Bill Meltzer: Flyers Gameday: 12/27/14 @ NSH, WJC Update, Stolarz & Alt Injured in Loss

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PREVIEW: FLYERS @ PREDATORS

Resuming an eight-game road trip in which the team won each of the first three games prior to the NHL’s three-night Christmas break, the Philadelphia Flyers (14-14-6) are in Music City to take on the Nashville Predators (22-9-2). Game time is 8:00 p.m. EST. The game will be televised on CSN Philadelphia.

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

The clubs will rematch in Philadelphia on Feb. 21. Last season, each club won a shootout decision on road ice.

Tonight’s game marks the first time that Nashville head coach Peter Laviolette will coach against the Flyers since Philadelphia fired him three games into the 2013-14 season. Former assistant coach Craig Berube was promoted to head coach at the time of Laviolette’s dismissal.

Following Saturday’s game, the Flyers’ road trip continues on Monday in Arizona. On Monday, the Predators are in Chicago to clash head-to-head with the Blackhawks, with whom Nashville is locked in a battle for first place in the Central Division. Flyers outlook

In addition to winning each of the first three games of the road trip, the Flyers have taken points from nine of their last 10 games (6-1-3). The club still has a lot of work to do to get back in the playoff picture either for a guaranteed spot from finishing third in the Metropolitan Division or taking a wild card spot.

On Tuesday night in St. Paul, the Flyers skated off with a 5-2 victory. Philly built and lost a 2-0 lead but re-took the lead by the second intermission and then built on it in the final stanza.

Even-strength goals by Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Vincent Lecavalier and Michael Raffl (empty net) paced the Flyers. Jakub Voracek added two assists. Winning goaltender Ray Emery stopped 22 of 24 shots.

Exiting the Christmas break, Voracek leads the NHL in overall scoring (46 points) and assists (32). Giroux is second in the league in assists (30) and tied for third in overall scoring (41 points). Wayne Simmonds leads the Flyers and is tied for 11th in the NHL with 15 goals. Simmonds is tied for 2nd in the NHL with eight power play tallies.

Mark Streit is tied for 11th among NHL defensemen in overall scoring (22 points). With nine power play points (one goal, eight assists), Streit is tied for ninth in the NHL among defensemen. At even strength he is plus-nine. Streit’s defense partner, Nicklas Grossmann, leads Flyers defensemen with a plus-10 rating. Voracek (plus-17) leads all Philadelphia skaters.

With 66 blocked shots, defenseman Nick Schultz leads all Flyers players and is tied for 24th in the NHL. Zac Rinaldo, who is questionable for tonight’s game with an upper-body injury, is 13th in the NHL with 103 credited hits.

Lecavalier has scored three goals — all in the third period — in the Flyers’ last two games. Previously, the veteran sat out as a healthy scratch for seven consecutive games.

Injured starting goaltender Steve Mason was having an excellent overall season (2.49 GAA, .921 save percentage in 22 starts) prior to going to down with a back injury suffered in practice on Dec. 19. He is slated to skate with the team in Nashville and will be monitored thereafter. While unavailable for tonight’s game, the team hopes that Mason will soon be able to practice in full and then return to the lineup.

Emery will get the majority of starts in Mason’s absence. With a three-in-four road slate coming up next week, however, Rob Zepp figures to get at least one more start for the Flyers.

Injured center Ryan White (torn pectoral muscle) has been practicing with the team for a couple of weeks. White missed all of training camp and the entire season to date.

Berube indicated that he has been happy with the team’s defensive play of late and is particularly happy with his current mix on the blue line. Michael Del Zotto, who briefly played for Nashville last season and was not tendered a qualifying offer, will remain a healthy scratch for the eighth straight game and for the 10th time in the club’s last 12 matches. Predators outlook

it is not hard to see why the Predators have become one of the top teams in the NHL. With 46 points, they are two points behind Chicago for the top spot in the Central Division. The Preds, however, hold two games in hand on the Blackhawks.

Nashville has been exceptionally fearsome on home ice this season. The club currently boasts a 12-2-1 record at home. Overall, the club is 22-9-2.

In their 33 games played through the Christmas break, the Predators rank second in the NHL in fewest goals allowed per game (2.09) and tops overall in five-on-five scoring differential (a ratio of 1.66 even strength goals scored to each one allowed).

The Predators’ special teams have struggled. Their 11.3 percent success rate on the power play is 29th among the NHL’s 30 teams. The penalty kill (78.6 percent) is 22nd.

However, the Predators team has done a very good job of staying out of the penalty box this season. They have played shorthanded just 89 times this season; the fewest in the NHL. Thus, while the penalty killing percentage isn’t great, the bottom line is that opposing teams have scored 19 goals. In terms of volume of power play goals yielded, the Preds are tied for 11th.

Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne is having an outstanding season. A frequent runner-up for the Vezina Trophy, this could finally be Rinne’s season to win the award if he remains healthy. Rinne has not been pulled in any of his 29 starts to date and has posted a 1.84 goals against average, .934 save percentage and three shutouts.

During Barry Trotz’s long tenure as the Predators’ head coach, the team was rarely deep in offensive weapons. The team that Laviolette is coaching has seven players with 16 or more points in 33 games and three with double-digit goals.

Fast-rising young star Filip Forsberg leads the way with 13 goals, 32 points and a stellar plus-24 at even strength. Reclamation project center Mike Ribeiro remains a quality playmaker, tied with Forsberg for the team lead with 19 assists. Meanwhile, franchise defenseman Shea Weber has a half-dozen goals, 22 points and a plus-14 rating. Controversial former Dallas and Pittsburgh left wnger James Neal — a player with whom the Flyers are all-too-familiar from his Penguins years — has 11 goals and 21 points.

Predators general manager David Poile has always built his team from the back end out. That is still the case, even with the upgrades the team has made at forward. Even beyond Weber, the Preds’ blueline is stacked with fine two-way talents who boast good mobility. Roman Josi (four goals, 18 points, plus-12) would be the number one defenseman on the Flyers or many other NHL clubs. Meanwhile, the likes of the undersized but talented Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm and 20-year-old Seth Jones are a good supporting cast.

If the game is tied after 65 minutes of hockey, the Predators hold an edge on Philly in a shootout. The Flyers’ struggles in shootouts have been well-documented (0-5 this season, 0-10 in the last 10 dating back to last season). Meanwhile, Nashville is 4-1 this season after going just 2-9 last year with Rinne injured for much of the season. One of the Preds’ two shootout wins last season came at the Flyers’ expense, while the Flyers started a post-Thanksgiving road trip a year ago by picking up a rare shootout win at the Preds’ expense.

On the Nashville injury front, checking forward Paul Gaustad is on injured reserve with a lower-body injury. Defenseman Anton Volchenkov is day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Key team stat comparisons (NHL overall ranking)

Non-shootout goals per game: Flyers 2.85 (10th), Predators 2.76 (17th)

Non-shootout goals against per game: Flyers 2.82 (23rd), Predators 2.09 (2nd)

Even strength Goals For/Against Ratio: Flyers 1.05 (15th), Predators 1.66 (1st)

Power play efficiency: Flyers 22.3% (7th), Predators 11.3% (29th)

Penalty killing efficiency: Flyers 75.9% (27th), Predators 78.6% (22nd)

Faceoff percentage: Flyers 51.2% (10th), Predators 47.3% (26th) 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

76 Chris VandeVelde – 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

29 Ray Emery

[72 Rob Zepp]

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

PREDATORS

9 Filip Forsberg – 63 Mike Ribeiro – 15 Craig Smith

33 Colin Wilson – 12 Mike Fisher – 7 Matt Cullen

41 Taylor Beck – 19 Calle Järnkrok – 18 James Neal

24 Eric Nystrom – 13 Olli Jokinen – 57 Gabriel Bourque

59 Roman Josi – 6 Shea Weber

14 Mattias Ekholm – 4 Ryan Ellis

64 Victor Bartley – 3 Seth Jones

35 Pekka Rinne

[30 Carter Hutton]

Scratches: Paul Gaustad (IR, lower body), Anton Volchenkov (day-to-day, lower body), Derek Roy (healthy), Viktor Stålberg (healthy).

******** WORLD JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP UPDATES

* Flyers 2014 fifth-round pick Oskar Lindblom enjoyed an auspicious debut at the Under-20 World Championships. The 18-year-old Brynäs winger racked up three assists — two on the power play, one at even strength — in Sweden’s tournament-opening 5-2 win over the Czech Republic. Adrian Kempe, the LA Kings’ 2014 first-round pick, notched a pair of power play goals.

* Lehigh Valley Phantoms defenseman Robert Hägg, the Flyers’ second round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, is in his third and final World Junior Championship tourney for Sweden. He plays on Sweden’s top pairing and is expected to be a key part of his team’s medal hopes. Although the Swedes enjoyed a solid opening win over the Czechs, this was not one of Hägg’s better games. He was minus-two (including a bad turnover that ended up in the Swedes’ net) and did not record a point. He had two shots on goal.

* Flyers 2013 first-round pick Samuel Morin made his Under-20 Worlds debut for Canada in the host country’s 8-0 rout of Slovakia. Although Morin played sparingly — he was dressed as a seventh defenseman — he was plus-two on the night.

* Team USA downed defending gold medalist Finland, 2-1, via shootout. Under the IIHF format, teams earn three points for a regulation win, two for an overtime/shootout win and one for an overtime/shootout loss.

* Saturday schedule: Sweden vs. Denmark (1 p.m. EST, Toronto), Finland vs. Slovakia (4 p.m. EST, Montreal), Czech Republic vs. Switzerland (5 p.m., Toronto), Canada vs. Germany (8 p.m. EST, Montreal). Team USA and Russia are idle.

******** PHANTOMS UPDATE: STOLARZ & ALT INJURED IN LOSS TO HERSHEY

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms dropped a road decision to the Hershey Bears, 4-2, on Friday night. Terry Murray’s club was unable to protect a pair of one-goal leads as the Phantoms got outshot by a 42-24 margin and Hershey scored three times in the third period. The game was a rancorous affair that saw four fights and numerous after-the-whistle scrums.

Blair Jones (3rd goal of the season) and Jay Rosehill (1st) scored first- and second-period goals for the Phantoms. Jason Akeson and Oliver Lauridsen assisted on the Jones goal. Jones got open in front and blasted home a centering feed from Akeson, who was stationed behind the net. Rosehill’s goal was an unassisted tally as he stole the puck in the corner and stepped out in front to beat Philip Grubauer (22 saves).

Hershey’s Chris Conner (6th goal of the season) briefly tied the game at 1-1 in the second period. Stanislav Galiev (10th, power play), Cameron Schilling (2nd) and Casey Wellman (8th, empty net goal) tallied in the third period as the Bears completed a comeback win.

For the Phantoms, two injuries may have overshadowed the outcome of the game.

Second-year defenseman Mark Alt left the game late in the second period with an undisclosed injury after crashing into the boards in a collision with Garrett Mitchell. Alt was called for a delay of game penalty on the play after falling on the puck. Earlier this season, Alt missed a month of action with a shoulder injury.

In the third period, with the score tied 2-2, rookie goaltender Anthony Stolarz suffered an apparent head injury when he crashed into the post in a heavy collision with Hershey’s Chris Brown. The Bears player was pushed by Lauridsen but no real effort was made to avoid or minimize the contact.

Stolarz, who stopped 25 of 27 shots, was forced to leave the game. Martin Ouellette, whom the Phantoms recalled from the ECHL’s Reading Royals after Rob Zepp was called up to the Flyers due to Steve Mason’s back injury, finished up the game in net.

Ouellette was peppered with 14 shots, stopping 13. Schilling scored the game-winning goal on a back-door play with 4:02 left in regulation. Wellman tacked on an empty net goal with 47 seconds remaining.

The Phantoms return to action on Saturday, hosting Norfolk at the PPL Center in Allentown. Game time is 7:05 p.m. EST. As of this writing, there is no update on the statuses of Alt or Stolarz.

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