Flyers-Islanders: 5 things you need to know

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Flyers-Islanders: 5 things you need to know

After snapping a four-game losing streak Thursday in a 2-1 win over the Rangers, the Flyers on Saturday will attempt to win two in a row for the first time this season against another New York team.

The Flyers (2-7-0) head to Long Island to face the Islanders (4-3-3), who are coming off a come-from-behind 4-3 win over the Penguins on Friday.

With puck drop set for 7 p.m. at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum (CSN), here are five things you need to know:

1) G-start?
Last season, the Flyers were off to a bad start. They were 6-9-1 before their first game against the New York Islanders. New captain Claude Giroux was in the middle of a seven-game goalless streak and wasn't happy with his team's start of the season.

Giroux stepped up, snapped his goalless streak with two tallies and an assist to lead the Flyers to a whopping 7-0 win over the Islanders in Uniondale, N.Y.

Nine games into the 2013-14 season, the 25-year-old finds himself in a similar situation. The Flyers are off to another bad start, one that resulted in a coaching change, and Giroux hasn't scored a goal in nine games. Will another meeting with the Islanders jumpstart the struggling center?

Giroux will play his second game with Vinny Lecavalier, who returned Thursday after missing four games, on his wing along with Michael Raffl. Giroux and Lecavalier played together at even strength for the first time this year against the Rangers. The line produced no points.

Against the Islanders in his career, Giroux has produced more than a point-per-game in 25 regular-season contests. He's potted seven goals and has 21 helpers against the Isles. Lecavalier, too, has torched the Islanders in his career. The 33-year-old has 46 points (23 goals, 23 assists) in 50 career games against the Isles.

A game against the Islanders could be a perfect opportunity for the Flyers' top line to get going.

2) Hartnell returns
On Thursday, Lecavalier returned to the Flyers, and tonight, Scott Hartnell is expected to play after sitting out four games with an apparent rib injury, which he says feels "pretty good" and isn't worried about re-injuring (see story).

Hartnell participated in full practice Friday and played with Brayden Schenn and Jakub Voracek. He'll, at least, start the game with the pair as head coach Craig Berube continues to tinker with his line combos. With Peter Laviolette, Hartnell was on the top line with Giroux and Voracek.

The 31-year-old left wing, who is in the first year of a six-year contract extension signed with the orange and black last year, is another top forward struggling to score for the Flyers. In five games this year, Hartnell has no points and is a minus-2. But like Giroux, the Islanders could be a perfect team to get Hartnell's season going.

Hartnell has 19 goals and 33 points in 41 games against the Islanders. Ten of those goals are power-play markers, and that should come in handy for the Flyers, whose power play this season has been allergic to scoring.

The Flyers have three power-play goals in 37 opportunities through nine games. Their 8.1 percent success rate ranks 29th in the league. Only the Anaheim Ducks, who come to the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday, have a worse PP unit. The Flyers are one for their last 25 power play chances, so Hartnell's return will be welcomed there as well.

3) Stay out of the box
It has been one of Berube's biggest worries since taking over as head coach. The Flyers have had an apparent disregard for discipline, though it has improved in the last three games.

The Flyers have 56 total penalties -- 46 minor penalties -- and are averaging 16.9 penalty minutes per game. Their penalty kill unit ranks 15th in the league with an 82.5 percent kill rate and hasn't allowed a power-play goal in three games. But they cannot afford to put the Islanders on the man advantage.

New York's power play is one of the top units in the NHL. If the Flyers get in penalty trouble, it will be a long night for Steve Mason.

The Islanders have 10 power-play goals in 33 opportunities. That gives the Isles a 30.3 percent success rate with a man advantage, the league's top unit. Matt Moulson leads the team with five power-play goals.

4) Contain Grabner
You hear about John Tavares all the time. He's the Islanders' captain and best player -- one of the top players in the game -- and you're going to have to watch for a few other players, including Moulson, Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen. But the Flyers have to find a way to contain Michael Grabner.

Grabner, 26, is one of the fastest skaters in the NHL and his speed, coupled with his skill, gives teams headaches. Grabner returns to the Islanders after serving a two-game suspension for a hit to the head of Carolina's Nathan Gerbe last Saturday.

In eight games this year, Grabner has two goals and six assists. He started the season off strong, scoring seven points in his first four games but has just one point in his last four games. The Austrian winger has five goals in 15 career games against the Flyers.

It will take a team effort for the Flyers to contain Grabner, whose speed often nets him at least one breakaway per game. With an aging Kimmo Timonen, who appears to have very little acceleration at the age of 38, Luke Schenn and Nicklas Grossmann, the Flyers' defense has below-average speed. The forwards have to make sure they don't get caught when Grabner is one the ice -- and, for that matter, at any time during the game, as the Islanders are a young, good skating team.

5) This and that
• Last season, the Flyers were 2-1-1 against the Islanders, and are 17-3-2 in their last 22 games against the Islanders.

• Sean Couturier has no goals and just two assists in nine games this season, but his 20:07 of ice time against the Rangers is a season high. In six games since Berube has taken over as head coach, the third-year center has averaged 18:39 per game. He is also averaging 1:50 of ice time on the power play. He played 4:51 on the PP against the Rangers.

• Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov has a lifetime 10-4-2 record against the Flyers. In 17 games against the orange and black, Nabokov has a 2.69 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage. He has twice shut out the Flyers.

• Both Flyers goalies have had success against the Islanders in their career. Mason has a 2-1-1 record with a 1.98 GAA and a .933 SV percentage vs. the Islanders, while Emery is 6-0-1 with a 1.69 GAA and .935 SV percentage in seven games against the Islanders. Mason has started the last three games and will be in net for the Flyers on Saturday night. 

• Mark Streit will play the Islanders for the first time since signing with the Flyers in the offseason.

Claude Giroux's struggles mirroring Flyers' offensive issues

Claude Giroux's struggles mirroring Flyers' offensive issues

PITTSBURGH -- He was plus-1 with an assist.
 
No shots on goal and obviously, no goals.
 
Another day's useless energy spent by Flyers captain Claude Giroux, skating around the rink looking for the net and finding nothing but darkness.
 
He hasn't scored a goal in nine games, which is a major reason why the Flyers are 2-6-1 over that same span of time, including Saturday night's 4-2 loss to the Penguins at Heinz Field in the Stadium Series (see game recap).
 
Indoors, outdoors it makes no difference right now for Dave Hakstol's band of minstrels. As goes the captain, so go the Flyers, and it's rough sledding these days with the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference fast disappearing.
 
"Yeah, it’s frustrating," Giroux said this weekend. "You try to do the best you can do to help the team. Right now it’s not going in. I really believe we’re playing some good hockey, playing the right way and we’re going to get rewarded soon."
 
Asked whether he believed his own production is a mirrored reflection of the team he plays for, Giroux hedged.
 
"You try to play the right way, do what’s asked of you," he replied. "I've had a lot of chances, but at the end of the day, it has to go in. We’re done with excuses."
 
Thing is, Giroux really hasn’t had that many chances. Just 13 shots during this nine-game stretch. In four of those games, he had no shots at all.
 
Teammate Jakub Voracek says it’s going to come for Giroux. But when? Time is running out on the Flyers.
 
"He's always been a streaky player," Voracek said. "And not streaky that he's going to go on a tear for 10 games and then disappear for 10. He was streaky for 18 and then struggled for two, then he had another 20 games.
 
"It's only a matter of time. I think the last two games he played really well. For the guys who don't watch the hockey game, they look at the stat sheet and say, 'Oh, he didn't have any points.' But that's the way it is."
 
The Flyers used the word "desperation" before and after their outdoor loss to the Penguins. They played another pretty good overall game, but one thing stood out: they didn't make it difficult enough for Pens goalie Matt Murray in terms of traffic.
 
Pittsburgh's fourth goal was an example of what the Flyers couldn't do – screen out the goalie.
 
"I thought in the first couple periods we – not a whole lot, but I thought there were a few opportunities where we didn't make it difficult enough for [Murray] to find the puck," Hakstol said.
 
"But we had enough quality, no question. We did have good quality. Is it enough? Obviously tonight it wasn't. We didn't win the hockey game."
 
There were spurts where the Flyers carried the play, showed momentum, and then it died. When Shayne Gostisbehere made it a 3-2 affair early in the third, the Flyers needed to seize the moment. They didn't get the equalizer.
 
Eight minutes later, the Penguins scored from the point off a lost faceoff draw between Evgeni Malkin and Sean Couturier. Michal Neuvirth didn't see the puck soon enough. On Matt Cullen's wraparound goal that made it 3-1, Neuvirth was unaware.
 
Neuvirth wasn't very good in this game.
 
"There's no question they had two or three spurts where they carried some momentum for short periods of time, but I thought overall through the 60 minutes, our group did a good job and played the type of game that we wanted to play," Hakstol said.
 
Giroux was asked this weekend how much pressure he is putting on himself right now to salvage the Flyers' fading playoff hopes.
 
"It’s tough not to put a lot of pressure on yourself when it’s not going the right way," Giroux said. "At the end of the day, you have to take a step back and know what you’re playing for.
 
"I’ve been playing since I was three years old and I love the game so much, just try to go out and enjoy the game even if it’s not going your way. You have to find a way to love the game and play with passion."
 
You've seen the Flyers do that throughout all this losing – 3-7-1 in their last 11 – but passion doesn't always result in goals. Voracek had a goal in this game. His second in three games.
 
The Flyers need a bunch of guys to get going simultaneously like last season when they made their playoff charge. Over the last 16 games (6-9-1), the Flyers have scored just 25 goals. That's a bad trend that needs to be reversed immediately.
 
"Obviously, we haven't been able to score a whole lot," Hakstol said. "There's been a lot made of that. And you know what, fairly so. I think that's fair.
 
"Yet tonight, I look at the opportunities at this time of year, the type of opportunities and the number of opportunities that we generated were pretty reasonable.
 
"We've got to stick with it. We've gone through a tough stretch here, and through that stretch we've played for the vast majority, we've played some pretty good hockey.  ... We've got to make sure that we completely stay together as we have, and we've got to keep pushing the envelope."
 
Hakstol was pleading his case.
 
Whether he wins it, is another story.

Brandon Manning to face hearing for hit on Penguins' Jake Guentzel

Brandon Manning to face hearing for hit on Penguins' Jake Guentzel

As if Saturday night's deflating loss to the Penguins at Heinz Field wasn't enough, the Flyers could be coming out of the defeat minus a defenseman in the lineup.

Brandon Manning will have a hearing with the NHL's Department of Player Safety on Monday morning for his hit on Pittsburgh forward Jake Guentzel during the second period of the Stadium Series game.

That means a suspension is looming.

Just over three minutes into the second stanza on Saturday, Guentzel tried to corral a bouncing puck as he exited the Penguins' zone. He did not see Manning, who flattened him with a huge hit.

While the hit did seem a bit late in real speed to the naked eye, no interference penalty was called and play continued. Manning did look to leave his feet to the deliver the hit and make contact with Guentzel's head, though, so both could work against him during the hearing.

Video of the hit in question can be seen above.

Guentzel was not injured on the play, stayed in the game and finished the evening with two assists.

Manning has a clean history as he has never been suspended in the NHL.

If Manning does get suspended by the league, Michael Del Zotto is likely to draw back into the Flyers' lineup Tuesday against visiting Colorado.

Del Zotto, who is a prime candidate to be moved before Wednesday's trade deadline, has sat out the past three games as a healthy scratch.