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.

Connor McDavid, Oilers' speed, skill present Flyers with 'real good challenge'

Connor McDavid, Oilers' speed, skill present Flyers with 'real good challenge'

VOORHEES, N.J. — They are among the very best – and highest scoring — lines in the NHL this season.
 
And they’re gunning for the Flyers on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
Connor McDavid’s unit with Milan Lucic and Leon Draisaitl have a combined 30 goals and 78 points worth of offense. 
 
Among them, the lightning quick McDavid leads the NHL with 36 points. All 11 of his goals are even strength. 
 
He doesn’t have a single power-play goal, but is tied for the league lead with several players, including Claude Giroux, with 10 power-play assists.
 
You can expect to see Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s unit with Chris VandeVelde and Dale Weise against this line with defenseman Ivan Provorov drawing McDavid for the first time this season.
 
“Speed and skill that Edmonton has up front presents a real good challenge for our team,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “We have to be better with the puck tomorrow. 
 
“We didn’t do enough when we had the puck. Gave it up a little too easily and because of that, you end up playing defense a lot of the night and that’s what happened last night to us.”
 
Bellemare, who had his share of forward battles with Jaromir Jagr in Tuesday, likes to analyze the matchups against McDavid.
 
“He’s one of the best players in the world,” Bellemare said of the 19-year-old McDavid. “It’s tough not to be excited when playing against a guy who plays like this. He competes every second he is on the ice. That line is an impressive line.”
 
The Flyers better have some bad, choppy ice to slow McDavid down. Edmonton has some of the fastest ice in the league and the Oilers use it to their full advantage. 
 
Asked of McDavid’s tendencies, Bellemare said, “Is that a tendency? To be super fast?”
 
Yes it is. 
 
“When you play against them, he is a kid who is freaky fast right from the start,” Bellemare said. “Against that line, you saw [against Buffalo] that everyone knows how fast he is and he still had two breakaways.”
 
Which means the Flyers need to watch their turnovers, especially in the neutral zone where McDavid can go 60 feet in a flash.
 
“Even blue line to the top of the circle, you can’t turn the puck over,” Bellemare said. “Or he’s gone. This is a tendency we have to be careful of. All of the ice, you can’t give him any time or space. The less time you give him, the bigger chance you have to frustrate a player like this.”
 
Bellemare did some talking with Jagr a couple times in Tuesday’s game. So did Provorov. Bellemare says it helps to add psychology to the mix.
 
“You try to be in his face,” Bellemare said. “If you can win that battle against that line and our first line can win the battle against their fourth line, then it’s a win-win situation. I was trying to be in [Jagr’s] face.”
 
Jagr actually got angrier at Provorov and it showed with his hooking calls. But when Bellemare and Jagr went into the corner, Jagr got testy with his stick there as well.
 
“He was trying to give it to me a little harder,” Bellemare said. “Exactly what I need. If he is less focused on the puck, then maybe I have a chance to win that puck.”
 
McDavid’s focus will be solely on the puck.
 
“McDavid has been playing some pretty good hockey,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “They’re a high-tempo team. A smart team. We’ve got to be ready.”
 
Loose pucks
Boyd Gordon came off long term injured reserve onto the active roster to give the Flyers 13 forwards. In doing that, Matt Read (oblique pull) went on injured reserve. … Defenseman Michael Del Zotto will sit against the Oilers while Radko Gudas returns from an illness. Gudas will be paired with Mark Streit, as Ivan Provorov remains with Andrew MacDonald for now. … Steve Mason, who did not practice Wednesday, will start in goal.

Ivan Provorov passes latest rookie test by shutting down Jaromir Jagr

Ivan Provorov passes latest rookie test by shutting down Jaromir Jagr

VOORHEES, N.J. — Maybe he saw some old video of how Chris Therien did it.
 
Or maybe Ivan Provorov just shrugged his 19-year-old shoulders and figured he’d do it his way.
 
Whatever the Flyers' rookie defenseman did, he shut down the ageless Jaromir Jagr during Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime victory against the Florida Panthers. 
 
Just like Therien used to do back in the day. 
 
Provorov frustrated Jagr into taking penalties. And when he wasn’t in the box for hooking the rookie, you could visibly see Jagr’s frustration across his face.
 
At one point, they were talking to each other on the ice. A Russian and a Czech. What was said?
 
“It stays in the game,” Provorov said with a smile Wednesday.
 
Provorov said he didn’t spend time watching a ton of video.
 
“We did our pre-scout in the morning,” he said. “That was it.”
 
Provorov, with help from centerman Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, held Jagr to one shot. His teammates were impressed.
 
“Unbelievable, a 19-year-old kid going against Jaromir Jagr,” Wayne Simmonds said. “I think he did a pretty good job. 
 
“I think he has done a great job all year long and he is only going to get better. If you watch him play, he is getting better and better, not every game but every shift.”
 
Provorov had an assist and two blocked shots, including a critical block on Reilly Smith that could have been a game-winner in overtime.
 
“Well we haven’t used him a lot in the 3-on-3 but we felt that it was time,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “Again, coming off of a real solid night where he’s playing against really good players all night long, he continued that right through the OT. 
 
“The impressive thing on that play is the read that he made to make that block … I haven’t looked at it on the replay or on tape yet. But I think that Mase might have been over on it but that play that Provy made was potentially a game saving play right there.”
 
Provorov doesn’t make flashy plays. He just makes the steady play every time he needs to. At season’s start, he was struggling to get his shot off without being blocked. Now he finds space along the blue to better position himself to get his shot through. He thinks before he reacts.
 
Behind the net, he is one of the few Flyers defensemen who almost never loses a puck battle. It’s often hard to believe he’s as young as he is.
 
“He moves so well and makes good reads, he’s a very intelligent player,” Andrew MacDonald said. “He has great poise with the puck, and not just for a 19-year-old, but for any aged player. 
 
“Defensively he always seems to be in the right positions and communicates well. We were fortunate to have some time together in camp, and a few games. I feel like we picked up where we left off the past few games.”
 
Jagr’s assets are size, strength — especially his lower core — and a skill set of moves without blinding speed.
 
Thursday will present a new challenge for Provorov: Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, the NHL’s leading scorer with 36 points. McDavid is all about youth and raw speed. 
 
“They’re different players, but it doesn’t matter,” Provorov said. “You take away time and space. Don’t give him time to get a lot of speed.”
 
This is another learning experience for Provorov. In a different age category. Hakstol credits assistant coach Gord Murphy for bringing Provorov up to speed at the NHL level.
 
“I think Murph has done a really good job in managing that progression along, most importantly, with Provy, managing it," Hakstol said.
 
“You can go back to the tell-tale sign of the tough night back in Chicago [third game]. That didn’t shake or rattle Provy in any way. He came back with pretty good determination the next day.
 
“You have to be an honest evaluator of your own game. I think Provy … whether it’s a real good night or a tough night, that allows you to keep an even keel and an even balance. I think that’s a real strength.”

Injury update
The Flyers on Wednesday placed left winger Matt Read on injured reserve and activated center Boyd Gordon. Gordon has been out since Nov. 3.