Flyers-Maple Leafs: 5 things you need to know

flyers-mapleleafs-matchup.jpg

Flyers-Maple Leafs: 5 things you need to know

The Flyers (33-24-6) will try to stay hot when they clash with the Toronto Maple Leafs (33-23-8) on Saturday night.

Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. (CSN) at Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

Here are five things you need to know:

1. Follow the leaders
If you’re trying to figure out why the Flyers have won three in a row and seven of their last eight, look no further than the team’s top two offensive threats.

Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek didn’t get off to a great start this season, but the Flyers’ leading-scoring tandem from a season ago has carried the team as of late.

Giroux has nine goals and nine assists over his last 11 games and is now over a point-per-game pace this season. The Flyers’ captain leads the team in goals (23), assists (41) and points (64), and has been a dominant presence in the offensive zone, consistently winning puck battles and creating quality chances.

Voracek seems to be finding his scoring touch after a bit of a dry spell. After registering just one goal during a 12-game stretch, the 24-year-old has found the back of the net three times in his last two contests. What’s even more encouraging is Voracek is shooting the puck more. He tends to a have a pass-first mindset at times, which isn’t always a bad thing, but the Flyers need him to fire away. Voracek is a natural goal scorer. The only way to prove that is to get shots on net.

If the Flyers want to stay in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, they’ll need Giroux and Voracek to continue to lead the way. They are 17-2-1 when Giroux scores and 10-2-2 when Voracek gets in the goal column.

2. Out for revenge
In the only previous meeting between these two clubs this season, the Maple Leafs walked out of Wells Fargo Center with a 3-1 win over the Flyers on Oct. 2.

Dave Bolland scored twice for the Leafs that night and Phil Kessel also beat Steve Mason, who made 22 saves in a losing effort. Brayden Schenn potted the Flyers’ lone marker on Jonathan Bernier, who turned aside 31 of 32 shots fired his way.

The Flyers will be searching for revenge north of the border. Toronto has taken three of its last four contests against the Flyers overall, but has lost six of seven to the orange and black on home ice.

The Leafs have also struggled on the man advantage as of late. They snapped a three-game losing streak by beating the New York Rangers 3-2 in overtime on Wednesday, but failed to score a power-play goal for the seventh consecutive game.

That doesn’t mean the Flyers should take the Leafs lightly. Toronto is one of the NHL’s best teams on the PP, scoring on 21.0 percent of its chances. It’s also worth mentioning the Flyers allowed three goals while shorthanded in Wednesday’s 6-4 win over the Washington Capitals.

3. Catching up
Since the Flyers are playing the Leafs, the James van Riemsdyk-Luke Schenn trade is bound to come up at some point.

So how’s JVR doing up north? The Middletown, N.J. native has already hit career highs in goals (26) and assists (26) this season, and trails only Kessel for the team lead in points.

It’s hard to compare stats between forwards and defensemen, especially in this case. Everyone knows JVR has the ability to light the lamp, and Schenn is a physical, shutdown blueliner who will block shots and pile up hits.

Schenn has taken his lumps this season, but has rebounded as of late. He was paired with new Flyer Andrew MacDonald on Wednesday and had a strong game.

But nearly two seasons since the trade, it’s clear the Leafs have gotten more from van Riemsdyk than the Flyers have from Schenn. Let's leave it at that.

4. Injuries
Backup goalie Ray Emery remains sidelined with a lower-body injury. He hasn’t been able to play or practice since exiting the Flyers’ loss to the San Jose Sharks on Feb. 27. Emery did not travel with the team to Toronto, so Cal Heeter will continue to serve as Mason’s backup.

For Toronto, Bolland (ankle) is on injured reserve and remains out indefinitely. It’s been a difficult season for the first-year Maple Leaf. He’s been productive -- six goals and four assists -- but injuries have limited the centerman to just 15 games.

Enforcer Colton Orr, who has not played since Feb. 4 against the Florida Panthers, is questionable for Saturday’s game with an undisclosed injury.

5. This and that
• The Flyers are 19-0-2 this season when scoring four or more goals.

• Kessel is averaging 1.09 points per game this season, which would be the highest by a Toronto player since Mats Sundin in 2005-06 (1.11).

• The Flyers have scored a power-play goal in 11 of their last 13 games.

• JVR has collected 44 goals and 84 points in 110 games since joining the Leafs.

• The Flyers are among the NHL’s best penalty-killing teams on the road at 15.5 percent.

Ivan Provorov buries Chicago nightmare by showing Blackhawks his true self

Ivan Provorov buries Chicago nightmare by showing Blackhawks his true self

Ivan Provorov moved on but didn’t forget.

The 19-year-old still remembers losing his footing on the United Center ice in front of 21,263 fans, alone in his own end and costing the Flyers a goal in a blowout defeat to the Blackhawks on Oct. 18.

In just his third NHL game, Provorov had his rookie moment. He also had a minus-5 rating when the 7-4 loss was all said and done.

Well, on Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center, he saw the Blackhawks again and made it a point to show them his best. Provorov ripped off two goals in 31 seconds of the second period to erase a 1-0 deficit and spearhead a 3-1 win for the Flyers (see story).

Better output than last time?

Provorov laughed, paused and then laughed again.

“A little bit,” he said. “I think so.

“I was trying to use it as a positive thing. Try to prove that that’s not me, that it’s just one bad game.”

Consider that job done.

“I didn’t play my best at that game,” Provorov said. “But I put it behind me, learned from it and this was a better result tonight.”

In 31 ticks of the clock, the Russian defenseman topped his goal total through the first 25 games (see 10 observations). Provorov uncorked a slap shot and slung a wrister for the tallies early in the middle stanza.

“I think you have to keep everything in perspective from a night like that,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said of Provorov’s first game against Chicago. “He is a guy that continues to work at his game and continues to build.”

Provorov didn’t net the hat trick, but in the same period, saved a goal on the defensive end when he quickly pounced on a puck dribbling toward the goal line off and behind goalie Steve Mason.

“I came from the left corner and I saw the puck was rolling on Mase’s shoulder,” Provorov said. “It went down, rolled to the goal line. I just got there as quick as I could and swiped it out.

“I think it was close. As soon I saw the puck, I tried to get there as fast as I can.”

After experiencing some growing pains to start the season, Provorov has played better. Once he makes a mistake, he rarely makes it again.

“He’s just beyond his years in terms of maturity and the way he studies the game,” Hakstol said a little over two weeks ago. “He’s a young guy that I can probably ask him about a play that happened two weeks ago in a game and he would immediately have recall on that play. A very intelligent player, he’s handled the ups and the downs pretty well."

Mason isn't surprised by Provorov's development.

"When you come into the league at a young age, it’s not easy and you’ve got to get your feet under you," Mason said. "We’re starting to see that [with Provorov]."

And two goals in half a minute don’t hurt.

“Score one goal in a game, it’s a good feeling. Score two in one shift, it’s unbelievable,” Provorov said. “Two great plays by our forwards. The whole team, it was a great effort, we played a great hockey game, so it was easy to play.

“Every time you score, it’s like a confidence booster. For me, it’s defense first but when you get goals and assists, it’s always nice.”

The Flyers had the players’ dads on hand for Saturday’s game. Provorov’s father, Vladimir, couldn’t make it from Russia, but you can bet he tuned in.

“He watches every game back home,” Provorov said. “Today was a little easier because it’s only 9 p.m. back home when the game started, so yeah, I think my whole family watched it.”

He watches the other games at 3, 4 a.m.?

“Yeah,” Provorov said with a smile, “then he takes my brother to practice at 6.”

Eric Semborski, from Temple club hockey to NHL goalie for a day against Flyers

Eric Semborski, from Temple club hockey to NHL goalie for a day against Flyers

Eric Semborski woke up Saturday and drove to work in Voorhees, New Jersey.

It was just an ordinary morning for the 23-year-old, a Temple graduate with a bachelor’s degree in sports management.

Little did he know, in a couple of hours his world would turn upside down.

Semborski, who works for Snider Hockey and at Flyers Skate Zone running goalie clinics and roller leagues, hadn’t played competitively since suiting up for the Owls’ club team in the spring of 2015.

That was until Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center, where, someway, somehow he was draped in a Chicago Blackhawks jersey and squaring up blazing shots off the sticks of Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith, just to name a few.

Quite the promotion, huh?

“It’s surreal, really,” he said. “I can’t explain it.”

Could anyone?

“I couldn’t imagine the rush,” Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling said.

Incredibly and astonishingly, Semborski turned into an NHL goaltender for a day as Chicago’s second string to Darling, who suffered a 3-1 loss to the Flyers.

How Semborski was found and summoned by the Blackhawks is still somewhat of a mystery, even to the Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, native himself. Once Chicago received word that regular starter Corey Crawford had to suddenly undergo an appendectomy at a Philadelphia hospital, the Blackhawks started scrambling for an emergency backup to Darling.

“I was at work, at the rink in Voorhees just coaching,” Semborski said. “My boss called me and I missed it. I walked off the ice and started talking with someone from the Flyers, he started asking me, ‘Where’d you play hockey, what’s your playing history?’” 

Semborski was confounded.

“I didn’t even know what he was getting at,” he said. “I asked, ‘Why are you asking me this?’ And he said, ‘Oh, Chicago needs a goalie.’ I just lost it. He said, ‘Go home, get your stuff and if they’re going to use you, they’ll call you.’ I left right away.

“I was like, OK, this probably isn’t going to happen, there’s no way.”

Ten minutes later …

“I’m in the truck and I got a call from Chicago,” Semborski said.

Who was it?

“I just know his name’s Tony,” Semborski said. “That’s all I know.”

How the heck did the Chicago Blackhawks, winners of three Stanley Cups since 2010, find a regular, hard-working guy living in Manayunk to be their reserve netminder?

“No idea,” Semborski said, still in awe talking after the game outside the locker rooms. “I think it had something to do with me working with Snider Hockey, working at Voorhees. They asked around and people just threw my name out I guess. I really don’t know how it happened. I’ll have to get to the bottom of that and thank some people. I have no idea who gave them my info, but whoever did, thank you, because it was awesome.”

So Semborski hustled from Voorhees to Manayunk, packed up his gear — including his old Temple mask, sporting the words “Philly Proud” and “Temple Tuff” — and quickly made his way to the Wells Fargo Center. He arrived around 12:30 p.m. before puck drop at 1.

“I hit some traffic on 76 (Schuylkill Expressway), of course,” Semborski said. “I got here as fast as I could in my street clothes. No time to put on a tie.”

Once Semborski signed his amateur tryout, it became real. He walked into the visiting locker room and there were the Blackhawks and his NHL jersey, a makeshift uniform with Crawford’s No. 50.

“It was hanging up when I got in there,” he said. “I guess they took Crawford’s and threw a name on it and made it work.”

Prior to hitting the ice for warmups, Semborski got acquainted with his teammates.

“Dream come true,” he said. “That was so cool, just hanging out with those guys. They made me feel welcomed right away, started joking around.

“When I got there, they put my number on the board and said I’m throwing in $200 for the holiday party. That was pretty good. I told them, ‘You better take credit because that’s all I got.’”

What about his big-money contract?

“No, I should be paying them for this,” Semborski said. “That was awesome.

“I signed some stuff when I came in, I don’t know what it was. I’m happy with a hat and the memories.”

Especially taking the net in warmups.

“I was a bit rusty, but no matter how much I play, I’m not going to be ready for them,” he said. “It was fast and I couldn’t even catch my breath because I was trying to take it all in. That was the best 20 minutes of my life out there skating with them.

“You’re playing against the best guys in the world. I knew I wasn’t going to stop most of them. I was lucky if it hit me.”

As for the game, Semborski didn’t play.

“Well you almost saw it,” Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville said, referring to his frustration with a three-goal second period by the Flyers.

“That probably would have been a big mistake,” Semborski said with a laugh.

“That would have been so cool, but I wouldn’t change a thing. The experience was awesome.”

What did Quenneville think?

"That’s part of the process with all of the teams, they have the local amateur guys or sometimes guys who have played pro before," he said. "But with our cap situation, we needed an amateur, so he fit all the criteria and it was a good opportunity for him. ... It’s kind of a cool experience for the kid."

So Semborski sat on the bench, padded and ready. He smiled and watched, supporting his new team.

He, of course, is a Flyers fan, but …

“Not today,” he said with a smile. “Every other day, yeah, but not today.

“When I first got out there, I was like, ‘All right, if [the Flyers] score, don’t stand up. Just relax.’”

Semborski admitted to Chicago breaking his heart in 2010 when it beat the Flyers in the Stanley Cup Final.

“That was one of the hardest things I ever watched,” he said. “But today, that’s all forgotten. I’m a ‘Hawks fan today.”

Afterward, Semborski said his phone was flooded with 70-something text messages and 20-plus phone calls.

“I’m going to have to start calling some people,” he said.

His first will probably be to a special loved one.

“It’s my dad’s birthday,” Semborski said. “So, happy birthday, Dad. Best present ever for you.”