Bill Meltzer: Flyers Gameday: 10/18/14 @ DAL, Phantoms and Prospect Updates

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FLYERS @ STARS: GAME PREVIEW

Still looking for their first win of the 2014-15 regular season, the Philadelphia Flyers (0-2-2) begin a three-game road trip with a visit to Big D to play Lindy Ruff’s Dallas Stars (2-1-1). Game time at the American Airlines Center is 8:00 p.m. EDT. The game will be televised on CSN Philadelphia in the Delaware Valley and Fox Sports Southwest in Texas.

This is the first of two meetings this season between the teams, and the lone clash in the Lone Star State. The Flyers and Stars will rematch at the Wells Fargo Center on March 10. Last season, the clubs split two games with each side winning on its home ice.

After tonight’s game, the Flyers will have until Tuesday to prepare for a tough back-to-back slate of away games that will see them play the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday and the archrival Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday. The Flyers return home next Saturday to take on the Detroit Red Wings.

The Stars will host the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday. On Friday, they make a trip east to play the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders on the road on back-to-back nights. Flyers vs Stars 2013-14 season series in review

On Dec. 7, 2013, the Flyers traveled to ice-storm ravaged Dallas for a Saturday matinee. They left the American Airlines Center on the receiving end of a 5-1 shellacking. It was the first game of his Flyers’ career that Steve Mason yielded more than three goals. Backup goaltender Dan Ellis (traded later in the season for Tim Thomas) earned the win in net for the Stars.

Entering the game, Tyler Seguin had just returned to the lineup after missed two games with concussion-like symptoms. Team captain Jamie Benn had been mired in a point drought, while highly touted Valeri Nichushkin had been moved around in some resulting line juggling. The line broke free against the Flyers, as Seguin erupted for a natural hat trick and an assist. Nichushkin racked up a goal and three helpers. Benn assisted on Seguin’s first goal.

Things started out well enough for the Flyers. The team had to kill off nine minutes worth of penalties in the first period, including seven consecutive minutes resulting from penalties Flyers agitator Zac Rinaldo received for jumping Dallas counterpart Antoine Roussel in the opening minute of the game. Philly not only survived the nine minutes worth of penalties, they took a 1-0 lead to the locker room on a late-period goal by Andrej Meszaros (now with the Buffalo Sabres).

The second point was quite a different story. Seguin tied the game in the opening minute of the stanza. The scored stayed 1-1 until the clock ticked down under three minutes remaining in the period. Suddenly, the Seguin line erupted for three goals in a 63-second span and turned the tie game into a commanding 4-1 lead. Seguin finished off his hat trick and then Nichushkin added his fourth NHL goal.

The third period was played more or less like a formality. Ray Emery came into the game to mop up in goal for the Flyers. Cody Eakin added a shorthanded goal in the final five minutes to make it a 5-1 final.

On March 20, 2014, a red-hot Flyers teams downed a struggling Stars club by a 4-2 count at the Wells Fargo Center. The win, Philadelphia’s fourth in a row, ran the club’s post-Olympic record to 7-2-1. The Stars dropped their fourth game in a row and concluded a winless three-game road trip in which they got outscored by a combined 16-5.

This game, however, saw a markedly better performance by Lindy Ruff’s team than it had exhibited in blowout losses in Winnipeg (7-2) and Pittsburgh (5-1). The match against the Flyers was a hard-fought one. The biggest difference in the outcome was a spectacular 33-save performance by Mason and a rather mediocre outing for Thomas.

First and third period tallies by Wayne Simmonds –the first on the power play and the latter at even strength — were canceled out by tallies from Jamie Benn in the same manpower situations in the second and third period. Benn’s second goal came just 30 seconds after Simmonds’ second tally.

The Flyers won the game because they jumped out to a 2-0 lead after the first period on goals by Mark Streit and Simmonds, and then Mason helped nurse the advantage through several surges of momentum by Dallas. Finally, after the Stars quickly narrowed a two-goal deficit to 3-2, Michael Raffl put the game away with the clock ticking down near three minutes.

Raffl’s goal started as a two-on-one rush led by Sean Couturier. Taking a pass from his center with defender Trevor Daley caught in no man’s land, Raffl went in alone on Thomas. The Austrian forward got the two-time Vezina Trophy winner to commit early and slid the puck home on the backhand. Flyers outlook

The Flyers have not played since Tuesday night’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Anaheim Ducks. As they have done in three of their four games to date, the Flyers played successful comeback hockey to catch up to an opponent only for victory to ultimately elude the Philly side.

Against the Ducks, Philadelphia battled back from deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 on power play goals by Streit (5-on-3) and Simmonds (5-on-4), followed by a highlight reel goal by Jakub Voracek to tie the game in the third period. Ultimately, however, the Flyers went down in a four-round shootout and had to settle for one point.

Special teams play has been the Flyers’ strong suit through the first four games of the 2014-15 season. Entering this game, the power play has connected on five of 17 chances (29.4 percent) and has generated good puck movement and scoring chances on several other power plays that did not result in a goal. In the meantime, the Philadelphia penalty kill has staved off nine of 10 disadvantages thus far.

Something less discussed is an area of improvement thus far: The team has been taking fewer penalties and has an encouraging ratio of power play opportunities to shorthanded time. The Flyers will need to avoid bad penalties such as the one Rinaldo took in jumping Dallas counterpart Roussel in last season’s game in Dallas.

The Flyers biggest weakness thus far has been its five-on-five play. The club has been outscored 12-6 at even strength, which is the single biggest reason that the club has come away with two regulation losses and two shootout losses in four games that were winnable. Additionally, the club has fallen behind — twice by multiple goals — in three of their four games to date. The only time Philly has led first was the game where they built a 3-0 lead that was squandered in the third period against Montreal.

By far, Simmonds has been the Flyers’ best forward through the first four games of the season. The power forward has racked up five goals (three on the power play) and seven points and has been the club’s most effective forechecker. Team captain Claude Giroux has had some ups and downs in the first four games but has five points (one goal, four assists). Streit and Voracek have one goal and three assists apiece.

On the injury front, the Flyers hope to have veteran defenseman Braydon Coburn back in the lineup tonight. The big and mobile blueliner sustained a lower body injury on opening night in Boston and has missed the last three games.

Vincent Lecavalier (left foot injury) missed Tuesday’s game and is not expected to play on the Flyers’ three-game road trip. The estimated prognosis for his absence is two weeks from the time of the injury he suffered in the first period of the Flyers’ 4-3 shootout loss to Montreal on Oct. 11.

In Lecavalier’s absence, the Flyers have recalled forward Chris VandeVelde from the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms in order for the club to have 13 forwards available for their road trip. Stars outlook

The Stars are coming off a dramatic late-game comeback on Thursday night, stunning the Pittsburgh Penguins with goals by Jamie Benn and Seguin in the final three minutes of the third period to skate off with a 3-2 win. Dallas concluded its three-game road trip with regulation wins in Columbus and Pittsburgh.

Dallas played a terrible first period in Pittsburgh, getting itself in penalty trouble against the Penguins’ potent power play (2-for-4 in the opening stanza), losing puck battles in all three zones and frequently turning over the puck. The team was lucky to escape the first period trailing “only” 2-0. It took a 27-save performance by Kari Lehtonen, line juggling by Ruff and the dramatic late-game rally to pull out the victory against one of the NHL’s top team.

In the second period, Ruff significantly jumbled his line combinations. Antoine Roussel and Ales Hemsky were put a line with Vernon Fiddler while Jason Spezza on a line with Cody Eakin and Ryan Garbutt. At 6:08 of the middle frame, Roussel cut the Dallas deficit to 2-1. On the play, Fiddler made a centering pass from the behind the net out to Roussel at the right circle. The feisty French forward snapped a shot past Fleury.

The Penguins hung on to the one-goal lead until the Stars’ late-game explosion. Early in the third period, Dallas offensive defenseman Alex Goligoski briefly left the game after getting struck in the leg with a puck. He returned shortly thereafter.

With 2:57 remaining in the third period, Jamie Benn tied the score at 2-2 as he got to a loose puck in a scramble around the net and stashed it home. Just 36 seconds earlier an apparent tying goal by Jason Spezza was disallowed.

On the disallowed goal, the officials ruled that Seguin interfered with Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleuy (25 saves on 28 shots). It was a debatable judgment call, as Seguin appeared to have been pushed into the goaltender. Immediately after play resumed, the Stars came close again to tying the game, as Goligoski ripped a shot that clanged off the crossbar and stayed out of the net. Finally, on the Stars’ next scoring opportunity, Benn potted the tying goal.

The Penguins’ collapse continued as Sidney Crosby was whistled off for tripping Benn. With just 2.9 seconds left in regulation, Seguin sniped the game-winning goal from the left circle off a perfect cross-ice feed from Spezza.

The current Stars team is an upgraded version of the one the Flyers played last season. The club has added Spezza (zero goals, three assists to date) and Hemsky (off to a slow start with one assist in four regular season games after a productive preseason) to form the crux of its second line. The team also added Patrick Eaves and backup goaltender Anders Lindbäck for depth, while resigning checking line center Vernon Fiddler.

Although Dallas is strong down the middle with a 1-2-3 punch of Seguin, Spezza and underrated two-way forward Eakin, it is really the top line with Jamie Benn and Seguin that still drives the bus for the team. After being held off the scoresheet in the season-opening games against Chicago and Nashville, Seguin exploded for a hat trick against Columbus and the game-winner in the waning seconds of the Pittsburgh game. Benn, meanwhile, racked up a four-point game (a spectacular individual-effort goal and three assists) against the Blue Jackets and the game-tying goal against the Penguins.

In contrast to the Flyers’ even-strength problems, the Stars have outscored their opponents by a 7-4 margin during five-on-five play in their first four games. However, the Stars are just

2-for-12 (16.7 percent) on the power play thus far.

On the injury front, second-year forward Valeri Nichushkin has been battling a hip/groin problem since training camp and has missed the last two games. Officially, he is on a day-to-day basis but he will remain unavailable for tonight’s game. Veteran offensive defenseman Sergei Gonchar is on injured reserve with an ankle injury. Forward Rich Peverley (heart condition) is on the non-roster long-term injury list.

As a team, the Stars’ biggest asset is their speed. The Stars have assembled a squad of players who can motor up and down the ice as well as any team in the NHL, both the forwards and defensemen. The club has considerable depth up front, and one of the better bottom-six groups in the League. Even agitating forwards Roussel and Ryan Garbutt can put the puck in the net when they get the opportunity.

When healthy — which he has been for the most part the last few seasons — Lehtonen is one of the most underrated starting goaltenders around the NHL. Before the team started to bolster its roster, Lehtonen was the number one reason why the Dallas club even came close to making the playoffs in the near-miss seasons of 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13.

However, Lehtonen has never had much success against the Flyers in his career. He is winless for his career in games against Philly, although most of the losses came during his early years with the Atlanta Thrashers. Last year, Ruff started the backup goaltender in both games against the Flyers. Even so, Lehtonen is eminently capable of shutting down any team in the NHL.

Dallas’ mean weakness on the roster is the same as the Flyers: a suspect blueline mix that lacks a true number one defenseman and has players forced to play more minutes than they would on clubs with superior top-end defensemen. However, the composition of the Stars’ defense corps is a bit different than Philly’s.

Brenden Dillon is one of the NHL’s more underrated young defensemen, bringing both a physical element and some puck-moving ability along with a take-charge attitude. Trevor Daley and Goligoski are both undersized but bring outstanding mobility. Daley is a solid two-way player while Goligoski is a potent (if somewhat streaky) offensive performer. Neither have a physical side to their games.

The bottom end of the Dallas blueline is adequate if unspectacular. Number four defenseman Jordie Benn (Jamie’s older brother) has worked hard to make himself into an NHL-caliber defenseman and remade his game a bit to erase an early perception that he was shaky in his own end of the ice. He competes hard, makes some good breakout passes and has become passable in most defensive aspects of the game. On a deeper team, he’d probably be a serviceable sixth defenseman.

The Stars home that at least one among rookies Patrik Nemeth or Jamie Oleksiak (a former first-round pick) emerge into minutes-eating NHL defensemen in the near future. Currently, Nemeth plays on the third pairing. Stylistically, he is similar to former Stars and current Flyers defenseman Nicklas Grossmann. Oleksiak, who has only dressed in one of the team’s first four games, rotates in and out of the lineup with offensive minded Kevin Connauton. The hulking Oleksiak (6-foot-7, 240 pounds) has done well in the AHL in his two pro seasons but has struggled in his NHL cups of coffee.

Dallas has had some penalty killing issues in the early going of this season. Entering tonight’s game, the Stars have killed 12 of 16 disadvantages.

Forward Curtis McKenzie might make his NHL debut tonight. Ruff said after yesterday’s practice that he would like to get the left winger, who was recalled earlier in the week from the AHL’s Texas Stars, a look in the lineup. With veteran Erik Cole battling the flu, there may be an opening for McKenzie to make his first NHL regular season appearance. Projected lineups (Subject to change)

FLYERS

12 Michael Raffl – 28 Claude Giroux – 93 Jakub Voracek

10 Brayden Schenn – 78 Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – 17 Wayne Simmonds

18 R.J. Umberger – 14 Sean Couturier – 24 Matt Read

36 Zac Rinaldo – 41 Blair Jones – 42 Jason Akeson

47 Andrew MacDonald – 55 Nick Schultz

8 Nicklas Grossmann – 32 Mark Streit

15 Michael Del Zotto – 22 Luke Schenn

35 Steve Mason

[29 Ray Emery]

Scratches: Vincent Lecavalier (left foot), Nick Schultz (healthy), Chris VandeVelde (healthy).

STARS

14 Jamie Benn – 91 Tyler Seguin – 22 Colton Sceviour

18 Patrick Eaves – 90 Jason Spezza – 83 Ales Hemsky

21 Antoine Roussel – 20 Cody Eakin – 16 Ryan Garbutt

11 Curtis McKenzie – 38 Vernon Fiddler – 10 Shawn Horcoff

33 Alex Goligoski – 6 Trevor Daley

24 Jordie Benn – 4 Brenden Dillon

23 Kevin Connauton – 37 Patrik Nemeth

32 Kari Lehtonen

[29 Anders Lindbäck]

Scratches: Erik Cole (flu), Valeri Nichushkin (hip/groin), Sergei Gonchar (ankle, IR), Jamie Oleksiak (healthy).

This post originally appeared on www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.

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