Flyers-Islanders: 5 things you need to know


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: Oilers blank Jets to win outdoor Heritage Classic

Best of NHL: Oilers blank Jets to win outdoor Heritage Classic

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Cam Talbot made 31 saves and Mark Letestu scored the first of three second-period goals, lifting the Edmonton Oilers over the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday in an outdoor game delayed almost two hours by sunlight melting the ice.

The Heritage Classic victory extended Edmonton's winning streak to three in front of 33,240 at Investors Group Field. Fans wore both Jets and Oilers jerseys to the league's 19th outdoor game.

Zack Kassian had a goal and an assist and Darnell Nurse also scored for Edmonton.

Connor Hellebuyck, who had a tuque attached to his helmet, stopped 29 shots for Winnipeg.

The NHL said the start of the Heritage Classic game was delayed "due to intermittent sunlight on the playing surface" and "in the interest of player safety." (see full recap)

Girardi leads Rangers past Coyotes
NEW YORK -- Dan Girardi scored 1:55 into the third period and New York beat Arizona.

Josh Jooris and J.T. Miller also scored for New York, which has won consecutive games to improve to 4-2-0. Henrik Lundqvist made 27 stops.

Radim Vrbata had both of Arizona's goals, and Louis Domingue made 23 saves. The Coyotes have lost their first four games on a six-game trip since beating Philadelphia in overtime at home to start the season.

Girardi put the Rangers ahead with a slap shot from the right point. The veteran was paired with rookie Brady Skjei in his first game after missing New York's previous three with a strained groin, and Skjei assisted on the goal (see full recap).

Tavares' big night helps Isles defeat Wild
NEW YORK -- John Tavares had two goals and an assist, Johnny Boychuk scored for the second straight game and New York beat Minnesota.

Calvin de Haan, Alan Quine and Thomas Hickey also scored to help New York get its highest scoring total of the year and win for the third time in four home games after opening with two road losses. Thomas Greiss stopped 26 shots for his first win in two starts this season.

Islanders rookie Anthony Beauvillier had two assists, giving the 19-year-old at least a point in three straight games.

Zach Parise scored twice for Minnesota to top 300 goals for his career, and Nino Niederreiter also scored. Second-string goalie Darcy Kuemper made 27 saves (see full recap).

Ducks hand Canucks 1st regulation loss
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) -- Nick Ritchie scored the tiebreaking goal on a rebound with 8:36 to play, captain Ryan Getzlaf had three assists and Anaheim finally opened its home schedule with a victory over Vancouver.

Andrew Cogliano, Cam Fowler and Corey Perry also scored for the Ducks, who have won two straight after a four-game winless start. John Gibson made 17 saves in the Western Conference's final home opener, thanks to a schedule that forced Anaheim to play in five teams' home debuts this month.

Henrik Sedin scored the tying goal early in the third period for the Canucks, who lost in regulation for the first time this season. Bo Horvat scored a short-handed goal, and Loui Eriksson had two assists (see full recap).

Michael Del Zotto, Scott Laughton return to practice

Michael Del Zotto, Scott Laughton return to practice

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers welcomed two more players out on to the rink for their practice following Saturday’s 6-3 win over Carolina. 

Michael Del Zotto (lower body) and Scott Laughton (lower body) returned to the ice for the first time since suffering injuries within days of each other. Before Sunday’s light practice, Del Zotto and Laughton had skated two consecutive days prior to work on their conditioning. 

“It’s nice to see them back with the group,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. 

Laughton, who injured himself during a training camp practice after losing an edge, was a bit more forward than Del Zotto on when he hopes to return. 

“I would say within the next five to seven days,” Laughton said.

The 22-year-old pointed to Saturday’s game with Pittsburgh as his target to return. 

As for Del Zotto, the defenseman didn’t want to jinx anything, saying it’s a “day-by-day” situation. He would like to think he’s working on the same timetable as Laughton. If that’s the case, he would be back either a few days before or right on cue with the projected four to five weeks he was scheduled to miss after suffering an injury to his left knee in the preseason against the New York Rangers on Oct. 6. 

“It’s kind of trial and error,” Del Zotto said. 

Above all else, though, the two were just happy to be back with their teammates. Del Zotto said that being around everyone really rejuvenated his spirits. 

“Just being back around the guys and having that team chemistry and camaraderie and being able to joke with the guys,” Del Zotto said, “it’s probably been the best thing for me.”

This past month has especially been hard on the two because of the timing and how last season ended for them. 

While there’s never an ideal time to suffer an injury, the pair saw training camp and the approaching start of the regular season in a different light than most of their teammates.

It was supposed to be their new start. Last season, Del Zotto missed the final few months, including the postseason, after ligament damage to his left wrist. He was having a strong preseason, arguably the top defenseman in camp at the time before suffering his setback.

“Being out so long last year and having to sit and watch playoffs than having six months of grueling rehab to get back into it … that made it sting that much more,” Del Zotto said. “That’s part of the game. It’s a contact sport. I signed up for this.”

The same can be said for Laughton, who experienced a scary injury in Game 4 against Washington after being dumped head first into the boards. 

“I was really excited to have camp and start the year here,” Laughton said. 

The two will be traveling to Montreal with the rest of the Flyers for Monday’s contest. They will each do the morning skate with another bag skate afterward.