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.

Best of NHL: Lightning capture OT win over Red Wings

Best of NHL: Lightning capture OT win over Red Wings

DETROIT -- Nikita Kucherov scored 3:28 into overtime to lift the Tampa Bay Lightning over the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 on Friday night.

Situated on the edge of the crease, Kucherov redirected a hard pass from Brayden Point into the net.

The Lightning are one point behind the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders for the final Eastern Conference wild card.

Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg opened the scoring 8:03 into the second period. Taking a backhand pass from Gustav Nyquist, Zetterberg flipped a knuckling wrist shot toward the goal and over the stick-side shoulder of goalie Andrei Vasilievskiy, who struggled to find the puck through the screen of teammate Point (see full recap).

Islanders notch shootout win over Penguins
PITTSBURGH -- John Tavares and Anthony Beauvillier scored in the shootout to lead the New York Islanders over the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 on Friday night.

Beauvillier opened the shootout with a goal, and Tavares snapped a wrist shot past Marc-Andre Fleury in the next round. Sidney Crosby scored in the shootout for Pittsburgh, but Jaroslav Halak, making his first start since Dec. 29, stopped Phil Kessel and Nick Bonino.

Anders Lee scored his 28th goal of the season, while Brock Nelson got his 17th and Casey Cizikas his eighth for the Islanders, who moved into the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. New York is tied with Boston at 82 points, but the Islanders have a game in hand on the Bruins. The Islanders have 18 wins in 31 games since Doug Weight was named interim coach on Jan. 17, replacing Jack Capuano.

Halak, a former All-Star, made 37 saves (see full recap).

Cracknell nets first hat trick in Stars' win
DALLAS -- Adam Cracknell got his first hat trick in seven NHL seasons and the Dallas Stars handed the San Jose Sharks their fifth straight loss, 6-1 on Friday night.

Cracknell opened the scoring in the first period, capped a three-goal flurry in the second and beat goalie Aaron Dell on a short-handed breakaway in the third for his career-high 10th goal of the season.

The Sharks entered two points ahead of Anaheim and Edmonton in the Pacific Division despite their longest losing streak of the season. San Jose has been outscored 16-5 during the stretch.

Brett Ritchie, Jamie Benn and John Klingberg also scored for the Stars.

Joe Thornton scored for San Jose on the power play in the second period. Dell had 23 saves.

Dallas' Kari Lehtonen made 20 saves four nights after shutting out San Jose (see full recap).

Flyers-Wild 10 observations: Sean Couturier shows flash, Matt Read answers call & more

Flyers-Wild 10 observations: Sean Couturier shows flash, Matt Read answers call & more

You know Dave Hakstol has reached crisis measures when he takes a skill player in Travis Konecny and throws him onto the fourth line while promoting Matt Read to the top line.

This was risk-taking at its craziest to generate some enthusiasm and life into a Flyers squad that didn't show much of a pulse a few nights earlier in Winnipeg.

Guess what?

It worked during a 3-1 victory on Thursday, the Flyers' fifth straight win over the Wild going back a few years (see Instant Replay).

Their playoff hopes still flicker.

As much as the fan base hated the lineup moves, consider this: general manager Ron Hextall was very explicit this week in saying that the roster Hakstol has right now is what it is. Hextall is not going to promote any young Phantoms into a bad situation when they are headed for what could be a decent playoff run in the AHL.

Therefore, as my former colleague Bill Lyon would say, here are 10 things I think, I think …

1. The Flyers began the game as they have so often this season with yet another turnover and scoring chance against them. Rinse and repeat. The Flyers had three turnovers in less than five minutes to start the game.

2. Minutes later, Steve Mason coughed up a bad rebound off his stick and Zach Parise burned him with a gimme goal for a 1-0 lead. Mason had issues in this one with rebounds that were looking like grenades, but he settled down with a strong final two periods with 24 saves. This was Mason's 100th win as a Flyer (see game story).

3. You had to see it to believe it. Sean Couturier with a nice backhand shot through Devan Dubnyk's five-hole to make it a 1-1 game near the end of the opening period (see feature highlight). I haven't seen that kind of offensive move from Couturier in quite some time. Question is, why can't he do that nightly instead of semiannually? That's the offensive spark you know Couturier is capable of providing.

4. The Wild were very aggressive in this one as they were trying to clinch a playoff spot, so the Flyers had to match that intensity. The Flyers more than matched it. This was far, far better than what Hakstol's team brought to the ice in Winnipeg. Not even close, as the Flyers dominated.

5. Matt Read had a quick stick -- no other way to explain it -- on his goal in the second period off a series of Wild turnovers that came about because of a play set up by Jakub Voracek. That goal seemingly stunned Dubnyk. It was Read's second goal in the last two games. He was all over the ice in this one. Many nights this season, Read was invisible. Not this game.

6. The Flyers had some genuine scoring chances in this game. You had to wonder where this desire to skate, create and score was all through the month of February and into March. The Flyers had strong forecheck pressure and a rebound-attack mentality the entire second period. If that had happened with regularity down the stretch, this team would be sitting in the wild card right now.

7. While the shake-up of the lines obviously benefited Read, it did little for Konecny and actually set him back. He was invisible. No shots. No hits. Invisible with little ice time. Really can't figure this move out but obviously, Hakstol is upset with him for some reason.

8. Minnesota went all in at the NHL trade deadline to get Martin Hanzal and Ryan White, forking over four draft picks, including a first-rounder. The Wild were leading the Central Division before losing six straight (and eight of nine) that allowed Chicago to regain the top spot in the division. The Wild don't look like the same confident, surging team it was a month ago in the Western Conference.

9. Minnesota had a strong push in the final five minutes and the Flyers had some initial difficulty answering that until the final minute when Wayne Simmonds picked up his 300th point as a Flyer on Voracek's empty-net goal to seal the deal. A nice way to finish off a complete effort by everyone involved.

10. The Flyers picked up two points on Boston, which lost to Tampa Bay, and are six behind the Bruins in the wild card. They still remain a l-o-n-g shot to make the playoffs, given the sheer number of teams ahead of them that they need to climb over.