Bill Meltzer: Flyers Gameday: 12/31/14 @ COL

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PREVIEW: FLYERS @ AVALANCHE

Looking to avoid a three-game losing streak, the Philadelphia Flyers (14-16-6) are in Denver for a New Year’s Eve clash with the Colorado Avalanche (13-15-8). Game time is 9:00 p.m. EST. The game will be televised on CSN Philadelphia.

This is the second and final meeting between the teams this season. On Nov. 8 in Philadelphia, a strong start and a good night on special teams were enough for the Flyers to escape with a 4-3 regulation win.

Philly led 4-0 after two periods and then barely withstood a Colorado onslaught in the final stanza. The Flyers’ power play went 3-for-6 while the penalty kill was 4-for-4.

Wednesday’s match is the start of a three-in-four stretch for the Flyers. The team’s current eight-game road trip concludes with back-to-back games in Raleigh on Friday against the Carolina Hurricanes and Newark on Saturday against the New Jersey Devils.

The game against the Flyers marks the start of a three-game homestand for the Avs. On Friday, the Edmonton Oilers come to Denver on the tail end of a three-in-four gauntlet. On Sunday, the Columbus Blue Jackets pay a visit to the Pepsi Center. The Avs have been home for most of the latter part of December. Wednesday’s game is part of a stretch in which team plays five of six and seven of nine games at home. Flyers outlook

After starting out their road trip with three straight regulation wins prior to the Christmas break, the Flyers have lost back-to-back games in regulation.

The Flyers are coming off a 4-2 loss in Arizona on Monday. Philadelphia trailed 3-0 in the third period, got back within one goal on a pair of tallies by R.J. Umberger but fell short of forcing overtime. A late empty-net goal sealed the win for the Coyotes. Steve Mason (21 saves) made his return to the lineup after missing the first four games of the road trip with a back injury.

Philadelphia’s win over the Avalanche on Nov. 8 put the Flyers at their high-water mark for the season to date. They were two games above .500 for the season (7-5-2). The penalty killing was in the middle of the NHL pack — ranked 15th — at 80 percent overall.

Since that time, the Flyers have gone 7-11-4. However, head coach Craig Berube’s club is 5-3-1 in the last nine games and 6-3-3 in the last 12.

One big reason for the Flyers’ struggles since mid-November: The penalty killing has sunk from 15th to 29th in the NHL. In their last two games, the Flyers are just 3-for-7 on the PK.

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 2-15-5 record. That includes just one win apiece when scoring three (1-3-2) or two (1-3-1) goals.

The Flyers have scored four or more goals in 14 of their 36 game to date and enjoy a 12-1-1 record in such matches.

As the calendar reaches the end of 2014, Jakub Voracek still leads the NHL in overall scoring (46 points) and assists (32). However, the Czech right winger has been held off the scoresheet in each of the Flyers’ two games since Christmas. Claude Giroux is tied for second in the league in assists (30) and tied for third in overall scoring (42 points). The team captain was held without a point in Arizona after scoring Philly’s lone goal in Nashville.

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. However, the offensively streaky power forward has been held pointless in four of the last six games and has just one goal in that span after a stretch of six goals and seven points in the previous six games.

Mark Streit is tied for 10th among NHL defensemen in overall scoring (23 points). With nine power play points (one goal, eight assists), Streit is tied for 13th in the NHL among defensemen. At even strength he is plus-six after a minus-three night in Arizona.

Brayden Schenn (nine goals, 23 points) has been cold offensively of late. He has just one point — an assist in the Minnesota game on Dec. 23 — in his last seven games and has gone nine games without a goal since a two-goal outburst in the Flyers’ 3-2 overtime loss in Columbus on Dec. 9. Schenn has scored just three goals in his last 20 games but has 10 points in that span.

Sean Couturier (nine goals, 20 points) has picked up offensively this month after struggling in November. He has five points (two goals, three assists) in the last five games. For the month of December, Couturier has five goals, 12 points and a plus-six rating in 13 games.

On the Flyers’ injury front, Zac Rinaldo is questionable for tonight’s game with a lower-body injury sustained on Dec. 20. He has been practicing with the team this week. Rehabbing center Ryan White (torn pectoral muscle) is on a conditioning assignment with the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

Defenseman Michael Del Zotto has been a healthy scratch in nine straight games and 11 of the Flyers’ last 13 matches. He last played on Dec. 9 in Columbus. Avalanche outlook

December has been a feast or famine month for the Avalanche. The month started out with a four-game winless streak (0-3-1). Head coach Patrick Roy’s club then went on a streak of six straight games (4-0-2) in which they came away with at least one point. Since the Christmas break, the Avalanche have dropped back-to-back regulation decisions.

The Avalanche enter this game coming off a 3-0 road shutout loss against St. Louis on Monday. A terrible second period, which saw Colorado get badly outshot (11-3) and outscored by a 2-0 margin, was the key to the outcome. Semyon Varlamov made 22 saves in a losing cause.

Colorado has been very inconsistent on both sides of the puck throughout the 2014-15 season to date. For example, in the two games since the Christmas break, the club has been outscored by a combined 8-2 margin. In the four previous games, the Avs outscored their opponents in regulation by a combined 11-2 margin. That stretch, however, included a 1-0 overtime loss to Pittsburgh and a 2-1 win via shootout against Detroit.

Even strength play has been a major struggle for the Avs this season. The club currently ranks near the bottom of the NHL — 24th of 30 teams — in its ratio of goals for to goals against in five-on-five play. That has been a huge part of the team’s struggle to climb in the standings.

Overall, in the time since the Flyers last played Colorado, the Avalanche have gone 9-8-3.

Colorado has a talented group of forwards but no one is having a stellar offensive season to date. However, the club has eight players — six forwards and two defensemen — who have 20 or more points in the season thus far.

Alex Tanguay, who recently played his 500th NHL game, leads the Avalanche in overall scoring with 12 goals and 24 points. He is followed by veteran power forward Jarome Iginla (eight goals, 23 points), Gabriel Landeskog (seven goals, 22 points), Nathan MacKinnon (six goals, 22 points) and Matt Duchene (10 goals, 21 point). Ryan O’Reilly has six goals, 20 points and a minus-12 rating at even strength.

Defenseman Erik Johnson is having a big season offensively, with 10 goals and 20 points. Fellow blueliner Tyson Barrie leads the team with 18 assists among his 21 points.

One of the recent bright spots for the Avs this season was the play of 22-year-old goaltender Calvin Pickard. A second-round selection in the 2010 NHL Draft, Pickard has posted a 2.21 goals against average and .934 save percentage in 11 starts and three relief appearances.

However, Pickard was reassigned to the AHL on Dec. 28. Roy said that he plans to give Varlamov a lengthy run of starts; pretty much exclusively going with the 2013-14 Vezina Trophy finalist for the next few weeks. As a result, Roy said he wanted Pickard to get playing time.

Varlamov has an unsightly 3.01 goals against average this season in 17 starts. He has not played up to his stellar campaign of last year. However, the goalie’s overall .912 save percentage suggests that the bigger issue is with the volume and quality of shots the Avalanche have given up in front of him this season.

Longtime Flyers fan favorite Danny Briere was a healthy scratch for Colorado when the team played in Philadelphia earlier this season. He has since rejoined the lineup. Briere has one point — an assist in the Avs’ 5-2 loss to Chicago on Dec. 27 — in his last five games. For the season, Briere has six goals and eight points in 29 games.

Briere’s fellow ex-Flyer teammate and current Colorado teammate, Max Talbot, has two goals and eight points in 36 games this season. Talbot had a goal and an assist against the Flyers when the teams played on Nov. 8. Including his years in Pittsburgh, Talbot has four goals and 10 points in 35 career regular season games against the Flyers.

When the Avalanche last played the Flyers, MacKinnon received a five-minute boarding major and game misconduct for a dangerous hit from behind that injured Flyers defenseman Luke Schenn. Such a play was uncharacteristic of MacKinnon, who apologized profusely afterwards. There is unlikely to be a direct carryover to tonight’s tilt.

On the Colorado injury front, the Avs have five players on injured reserve: Patrick Bordeleau (fractured kneecap), Jamie McGinn (back surgery), Ben Street (undisclosed injury), Ryan Wilson (shoulder surgery), and Jesse Winchester (concussion). Key team stat comparisons (NHL overall ranking)

Non-shootout goals per game: Flyers 2.78 (15th), Avalanche 2.44 (23rd)

Non-shootout goals against per game: Flyers 2.89 (23rd), Avalanche 2.97 (24th)

Even strength Goals For/Against Ratio: Flyers 1.06 (13th), Avalanche 0.89 (T-24th)

Power play efficiency: Flyers 21.2% (7th), Avalanche 14.5% (24th)

Penalty killing efficiency: Flyers 74.4% (29th), Avalanche 85.2% (8th)

Faceoff percentage: Flyers 51.2% (T-10th), Avalanche 48.8% (19th) 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: 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).

AVALANCHE

25 Max Talbot – 9 Matt Duchene – 29 Nathan Mackinnon

40 Alex Tanguay – 7 John Mitchell – 12 Jarome Iginla

92 Gabriel Landeskog – 90 Ryan O’Reilly – 48 Danny Briere

55 Cody McLeod – 24 Marc-Andre Cliche – 2 Nick Holden

8 Jan Hejda – 6 Erik Johnson

4 Tyson Barrie – 5 Nate Guenin

17 Brad Stuart – 22 Zach Redmond

1 Semyon Varlamov

[35 Reto Berra]

Scratches: Patrick Bordeleau (IR, fractured kneecap), Jamie McGinn (IR, back surgery), Ben Street (IR, undisclosed injury), Ryan Wilson (IR, shoulder surgery), and Jesse Winchester (IR, concussion).

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