Flyers-Predators: 5 things you need to know

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Flyers-Predators: 5 things you need to know

Flyers vs. Predators
1 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet

The Flyers (24-23-11) welcome the NHL-best Nashville Predators (39-13-6) to the Wells Fargo Center for the first of back-to-back matinees.

Here are five things you need to know:

1. New look
After Thursday's 3-2 shootout loss to the NHL-worst Buffalo Sabres, Flyers head coach Craig Berube decide to debut a new set of lines at Friday's practice.

And for the first time this season, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek will not start a game on the same line.

Voracek will begin Saturday's tilt against the Predators with Sean Couturier and Matt Read, while Giroux will center Michael Raffl and Wayne Simmonds.

Since the All-Star break, Voracek has only two points in five games, with a goal against the Sabres on Thursday. He entered the break leading the NHL in scoring, but now sits tied in third with Alex Ovechkin, who the Flyers will see Sunday, with 61 points. As for Giroux, the captain still remains without an even-strength goal at the Wells Fargo Center this season — he has seven power-play goals at home. He has just one point since the break, an assist in the Flyers' 4-3 overtime loss in Columbus on Feb. 13.

"With the two games upcoming here (against Nashville and Washington), it will loosen one of them up against some checking, to be honest," Berube said. “There’s real good defense the next two games. They’re a little cold right now.”

(Berube also made a change on the blue line: Andrew MacDonald in, Luke Schenn out.)

2. Missing Mase
The Flyers come into Saturday getting points in 11 of their last 13 games. They've clawed their way back into playoff contention with six points behind the Bruins, who lost Friday.

But it's not all good for the orange and black. Since Steve Mason went down against the Caps on Feb. 8, the Flyers have only won once, which came against the Sabres. They've lost their last three home games. They're 1-1-3 in their last five games. They've given up 35 goals in their last 15 games. Ray Emery has a career 3.47 goals-against average and .858 save percentage against the Preds, including yielding three goals in a 4-1 loss in Nashville on Dec. 27.

And on Saturday, they're tasked with playing a team that is 15-6-1 against the Eastern Conference this season.

3. Lavy's way
Nashville is known for its defense and its goaltending. It always has been. Mostly its defense. It's very good. The Predators have always produced quality NHL defenders (hello Kimmo Timonen). But this season, in his first season as head coach, Peter Laviolette has scratched some offense out of his club.

The Predators enter Saturday seventh in the NHL with 172 goals, potting 2.97 goals per game. James Neal has 21 goals. Filip Forsberg has 20 goals. They could have four 20-goal scorers by the end of the week, as Colin Wilson has 18 and Craig Smith has 17. They have eight players with double-digit goals. Sound familiar? It should. Laviolette's teams do this.

Laviolette's system produces goals. It did with the Flyers, and it's doing so with the Preds. Nashville leads the NHL with 84 points for a reason. It has a perfect blend of offense, defense and goaltending. If Laviolette had half of the defense he does in Nashville with the Flyers, he'd most likely still be here and the Flyers could have won a Stanley Cup.

4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: For the first time in his career, Ryan White enters riding a three-game point streak. Against the Sabres on Thursday, White was the team's most effective forward. He created scoring chances and brought energy to a team that was lacking it against the Sabres, and he's done so since he was called up to the team on Jan. 26. White will play with R.J. Umberger and Brayden Schenn, as he did Thursday. Let's see if White's energy can raise Schenn and Umberger's play. It would be a welcomed jolt for the Flyers.

Predators: How good has Pekka Rinne been this season? The 32-year-old is second to Montreal's Carey Price with a 2.01 GAA and .934 save percentage, and leads the league with 34 wins. Rinne has bounced back big time after an injury-riddled 2013-14 season. He's back in the Vezina Trophy chatter, and has the Predators atop the NHL. The Preds are a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. Nashville is playing back-to-back contests, so Rinne might get Saturday's game off. If he does, watch Shea Weber. Here are 108.5 (mph) reasons why.

5. This and that
• Via Associated Press, the Flyers have 20 second-period power-play goals this season, which is impressive, but 20 power-play tallies combined in the first and third period.

• Since joining the Preds in the 2011, Mike Fisher has three goals and three assists against the Flyers. Want more on Fisher? Google "Mike Fisher, Carrie Underwood and Hilary Duff."

• Wayne Simmonds is on a six-game point streak. He has eight points during the span. In his last 10 games, he has six goals and 12 points.

• James Neal has four goals in his last five games, and four goals in his last five trips to Philadelphia. He became the first ever player to be fined for diving this season. Flyers fans remember him mostly for this.

• Defenseman Cody Franson and center Mike Santorelli, both acquired from Toronto for Olli Jokinen-plus, will make their Predators debut against the Flyers. Franson had six goals and 31 points with the Leafs and Santorelli recorded 11 and 18, respectively.

Flyers' poor division record biggest factor in being out of playoff picture

Flyers' poor division record biggest factor in being out of playoff picture

PITTSBURGH -- There's a bit of tragic irony to how the Flyers' season will end over the next two-plus weeks.
 
They have seven games left on the schedule. Six of them are teams residing in the Metro Division. Tuesday's opponent, Ottawa, is the lone exception.
 
There are so many reasons why the Flyers are scrambling now, clinging to the desperate belief they can still make the playoffs -- mathematically, they're alive -- against all rational thought.
 
They're six points behind Boston for the second wild-card spot, but they still have to hurdle Carolina, Tampa Bay and the Islanders just to get to Boston.
 
Yet one major reason for the Flyers' dilemma seems pretty obvious: They've been simply awful in head-to-head play against their own division.
 
The Flyers have a winning record against both divisions in the Western Conference.
 
That's not the case, however, in the East where the Metro Division is the only division with three teams over 100 points and where the Flyers have failed miserably to challenge from within.
 
Sunday's 6-2 rout of the Penguins in Pittsburgh left the Flyers with a poor 9-13-2 record against the Metro. It's the only division they have a losing record against.
 
Last season, Dave Hakstol's group finished 14-10-6 against their own division. That was a critical factor in enabling the Flyers to make the playoffs.
 
"We know where we are in the standings and it's not going to be easy to make the playoffs," Jakub Voracek said. "We all know that. We have to work off results of the other teams and try to play relaxed and loose."
 
Against the Eastern Conference overall, the Flyers are close to .500 (21-22-4) yet realize they should be better.
 
These two records represent a very large reason why the Flyers are sitting on the outside looking in as the playoffs near.
 
Right now, at least four clubs from the Metro -- half the division -- will make the playoffs. That says a lot about why games within your section are so pivotal at season's end.
 
"The numbers don't lie," Hakstol admitted on Sunday. "It's a tough road every single night. You've got to do a good job within your division, within your conference.
 
"We've played a lot of tight, hard games. The reality is, we're a number of points out of the playoffs and those points within your division are very valuable."
 
It's something the Flyers have to greatly improve upon next season if they want to be sitting in a playoff spot a month before the season ends instead of playing catch-up when the odds are hopelessly against them.
 
Pens killers
Every team in the NHL has a couple players who have fairly impressive career numbers against other teams.
 
Voracek averages better than a point against the Penguins. His goal Sunday gave him 17 goals and 34 points in 32 career games against Pittsburgh.
 
Voracek admitted after the game he's not sure why.
 
Claude Giroux also has excellent numbers against the Pens -- his two assists in the win left the Flyers' captain with 41 points (14 goals) in 40 career games vs. Pittsburgh.
 
Shayne Gostisbehere has been around a fraction as long as either Giroux or Voracek -- eight career games vs. the Pens -- yet has two goals and nine points in those games.
 
Brayden Schenn doesn't average a point a game against the Pens, but he's close. His assist on Sunday left the winger/center with 20 points (8 goals) in 26 games.
 
The only Flyer who has solid numbers against Pittsburgh and didn't make Sunday's score sheet was Wayne Simmonds. He has 23 points in 28 games. 

Dave Hakstol: Travis Konecny on 4th line 'makes sense in a lot of respects'

Dave Hakstol: Travis Konecny on 4th line 'makes sense in a lot of respects'

PITTSBURGH -- The curious line juggling of Travis Konecny continued Sunday night.

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol again started Konecny on Pierre-Edouard Bellemare's fourth line with Chris VandeVelde, but just as he did in Columbus, Hakstol moved the rookie around.

This was Konecny's third straight game off Valtteri Filppula's unit with Jakub Voracek at the start. The obvious message to Konecny seems to be: Get yourself into a more defensive-minded role early and then let the offense come to you.

Konecny has made some defensive strides.

"It makes sense in a lot of respects," Hakstol said of the move to Bellemare's unit. "He's playing with two players with a lot of structure. He excels in that type of setting.

"If you look at [Saturday], he can bounce around the lineup with different lines and we used him that way. He didn't just play with his two linemates. He moved around a little bit. He's very effective in that role when we're able to get him out there. He gives us a good boost, a good push."

Against Columbus on Saturday, Konecny played on two units with Sean Couturier -- one featuring Jordan Weal and the other, Dale Weise. He also played a few shifts with Filppula and Wayne Simmonds.

The same thing happened Sunday in the Flyers' 6-2 rout of the Penguins (see game story). Konecny finished with an assist and plus-1 in just 8:02. He is one of the very, very few Flyers who is an even. Most are minus.

Konecny, who just turned 20, and Weal, 24, gave the Flyers a lift on Sunday. Weal had a goal and an assist in 13:06.

"No matter who it is contributing, everyone is excited for everybody," Konecny said. "A lot of guys put up some numbers tonight and contributed. It was a good team effort. That's what we want to see."
 
The Flyers were so relaxed it makes you wonder if the pressure of trying to make the playoffs is gone because their odds are so stacked against them.
 
"We’re at that point where you just need to win and just show up," Konecny said. "There's nerves in the back of your mind. We're pretty loose and trying to enjoy it as much as we can going through a stressful time.
 
"We've handled it well. We played a good team, we knew they would push but we pushed harder."
 
Konecny said he's not fazed by the different line combinations he's a part of, often in the same period.
 
"It's not too bad," he said. "I kind of expected it going into a game. I know when I am playing with Belly and Vandy that throughout the game, there's going to be times like penalty kills come up and he'll fill me in with another line.
 
"At the start of the third [tonight], I filled in another line. I know it's going to come. I just expect it. I've played with pretty much everybody on the team. I'm comfortable out there."
 
Loose pucks
The six goals on the road against Pittsburgh last happened on Feb. 20, 2013, when the Flyers won, 6-5. ... Sunday was the Flyers' largest margin of victory in Pittsburgh since March 31, 2003, when they beat the Penguins, 6-1, at Mellon Arena. ... Weal picked up the second two-point game of his career -- both of which have taken place this month. ... Weise has three goals in his last seven games. ... Claude Giroux had two assists, and now has two goals and eight assists for 10 points in 13 games this month.