Bill Meltzer: Flyers Gameday: 1/2/15 @ CAR

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PREVIEW: FLYERS @ HURRICANES

Looking for their first win since the Christmas break, the Philadelphia Flyers (14-16-7) are in Raleigh on Friday night to take on the Carolina Hurricanes (10-23-4). Game time is 7:00 p.m. EST. The game will be televised on CSN Philadelphia.

This is the second of five meetings between the teams this season, and the first of three in Carolina.

On the afternoon of Dec. 13, the Flyers blew out the visiting Hurricanes by a 5-1 count.

The Flyers and Hurricanes will rematch in Raleigh on February 24 and April 4. On April 9, the season series concludes at the Wells Fargo Center.

For Philly, tonight’s game is the seventh match of a season-high eight-game team’s current eight-game road trip. The Flyers are 3-2-1 thus far. The trip concludes in Newark on Saturday against the New Jersey Devils.

The Canes are starting a brief two-game home stand. While the Flyers are on the front end of back-to-back games, Carolina’s next game is a Sunday matinee against the Boston Bruins. 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 followed by a 4-3 overtime decision in Colorado on New Year’s Eve.

The Flyers leads of 1-0 and 3-2 against the Avalanche and could neither build on nor protect either one. The team did not play badly on the whole — two of the Avs’ three regulation goals were self-made good luck on deflections off Flyers’ players — but all that mattered in the end was that the struggling penalty kill failed again at a crucial juncture and the team settled for one point when they needed two.

Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux scored power play goals for the Flyers in the Colorado game. Vincent Lecavalier scored a third-period even strength goal.

Steve Mason played outstanding hockey in December until sustaining a back injury in practice on Dec. 19. After missing three games, he returned for the games in Arizona and Denver. While not awful in either game, he also did not play to the standards he set prior to his absence.

Head coach Craig Berube made a couple of lineup changes in the Colorado game. Michael Del Zotto returned to the lineup after nine straight games and 11 of 13 as a healthy scratch. Luke Schenn sat out the New Year’s Eve game against the Avs. Additionally, Matt Read and Michael Raffl switched places in the lineup, with Read moving up to the top line.

The Flyers are 5-3-2 in their last 10 games and 6-3-4 in the last 13. However, that is not good enough to undo the damage of a terrible stretch from mid-November to early December. One big reason for the Flyers’ struggles since mid-November: Over the last seven weeks, 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 2-15-6 record. That includes just one win apiece when scoring three (1-3-3) or two (1-3-1) goals.

As the calendar flips to 2015, Jakub Voracek still leads the NHL in overall scoring (47 points) and assists (32). Claude Giroux is tied for second in the league in assists (30) and is third in overall scoring (43 points).

In the goal-scoring department, Voracek and Wayne Simmonds are tied for the Flyers’ team lead with 15 apiece. That places the players in a tie with five others for 13th place in the NHL. Simmonds’ eight power play goals — one more than Giroux — is tied for third in the league. However, the offensively streaky power forward has been held pointless in four of the last seven 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 (24 points). With 10 power play points (one goal, nine assists), Streit is tied for ninth in the NHL among defensemen. At even strength he is plus-five after a minus-three night in Arizona and minus-one in Colorado.

Brayden Schenn (nine goals, 24 points) has been cold offensively of late but picked up a nice assist on the Colorado game. He has just two points in his last eight games and has gone 10 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 21 games but has 11 points in that span.

Sean Couturier (nine goals, 20 points) picked up offensively in December after struggling in November. He has five points (two goals, three assists) in the last six games. For the month of December, Couturier had five goals, 12 points and a plus-five rating in 14 games.

On the Flyers’ injury front, Zac Rinaldo may be available to return tonight from an upper-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. Hurricanes outlook

The Canes’ blowout loss to Philly in December was not typical of the way the team usually plays. They struggle mightily to score goals and win games but Carolina usually keeps the opposition’s score down. In a league of parity, small lapses in the sport’s small details make all the difference. In many games, the Canes have too small of a margin for error in their own end of the ice.

Since they last played the Flyers and followed it up with a 4-1 loss to Montreal, the Canes have played another series of low-scoring games similar to the ones that preceded the 5-1 loss in Philly. Here’s a look at the team’s last six games:

In a home-and-home set with the Rangers on Dec. 20 and 21, the Canes dropped both games. In Raleigh, Carolina and New York played to a 2-2 tie through 65 minutes with the Rangers winning the shootout. In the return match at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers won 1-0.

Two night later, the Canes claimed a 2-1 road victory in regulation against the Devils. Following the Christmas break, Carolina lost a 2-1 regulation game in Tampa. That was followed a 3-1 loss at home against Montreal (the final goal was an empty-netter with 23 seconds remaining). On New Year’s Eve in Pittsburgh, the Canes lost 2-1 in regulation.

This series of games has been typical of how the Canes season has gone.

The Hurricanes started the month of December with a 2-1 home win over Nashville. In the games that followed, the Canes dropped regulation decisions of 2-1 to Washington, 3-1 to Detroit, 2-1 to New Jersey and then the 2-1 heartbreaker to Tampa.

Take things back even a little further and you will find that the Canes had a similar plight in November where their lack of goal scoring was the biggest problem. There were eight games in which the Hurricanes yielded only one or two goals plus a 3-0 shutout win over Arizona to open the month.

Nevertheless, the club went just 7-7-1 in the 15-game slate. The month included a 1-0 loss to Florida, a 2-0 loss to San Jose, a 2-1 loss to the Bruins, and a 3-1 loss to Winnipeg with the final Jets goal being a late empty netter. The Canes also dropped one-goal regulation decisions by 3-2 to Los Angeles, 4-3 to Colorado and 3-2 to the Penguins in the back end of the home-and-home that concluded the November schedule.

Bottom line: Despite Carolina’s abysmal win-loss record and the lopsided win the Flyers enjoyed the last time the two teams played, this is no “gimme” game for Philly. The Flyers may need to be patient in working for their scoring chances.

Entering this game, Eric Staal leads the Hurricanes in overall scoring with 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists). Jiri Tlusty paces the team with 10 goals, while defenseman Justin Faulk tops the club with 14 assists.

Backup goalie Anton Khudobin was in net the last time the Canes played the Flyers. He had a prior history of success against Philly but looked awful in that game. Usual Carolina starter Cam Ward has a respectable .914 save percentage this season along with a 2.39 goals against average but the lack of offensive support he receives along with the occasional lapse of his own has doomed him to a 9-15-2 record.

Veteran defenseman John-Michael Liles is on injured reserve, along with Andrej Nestrasil. Both Alexander Semin and Jordan Staal are listed as questionable for this game. Staal, who had missed the entire season with a leg injury, got banged up again in his return on a hit by Montreal’s P.K. Subban. Key team stat comparisons (NHL overall ranking)

Non-shootout goals per game: Flyers 2.78 (15th), Hurricanes 1.95 (29th)

Non-shootout goals against per game: Flyers 2.92 (23rd), Hurricanes 2.62 (T-15th)

Even strength Goals For/Against Ratio: Flyers 1.05 (T-13th), Hurricanes 0.66 (28th)

Power play efficiency: Flyers 22.0% (T-6th), Hurricanes 17.2% (20th)

Penalty killing efficiency: Flyers 74.0% (30th), Hurricanes 85.3% (6th)

Faceoff percentage: Flyers 51.2% (10th), Hurricanes 52.1% (7th) Projected lineups (Subject to change, will be updated)

FLYERS

24 Matt Read – 28 Claude Giroux – 93 Jakub Voracek

10 Brayden Schenn – 49 Scott Laughton – 17 Wayne Simmonds

18 R.J. Umberger – 14 Sean Couturier – 12 Michael Raffl

36 Zac Rinaldo – 78 Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – 40 Vincent Lecavalier

5 Braydon Coburn – 55 Nick Schultz

8 Nicklas Grossmann – 32 Mark Streit

15 Michael Del Zotto – 47 Andrew MacDonald

35 Steve Mason

[29 Ray Emery]

Scratches: Zac Rinaldo (questionable, has been practicing), Chris VandeVelde (healthy, will play if Rinaldo is not ready), Carlo Colaiacovo (healthy), Luke Schenn or Michael Del Zotto (healthy), Ryan White (torn pectoral muscle, AHL rehabilitation assignment).

HURRICANES

19 Jiri Tlusty – 12 Eric Staal – 16 Elias Lindholm

14 Nathan Gerbe – 49 Victor Rask – 39 Pat Dwyer

53 Jeff Skinner – 20 Riley Nash – 25 Chris Terry

24 Brad Malone – 18 Jay McClement – 22 Zach Boychuk

4 Andrej Sekera – 27 Justin Faulk

65 Ron Hainsey – 73 Brett Bellemore

6 Tim Gleason – 47 Michal Jordan

30 Cam Ward

[31 Anton Khudobin]

Scratches: John-Michael Liles (IR, illness), Andrej Nestrasil (IR, upper-body), Jordan Staal (questionable, leg), Alexander Semin (questionable, upper body), Ryan Murphy (healthy).

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