Flyers-Stars: 5 things you need to know

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Flyers-Stars: 5 things you need to know

The Flyers (13-13-2), currently in the midst of a six-game road trip, will again try to get over the .500 mark when they take on the Dallas Stars (13-9-5) Saturday afternoon.

Puck drop's set for 2 p.m. at American Airlines Center (CSN).

Here’s a closer look at the matchup:

1. Lecavalier still sidelined
Back spasms will keep Flyers forward Vinny Lecavalier out of the lineup for a third consecutive game (see story).

Lecavalier was going to try to skate Friday, but the Flyers’ practice was canceled because the power went out at the Dallas facility -- caused by the massive ice storm moving through North Texas.

“He was going to try [to practice],” head coach Craig Berube said. “He would have gone out there and we would have learned how he felt. He will not play.”

Despite missing six games already this season because of three separate injuries, Lecavalier remains tied with Matt Read for the team lead in goals with nine.

Brayden Schenn will continue to center the Flyers’ second line. He's skated in between Michael Raffl and Wayne Simmonds the last two games and says he is “comfortable playing the middle.”
 
2. Three of a kind
Some call them the checking line. Others refer to them as the third line. But the trio of Sean Couturier, Steve Downie and Read has been the Flyers’ best line over the past few weeks.

Couturier had his best offensive performance of the season in Wednesday’s 6-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings. The third-year Flyer potted two goals and assisted two more.

After a slow start offensively -- his defensive play has been stellar all season -- Couturier is beginning to find the scoresheet regularly. Of his 14 points, 10 have come in the last nine games.

Couturier’s outburst is due in large part to the guys on his wings. Since being put together as a line, Couturier, Downie and Read have combined for 12 goals, 17 assists and a plus-28 rating in 12 games.

“Things are clicking for us,” Read said after the Flyers’ win over Detroit (see story). “We’re just trying to outwork the other line. Just play smart and get pucks deep. Things went our way tonight. Sean made a couple of good plays out there and is looking more confident every game.”

3. Banged up Stars
The Stars will be without two key defensemen for the foreseeable future.

Stephane Robidas landed on injured reserve last week after he suffered a broken leg against the Chicago Blackhawks. The veteran is expected to miss the next four to six months.

Things got even more grim for the Dallas blueline when Trevor Daley went down with a high ankle sprain against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday. Daley was placed on IR Friday.

Although they lost Daley vs. Toronto, the Stars did receive a boost when Tyler Seguin returned to the lineup. Seguin, who missed two games with concussion-like symptoms, leads Dallas in goals with 12 and is second in scoring with 23 points.

Dallas could get another forward back Saturday. Ryan Garbutt practiced with the team Friday after missing Thursday’s game with a foot injury.

4. Lighting up Lehtonen
Stars netminder Kari Lehtonen will not be happy to see the Flyers on Saturday afternoon.

In 12 career games (11 starts) against the Orange and Black, Lehtonen is 0-10-2 with an .891 save percentage and 3.50 goals-against average.

To make matters worse for Lehtonen and the Stars, the Flyers have won six straight over Dallas -- their longest active win streak vs. any opponent.

5. This and that
• The last time these two clubs met, Claude Giroux had a goal and three assists to lead the Flyers to a 4-1 victory over the Stars on Dec. 21, 2011. Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell had two helpers apiece. Nicklas Grossmann -- then a member of the Stars -- played 19 minutes and was a minus-1.

• Hartnell, currently in his 13th NHL season, will play his 900th career game Saturday (see story).

• The Stars, who are 1-2-4 at home since Oct. 26, have played in 16 one-goal affairs this season and are 8-3-5 in those games.

• The Flyers, who went 3 for 3 on the man advantage against Detroit, have clicked on 30 percent of their power-play opportunities since Nov. 12 -- third best in the NHL during that span. They’ve also killed off 19 of their last 20 shorthanded situations.

• After going five games without a point, Stars rookie forward Valeri Nichushkin has three points in his past two games.

Are we there yet? Philly Sports Talk examines the state of the Flyers

Are we there yet? Philly Sports Talk examines the state of the Flyers

All week on Philly Sports Talk on CSN, we examine how our teams got to this point and where they are in the rebuilding process. 
 
Today, we finish up by taking a look at the Flyers.

 
How did we get here?
The Flyers' rebuild had begun when Ron Hextall returned to his old stomping grounds in the summer of 2013 as the team's new assistant general manager.
 
He took over GM duties after one season and the philosophical change was in place. Paul Holmgren was made president and Hextall's imprint, which had already started, was ready to become bigger.
 
What Hextall inherited was a cap-stricken team fresh off a first-round playoff loss, an organization that had tried to spend its way to immediate results instead of putting greater focus on the long game.
 
Some of the past decisions are well-documented: signing enigmatic goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million deal in 2011 after trading for him. With a buyout, the Flyers are still paying Bryzgalov through 2027. Signing veteran center Vinny Lecavalier to a five-year, $22.5 million contract in 2013. And signing imposing defenseman Chris Pronger to a seven-year, $34.55 million extension — nobody could foresee the unfortunate concussion issues that suddenly derailed Pronger's career, but it was nonetheless a hurdle for the Flyers moving forward.
 
Hextall has adeptly maneuvered through much of those rocky waters.
 
Now, the Flyers are a more cost-efficient (partly because they have to be in this salary cap world), draft-oriented organization planning for the future while not ignoring the present. This rebuild hasn't been a total demolition, but more of a retooling — a smart but tricky process, especially down the line.
 
Are the Flyers on the right path back to prosperity?
The youth is coming.
 
Hextall, oftentimes close to the vest, made that abundantly clear at his end-of-the-season press conference.
 
"Our young players, they've done enough," Hextall said in early April. "Our young players are going to get a long look. We don't plan on going out and signing veterans on the back end. Our kids, it's time to give them a shot, and we're going to do that."
 
But the really hard part is just beginning — results. Can the prospects catch up and meet the current core? The pressure for it to start has never been higher.
 
Help does appear to be on the way, though, for a team that regressed this season and missed the playoffs for the third time in the past five years.
 
Anthony Stolarz, Alex Lyon, Felix Sandstrom and Carter Hart give the Flyers future options in net.
 
Two promising prospects are expected to join Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere and company on the blue line.
 
Oskar Lindblom, a dynamic 20-year-old winger, could crack the Flyers' group of forwards, which should have Jordan Weal and Valtteri Filppula for a full season.
 
Also, don't forget forward Mike Vecchione, a Hobey Baker finalist who signed with the Flyers out of Union College in late March.
 
Oh, and the No. 2 pick of the draft — likely a talented center — is in the Flyers' grasp.
 
The 2017-18 season will be a telling time for the Flyers. Patience has been required, but when will it be rewarded?
 
The clock is ticking.

NHL Notes: Penguins, Senators have chance at history in Game 7

NHL Notes: Penguins, Senators have chance at history in Game 7

PITTSBURGH -- Craig Anderson is a realist, the byproduct of 15 years playing the most demanding position in the NHL.

The Ottawa goaltender would like to chalk his 45-save masterpiece in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals against Pittsburgh up to his own brilliance. He knows that's not exactly the case.

"I think you need to be a little bit lucky to be good at times," Anderson said.

Ottawa has relied on a bit of both during its deepest playoff run in a decade and Anderson helped force Game 7 Thursday night. Yet here the Senators are, alive and still skating with a chance to eliminate the deeper, more experienced and more explosive Stanley Cup champions.

So much for the series being over after the Penguins destroyed Ottawa 7-0 in Game 5.

"I think, if you believe you're beaten, you're done already," Anderson said. "If you believe that you can win, there's always a chance."

All the Senators have to do to reach the Stanley Cup Final for just the second time in franchise history is take down one of the league's marquee franchises on the road in a building where they were beaten by a touchdown last time out.

No pressure or anything. Really. The Senators weren't supposed to be here. Then again, in a way neither were the Penguins. No team has repeated in nearly two decades and at times during the season and even during the playoffs this group was too beat up. Too tired from last spring's Cup run. The bullseye on their backs too big.

Yet they've survived behind the brilliance of stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, coach Mike Sullivan's impeccable decisions and a resiliency that has them one game from being the first Cup champion to return to the finals since Detroit in 2009.

Those Red Wings, by the way, fell to the Penguins in seven games. There have been several Game 7s for Pittsburgh in the interim on both sides of the ledger, though the Penguins are 2-0 in Game 7s under Sullivan. They edged Tampa Bay in Game 7 of last year's East finals and clinically disposed of Presidents' Trophy winner Washington in Game 7 of the second round earlier this month (see full story).

Predators: Goalie Rinne on smothering run
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Knocking the smile off Pekka Rinne's face right now is nearly impossible.

The longest-tenured player with the Nashville Predators, the 34-year-old goaltender finally will play in his first Stanley Cup Final in his ninth full NHL season.

"As a player, I feel like I've had a fairly long career and never had this opportunity," Rinne said. "So very fortunate and really appreciate this opportunity. I guess as a player you just enjoy being in this position. Enjoy the chance that you get, and you put your body on the line every night and give everything you have."

Teammates call the 6-foot-5 Finn the backbone of the Predators, and he's probably the best goalie in the world at the moment. He handles the puck like an extra defenseman. He foils the dump-and-chase efforts of opponents. And, oh, is he good in front of the net, aggressive with forwards in the crease, seeing seemingly everything and occasionally making saves with a Dominik Hasek-like contortion.

Not only is Rinne a playoff-best 12-4, his .945 save percentage ranks third all-time for a single postseason behind a pair of Conn Smythe Trophy winners in Jean-Sebastien Giguere for Anaheim in 2003 and Jonathan Quick for Los Angeles in 2012, according to HockeyReference.com. Rinne's 1.70 goals-against average is 10th all-time for one postseason.

"What he does every night, you can't put into words," Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban said (see full story).

Blues: Sydor returns to Blues as assistant
ST. LOUIS -- Darryl Sydor has returned to the St. Louis Blues as an assistant coach under mentor Mike Yeo.

Sydor agreed to a three-year deal Wednesday.

The 45-year-old Sydor finished his 18-year NHL playing career with the Blues in 2009-10, then broke into coaching as Yeo's assistant the next season with the American Hockey League's Houston Aeros. Sydor went with Yeo to Minnesota and spent five years with the Wild before working as an assistant last season with the Blues' then-Chicago affiliate in the AHL.

Sydor was a defenseman for Los Angeles, Dallas, Columbus, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and St. Louis, winning Stanley Cup titles with Dallas and Tampa Bay.

Coyotes: Cunningham hired as pro scout
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Coyotes have hired Craig Cunningham as a pro scout and say he will assist with player development.

General manager John Chayka announced the two-year contract Wednesday that allows Cunningham to remain in hockey.

Cunningham collapsed on the ice with a cardiac disturbance prior to a game Nov. 19 while playing for the American Hockey League's Tucson Roadrunners and required emergency life-saving care. He had part of his left leg amputated and saw his playing career end.

But the 26-year-old who was captain of the Roadrunners last season says he's excited to start the next chapter of his hockey career in the Coyotes' front office. Chayka called Cunningham a "smart, hard-working player with an incredible passion for the game" that he believes will translate to his new job.