PREVIEW: FLYERS VS. BLUE JACKETS
Looking to halt a four-game losing skid in which the team has not led in any game, the Philadelphia Flyers (7-9-2) are in action for the third time in four nights as they play host to the Columbus Blue Jackets (6-11-2). Game time at the Wells Fargo Center is 7:00 p.m. EST. The game will be televised locally on Comcast Sportsnet Philadelphia.
The is the second of five meetings this season between the teams and the second of three in Philadelphia. On Nov. 14, the Blue Jackets halted a nine-game losing streak (0-8-1) by coming to Philly and exploding for three power play goals en route to a 4-3 win. Two of the Flyers’ three goals were scored on power plays. The other came immediately as a power play expired.
The Flyers and Blue Jackets will rematch in Columbus on Dec. 9 and Feb. 17. The season series concludes in Philly on Feb. 17. Entering tonight’s game, the Blue Jackets have won four of their last five games — including each of the last four games — against the Flyers.
After tonight, the Flyers travel to Uniondale to play the New York Islanders on Monday. The Blue Jackets host the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday. Flyers outlook
Coming off a five-night schedule break, the Flyers’ loss to Columbus eight nights ago was the start of what has been a nightmarish stretch of hockey. Over the last four games, the Flyers have yielded eight opposition power play goals.
The Flyers enter this game coming off a 3-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night. Philadelphia dominated the territorial play for most of the first two periods but had trouble solving Wild goaltender Darcy Kuemper (37 saves). The Flyers also had 24 shot attempts blocked.
Goals by Mark Streit and Claude Giroux (power play) erased a pair of one-goal deficits. Philly seemed likely to skate away with at least one point from the night until a defensive breakdown led to Minnesota’s Jason Zucker scoring the game-winning goal with 45.4 seconds remaining in regulation.
Ray Emery stopped 26 of 29 shots in a losing cause against the Wild. Steve Mason will return to the net tonight.
The Flyers top line trio of Jakub Voracek, Giroux and Brayden Schenn has virtually been carrying the entire offensive load for the Flyers of late. The team needs to get some secondary scoring from at least a couple players among Wayne Simmonds (two goals, four assists in the last 14 games), Matt Read (two goals, seven points for the season and a drop-off in overall play), Sean Couturier (one goal, two assists in the last 11 games), Vincent Lecavalier (two goals, six points in 11 games this season) and R.J. Umberger (one goal, three points for the season).
On the injury front, left winger Michael Raffl (right foot) is out. Chris VandeVelde (lower body) is doubtful for tonight. Defenseman Michael Del Zotto (lower body) is questionable. Blue Jackets outlook
The Blue Jackets have gone 1-1-1 in the three games since defeating the Flyers on Nov. 14. The injury-riddled team has started to get a few players — including former Flyers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, second line center Artem Anisimov and top line left winger Boone Jenner — back in the lineup but still has an extensive list of unavailable players.
Tonight’s game is the second half of back-to-back games for the Blue Jackets. Last night, Columbus dropped a 4-3 shootout decision to the visiting Boston Bruins. The Blue Jackets grabbed an early 2-0 lead on goals by Ryan Johansen (7th of the season) and Nick Foligno (10th). The lead held until the third period, when the Bruins solved Bobrovsky (38 saves) three times in 11:32 to take a 3-2 lead. The Blue Jackets salvaged a point when Jack Johnson scored his first goal of the season, knotting the score at 3-3.
The shootout went seven rounds. Boston rookie Alex Khokhlachev scored the lone goal.
Columbus still has an extensive list of injuries: Brandon Dubinsky (abdominal surgery, IR), Cody Goloubef (knee, IR), Mark Letestu (groin, IR), Ryan Murray (knee surgery, IR) and Fedor Tyutin (knee, IR) all remain out of the lineup. Power forward Nathan Horton (degenerative back) may not be able to resume his career.
The Blue Jackets recently claimed puck-moving defenseman Kevin Connauton off waivers from the Dallas Stars. With Tyutin shelved with a knee injury suffered in the last game against the Flyers, Connauton has stepped into the starting lineup. Key team stat comparisons (NHL overall ranking)
Non-shootout goals per game: Flyers 2.94 (7th), Blue Jackets 2.47 (22nd)
Non-shootout goals against per game: Flyers 3.11 (26th), Blue Jackets 3.53 (30th)
Even strength Goals For/Against Ratio: Flyers 0.95 (20th), Blue Jackets 0.62 (29th)
Power play efficiency: Flyers 23.4% (4th), Blue Jackets 23.0% (6th)
Penalty killing efficiency: Flyers 72.1% (30th), Blue Jackets 75.4% (25th)
Faceoff percentage: Flyers 50.2% (14th), Blue Jackets 48.4% (T-22nd) Projected lineups (Subject to change, will be updated)
10 Brayden Schenn – 28 Claude Giroux – 93 Jakub Voracek
24 Matt Read – 14 Sean Couturier – 17 Wayne Simmonds
18 R.J. Umberger – 49 Scott Laughton – 40 Vincent Lecavalier
36 Zac Rinaldo – 78 Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – 42 Jason Akeson
5 Braydon Coburn – 55 Nick Schultz
8 Nicklas Grossmann – 32 Mark Streit
47 Andrew MacDonald – 22 Luke Schenn
35 Steve Mason
[29 Ray Emery]
Scratches: Michael Del Zotto (lower body, questionable), Michael Raffl (right foot, IR), Chris VandeVelde (lower body, doubtful).
38 Boone Jenner – 19 Ryan Johansen – 71 Nick Foligno
43 Scott Hartnell – 42 Artem Anisimov – 13 Cam Atkinson
11 Matt Calvert – 41 Alexander Wennberg – 10 Jack Skille
23 Brian Gibbons – 32 Adam Cracknell – 40 Jared Boll
7 Jack Johnson – 47 Dalton Prout
4 Kevin Connauton – 21 James Wisniewski
3 Jordan Leopold – 58 David Savard
30 Curtis McElhinney / 72 Sergei Bobrovsky
Scratches: Brandon Dubinsky (abdominal surgery, IR), Cody Goloubef (knee, IR), Mark Letestu (groin, IR), Ryan Murray (knee surgery, IR), Fedor Tyutin (knee, IR), Nathan Horton (degenerative back, IR), Tim Erixon (healthy), Corey Tropp (healthy).
********* PHANTOMS ROOKIES LEAD WAY TO 4-0 WIN OVER WORCESTER
A trio of rookie players powered the Lehigh Valley Phantoms to a 4-0 win over the Worcester Sharks (San Jose affiilate) on Friday night at the PPL Center in Allentown. Anthony Stolarz recorded the first win and shutout of his AHL career, stopping all 36 shots fired on his net. Defenseman Robert Hägg scored a first-period shorthanded goal and also recorded an assist. Left winger Taylor Leier notched the game’s first goal and was a plus-three on the night.
Several AHL veterans also contributed strongly to Lehigh Valley’s victory. Blair Jones, who was recently reassigned by the Flyers to the Phantoms, assisted on Leier and Hägg’s goals as the Phantoms built a 2-0 lead early. After defenseman Brandon Manning extended the lead to 3-0 early in the second period, veteran forward Andrew Gordon opened a four-goal cushion with an unassisted goal after forcing a Worcester turnover.
Although the outcome was pretty much decided by this point, the Phantoms wanted to ensure that Stolarz would not only earn the first win of his professional career (after the team came up short in each of his first three outings) but also his first shutout. The towering young netminder had to work hard for it.
In order to nail down the shutout, Stolarz had to make 14 saves in the final period. Over the final 90 seconds of the game, Lehigh Valley faced a 5-on-3 penalty kill. Stolarz stopped three extremely difficult scoring chances to complete the Phantoms’ whitewashing of the Sharks.
A standing-room-only crowd of 8,451 packed the PPL Center for the game. With last night’s win, the Phantoms improved their home record this season to 5-1-1 and overall record to 8-6-1. The team has won each of the first three games in its current five-game homestand.
The Phantoms return to action tonight, hosting the St. John’s IceCaps (Winnipeg Jets affiliate) in Allentown.