL has a couple players who have fairly impressive career numbers against other teams.
 
Voracek averages better than a point against the Penguins. His goal Sunday gave him 17 goals and 34 points in 32 career games against Pittsburgh.
 
Voracek admitted after the game he's not sure why.
 
Claude Giroux also has excellent numbers against the Pens -- his two assists in the win left the Flyers' captain with 41 points (14 goals) in 40 career games vs. Pittsburgh.
 
Shayne Gostisbehere has been around a fraction as long as either Giroux or Voracek -- eight career games vs. the Pens -- yet has two goals and nine points in those games.
 
Brayden Schenn doesn't average a point a game against the Pens, but he's close. His assist on Sunday left the winger/center with 20 points (8 goals) in 26 games.
 
The only Flyer who has solid numbers against Pittsburgh and didn't make Sunday's score sheet was Wayne Simmonds. He has 23 points in 28 games. 

Dave Hakstol: Travis Konecny on 4th line 'makes sense in a lot of respects'

Dave Hakstol: Travis Konecny on 4th line 'makes sense in a lot of respects'

PITTSBURGH -- The curious line juggling of Travis Konecny continued Sunday night.

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol again started Konecny on Pierre-Edouard Bellemare's fourth line with Chris VandeVelde, but just as he did in Columbus, Hakstol moved the rookie around.

This was Konecny's third straight game off Valtteri Filppula's unit with Jakub Voracek at the start. The obvious message to Konecny seems to be: Get yourself into a more defensive-minded role early and then let the offense come to you.

Konecny has made some defensive strides.

"It makes sense in a lot of respects," Hakstol said of the move to Bellemare's unit. "He's playing with two players with a lot of structure. He excels in that type of setting.

"If you look at [Saturday], he can bounce around the lineup with different lines and we used him that way. He didn't just play with his two linemates. He moved around a little bit. He's very effective in that role when we're able to get him out there. He gives us a good boost, a good push."

Against Columbus on Saturday, Konecny played on two units with Sean Couturier -- one featuring Jordan Weal and the other, Dale Weise. He also played a few shifts with Filppula and Wayne Simmonds.

The same thing happened Sunday in the Flyers' 6-2 rout of the Penguins (see game story). Konecny finished with an assist and plus-1 in just 8:02. He is one of the very, very few Flyers who is an even. Most are minus.

Konecny, who just turned 20, and Weal, 24, gave the Flyers a lift on Sunday. Weal had a goal and an assist in 13:06.

"No matter who it is contributing, everyone is excited for everybody," Konecny said. "A lot of guys put up some numbers tonight and contributed. It was a good team effort. That's what we want to see."
 
The Flyers were so relaxed it makes you wonder if the pressure of trying to make the playoffs is gone because their odds are so stacked against them.
 
"We’re at that point where you just need to win and just show up," Konecny said. "There's nerves in the back of your mind. We're pretty loose and trying to enjoy it as much as we can going through a stressful time.
 
"We've handled it well. We played a good team, we knew they would push but we pushed harder."
 
Konecny said he's not fazed by the different line combinations he's a part of, often in the same period.
 
"It's not too bad," he said. "I kind of expected it going into a game. I know when I am playing with Belly and Vandy that throughout the game, there's going to be times like penalty kills come up and he'll fill me in with another line.
 
"At the start of the third [tonight], I filled in another line. I know it's going to come. I just expect it. I've played with pretty much everybody on the team. I'm comfortable out there."
 
Loose pucks
The six goals on the road against Pittsburgh last happened on Feb. 20, 2013, when the Flyers won, 6-5. ... Sunday was the Flyers' largest margin of victory in Pittsburgh since March 31, 2003, when they beat the Penguins, 6-1, at Mellon Arena. ... Weal picked up the second two-point game of his career -- both of which have taken place this month. ... Weise has three goals in his last seven games. ... Claude Giroux had two assists, and now has two goals and eight assists for 10 points in 13 games this month.