Bill Meltzer: Flyers Gameday: 12/2/14 @ SJ

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PREVIEW: FLYERS @ SHARKS

Embarking on the start of tough road trip and in dire need of some wins, the Philadelphia Flyers (8-12-3) are in California to take on the San Jose Sharks (11-10-4). Game time is 10:00 p.m. EST. The game will be televised nationally on NBC Sports Network and locally on CSN Philadelphia.

This is the first of two meetings between the teams this season.

The season series concludes on March 25 at the Wells Fargo Center.

Last season, the teams split two games. On Feb. 3 in San Jose, the Flyers trailed 2-1 through two periods before exploding for four goals in the third period to skate off with a 5-2 win. The turnaround happened quickly in the final stanza as the Flyers scored three times within the first four minutes. On Feb. 27 in Philadelphia, the Sharks turned the tables. The Flyers led 2-1 after the first period before the Sharks rebounded for five goals in the second period to turn the match into a 7-3 rout for San Jose.

The Flyers will be right back in action on Wednesday in Anaheim. From there, the team heads to Los Angeles on Saturday. The Flyers make a Dec. 9 stop in Columbus before returning home for three games. San Jose concludes its current six-game homestand on Thursday with a clash against the Boston Bruins. Flyers outlook

The Flyers have been a mess ever since a five-night break in November. In the nine games that have followed, the team has posted a 1-7-1 record. They have not led at any point in seven of the eight games they have lost. Meanwhile, for the entire season to date, Philly has yet to score first in any road game and drags a 2-8-1 record away from the Wells Fargo Center into tonight’s game.

Philly enters this game after sustaining a pair of regulation losses against the New York Rangers. The Flyers got shut out 3-0 on home ice on Black Friday and then sustained a 5-2 loss at Madison Square Garden the following afternoon after the game was tied 2-2 at the second intermission. The Flyers got outshot 35-23 for the game and 29-11 through two periods.

Slow starts and bad finishes have been issues for the Flyers both of late and in the early part of October. Entering tonight’s game, the Flyers have been outscored by opponents in first periods by a 22-18 margin and by 29-20 margin in third periods. The Flyers hold a narrow 21-20 edge in second periods.

The Flyers have over-relied on their top line, top power play unit and their goaltenders to bear the entire burden. When those facets do not shine in spectacular fashion, the team has been losing ugly. Too many Flyers players aren’t skating, forechecking or defending up to par. Normally a team strength in recent years, penalty killing has been a particular sore spot for the Flyers (especially on the road).

In Saturday’s game in New York, Andrew MacDonald and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare were healthy scratches for Craig Berube’s club. Vincent Lecavalier played a team low 5:53 over nine shifts. There may be other changes made tonight. Steve Mason is expected to be back in goal tonight after splitting duties with Ray Emery over the weekend. Sharks outlook

The Sharks have been more prey than predator of late. After winning two of their first three games in November to improve their season record to 8-5-2, the team has gone 3-5-2. The club is 1-1-2 to date on its current six-game homestand.

However, San Jose closed out the month on November on a winning note against one of their biggest rivals. The Sharks built a 5-1 lead over the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday and then held on cling to a 5-4 lead before adding an empty net goal in the final minute to seal a 6-4 victory. Two goals by Logan Couture (ninth and 10th of the season) and Joe Pavelski’s 10th goal of the season were instrumental in building the early lead. Antti Niemi earned an inartistic 30-save win.

Couture and veteran Joe Thornton (seven even strength goals, team co-leading 14 assists) pace the Sharks offensively with 21 points apiece. Pavelski and Patrick Marleau (six goals, 14 assists) have 20 points apiece. Brent Burns — who has always been more of a rover than a defenseman or forward regardless of his official position — has seven goals and 19 points to partially offset his minus-nine rating. Pavelski leads the team with six power play goals.

Former Flyers winger Tye McGinn has dressed in 15 of San Jose’s 25 games to date. For the season, McGinn has two assists and two penalty minutes. Last game, he got a look on the top line. The experiment may continue tonight against his former club.

Over the balance of the season, the Sharks’ best period has been the first period. San Jose has outscored opponents in the opening period by a 22-15 margin. The Sharks have been slightly outscored in second periods by 24-23 margin and have been outscored by a 27-21 mark in third periods.

In similar fashion to the Flyers, the Sharks have lived and died a little too much with their power play this season. San Jose’s power play comes into tonight’s game ranked fourth in the NHL (the Flyers are seventh) but their even-strength goal differential is the fifth-worst in the NHL (the Flyers are also in the bottom one-third of the league).

Following last season’s playoff collapse in the first round against Los Angeles and coupled with the team’s inconsistency this season, there have been rampant rumors that head coach Todd McLellan’s job could be in jeopardy. He is in his seventh season behind the San Jose bench, making him both the winningest and longest-tenured coach in franchise history.

Recently, the Sharks made a significant trade with the Dallas Stars, swapping defenseman Jason Demers and a 2016 third-round pick for Brenden Dillon. Although Dillon was off to a somewhat inconsistent start this season in Dallas (it did not help that he missed training camp while an unsigned restricted free agent), he was an emerging part of the Dallas blueline leadership prior to his trade. The 24-year-old Dillon plays an aggressive physical style with his big frame and has some puck-moving ability as well.

On the San Jose injury front, forward Tyler Kennedy and rookie goaltender Troy Grosenick are on IR. Forward Barclay Goodrow and defensemen Mirco Mueller and Matt Tennyson are healthy but potential scratches. Key team stat comparisons (NHL overall ranking)

Non-shootout goals per game: Flyers 2.65 (14th), Sharks 2.64 (15th)

Non-shootout goals against per game: Flyers 3.09 (26th), Sharks 2.64 (15th)

Even strength Goals For/Against Ratio: Flyers 0.89 (T-22nd), Sharks 0.87 (25th)

Power play efficiency: Flyers 22.2% (7th), Sharks 23.8% (4th)

Penalty killing efficiency: Flyers 73.8% (30th), Sharks 82.9% (13th)

Faceoff percentage: Flyers 51.9% (T-9th), Sharks 51.6% (11th) Projected lineups (Subject to change, will be updated)

FLYERS

10 Brayden Schenn – 28 Claude Giroux – 93 Jakub Voracek

12 Michael Raffl – 49 Scott Laughton – 17 Wayne Simmonds

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

36 Zac Rinaldo – 76 Chris VandeVelde – 40 Vincent Lecavalier

5 Braydon Coburn – 55 Nick Schultz

8 Nicklas Grossmann – 32 Mark Streit

15 Michael Del Zotto – 22 Luke Schenn or 47 Andrew MacDonald

35 Steve Mason

[29 Ray Emery]

Scratches: Andrew MacDonald or Luke Schenn (healthy), Carlo Colaiacovo (healthy), Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (healthy).

SHARKS

8 Joe Pavelski – 19 Joe Thornton – 25 Tye McGinn

57 Tommy Wingels – 12 Patrick Marleau – 39 Logan Couture

83 Matt Nieto – 15 James Sheppard – 48 Tomas Hertl

18 Mike Brown – 10 Andrew Desjardins – 20 John Scott

44 Marc-Edouard Vlasic – 61 Justin Braun

4 Brenden Dillon – 88 Brent Burns

27 Scott Hannan – 52 Matt Irwin

31 Antti Niemi

[32 Alex Stalock]

Scratches: Tyler Kennedy (IR, undisclosed), Troy Grosenick (IR, upper body), Barclay Goodrow (healthy), Mirco Mueller (healthy), Matt Tennyson (healthy).

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