Bill Meltzer: Flyers Gameday: 11/4/14 vs. EDM

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PREVIEW: FLYERS VS. OILERS

The Philadelphia Flyers (4-5-2) will look to get back on the winning track at home after absorbing a pair of regulation losses in their two-game Florida road trip. Tonight, Craig Berube’s club will take on Dallas Eakins’ Edmonton Oilers (4-6-1). Game time at the Wells Fargo Center is 7:00 p.m. EST. The game will be televised on CSN Philadelphia.

This is the first of two meetings between the teams this season, and the lone game in Philadelphia. The Flyers and Oilers will rematch in Edmonton on March 21.

After tonight, the Flyers host the Panthers on Thursday and the Avalanche on Saturday. For Edmonton, tonight’s game is front end of a 3-in-4 slate of road games. The Oilers will head to Boston on Thursday and Buffalo on Friday. 2013-14 season series in review

The Flyers swept last year’s two-game season series with the Oilers. The Flyers won easily on home ice but had to pull off a comeback and win via shootout in Edmonton.

The game of Nov. 9, 2013 at the Wells Fargo Center was a turning point in the Flyers season. Philly entered the 16th game of the season mired in a deep offensive funk. Through 15 games, the club scored a meager 22 goals and sported a 4-10-1 record after getting shut out by New Jersey in the match before the Edmonton game. Claude Giroux had yet to score a single goal on the season.

Playing the struggling Oilers was medicine for the Flyers’ offensive ills. Enforcer Jay Rosehill (now with the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms) opened the scoring early in the first period and the Flyers went on to cruise to a 4-2 victory that was not as close as the final score suggested. Now-former Flyer Scott Hartnell, Giroux, and Vincent Lecavalier also scored goals. Mark Streit produced a pair of assists. Steve Mason made 24 saves to earn the win.

On Dec. 29, the Flyers went up against ex-teammate Ilya Bryzgalov in Edmonton. Philly dominated the game in the shot department, racking up a 38-16 advantage, but had to play comeback hockey for much of the night.

In the first period, Taylor Hall gave Edmonton a 1-0 lead just 32 seconds after the opening faceoff. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins doubled the lead barely past the four-minute mark. The Flyers further hurt their own cause by taking three minor penalties in the period. Although Philly still ended up outshooting Edmonton, 11-8, that was cold comfort in the face of a 2-0 deficit on the scoreboard.

In the second period, a pair of power play goals by Wayne Simmonds — who tied a franchise record with his third consecutive two-goal game — knotted the score at 2-2. Bryzgalov was outstanding in preventing any further damage, as the Flyers dominated the middle frame start to finish and racked up a 14-3 shot edge.

The third period was more of the same from a puck possession standpoint. Most of the period was spent in the Edmonton end of the ice, and the Flyers compiled an 11-4 shot advantage.

However, the Flyers found themselves trailing, 3-2, on mid-period goal by David Perron. Closely spaced penalties by now-former Oiler Ales Hemsky (tripping at 13:42) and Jeff Petry (cross-checking at 14:16) created a 5-on-3 power play for the Flyers. Philly made quick work of it, as Scott Hartnell finished off the rapid puck movement sequence with a deflection goal Bryzgalov had no chance to stop. In response, a frustrated Bryzgalov showed up his teammates by tossing his stick and looking skyward.

After a scoreless overtime, the game moved to a skills competition. Mason yielded a goal to Jordan Eberle in the first round but then stopped David Perron and ex-Oiler Sam Gagner. Bryzgalov denied Lecavalier in the first round but then was beaten by Claude Giroux (who had two assists in regulation) and Michael Raffl to give Philly the bonus point in what officially was a 4-3 win. Flyers outlook

There wasn’t much to feel good about in the Flyers’ two-game road trip through Florida. The club sustained a pair of one-goal losses to Tampa Bay and Florida and were outplayed in both games.

On Thursday, the Flyers absorbed a 4-3 loss to the Lightning. Simmonds, Jakub Voracek (one goal, one assist) and Michael Raffl scored in a losing cause, while Giroux contributed a pair of assists. Two nights later, Philly came within eight seconds of being shut out by the Panthers’ Roberto Luongo before Lecavalier scored an otherwise meaningless goal in a 2-1 loss.

The brightest spot for Philly in Saturday’s game was the strong play of Mason in his return to the net following four consecutive starts by Ray Emery. Mason will look for his first win of the season tonight against Edmonton but will need more support — both of the defensive and goal-scoring varieties — than he’s gotten in his starts thus far this season.

Philly has been in a recent funk on both ends of special teams. Over the first four games, the Flyers went 9-for-10 on the penalty kill. In the seven games since then, the club has gone 16-for-23 (69.56 percent). On the power play, the club is in a 1-for-19 spell over the last six games.

The Flyers have also had issues with slow starts in many of their games this season. The club has yielded the game’s first goal nine times this season while scoring first only in their eventual shootout loss to Montreal and overtime win against Los Angeles.

On the bright side, Voracek has racked up at least one point in 10 of the team’s first 11 games. Giroux has points in nine of 11 games.

Recently signed defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo will make his Flyers debut tonight. He will be paired with Luke Schenn at even strength (replacing Brandon Manning) and will play on the second power play unit (in place of Nick Schultz). Another power play personnel change the Flyers made at practice on Monday was to move Brayden Schenn back to the top unit and putting Lecavalier on the second unit.

Defensemen Braydon Coburn (left foot) and Andrew MacDonald (lower body) are expected to be out of the lineup until late November. Coburn participated fully in the first half of practice yesterday, and reported feeling much better than he did a couple weeks ago when he made an unsuccessful attempt at re-entering the lineup. There is a chance he be ready by Saturday.

Forwards Jason Akeson and Blair Jones are likely to be healthy scratches tonight. Both players were also scratched in the Florida game with Lecavalier returning the lineup following a seven-game injury absence. Oilers outlook

After stumbling out of the gates to start the season, the Oilers rattled off a four-game winning streak to start a six-match homestand. However, the homestand ended with back-to-back regulation losses to Nashville and Vancouver.

To make matters worse, the Oilers lost top forward Taylor Hall (leading the team with six goals and 10 points) for at least a month to a sprained MCL. Additionally, defenseman Andrew Ference was suspended three games by the NHL for a check to the head of the Canucks’ Zack Kassian. He will serve the first game tonight.

In the Oilers’ 3-2 loss to the Canucks on Saturday, a third period shorthanded goal by Vancouver’s Derek Dorsett proved to be the deciding tally. Jordan Eberle and Perron scored in a losing cause for Edmonton. Ben Scrivens turned back 27 of 30 shots for the Oilers.

Despite the offensive talent the Oilers possess, the club is in the middle of the pack offensively in the NHL. The power play (14.7 percent success) has scuffled. Defensively, the Oilers have tried to play more responsibly than in recent seasons, and have had deciedly mixed results thus far. On the penalty killing front, Edmonton has been successful 81.2 percent of the time through 11 games.

Defenseman Nikita Nikitin is probable for tonight. He recently experienced back spams but practiced yesterday and should be ready to go. The club has also recalled hulking defenseman Keith Aulie from AHL affiliate Oklahoma City.

With Hall injured, Benoit Pouliot will skate on the top line to start tonight’s game. In Hall’s absence, the team’s leading scorer to date is Eberle (three goals, five assists, eight points). Goaltender Scrivens has posted a 3.01 goals against average, .897 save percentage and one shutout in 10 appearances (nine starts) to date. Key team stat comparisons (NHL overall ranking)

Non-shootout goals per game: Flyers 3.00 (9th), Oilers 2.64 (T-16th)

Non-shootout goals against per game: Flyers 3.27 (23rd), Oilers 3.46 (27th)

Even strength Goals For/Against Ratio: Flyers 0.85 (22nd), Oilers 0.68 (26th)

Power play efficiency: Flyers 19.5% (14th), Oilers 14.7% (T-22nd)

Penalty killing efficiency: Flyers 75.8% (23rd), Oilers 81.2% (15th)

Faceoff percentage: Flyers 49.4% (18th), Oilers 51.1% (12th) Projected lineups (Subject to change, will be updated)

FLYERS

12 Michael Raffl – 28 Claude Giroux – 93 Jakub Voracek

18 R.J. Umberger – 40 Vincent Lecavalier – 17 Wayne Simmonds

10 Brayden Schenn – 14 Sean Couturier – 24 Matt Read

36 Zac Rinaldo – 78 Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – 76 Chris VandeVelde

8 Nicklas Grossmann – 32 Mark Streit

15 Michael Del Zotto – 55 Nick Schultz

26 Carlo Colaiacovo – 22 Luke Schenn

35 Steve Mason

[29 Ray Emery]

Scratches: Andrew MacDonald (lower body), Braydon Coburn (IR, left foot), Jason Akeson (healthy), Blair Jones (healthy), Brandon Manning (healthy).

OILERS

67 Benoit Pouliot – 93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – 14 Jordan Eberle

16 Teddy Purcell – 26 Mark Arcobello – 57 David Perron

23 Matt Hendricks – 29 Leon Draisaitl – 10 Nail Yakupov

6 Jesse Joensuu – 27 Boyd Gordon – 41 Will Acton

85 Martin Marincin – 2 Jeff Petry

86 Nikita Nikitin – 19 Justin Schultz

84 Oscar Klefbom – 5 Mark Fayne

30 Ben Scrivens

[35 Viktor Fasth]

Scratches: Taylor Hall (sprained MCL), Andrew Ference (NHL suspension), Keith Aulie (healthy), Luke Gazdic (healthy).

******* FLYERS PRACTICE REPORT (Repeated from Monday afternoon update)

Needing a win at home tomorrow to halt a two-game losing skid, the Philadelphia Flyers went through a lengthy practice on Monday at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, NJ. The club worked on everything from corner work and breakouts before switching ice surfaces and doing special teams play in the second half of practice.

With the exception of newcomer Carlo Colaiacovo entering the lineup in place of Brandon Manning on the third defensive pairing, the Flyers featured the same five-on-five personnel as in Saturday’s game against the Panthers. On special teams, Brayden Schenn was back on the top power play unit with Vincent Lecavalier worked on the second unit. Colaiacovo also got some work on the second power play unit in place of Nick Schultz. Look for Steve Mason to get the start tomorrow night against Edmonton.

Braydon Coburn participated fully in the first half of practice. There is a chance he could be ready by the weekend if all goes well. The veteran said he is feeling much better — with no discomfort doing things that bothered him in his previous attempt to return to the lineup.

During his absence, Coburn said that he’s noticed the difference between the game on the ice and watching it from the press box “is quite remarkable” and things look much easier from a distance. One of the few advantages of not being down at ice level is an opportunity to see plays being made.

Colaiacovo was paired with Luke Schenn at practice. The two of them played as teammates (but not regular partners) in Toronto and for Team Canada at the 2011 World Championships but Flyers head coach Craig Berube said his main thinking in putting the two together was to put the puck-moving Colaiacovo with defensive defenseman Schenn.

The coach admitted that Colaiacovo may need a few games to recover his game conditioning but said it is both the team and the player’s responsibility to get him where he needs to be. The coaching staff will monitor his minutes and go accordingly. Berube said that he’s always liked Colaicovo’s ability to make smart plays and that he’s a good communicator on the ice, which is critical to playing successfully with any partner.

Colaicovo said that his puck moving prowess has been what has kept him in the game for such a long time (despite his well-document injury history).

“The game has changed a lot in the last few years, and it’s all about possessing the puck and moving it to your forwards as fast as possible,” said Colaiacovo. “That’s what I try to do. It’s important to make that good first pass and get it to the skill guys.”

On a similar note, Berube said that the ice-time upswing for Michael Del Zotto has been a product of his increasingly solid all-around play on the ice and not just a matter of the injuries in the lineup.

The coach said of Del Zotto, “He’s defending well, that’s the first thing. He’s defending and he’s moving the puck. That’s all he has to do.”

Asked about the Flyers’ recent struggles on the penalty kill, Berube said that there hasn’t been anything structurally wrong — apart from some gapping issues in the Dallas game that allowed a pair of back-door goals by Trevor Daley — but there have been areas of execution that need to get better. Specifically, the team needs to do a better job at clearing the zone with the puck and also in getting blocked shots.

Incidentally, it is funny sometimes what you can pick up on video that you miss when watching the game live (even from the pressbox). Going back to the aforementioned Dallas game, watch the subtle hook that Jamie Benn applies to Flyers defenseman Nicklas Grossmann near the net — much more visible and obvious on the reverse angle replay than full speed — to create room for eventual goal scorer Daley.

Over the first four games, the Flyers went 9-for-10 on the penalty kill. In the seven games since then, the club has gone 16-for-23 (69.56 percent). On the power play, the club is in a 1-for-19 spell over the last six games. Berube said he is not concerned about the power play slump beyond the need to make sure the personnel is not getting too fancy with the puck and gets back to shooting the puck instead of trying to pass it into the net.

Berube was also asked about the offensive struggles of Matt Read this season. The coach said that he wants Read to do a better job at getting himself into the “dirty areas” and getting into a more of a shooting mentality. Berube said that both Read and Couturier sometimes get so focused on the checking aspects of the game, that they do not get themselves into shooting lanes when the opportunity presents itself at the other end.

Flyers forward R.J. Umberger said that, going into the Florida game, the club tried (unsuccessfully) to be focused on playing a patient game against the defensively oriented Panthers team. Going up against Edmonton, he said the focus is on playing a disciplined two-way game and not getting into a track meet of trading chances back and forth.

“They can put six goals up on you pretty quick if you try to play too wide open against them,” said Umberger.

********** QUICK HITS: NOVEMBER 4TH

* Today in Flyers History: On Nov. 4, 1967, Flyers forward Leon Rochefort recorded the first hat trick in franchise history and Bernie Parent stopped 33 of 34 shots as the first-year expansion Flyers stunned the Montreal Canadiens with a 4-1 win at the Montreal Forum. Rogie Vachon (15 saves on 19 shots) absorbed the loss.

* Flyers Alum birthday: The late Ed Hoekstra, an original Flyers who scored 15 goals in the club’s inaugural 1967-68 season, was born in Winnipeg on this day in 1937. He celebrated his 30th birthday by assisting on Rochefort’s second goal in the aforementioned hat trick game against Montreal. Hoekstra earned third-star honors that night.

After his one season in the NHL, Hoesktra’s subsequently played with the WHA’s Houston Aeros. With Houston, he was briefly (19 games) teammates with Gordie, Mark and Marty Howe for the 1973-74 squad that later Flyers head coach Bill Dineen steered to the WHA championship the same year the Flyers won their first Stanley Cup. Hoekstra ended up spending most of the season in the American Hockey League, however.

Hoekstra’s older brother, Cecil, also briefly played in the NHL. A longtime AHL fixture, the left winger played four games in the NHL for the Canadiens in 1959-60.

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

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