Flyers-Lightning: 5 things you need to know

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Flyers-Lightning: 5 things you need to know

Wednesday night’s game is sure to be an emotional one for Vinny Lecavalier.

After being bought out by Tampa Bay this past offseason, Lecavalier will play the team that drafted him with the first overall pick in 1998 for the first time in his 15 NHL seasons when the Flyers (10-11-2) take on the Lightning (15-8-1) at Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Puck drop is set for 7:30 p.m. (CSN). Here are five things you need to know for the game:

1. Vinny’s return
Prior to signing a five-year, $22.5 million contract with the Flyers, Lecavalier had played every single game of his NHL career with the Lightning.

Over 14 seasons, the 33-year-old piled up 383 goals, 491 assists and 746 penalty minutes for Tampa. He served as team captain two separate times and was instrumental in helping the Lightning win their first and only Stanley Cup championship in 2004.

So how is he approaching his return to Tampa?

“I am excited to go back,” Lecavalier said on Tuesday (see story). “It’s not something I have really thought of. I’m just happy to go back and play against them and hope to play a great game there. I’m excited to go back and see my old teammates and buddies and play hard against them.”

The Flyers, as we all know, got off to a rough start this season, but Lecavalier has been consistent in his first season in orange and black. Despite suffering two injuries in the early going, which cost him four games, Lecavalier enters Wednesday tied with Matt Read for the team-lead in goals with eight.

2. No Stamkos
Tampa’s record would indicate that the Lightning haven’t really missed Lecavalier this season. But right now, they probably wish they could have a center of his caliber in the lineup with Steven Stamkos out for the foreseeable future.

Stamkos remains sidelined indefinitely with a broken right tibia. The high-scoring centerman suffered the injury after he got tied up with Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton and crashed into Boston’s right post on Nov. 11.

It’s nearly impossible to replace the numbers that Stamkos is capable of putting up -- he had 14 goals and nine assists in 17 games before going down -- and the Lightning have struggled at times with him out of the lineup.

Over the last seven games, Tampa has gone 3-3-1 without Stamkos and has failed to score three goals or more in four of those contests. Players like Martin St. Louis and Valtteri Flippula will have to pick up the scoring slack if the Lightning want to remain toward the top of the Eastern Conference.

St. Louis passed Stamkos for the team lead in scoring (24 points) with a three-point performance in Tampa’s 5-0 win over the New York Rangers on Monday. Filppula had two helpers and currently ranks third on the Lightning with 18 points.

3. Bounce back
The Flyers are probably anxious to put their disappointing performance against the Florida Panthers behind them.

Entering Monday 6-0-1 in their last seven, the Flyers severely underestimated the lowly Panthers and missed an opportunity to grab two easy points in the standings.

Florida entered the game the second-worst club in the East but came away with a 3-1 victory. Poor execution, especially in the neutral zone, is what ultimately cost the Flyers.

“We were lackadaisical a little bit,” head coach Craig Berube said after the loss (see story).

The Flyers failed to do the little things that they had done so well during their seven-game point streak. If they want to come away with a victory against the Lightning, they’ll have to get back to slowing things down, winning battles along the boards and coveting the puck.

4.  Injuries
Stamkos, who has been walking without crutches for two days, isn’t the only key Lightning member with an injury. Defensemen Mattias Ohlund and Brian Lee are on injured reserve and also out indefinitely with knee ailments.

Forward Ryan Malone (lower body) and defenseman Radko Gudas (upper body) did not play against the Rangers but are listed as day-to-day. Forward Tom Pyatt (collarbone) returned to practice Saturday and defenseman Keith Aulie (upper body) participated in full-contact drills on Sunday.  

The Flyers enter Wednesday a healthy bunch.

5. This and that
• Wednesday is the first of three meetings between these two clubs this season. The Lightning won two of three games against the Flyers in 2013.

• A pair of former Flyers led the team offensively against Tampa last year. Max Talbot had a goal and two assists in three games, and Tom Sesisto scored both markers in a 2-1 win on Feb. 5 at Wells Fargo Center.

• St. Louis has 19 points during the Lightning’s current 8-2-1 run against the Flyers.

• The Flyers have dropped four straight in Tampa by a 16-5 score.

• Lightning netminder Ben Bishop has won six straight starts at home. He’s allowed just nine goals in his last five games at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

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.