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: Bryan Rust notches hat trick as Pens score 8 in win

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Best of NHL: Bryan Rust notches hat trick as Pens score 8 in win

PITTSBURGH -- Bryan Rust had his first career hat trick, Sidney Crosby added his NHL-leading 17th goal and the Pittsburgh Penguins raced by the Ottawa Senators 8-5 on Monday night.

Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel each had a goal and two assists for Pittsburgh, and Matt Cullen and Justin Schultz also scored. The Penguins poured in six goals over the final 32 minutes after spotting the Senators a 4-2 lead. Matt Murray made 17 saves after coming in for an ineffective Marc-Andre Fleury in the second period.

Pittsburgh has won three straight overall and improved to 7-0-2 in its last nine against the Senators.

Matt Stone had a goal and two assists for Ottawa. Erik Karlsson, Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone and Dion Phaneuf also scored for Ottawa, which lost in regulation for just the second time in its last eight games (see full recap).

Capitals rally late for OT win over Sabres
WASHINGTON -- Marcus Johansson scored the tying goal late in the third period and got the winner midway through overtime to lift the Washington Capitals to a 3-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night.

The goals were Johansson's third and fourth in his last five games. He has 11 for the season.

Jay Beagle added the Capitals' first even-strength goal in three games, as Washington snapped a three-game losing skid. Braden Holtby made 31 saves in the victory, the Capitals second over the Sabres in an 11-day stretch.

Kyle Okposo scored his team-leading eighth goal of the season to give the Sabres the lead in the second period. Zemgus Girgensons also scored early for Buffalo, and Robin Lehner made 30 stops for the visitors (see full recap).

Blue Jackets sweep series from Coyotes
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Sam Gagner had two goals and two assists to help the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Arizona Coyotes for the second time in three days, 4-1 on Monday night.

Nick Foligno and Zach Werensky also scored for the Blue Jackets, who won for the fourth straight time and ninth of their last 12. Columbus picked up its 500th win in franchise history in sweeping the two-game season series with the Coyotes.

Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 17 shots for Columbus.

Arizona backup goaltender Louis Domingue had 30 saves, two days after the Blue Jackets hammered starter Mike Smith with a franchise-record 60 shots in a 3-2 shootout victory in Phoenix.

Arizona struck first 9:28 into the game when Alex Goligoski fed a pass on a power play to Tobias Reider, who slammed it past Bobrovsky's glove side from between the circles (see full recap).

Matt Read out approximately a month; Flyers recall Taylor Leier, send down Scott Laughton

Matt Read out approximately a month; Flyers recall Taylor Leier, send down Scott Laughton

Updated: 7 p.m.

Flyers winger Matt Read will miss approximately a month with an upper-body injury suffered in Sunday's 4-2 win over the Predators when he was checked by Filip Forsberg. Sources tell CSNPhilly.com's Tim Panaccio the injury is an oblique muscle pull in Read's upper torso.

The 30-year-old has six goals and four assists for 10 points through 27 games. Five of those goals came in the Flyers' first five games.

To replace Read's roster spot, the Flyers recalled Taylor Leier and sent Scott Laughton to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley. That likely means penalty-kill specialist Boyd Gordon (back), who is eligible to come off long-term injury reserve, will be activated.

Leier, 22, has been playing well with the Phantoms, posting six goals and 14 assists in 22 games (see Future Flyers Report). This is Leier's second stint of the season with the Flyers, albeit his first was short — one game on Oct. 25 in which he was a healthy scratch. He made his NHL debut last season and played six games.

Laughton was a healthy scratch the past five games.

If for some reason Gordon is not activated, the Flyers can call up another forward from Lehigh Valley. Jordan Weal is tied for second in the AHL with 24 points (nine goals, 15 assists) in 20 games, while veteran winger Colin McDonald is an experienced, bottom-six option.