Bill Meltzer: Flyers Gameday: 12/21/14 @ WPG; Plus Flyers-Maple Leafs Wrapup

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PREVIEW: FLYERS @ JETS

Looking for back-to-back wins to start an eight-game road trip, the Philadelphia Flyers (12-14-6) are in Manitoba to take on the Winnipeg Jets (17-10-6) on Sunday night. Game time is 9:00 p.m. EST. The game will be televised on The Comcast Network Philadelphia.

This is the first of two meetings between the teams this season, and the lone game in Winnipeg.

They will rematch on Jan. 29 at the Wells Fargo Center. Last season, the Flyers went 1-0-1 against the Jets, losing 3-2 via shootout in Winnipeg (Nov. 15, 2013) and then winning 2-1 in regulation at home on Black Friday.

Sunday’s game is the final portion of a three-in-four gauntlet for the Flyers and the back end of back-to-back games. The pre-Christmas break (three-night schedule break) portion of the season-high eight game road trip ends with a game in St. Paul against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday.

The Jets, who were idle on Saturday, are in the second game of a two-game homestand. The pre-Christmas break schedule ends with Tuesday night’s road game against the Chicago Blackhawks. Flyers outlook

The Flyers got their road trip off to a promising start on Saturday night with a goal-scoring bonanza in a 7-4 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs are the NHL’s top-scoring team but are as spotty in team defense as the Flyers are, which predictably led to a lot of goals for both teams.

What was not so predictable was the way the Flyers turned the match into a semi-blowout after Toronto scored the game’s first two goals in the first period. The Leafs had come into the game with a 14-0-0 record when scoring first. Withing a dizzying 26-second span, Toronto answered back after the Flyers tied the game only for the Flyers to just as quickly re-tie the game at 3-3.

In the second period, the Flyers took a 4-3 lead on a lucky bounce of the puck off the end boards and then off beleaguered Toronto goaltender Jonathan Bernier (34 saves on 41 shots) into the net. Philly went on to score three more times to build a 7-3 lead before Toronto’s Peter Holland sneaked a shot home to make the Leafs’ final deficit three goals.

Ten different Flyers registered at least one point in Saturday’s game. Claude Giroux led the way with two goals and two assists, while NHL leading scorer Jakub Voracek racked up four assists. Philly got a goal and an assist apiece from Sean Couturier and Michael Raffl, while Matt Read had two assists.

Forward R.J. Umberger and defenseman Nicklas Grossmann — scoring on the aforementioned bank shot — notched one goal apiece. In the third period, rookie Scott Laughton scored his second NHL goal and first road tally for the Flyers. Other single-point contributors included Wayne Simmonds and Mark Streit with an assist apiece.

Ray Emery was neither great nor terrible in stopping 21 of 25 shots in Toronto to earn his sixth win of the season. With Steve Mason (upper-body injury; possible back issue) slated to be re-evaluated in Philadelphia on Monday, Emery will get the call in Winnipeg. Veteran Rob Zepp will once again serve as the backup.

Agitating Flyers forward Zac Rinaldo suffered a lower-body injury late in the first period of Saturday’s match and did not return to the game. His status is unknown as of this writing. If Rinaldo is unable to play on Sunday, Chris VandeVelde may get back in the lineup. Another option may be to have recent frequent healthy scratch defenseman Michael Del Zotto play and to dress seven defensemen; Berube dressed seven defensemen twice this season.

Elsewhere on the Philadelphia injury front, forward Ryan White (torn pectoral muscle) is close to being ready to make his Flyers debut after missing training camp and the entire season to date. He has been practicing in full with the team for over a week. Jets outlook

If the NHL regular season ended today, the Jets would make the playoffs for the just the second time in franchise history and the first since the former Atlanta Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg. The club is 8-6-2 on home ice this season (9-4-4 on the road). Trying to soar to their third straight win, the Jets have a 5-1-2 record thus far in December.

Winnipeg enters this game coming off a 2-1 regulation home win against the Boston Bruins on Friday night. An early first period goal by Evander Kane and a Mathieu Perrault tally in the final minute of the second period were enough offensive support for Michael Hutchinson (30 saves). All scoring was an even strength, as the Jets went 3-for-3 on the penalty kill and 0-for-4 on the power play against the Bruins.

Defeating Paul Maurice’s club usually requires a different sort of hockey than the Flyers employed in Toronto in Saturday. As a team, the Jets enter this game ranked fourth in the NHL in goals against average (2.21 GAA) but are just 23rd offensively (2.36 goals per game). As demonstrated on Friday, today’s Jets are perfectly comfortable trying to win 2-1 games.

On paper, the 2014-15 Jets do not present a favorable matchup for the Flyers.

Philly has won only one 2-1 game this season, which required a scintillating goaltending performance by Steve Mason to accomplish against Los Angeles. The Flyers have yet to win a 2-0 or 1-0 game, but did lose a game to the Islanders via shootout after 65 minutes of 0-0 hockey.

Philly has not even been particularly good at making three goals stand up for a victory. When scoring three goals, the Flyers have a 1-3-2 record. Too often, the magic number for the Flyers has been a need to score four goals (6-1-1) or more (4-0-0).

Additionally, it is always tough for a team playing the second half of back-to-back games and a long-distance three-in-four set of games to win the final game of the stretch against a more rested opponent. Tampa Bay pulled off the feat at the Flyers’ expense last week. It usually takes a tight-checking effort throughout the game and it is not uncommon to need the goaltender to step up big, especially in the third period.

Entering Sunday’s game, Jets’ team captain Andrew Ladd (11 goals, 12 assists) and Blake Wheeler (nine goals, 14 assists) are tied for the club’s overall scoring lead. Bryan Little paces the team with 12 goals, while Ladd’s four power play tallies top the squad.

Rookie goaltender Hutchinson has been spectacular (1.73 GAA, 7-2-2 record, .940 save percentage). Oft-maligned veteran goalie Ondrej Pavelec (2.27 GAA, 10-8-4, .916 save percentage) also has reasonably solid numbers this season and is expected to start against the Flyers on Sunday.

On Thursday, the Jets acquired veteran defenseman Jay Harrison from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for a 2015 sixth-round pick (originally belonging to the Ottawa Senators). Harrison was acquired to add depth to an injury-riddled blueline. Regular starting defensemen Zach Bogosian (IR, lower body), Tobias Enström (IR, lower body), Jacob Trouba (IR, upper body) and Mark Stuart (lower body) are all unavailable for the Jets right now.

Veteran defenseman/forward Dustin Byfuglien has played inspired hockey for the Jets of late since moving back to the blueline from right wing. He logged 27:04 of ice time against Boston. Despite taking a high stick to the face late in Friday’s game, Byfuglien is expected to be fine to play against the Flyers. For the season, he has seven goals, 17 points and 53 penalty minutes.

Kane took a maintenance day off from practice on Saturday. He is expected to play Sunday. Key team stat comparisons (NHL overall ranking)

Non-shootout goals per game: Flyers 2.75 (16th), Jets 2.36 (23rd)

Non-shootout goals against per game: Flyers 2.84 (23rd), Jets 2.21 (4th)

Even strength Goals For/Against Ratio: Flyers 1.00 (T-18th), Jets 1.09 (T-12th)

Power play efficiency: Flyers 23.4% (5th), Jets 15.2% (23rd)

Penalty killing efficiency: Flyers 75.4% (28th), Jets 84.4% (8th)

Faceoff percentage: Flyers 51.6% (10th), Jets 47.7% (23rd) Projected lineups (Subject to change, will be updated)

FLYERS

12 Michael Raffl – 28 Claude Giroux – 93 Jakub Voracek

10 Brayden Schenn – 49 Scott Laughton – 17 Wayne Simmonds

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

xxxxx – 78 Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – 40 Vincent Lecavalier

5 Braydon Coburn – 55 Nick Schultz

8 Nicklas Grossmann – 32 Mark Streit

47 Andrew MacDonald – 22 Luke Schenn

15 Michael Del Zotto – xxxxx

29 Ray Emery

[72 Rob Zepp]

Scratches: Steve Mason (back), Zac Rinaldo (lower body), Carlo Colaiacovo (healthy), Chris VandeVelde (healthy), Ryan White (IR, torn pectoral muscle, practicing with the team).

JETS

16 Andrew Ladd – 18 Bryan Little – 26 Blake Wheeler

85 Mathieu Perreault – 55 Mark Scheifele – 67 Michael Frolik

9 Evander Kane – 17 Adam Lowry – 15 Matt Halischuk

22 Chris Thorburn – 19 Jim Slater – 14 Anthony Peluso

63 Ben Chiarot – 33 Dustin Byfuglien

2 Adam Pardy – 4 Paul Postma

23 Jay Harrison – 24 Grant Clitsome

31 Ondrej Pavelec

[34 Michael Hutchinson]

Scratches: Zach Bogosian (IR, lower body), Tobias Enström (IR, lower body), Jacob Trouba (IR, upper body), Mark Stuart (lower body), Julien Brouillette (healthy), T.J. Galiardi (healthy).

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