Flyers-Red Wings: 5 things you need to know

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Flyers-Red Wings: 5 things you need to know

Flyers vs. Red Wings
7 p.m., CSN

After claiming four of six points on their three-game road trip, the Flyers (2-3-2) will return to the Wells Fargo Center for a matchup with the Detroit Red Wings (4-1-2) Saturday evening.

Here are five things you need to know for the game: 

1. The hurt locker
The Flyers’ much-maligned defensive corps took yet another major hit Friday. Flyers general manager Ron Hextall announced Braydon Coburn and Andrew MacDonald, who make up the team’s top defensive pair, will miss the next four weeks because of lower-body injuries.

"It’s tough, but there’s nothing I can do about it," Flyers coach Craig Berube said (see story). "We’re going to deal with it and go play. We’ve got capable guys to play. Coburn’s been out for a while anyhow. Everybody will pick up the slack. Like I said, we’ve got guys who can do the job."

Coburn hasn’t played since opening night. He attempted to return last Tuesday in Chicago, but didn’t feel like he was ready to play after taking warm-ups. MacDonald had appeared in all seven of the Flyers’ games. He is suspected to have a foot injury, though the Flyers would not confirm that.

The Flyers are also somewhat banged up on offense. Forwards Vinny Lecavalier (foot) and Zac Rinaldo (upper body) will miss Saturday’s game against Detroit. Lecavalier returned to practice Friday and said he is targeting either Tuesday’s game against Los Angeles or Thursday’s game in Tampa for his return. Hextall said he expects Rinaldo to miss just one game. 

Expect Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who scored his first career NHL goal Wednesday, to continue to fill in for Lecavalier on the team’s second line. Blair Jones will likely take Rinaldo’s spot on the fourth line with Chris VandeVelde and Jason Akeson.

2. Wheel of fortune
While the Flyers have had to battle through the early-season injury bug, the Red Wings are close to being back to full strength.

Star center Pavel Datsyuk (shoulder) returned to Detroit’s lineup in Tuesday’s 2-1 overtime loss to Montreal and also skated in Thursday’s 4-3 win over Pittsburgh. He collected an assist in each game. 

The Red Wings could also get forward Johan Franzen, who has five points in four games, back soon. He’s eligible to be activated from injured reserve Saturday. Franzen, who is out with a lower-body injury, last played on Oct. 17, when he scored two goals in a 4-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

3. Anybody home?
The Flyers are still searching for their first victory at the Wells Fargo Center.

In three games held in South Philly this season, the orange and black have been handed a regulation loss by the New Jersey Devils and have been bested in the shootout by the Montreal Canadiens and Anaheim Ducks.

It marks only the third time the Flyers have lost their first three home contests, joining the 1999-00 and 2008-09 clubs. It should also be noted that the Flyers have never dropped their first four home games to start a season.

4. Keep an eye on …

Flyers: If there’s one player the Flyers know they can count on for consistency each game, it’s Matt Read. He forechecks hard, he kills penalties and he’s shown he’s more than capable of contributing on offense. If he didn’t have such tremendous chemistry with Sean Couturier, Read would probably get a chance to expand his offensive role on the Flyers’ top line. Read, who scored his first goal of the season against the Pens, has quietly gone about his business in the early going. While being relied on to shut down the opposition’s top lines on the checking line, which he’s been superb at, he’s still managed to pick up four points in seven games. He’s truly one of the most underrated forwards in the league.

Red Wings: When you look at Detroit’s scoring leaders, it should come as no surprise that Henrik Zetterberg is at the top of the list. He’s already collected 10 points (three goals) this season and enters Saturday riding a four-game point streak. He has an uncanny way of getting into openings and creating opportunities for himself and teammates. The Flyers can’t afford to give the Swede time and space. He burned them for two goals and an assist in his only game against the orange and black last season.

5. This and that

• The Flyers took two of three games against Detroit last season. Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell registered six points apiece in the season series. Daniel Alfredsson, who is currently a free agent with an ailing back, led the way for the Red Wings with four points.

• Detroit is the only team in the NHL that has not allowed a power-play goal this season (21 for 21 on the penalty kill).

• Dating back to the 1997-98 season, the Flyers have won eight straight home games against the Red Wings by a combined score of 33-13.

• Six of Detroit’s seven games this season have been decided by a single marker.

• After potting a goal and picking up two assists Wednesday, Sean Couturier now has two career three-point games in the regular season. He had two markers and two helpers against the Red Wings on Dec. 4, 2013.

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Andre Burakovsky, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had a goal and an assist to lead the Washington Capitals to a 7-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Jay beagle, Brett Connolly, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams also scored, and Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Winnik each had two assists to help Washington earn at least a point in its 12th straight game (10-0-2) for an NHL-best 66 points.

Braden Holtby bounced back from his roughest outing of the season with 22 saves. Holtby was pulled after giving up a season-high five goals on 26 shots in an 8-7 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Monday. He improved to 22-8-4 and 5-0 lifetime against St. Louis (see full recap).

Grabner scores 2 goals, Rangers top Leafs
TORONTO -- Michael Grabner scored two goals against his former team, helping the New York Rangers snap a three-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei and J.T. Miller added goals for New York, and Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves following a series of rough outings.

Tyler Bozak and Zach Hyman scored for Toronto, which had a three-game winning streak stopped. The Maple Leafs had earned 21 of a possible 26 points in their previous 13 games (10-2-1). Frederik Andersen gave up four goals on 40 shots (see full recap).

Tavares leads Islanders to shutout of Stars
NEW YORK -- Getting a new coach this week didn't change things much for the Islanders -- and oddly enough, that's a good thing for New York.

John Tavares narrowly missed out on his second hat trick in a week, Thomas Greiss got his second straight shutout and the Islanders beat the Dallas Stars 3-0 on Thursday night in their first game since firing longtime coach Jack Capuano.

New York canned Capuano in the middle of his seventh season Tuesday, replacing him on an interim basis with Doug Weight (see full recap).

Niederreiter, Wild dodge letdown, edge Coyotes
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Nino Niederreiter had two power-play goals and an assist, including the go-ahead score for the Minnesota Wild with 7:06 remaining in a 4-3 victory over Arizona on Thursday night after the Coyotes came back from a two-goal deficit.

With Shane Doan in the penalty box for hooking, Niederreiter knocked in a nifty redirect of Mikael Granlund's slap shot for the winner. Devan Dubnyk stopped 20 shots for the Wild, who are 18-2-2 in their last 22 games.

Louis Domingue made 21 saves for the Coyotes, who lost their fourth in a row and fell to 2-12-1 in their last 15 games starting with a 4-1 loss to Minnesota in Arizona on Dec. 17 (see full recap).

End to End: What adjustment would you make on Flyers' defense?

End to End: What adjustment would you make on Flyers' defense?

Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

With the Flyers on their bye week, let’s discuss a few topics.

Going End to End this week are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

Today’s question: What adjustment would you make on the Flyers' defense?

Dougherty
There is not much in Dave Hakstol’s arsenal to significantly improve the team defense with a lineup change. Sure, scratching Andrew MacDonald could be a positive step, but that does not solve the problem here. We can point fingers at the defensive group because the Flyers have allowed the league’s second-most goals at 144. They’re part of the problem.

What is plaguing the Flyers is not just the play of their six defensemen on any given night; it’s their overall team defense. Some forwards are quitting on the backcheck, and not providing enough support in their own zone, missing their own assignments.

The Flyers, I believe, are struggling with the lack of practice time. And while it is true that every team is dealing with the same compact schedule as the Flyers, Hakstol has to maximize the little practice time he gets going forward and preach team defense. Gaps have been a major issue with the current group of blueliners, and that is an area assistant coach Gord Murphy has to fix. Hakstol has singled out the team’s rush defense as an issue, and that’s another area the team has to work on, too.

A lot of the same issues that were appearing in the beginning of the season when the Flyers were struggling are reappearing in their game now. They were able to make adjustments earlier in the season to hone their game defensively. More film study and more coaching are just a couple of the adjustments I’d make with the current options.

Hall
Sometimes it takes a fresh face, some new blood to spark change.

If anything, it sends a bit of a message.

The Flyers have options at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley and general manager Ron Hextall didn’t rule anything out last Sunday.

But, of course, given the Flyers’ salary cap conundrum, it’s not as simple as just calling up a player.

So, the easiest thing that can be done is change within the current personnel. That means scratching MacDonald from time to time, just how Hakstol has done so with Shayne Gostisbehere, Brandon Manning, Michael Del Zotto, Radko Gudas and many Flyers forwards.

MacDonald hasn’t been as bad as some may think. Oftentimes, his mistakes are magnified more than others. But too frequently do we see him out of position or misreading a play on a goal against. And that’s been true for all Flyers defensemen, yet MacDonald seems to be one of the only spared of the consequences.

Benching MacDonald isn’t a drastic fix and it may not do much at all, but it’s something we haven’t seen since Nov. 19.

Paone
This a really tough question because, to be quite frank, there is no easy solution here to fixing a Flyers defense that has been mired in a state of miserable play and has played a large part in the team's allowing 3.50 goals per game in the 14 contests since the 10-game win streak ended in mid-December. 

It's not like Hakstol or Hextall can push some magic button here and have things fixed in a matter of moments. The Flyers have salary cap and roster issues, so it's going to be tough to bring in a player via trade to help fix things on the back end. Same goes for bringing up a prospect because space on the roster would have to be made first.

This situation leaves the Flyers to fix the problem from within with the defensemen they currently have at the NHL level. They're going to have to play their way out of this. And that's why I'm interested in focusing on the younger defensemen like Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov right now. We know what the veteran defensemen on this team are and they've been through this sort of thing before. This will not be the last team-wide rut the younger defensemen will play through in their careers. It will happen again. They're going to have to learn how to play through this and not let it affect their individual play. That's why I didn't agree with Ghost's benching in Boston last weekend.  Sure, he has not played well this season and the warts to his game have been evident. And there are times when sitting back, taking a breather and watching can be beneficial. But I'm a believer that a young player has to play through his growing pains and grow from them.

This isn't going to be an answer most of you will like to hear, but with the way the Flyers' hands are tied, they're just going to have to play their way out of these defensive struggles with what they have.