Flyers-Maple Leafs: 5 things you need to know

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Flyers-Maple Leafs: 5 things you need to know

Flyers vs. Maple Leafs
7 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet

The Flyers (21-22-7) will try for a season-best fourth consecutive victory when they take on the nose-diving Toronto Maple Leafs (22-24-4) at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday.

Here’s what you need to know before puck drop:

1. Change it up?
Is there a change coming to the Flyers’ blue line? Nicklas Grossmann, who has missed the team’s last nine games with a shoulder injury, has been skating all week and appears to be ready to return.

“Just taking it a day at a time,” he said after practice on Friday. “Every day it’s getting better. That’s the way we want to. We haven’t made any decisions for [Saturday].”

Here’s the issue: The Flyers are rolling and have received much better play from their defensive corps as of late. Hockey players are creatures of habit. Will head coach Craig Berube run the risk of throwing off his team’s chemistry? And if so, who comes out?

Mark Streit has been one of the highest-scoring defensemen in the entire NHL since early December. He’s safe. Michael Del Zotto is riding a career-high five-game point streak. He’s not going anywhere. Nick Schultz picked up his first goal as Flyer on Thursday and is arguably the club’s most reliable D-man. He’s earned his spot as a regular.

That leaves Carlo Colaiacovo, Luke Schenn and Andrew MacDonald. All three players have served as healthy scratches at some point this season. If Grossmann dresses against the Leafs, it would be safe to assume Colaiacovo would be the odd man out. Then again, Berube has made stranger decisions this season. It wouldn’t be a surprise if any of the three were benched in favor of Grossmann on Saturday.

2. Terrible in Toronto
To say it’s a difficult time for Leafs nation would be a severe understatement. Toronto is in a complete freefall with no end in sight. 

The Leafs have posted a 1-10-1 record in January, a stretch in which they’ve been outscored, 40-16. They’re one game away from matching their worst losing streak since 1996. They’ve looked listless at best under interim coach Peter Horachek, who took over behind the bench after Randy Carlyle was fired on Jan. 6. Their players have been called uncoachable. Their fans are throwing jerseys on the ice in outrage. Essentially, the Leafs have become the laughing stock of the NHL since the calendar switched over to the year 2015.

It all starts up front. Toronto has just seven goals during its 0-7-1 slide. Even worse, the Leafs have converted on just two of their last 26 power-play attempts in that stretch. Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk and company simply aren’t getting it done.

3. Injuries
Defenseman Braydon Coburn (foot) and center Scott Laughton (upper-body) remain sidelined for the Flyers. 

Forward Michael Raffl is listed as questionable. He’s missed the last two games because of an illness. If he’s unable to play, Petr Straka, who picked up his first NHL point on Thursday, will continue to skate in his place with Ryan White and Wayne Simmonds.

For the Leafs, captain Dion Phaneuf (hand) is out. 

4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: Chris VandeVelde entered 2014-15 with just one career NHL goal to his name. In 40 games this season, the 27-year-old already has seven markers — all at even-strength. He’s picked up four of them in his last five games while skating with Vinny Lecavalier and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare on the Flyers’ fourth line. The trio has supplied a ton of energy on the forecheck and has been sound in the defensive zone, as well. Look for them to continue buzzing.

Maple Leafs: There aren’t many Toronto players worth watching, but JVR is having a tremendous season. He enters Saturday leading the Maple Leafs in goals (21) and is second on the team in points (43). The 25-year-old is finally using his 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame to his advantage, both along the boards and in front of the net. His defensive game is still raw, hence his minus-16 rating, but he’s always been a more-offensive minded forward anyway. He’s paid to score goals. Toronto needs as many as they can get right now.

5. This and that
• Seven of the last eight meetings between the Flyers and Maple Leafs have been decided by multiple goals. The Flyers have won the last two by a combined score of 11-6.

• Kessel and JVR have combined for 41 of Toronto’s 141 goals this season.

• The Flyers have scored at least three goals and one power-play marker in five straight tilts.

• Jonathan Bernier, who allowed possibly the worst goal of the season Thursday, is 2-3-0 with a 4.78 goals-against average and .865 save percentage in five career starts against the Flyers.

• Claude Giroux has eight goals and 15 assists in 21 career games against the Maple Leafs.

Flyers-Senators 10 observations: Jordan Weal comes through with finishing touch

Flyers-Senators 10 observations: Jordan Weal comes through with finishing touch

Thanks to Jordan Weal and more shootout magic -- yes, you read that correctly -- the Flyers captured a 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay).

Weal netted a game-tying marker and the only tally of the skills competition in which the Flyers are now 7-4 this season.

Here are 10 observations from the victory:

1. Weal made a heady play by skating hard to the net as Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson left the crease to play a puck. He intercepted Anderson's pass and quickly buried the shot to knot the score, 2-2, with 7:25 left in the third period. The rookie has five goals in his last 11 games and has turned into a serious catalyst for a team that has struggled to score goals since mid-December.

2. The Flyers have back-to-back wins for the first time since Feb. 28-March 3. Still, they have only six games left, all against Metropolitan Division opponents. Their record against the remaining clubs on the schedule is 6-9-1. The Flyers stayed put Tuesday -- six points out of the second wild-card spot as both the Bruins and Maple Leafs won.

3. Brayden Schenn snapped the Flyers' 0-for-17 power-play skid on a deflection of Shayne Gostisbehere's shot with 1:26 left in the first period. The Flyers were 3 for 46 on the man advantage in March until Schenn's tally. With the current state of the Flyers' season, Schenn's production has gone somewhat unnoticed. Coming off a four-year contract extension this offseason, the 25-year-old forward has 23 goals, three from tying his career high set last season. Sure, he's been reliant on the power play (like many of his teammates), but Schenn has shown up after being rewarded.

4. Good effort by the Flyers after beating the Penguins, 6-2. They had struggled in sustaining any semblance of consistency and finally did for consecutive games -- and it came on fan appreciation night.

5. Steve Mason made his 13th start in the last 15 games and did his part. It looked like he didn't see Kyle Turris' shot in the third period that handed Ottawa a 2-1 lead. Overall, though, Mason once again gave the Flyers a chance. He entered with a 2.12 goals-against average over his last 12 games, while making 26 saves and three stops in the shootout Tuesday. The other goal allowed was gift-wrapped by Flyers penalties, resulting in a 5-on-3 and Erik Karlsson blast.

6. The Senators did what they do: aggressive and disruptive play on the puck-handler and making the opposition work for everything. Ottawa thrives on close, grind-it-out games, which has been a recipe for success as the Senators vie for the Atlantic Division crown.

7. Anderson has just been a wonderful story this season. He's taken some time away from the team to be alongside his wife, Nicholle, who is battling cancer. And even through that, he's having one heck of a season at 35 years old for a team destined for the playoffs.

8. Stick tap to Radko Gudas for jumping on the opportunity to stand up for a teammate late in the first period. Weal, not of much size at 5-foot-10, 179 pounds, was on the receiving end of two hits from 6-foot-1, 216-pound defenseman Mark Borowiecki. The second check was to the back and put Weal headfirst into the boards. Gudas saw it perfectly and swooped in to send a message.

9. More on Weal -- the rookie forward has shown he can help the Flyers in the future. With him playing well in a top-six role, Ottawa looked like it put a concerted effort on being physical with Weal. Similar to Travis Konecny, that's something Weal will have to overcome as more defensive focus is shifted to him.

10. A little inside the box score …
• With his assist, Gostisbehere has three points in his last two games. He's been active offensively with nine shots in those two outings.

• The Flyers were 1 for 4 on the power play, making them 4 for 48 this month.

• The Flyers outshot the Senators, 35-28, and blocked more shots, 20-17.

Instant Replay: Flyers 3, Senators 2 (SO)

Instant Replay: Flyers 3, Senators 2 (SO)

BOX SCORE

A live-and-let-die week of hockey began for the Flyers on Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center against the Ottawa Senators.
 
This was a playoff-type, defensive hockey game from the second period to the finish with the Flyers prevailing 3-2 in the shootout. Jordan Weal won it after saving the Flyers in regulation.

Ottawa's Kyle Turris broke a 1-1 tie with 7:25 left, but Weal re-tied it with 5:59 left in regulation.

Despite the win, Boston's victory over Nashville dropped the tragic number to six points to eliminate the Flyers from the wild card.
 
Notable goals
Weal's third goal in five games that made it 2-2. Goalie Craig Anderson tried to clear the puck and Weal intercepted for an open net.

Challenge
Ottawa lost its challenge that Wayne Simmonds interfered with Anderson at the net on Weal's goal.
 
Goalie report
Steve Mason made his ninth start in 10 games.
 
Power play
Four shots and no goals on the Flyers' first attempt. They had two shots on their second chance. Yet, they did score with a brief 39-second brief power play at period's end to tie the game. Brayden Schenn tipped a Shayne Gostisbehere drive. 

The Flyers are a woeful 4 for 47 on the power play for March. They were 1 for 4 against the Sens, who are 17th in the NHL in penalty killing.
 
Penalty kill
Naturally, the Senators took advantage of their PPs. They had a 23-second five-on-three and scored on nifty 35-foot snap-wrister from Erik Karlsson to make it 1-0. Ottawa was 1 for 3.
 
Fights
Radko Gudas decisioned Mark Borowiecki in the first period.
 
Scratches
Forwards Roman Lyubimov (healthy), Michael Raffl (left knee) and Nick Cousins (concussion) and defenseman Nick Schultz (healthy).
 
Up next
The Flyers practice Wednesday at 11 a.m. at Skate Zone. They will face the Islanders on Thursday at Wells Fargo Center.