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.

Best of NHL: Toews nets hat trick in Blackhawks' win over Wild

Best of NHL: Toews nets hat trick in Blackhawks' win over Wild

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Jonathan Toews had three goals and two assists and the Chicago Blackhawks beat rival Minnesota 5-3 on Tuesday night for their second win over the Western Conference-leading Wild in less than two weeks.

Toews notched his fourth career hat trick on an empty-netter with 1:02 left to stave off a spirited rally by the Wild, who began a franchise-record eight-game homestand on Feb. 8 with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Blackhawks. Toews had a goal and two assists in that one and has 37 points in 35 career games against Minnesota.

Chicago's captain has been chewing up almost everyone else, too, with 20 points in his last 12 games. Toews' wing men Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik had the other goals, giving the Blackhawks 34 goals in their last eight games. Their first line totaled nine points.

Mikael Granlund's second power-play goal for the Wild brought them within 4-3, before Ryan Suter hit the crossbar with a shot that nearly tied it (see full recap).

Islanders open 9-game road trip with win
DETROIT -- Calvin de Haan was credited with a go-ahead goal that caromed off an opponent late in the second period and the New York Islanders went on to beat the Detroit Red Wings 3-1 Tuesday night.

De Haan's shot from above the left circle was stopped by Petr Mrazek, but the rebound went off Detroit defenseman Xavier Ouellet and the back of the goaltender's left leg and into the net. John Tavares scored early in the third period to give the Islanders a two-goal lead and they coasted to the victory.

Josh Bailey had a goal and an assist, and Thomas Greiss stopped 26 shots for New York.

Henrik Zetterberg scored for Detroit and Mrazek finished with 19 saves.

The Islanders, in contention for a wild-card spot, began a stretch of nine straight road games by winning for the third time in four games and improved to 8-13-4 away from home (see full recap).

Crosby, Penguins take care of Hurricanes
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Sidney Crosby scored the go-ahead goal on a deflection in the second period, and the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-1 on Tuesday night.

Evgeni Malkin and Scott Wilson also scored to help the reigning Stanley Cup champions bounce back from their only loss since the All-Star break. Pittsburgh moved three points behind East-leading Washington and is 7-1-3 since the break.

Jeff Skinner scored for the last-place Hurricanes, who have their second five-game losing streak in the past five weeks. They have been outscored 19-4 during the current slide.

Matt Murray made 29 saves for the Penguins while Cam Ward stopped 19 shots for Carolina (see full recap).

Flyers Injury Update: Jordan Weal practices, but won't play vs. Capitals

Flyers Injury Update: Jordan Weal practices, but won't play vs. Capitals

VOORHEES, N.J. — Jordan Weal participated in the Flyers' full practice Tuesday at Skate Zone but will remain out of the lineup against Washington on Wednesday with an apparent concussion.

He was nailed in Edmonton by Oilers defenseman Eric Gryba. The hit in the corner came at 13:57 of the opening period.

Video replays show Gryba sandwiched Weal hard on the boards with Weal striking his head and right shoulder, then falling to the ice. Actually, Gryba hit him earlier in the period as well, but it was the second hit that seemed to go the most damage. 

Weal said both he and trainer Jim McCrossin agreed it was better to not return to the game after the second hit.

“He kind of drove me in pretty good there,” Weal said. “It’s a hockey play, though. Not much you can do.” 

The Flyers are being cautious with the head injury.

Coach Dave Hakstol was vague as to when Weal would re-enter the lineup. Weal had just been called up last week to replace Travis Konecny, who was placed on IR.

“I feel good,” said Weal, who took extra practice on Tuesday. “It definitely has been progressing every day. ... I’m day-to-day and as soon as I’m ready to go, I’m ready to go.

“It’s one of those injuries you just have to take your time with. I think when I feel I’m ready to play, I’ll be in.

“It’s frustrating. But it’s part of the game. With these injuries, it’s tougher than if it was, say your finger or your shin or something where you could put ice on it and get it better. You just have to treat it right and get back as quick as I can.”

Gudas’ departure
Defenseman Radko Gudas left early during what was a brief but long-delayed 45-minute practice on Tuesday.

What was noteworthy about Gudas’ departure, however, was that he picked up his gear and headed back to the dressing room while both trainers remained on the bench.

So he wasn’t injured.

Immediate speculation was that he might have been traded. An hour later, general manager Ron Hextall announced Gudas had had a dentist appointment to fix a broken tooth, incurred during the recent road trip.

Needless to say, Gudas’ leaving blew up Twitter with trade rumors.

Lower, lower body
Jake Voracek took a shot below the belt and couldn't stand for a few minutes near the end of practice. He remained in obvious pain in the dressing room and did not talk … as if he could.