Flyers-Jets: 5 things you need to know

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Flyers-Jets: 5 things you need to know

On paper, it looked like it would be a tough week for the Flyers. The Senators had won three in a row and the Metropolitan Division-leading Penguins had a three-day break, but the orange and black took care of business and came away with two big wins in back-to-back nights.

Now, the Flyers (7-10-1) will try for their fourth consecutive victory when they conclude a three-game road trip against the Winnipeg Jets (9-9-2), who have also won three straight, on Thursday night.

Puck drop is set for 8 p.m. at MTS Centre and the game will be televised on The Comcast Network. Here are five things you should know:

1. The new-look Flyers
If you feel like you’ve been watching a different Flyers team over the past week, it’s because you have.

After netting just 22 goals in their first 15 games, the Flyers have found the back of the net 11 times during their current three-game win streak. More importantly, they’re controlling the puck and playing sound defensively.

In their last two games, the Flyers have turned the puck over just five times while their opponents have had 30 combined giveaways. That’s a big step for a team that had its fair share of bad turnovers in the early going, but are the Flyers actually turning a corner?

“Yeah,” Ray Emery said after the Flyers’ win over Pittsburgh (see story). “I think the last couple weeks, the boys scored more goals, had a great night in Ottawa [Tuesday], and a tough back-to-back against one of our rivals and a really good team in Pittsburgh. Getting a good road win, they’re all steps in the right direction.”

For what it’s worth, the Flyers are now .500 under head coach Craig Berube. They’ve gone 7-7-1 since a 0-3-0 start cost Peter Laviolette his job.

2. Redemp-Schenn
After a rough start to the season, the Flyers have been getting some great performances from the Schenn brothers as of late.

Defenseman Luke Schenn, who was a healthy scratch for three games earlier this month, has looked a lot more comfortable in Berube’s system since returning to the lineup.

The older Schenn was a minus-7 through the first 15 games before he found himself watching from the sidelines. In his last three contests, the 24-year-old is plus-2 with three blocked shots and four hits.

Forward Brayden Schenn has been red-hot. The 22-year-old scored both goals in Wednesday’s win over the Pens and has collected three markers and two helpers in his last three games overall.

It’s an important year for the younger Schenn. He’ll be a restricted free agent at the end of the season, but has said his contract situation isn’t a concern and is focused on being more consistent. It’s shown on the ice, as he is second on the Flyers in goals with six, one behind Vinny Lecavalier, and leads the team in points with 12.

3. Power surge
The man advantage has been an area of weakness for the Flyers most of this season.

However, the Flyers have scored on three of their last five opportunities on the power play and have increased their effectiveness to 13 percent (9 for 69).

They’ll be facing a Jets' penalty-killing unit that ranks 14th in the NHL. Winnipeg has struggled while shorthanded over the past few games, allowing four goals in the last 10 times its been a man down.

4. Jet fueled
There always seems to be one or two players on each team that lights up the Flyers. For the Jets, it’s captain Andrew Ladd and forward Evander Kane.

In his last seven games against the Flyers, Ladd has recorded six goals and two assists. His 10 career goals vs. the orange and black are his second-most against any opponent.

As for Kane, the speedy 22-year-old has five tallies and seven helpers during a nine-game point streak against the Flyers. Kane had four points (two goals) in last season’s three-game season series.

5. This and that
• The Flyers won two out of three games against the Jets last season. In the most recent matchup between the two clubs, Winnipeg came away with a 4-1 win on April 6 at MTS Centre.  

• Jakub Voracek and Brayden Schenn led the Flyers offensively against the Jets last season. Voracek had five assists while Schenn collected three goals and four points. Blake Wheeler had five helpers for the Jets in the three games.

• Michael Raffl has recovered from the flu and is available to play against the Jets. Winnipeg will be without forward Jim Slater (sports hernia) and defensemen Jacob Trouba (upper body), Paul Postma (blood clot) and Mark Stuart (hip).

• Winnipeg’s Bryan Little is off to a marvelous start. He already has more goals (11) in 20 games this season than he did all last season (seven).  

• The Jets are 1 for 47 on the power play in their last 15 games and have not converted on 17 chances over their last six.

Wayne Gretzky defends Connor McDavid's outburst over Brandon Manning

Wayne Gretzky defends Connor McDavid's outburst over Brandon Manning

PALM BEACH, Fla. — As the primary target of opponents over his Hall of Fame career, Wayne Gretzky can certainly empathize with the frustration of Oilers star Connor McDavid.

McDavid and Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning jostled all evening long in a 6-5 Edmonton loss. McDavid denounced the tactics of his opponent after the game, claiming Manning intentionally injured him last season; McDavid missed 37 games with a broken collarbone.

"I guess we can put the whole 'if he did it' thing to rest because what he said out there kind of confirmed that," said McDavid, who taunted Manning after scoring the second goal in the Oilers' loss.

"I think anybody who knows me or who has played with or against me along the road here, knows that I am not that kind of player," Manning said, according to a statement released by the Flyers. "I am not out there intentionally trying to hurt people. I'm a guy who plays the game hard and I take pride in that."

Gretzky didn't mind seeing that fire in McDavid, saying competitiveness is part of what makes the great ones great. And he said the targeting comes with the territory of being a superstar. It was something he and Mario Lemieux dealt with, too.

"And Connor, he's going to get tested every night, but this is not new for him," Gretzky said Friday at the NHL board of governors meetings. "He's been tested since he was a kid and then playing junior hockey and now in the NHL and he's always responded and done his part."

Michael Raffl's power moves impressing Flyers, adding another element to top line

Michael Raffl's power moves impressing Flyers, adding another element to top line

He did it last Sunday in Nashville.

And he did it again Thursday night against Edmonton.

Michael Raffl displayed power and speed to send the Flyers to their seventh straight victory and longest winning streak since 2011 Thursday with a 6-5 win over the Oilers.

"Raf has this stutter step that's undercover speedy," goalie Steve Mason said. "He used it in Nashville to get a big goal and then here tonight.

"It looks like he's going to stop fully up, but he finds another gear and he really adds another element to that line that brings physical play.

"He has that sneaky talent, too, that can make you pay."

Raffl received a bank pass off the wall from Jakub Voracek, stutter stepped and then blew by Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom, protecting the puck along the way before flipping it over goalie Jonas Gustavsson for the game-winning marker with 1:29 left in the game.

It was his sixth goal of the season and his second game-winner in three games.

"Jakey has been hard on me for three years now," Raffl said, referring to Voracek's pass, "and it's actually the first time it worked out.

"He wants me to make that play all the time. He's been hard on me. I threw a little fake in there, got around their D-man and chipped it up high."

Voracek, who tied a career high with four points (one goal, three assists) said after the game his pass was not as perfect as it appeared on tape, as it didn't hit Raffl in stride.

"I think we should use it a little bit more to be honest," Voracek said, "because if their D wants to have a gap on that, you know you put it off the boards, it's tough to handle for the defenseman. [Raffl] had to slow down a little bit, so next time I've got to put it better."

Juggling his lines in an attempt to find chemistry, Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol moved Raffl up from the third line to the top line with Voracek and captain Claude Giroux on Nov. 27. Coincidentally, that was the start of this seven-game winning streak.

On Thursday night, Raffl showcased the reasoning behind the move to the top line, a spot he's familiar with, having played with Giroux and Voracek in seasons' past.

"He's good from coming off either way as he enters the zone," Hakstol said. "He's got the ability to take it to the net. 

"Obviously at a critical time of the hockey game. But, that's Raffl when he's at his best. He's a power forward that can do those type of things offensively."

In his fourth season with the Flyers, the 28-year-old doesn't possess jaw-dropping skill. He's better suited for a third-line role, but drives play at 5-on-5 and is strong on the puck to move up into the top six. His style complements Giroux and Voracek's game well.

"[Raffl] complains a lot on the bench," Giroux quipped. "Nah, he was fired up there in the third. He is so strong on the puck. That's a big goal for us. He's been playing some great hockey right now for us. I think me and Jake are lucky to play with him right now."

"He does every little thing right," Voracek said. "He wins the battles. He wins so many puck battles in the corners and on the boards and gives me and G a lot of space to work with. He knows what to do to have success with us and he's been doing that."

Against the Oilers, Raffl was one of two European free agents the Flyers found to contribute to their win, with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare slowing down Connor McDavid.

It's been an avenue the Flyers have found some success in recent years. Raffl was a Paul Holmgren signing, while general manager Ron Hextall plucked Bellemare from the SHL.

"Since we signed him, I think he surprised everyone," Voracek said of Raffl. "He's got a lot of talent. He's a strong guy on the puck. He's skating well. He's got a great shot.

"I think he's one of the good players."

The Flyers described Raffl as a sneaky talent, someone who may not demand the respect from defensemen but has the ability to surprise and make them pay for playing lax against him.

But it's really simpler than that, according to Raffl.

"Just puck possession," he said. "Just focus on being the first on forecheck, digging out pucks. It's not a fun job to do, but somebody has to do it.

"They're two great players with the puck, I try to dig it out and get it to them and get in an open area and they'll find me eventually."

And they found him Thursday night when it mattered most.