Bill Meltzer: Flyers Gameday: 12/29/14 @ ARI

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PREVIEW: FLYERS @ COYOTES

Starting the second half an eight-game road trip, the Philadelphia Flyers (14-15-6) are in Glendale on Tuesday to take on the Arizona Coyotes (13-18-4). Game time is 9:00 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 Jan.

27. Last season, each club won on the other’s home ice.

Following Tuesday’s game, the Flyers’ road trip continues on New Year’s Eve in Denver with a game against the Colorado Avalanche. That match is the start of a three-in-four stretch that will see the Flyers road trip conclude with back-to-back games in Raleigh on Friday against the Carolina Hurricanes and Newark on Saturday against the New Jersey Devils.

The Coyotes will spend New Year’s Eve in Texas with a game against the Dallas Stars. On Saturday night, the club is home again to host the Columbus Blue Jackets. Flyers outlook

The Flyers are coming off a 4-1 loss in Nashville on Saturday. The loss ended a three-game winning streak to start the current eight-game road trip and knocked Philly’s season record south of the .500 mark again for the season.

Penalty killing has become an Achilles heel for the Flyers this season, particularly on the road. In Nashville, the Flyers yielded three power play goals on five opportunities — including tallies on both ends of a Predators’ five-on-three advantage that turned the game from a 1-1 tie to a two-goal edge for Nashville. Coming into the game, Nashville was ranked at the bottom of the NHL in power play success at home and next-to-last in overall power play success.

The Flyers power play was also out of synch. Philly went 0-for-4 on the power play, including a failed 5-on-3 for most of the opening minute of the second period as well as one early in the first period.

Another trouble spot for the Flyers this season has been an inability to win low-scoring or even moderate-scoring (i.e. three-goal) games. When scoring three or fewer goals in a game, Philly has a 2-14-5 record. That includes just one win apiece when scoring three (1-3-2) or two (1-2-1) goals.

The good news: The Flyers have scored four or more goals in 14 of their 35 game to date and enjoy a 12-1-1 record in such matches. Even so, a team that cannot win low-scoring games cannot win with any consistency in the modern-day NHL.

Barring a physical setback or a decision to err on the side of caution for one more game, the Flyers will have Steve Mason back in goal tonight. The starting goaltender 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 has missed the last three games.

When Mason is activated from injured reserve, the Flyers will waive netminder Rob Zepp and then re-assign him to the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The 33-year-old veteran played so well in his much-belated NHL debut that the team would have confidence recalling — or even starting — him again if the circumstances arise.

Entering tonight’s game, Jakub Voracek leads the NHL in overall scoring (46 points) and assists (32). However, he was held off the scoresheet in the Nashville game on Saturday. Claude Giroux, who scored the Flyers’ lone goal against the Predators, is tied for second in the league in assists (30) and tied for third in overall scoring (42 points).

In the goal-scoring department, Wayne Simmonds leads the Flyers and is tied for 12th in the NHL with 15 goals. Simmonds is tied for third in the NHL with eight power play tallies.

Mark Streit is tied for 12th among NHL defensemen in overall scoring (22 points). With nine power play points (one goal, eight assists), Streit is tied for 11th 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. He is one of 20 NHL defensemen who currently have a double-digit plus rating at even strength.

With 66 blocked shots, defenseman Nick Schultz leads all Flyers players and is tied for 25th in the NHL. Fourth-line forward Zac Rinaldo, who is questionable for tonight’s game with an upper-body injury, is tied for 17th in the NHL with 103 credited hits. Rinaldo practiced yesterday.

Fourth-line forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare suffered an upper-body injury (believed to be his arm) in practice yesterday in Arizona. He is probable for tonight.

Rehabbing center Ryan White (torn pectoral muscle) will shortly begin a conditioning assignment with the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms. White missed all of training camp and the entire season to date. The conditioning stint will last three games. Thereafter, barring a physical setback, the Flyers will make a decision on whether to have him join the NHL team or waive him and assign him to the Phantoms if he clears.

Defenseman Michael Del Zotto has been a healthy scratch in eight straight game and 10 of the Flyers’ last 12 matches. He remained paired with spare veteran defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo at practice on Monday. Coyotes outlook

Dave Tippett’s Coyotes teams are usually known for playing tight team defense and scratching out numerous low-scoring wins. That has not been the case this season, however. The Coyotes have uncharacteristically allowed 113 goals through their first 35 games. The team’s poor record reflects its misplaced identity.

However, Arizona is coming off a 2-1 win via shootout against the powerhouse Anaheim Ducks. Defensive defenseman Zbynek Michalek scored midway through the first period. Veteran team captain Shane Doan notched the only goal for either side in the four-round shootout, breaking his stick on the attempt but seeing the puck go into the net. Winning goaltender Devan Dubnyk turned back 34 of 35 shots during the hockey game and then stopped all four shooters he faced in the skills competition.

The Coyotes have won back-to-back games for the first time since mid-November. In the final game before the three-night Christmas break, the Coyotes downed the woeful Edmonton Oilers by a 5-1 count. Arizona’s last two-game winning streak also involved a win over the Oilers (5-0 shutout of Vancouver on Nov. 14 and a 2-1 win against Edmonton on Nov. 16). The Coyotes’ season-high winning streak was a three-gamer at the start of November.

Four of the team’s 13 wins have come at the expense of Edmonton. However, despite their poor overall record, the Coyotes have knocked off some good NHL teams over the course of the season. Even prior to the shootout win against Anaheim, the Los Angeles Kings, Toronto Maple Leafs, Canucks, San Jose Sharks and Washington Capitals were among the clubs with superior records to the Flyers whom Arizona has beaten this season.

In other words, at least on paper, this is every bit as much of a “winnable matchup” for the Coyotes as it is for the Flyers. The key for Arizona is staying on-system and getting solid goaltending. Mike Smith is having a terrible season (3.48 GAA, .884 save percentage in 22 starts and one relief appearance) but reclamation project Dubnyk (2.52 GAA, .924 save percentage in 13 starts and three relief outings) is enjoying a resurgence in the desert.

After Saturday’s game, Tippett insisted to the media that he remains committed to Smith as his primary starter and that Smith would get plenty of opportunities to play his way out of his funk. However, given how well Dubnyk has played of late and the fact that there was an off-night between the Anaheim and Philadelphia games, it would tough to justify not giving Dubnyk another start with the Flyers in town.

Offensive defenseman Keith Yandle leads the Coyotes in overall scoring with 23 points and in assists with 19. Two of Yandle’s four goals have come on the power play. Arizona does not yet any players with double-digit goals but Mikkel Boedker (nine goals, 11 assists) is one away and Antoine Vermette (eight goals, five power play tallies, 22 points) is two away.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson is widely regarded as one of the finest young two-way defensemen around the NHL. This season, things have been OK for him offensively with eight goals, five power play goals, four game-winning tallies, 16 points, However, only 11 players in the NHL have a plus-minus rating lower than the Swede’s minus-14. Five of those players are on Edmonton.

The Coyotes are in the process of breaking 2010 first-round pick Brandon Gormley (eight games played, two goals, three points, plus four) into the NHL. Second-year pro Connor Murphy, the team’s 2011 first-round pick, is the son of Flyers assistant coach and longtime NHL defenseman Gord Murphy. The younger Murphy has dressed in 30 games for the Coyotes this season.

On the Arizona injury front, Joe Vitale is questionable for tonight with a lower-body injury. Yesterday, the team recalled 21-year-old Tyler Gaudet from the AHL’ Portland Pirates. Chris Summers is on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. Key team stat comparisons (NHL overall ranking)

Non-shootout goals per game: Flyers 2.80 (14th), Coyotes 2.26 (25th)

Non-shootout goals against per game: Flyers 2.86 (23rd), Coyotes 3.17 (26th)

Even strength Goals For/Against Ratio: Flyers 1.07 (17th), Coyotes 0.71 (26th)

Power play efficiency: Flyers 21.6% (7th), Coyotes 19.5% (11th)

Penalty killing efficiency: Flyers 74.4% (29th), Coyotes 75.4% (28th)

Faceoff percentage: Flyers 51.0% (10th), Coyotes 53.4% (4th) 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

35 Steve Mason

[29 Ray Emery]

Scratches: Steve Mason (expected to be activated from IR, back), Rob Zepp (will be reassigned when Mason is activated), Zac Rinaldo (lower body, questionable), Pierre Edouard Bellemare (probable, upper body), Carlo Colaiacovo (healthy), Michael Del Zotto (healthy), Ryan White (torn pectoral muscle, AHL rehabilitation assignment).

Arizona

89 Mikkel Boedker – 50 Antoine Vermette – 19 Shane Doan

10 Martin Erat – 11 Martin Hanzal – 9 Sam Gagner

8 Tobias Rieder – 24 Kyle Chipchura – 18 David Moss

22 Brandon McMillan – 32 Tyler Gaudet – 28 Lauri Korpikoski

23 Oliver Ekman-Larsson – 4 Zbynek Michalek

3 Keith Yandle – 26 Michael Stone

33 Brandon Gormley – 5 Connor Murphy

40 Devan Dubnyk

[41 Mike Smith]

Scratches: Joe Vitale (questionable, lower body), Tyler Gaudet (healthy, could start if Vitale is unavailable), Chris Summers (IR, upper body), David Schlemko (healthy), B.J. Crombeen (healthy).

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