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.

Roman Lyubimov getting comfortable, impressing with hard, heavy style

Roman Lyubimov getting comfortable, impressing with hard, heavy style

Ron Hextall said when Flyers training camp began there were spots to be won and spots to be taken from others.

Even though it’s still early in camp, it seems fairly clear Russian forward Roman Lyubimov is going to steal someone’s job among the bottom-six forwards.

He’s been the right wing on Boyd Gordon’s line in camp with Chris VandeVelde on the left side. 

That fourth line worked again Tuesday night as the Flyers opened their home preseason schedule with a 4-0 win over the Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center.

The 6-2, 207-pound Lyubimov plays a heavy game. He is tenacious in one-on-one battles and, perhaps more importantly, jumps on loose pucks after faceoffs as demonstrated during the 2-0 loss in New Jersey on Monday.

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol took notice.

“It’s a nice trait for a player to have automatically and it’s an important trait,” Hakstol said.

“His competitiveness and his battle level on 50-50 pucks, things like that, hasn’t changed from Day 1.”

After spending six years in the KHL, it appears Lyubimov has found a home here. He’s already making a nice adjustment to the smaller rink, too.

“Last couple of years, playing for the Red Army team, there were some pretty physical games,” he said, via translator Slava Kouznetsov. “I think it was pretty close to NHL games. I just have to adapt to the smaller ice.”

He logged 3:55 ice time on the penalty kill against the Devils — second only to rookie defensive prospect Ivan Provorov — and Hakstol has his sights set on using him in that capacity if he makes the final cut.

While playing for the Russian Army, Lyubimov was used in a shutdown role and on the PK with little power-play time.

“I was more defense-oriented,” he said. “If you don’t let the [opponent] score on you, it’s easier to win games. Here, I’ll see what the coaches want me to do. I watched a lot of NHL games. One of my criteria was to be good at the penalty kill.”

The only hard question Hakstol has to answer is Lyubimov’s adjustment to the smaller rink.

“I think he is still working through that but he is game for it,” Hakstol said. “He doesn’t look for open ice in terms of shying away from traffic areas. He is battling in those high traffic areas.”

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare made the adjustment quickly, coming over from France. Michael Raffl played a couple games with the Phantoms after coming over from Austria.

It’s possible the Flyers could start Lyubimov with the Phantoms and then call him up.

“He plays a small-ice type of game,” Hextall said of Lyubimov. “He goes hard to the net, he’s good on the wall, does all those little things. Space I don’t think will affect him as much as other guys.”

He had a prime scoring chance in Tuesday’s game against the Islanders, chasing down a puck behind the net and getting a wraparound that was blocked at the post by defenseman Kyle Burroughs.

Lyubimov finished with 12:07 of ice time and two shots.

His best shot to make the cut is to take away VandeVelde's spot on the fourth line (see story). Once Bellemare returns from the World Cup of Hockey, someone has to go. Another factor here is whether the club carries 23 players instead of 22.

Lyubimov said what impressed him about the Flyers was how players are treated here, on and especially off the ice.

That was always something former Flyers loved about their late owner Ed Snider. He treated them as family, not employees.

“There is a difference,” Lyubimov said. “Everything here is comfortable and done for the players. Here I live five minutes from the rink. In Moscow, it’s 45 minutes. Everything works for me here.”

So much so, Lyubimov is bringing his wife, Katrina, and their 1-year-old daughter Alexa, over this fall to live here even though he has just a one-year deal worth $925,000.

“I want to stay here more than a year,” he said. “I will do whatever I have to do. This is the place I wanted to come.”

Battling for Phantoms job, goalie Alex Lyon solid in NHL preseason debut

Battling for Phantoms job, goalie Alex Lyon solid in NHL preseason debut

When the Flyers signed Yale goalie Alex Lyon last April, they knew they were getting a competitive guy who was a finalist for the Mike Richter Award.
 
What they didn’t know, however, was likely how he could stand on his head and keep an undermanned squad in an exhibition game with just three NHL players on his side.
 
The Flyers lost 2-0 to the Devils on Monday night against a New Jersey lineup that was far superior and kept the puck in Lyon’s end two-thirds of the game.
 
Tuesday at Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers open their home preseason schedule against the Islanders with a legit lineup.
 
Lyon, who posted a 1.64 goals against average and .936 save percentage last season in college, was outstanding against the Devils with 28 saves on 29 shots (one empty netter).
 
“I had shaky legs until the middle of the first and then I felt I had settled in,” the 23-year-old said. “I guess I didn’t expect that.”
 
Exhibition games don’t mean much but this was a performance worth noting because Lyon showed he will challenge Anthony Stolarz for the starter’s job with the Phantoms this season. 

“Alex Lyon had a solid performance right from start to finish,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “Great demeanor and presence. Just a real steady performance all the way through.”
 
The kid seemed undaunted by the Devils' lineup in what was his first-ever start against an NHL club. Notice anything different from college?
 
“The biggest difference is six months ago, I was watching Travis Zajac on TV and now I am playing an exhibition game against him,” Lyon replied. “It was pretty cool going up against those guys.”
 
The Devils attacked him mostly with angled shots. So eager they were to test him, they put a shot on goal from their own blue line in the opening minutes of the game, which Lyon saved.
 
“Yeah, I think they were trying to throw some pucks and my rebound control wasn’t as good as it usually is,” Lyon said. “I think it’s because I was a little nervous. I was just trying to stop the puck to be honest, that is all I was thinking about.”
 
Lyon stopped two breakaway attempts from Beau Bennett, both coming in the opening two periods. The only goal from Nick Lappin came on a second rebound in the crease.
 
“They got their point shot through and I saw it clearly the whole way and didn’t react to it,” Lyon said. “I thought it was going to be tipped. There was a forest of sticks as Keith Allain (Yale coach) would say, in front of me.
 
“I was trying to get big in front of it and they took a couple of whacks and subsequently it bounced right to their guy.”
 
While exhibition games mean little to fans, it meant something to him.
 
“I told my roommate in Philly I was playing my first NHL game,” Lyon said. “Yeah, it’s preseason but going from college, it’s the best feeling in the world.”
 
Lyon won’t play Tuesday night against the Islanders.
 
On Provorov
Rookie defensive prospect Ivan Provorov, who logged a whopping 28:48 ice time during the loss in New Jersey, will play tonight against the Islanders.
 
The staff wants to get an idea of how he plays with heavy minutes in back-to-back games.
 
“I want to get him into two of the three (exhibitions), assuming he earned it,” Hakstol said. “He did a good job last night. His minutes got high but we wanted to get him into a good situation.
 
“He did a good job and the minutes didn’t seem to wear on him. It will be a challenge playing back-to-back. But that’s one for him and a few others where they have to meet the challenge.”
 
Provorov will be paired with Andrew MacDonald as Hakstol has one vet paired with one prospect in this game.
 
World Cup returnees
Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier both say they want to play games right now to keep themselves in game shape but Hakstol is biding time with them, insisting they get some rest off the ice.
 
“I feel like I’m in midseason form already,” Voracek quipped. “I don’t want to sit around. If I take more than 3-4 days off, I'll put on six pounds. ... I wouldn’t mind playing but obviously, we've got to get some rest. ”
 
Loose pucks
• Other defensive pairs: Nick Schultz and Travis Sanheim; Michael Del Zotto and Philippe Myers.  

• The lines: Jordan Weal will again center Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds; Andy Miele will handle Michael Raffl and Matt Read; Nick Cousins centers Scott Laughton and Dale Weise, which has been a line in camp; and Boyd Gordon will center Chris VandeVelde and Roman Lyubimov.

• Steve Mason will be in goal and Stolarz will back him up.

• Forward Travis Konecny will not play.