Bill Meltzer: Flyers Gameday: 1/8/15 vs. WSH

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PREVIEW: FLYERS vs. CAPITALS

Looking to build on their first win since the Christmas break, Craig Berube’s Philadelphia Flyers (15-18-7) play host to Barry Trotz’s Washington Capitals (21-11-7) at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night. Game time is 7:00 p.m. EST. The game will be televised on CSN Philadelphia.

This is the first of four meetings between the Metro Division rivals, and the first of two in Philadelphia.

On Jan. 14 and Feb. 8, the scene shifts to Washington. The season series concludes with a Feb. 22 afternoon game at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Flyers have played once in the last four nights, last playing at home on Tuesday. The Capitals are playing the second half of back-to-back games, having played in Toronto on Wednesday. Washington had two nights off heading into the b2b set. Flyers outlook

The Flyers got two monkeys off their back in Tuesday night’s 2-1 shootout win over the Senators: they won their first shootout in six tries this season and they won for just the third time when scoring fewer than four regulation/overtime goals in a game.

Steve Mason was brilliant in Tuesday’s game, stopping 41 of 42 shots during regulation and overtime before turning back four of five attempts in the shootout.

The next morning, he left practice after just 15 minutes and underwent an MRI later in the day. Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said the issue — suspected but not confirmed to be a knee problem sustained in the third period of Tuesday’s game — is unrelated to the back spasms that kept Mason out of the lineup for three games in December.

The MRI results were negative.

Mason fully participated in the morning skate on Thursday and will start in goal against the Caps.

Wayne Simmonds, who had one just one goal in his previous nine games heading into Tuesday, scored a regulation power play goal and the winning goal in the shootout. For the season, Simmonds leads the Flyers with 16 goals and nine power play goals.

Jakub Voracek still leads the NHL’s Art Ross Trophy race with 48 points and tops the league with 33 assists. However, he has just two points — one goal, one assist — in his last six games. Voracek had a strong game on Tuesday but did not record a point in regulation. He did score a shootout goal.

Flyers captain Claude Giroux battled through a skate cut on the back of his left leg to return to return to the lineup on Tuesday after a one game absence. After struggling early in the game, especially on faceoffs, he settled in as the match progressed. Giroux, who picked up an assist on Simmonds’ power play goal, is fourth in the NHL with 31 assists and sixth in overall scoring with 44 points.

Flyers defenseman Mark Streit is tied for seventh among NHL defensemen this season with 26 overall scoring points (four goals, 22 assists). His is tied for 10th among NHL defensemen with 11 power play points. However, Streit’s plus-minus rating at even strength has nose-dived since Christmas. He’s still plus-two on the season but is minus-seven in his last six games.

Over their last 16 games, the Flyers are 7-5-4.

For the season, Philadelphia has consistently shown an inability to win low-scoring or even moderate-scoring (i.e. three-goal) games despite Tuesday’s win. When scoring three or fewer goals in a game, Philly has a 3-17-6 record. That includes just one win apiece when scoring three (1-3-3) or two (1-4-1) non-shootout goals in a game.

However, the Flyers for the most part have played better at home than on the road this season. The club is 9-5-3 at the Wells Fargo Center with a 50-40 total goal differential in their favor. In terms of special teams play, the Flyers boast a robust 28.8 percent success rate on the power play (tops at home in the NHL) and even a solid 84.5 percent success rate on the penalty kill, compared to a disastrous 68 percent PK on the road.

There will be one lineup change against the Capitals. Andrew MacDonald will be a healthy scratch, with Luke Schenn re-entering the lineup. Berube said after practice that he wants to get a little more size in the lineup against Washington. Zac Rinaldo and Carlo Colaiacovo also remain healthy scratches. Capitals outlook

The Barry Trotz version of the Capitals are quite different than their predecessor teams of recent years. The club still scores a lot of goals (ranking sixth offensively in the NHL) but can also shut down other teams defensively when it needs to.

Washington enters this game on a run in which it has posted points in nine of its last 10 games (7-1-2). For the season, the club has a 9-2-3 in head-to-head games against other Metropolitan Division teams.

On Wednesday night, the Capitals skated to a 6-2 road win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Two goals apiece by Marcus Johansson and Eric Fehr (including a shorthanded goal) and single tallies by Brooks Laich and Alexander Ovechkin (empty net) led the way offensively. Braden Holtby stopped 31 of 33 shots.

Holtby has been a workhorse in net for the Capitals. He has started 16 straight games and has appeared as a starter or in relief in 22 consecutive games. The latter mark ties a franchise record set by the late Wayne Stephenson — the longtime backup to Bernie Parent in the Flyers’ portion of Stephenson’s career — in 1979-80.

The Capitals did not a morning skate on Thursday after playing on Wednesday. Trotz said he was undecided about his starter for the Flyers game but hinted that Holtby could go yet again.

Entering this game, Nicklas Bäckström leads the Capitals with 27 assists and 39 points in 39 games. Ovechkin, as expected, leads the club with 20 goals and eight power play goals among his 35 points. The Russian superstar has also immensely improved his plus-minus rating this season, and currently stands at plus-10. John Carlson leads the defense with 30 points (four goals, 26 assists) and a team-high plus-15 rating.

On the Washington injury front, John Erksine (neck surgery) is on injured reserve. Michael Latta and Nate Schmidt are the likeliest healthy scratches on Thursday. Key team stat comparisons (NHL overall ranking)

Non-shootout goals per game: Flyers 2.68 (17th), Capitals 3.00 (6th)

Non-shootout goals against per game: Flyers 2.90 (24th), Capitals 2.51 (11th)

Even strength Goals For/Against Ratio: Flyers 0.97 (T-18th), Capitals 1.12 (8th)

Power play efficiency: Flyers 22.0% (5th), Capitals 23.1% (4th)

Penalty killing efficiency: Flyers 75.0% (T-28th), Capitals 79.2% (22nd)

Faceoff percentage: Flyers 51.0% (12th), Capitals 50.5% (13th) Projected lineups (Subject to change, will be updated)

FLYERS

10 Brayden Schenn – 28 Claude Giroux – 93 Jakub Voracek

12 Michael Raffl – 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

15 Michael Del Zotto – 22 Luke Schenn

35 Steve Mason

[29 Ray Emery]

Scratches: Zac Rinaldo (healthy), Carlo Colaiacovo (healthy), Andrew MacDonald (healthy).

CAPITALS

8 Alex Ovechkin – 19 Nicklas Bäckström – 65 Andre Burakovsky

90 Marcus Johansson – 92 Evgeny Kuznetsov – 20 Troy Brouwer

21 Brooks Laich – 16 Eric Fehr – 42 Joel Ward

25 Jason Chimera – 83 Jay Beagle – 43 Tom Wilson

44 Brooks Orpik – 74 John Carlson

27 Karl Alzner – 2 Matt Niskanen

38 Jack Hillen – 52 Mike Green

70 Braden Holtby

[35 Justin Peters]

Scratches: John Erskine (IR, neck surgery), Michael Latta (healthy), Nate Schmidt (healthy).

********** FLYERS ALUMNI JOIN FIGHT AGAINST IBDs IN BENEFIT GAME

On Jan. 10, the Flyers Alumni team will play a benefit game at the Ice Works in Aston, PA.The game, pitting the Alumni against the Checkmates Charitable Association, will raise money for the fight against Ulcerative Colitis and other inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs). Game time is 7:30 p.m.

All proceeds will go to benefit Woodbury Medical Plaza Gastrointestinal Associates (DiMarino-Kroop-Prieto). There will also be a fundraising dinner with the Alumni. Tickets for the game cost $25 for adults and $15 for children 12 and under. Adults can also purchase tickets for the dinner for an additional $10.

Former Flyers captain Kevin Dineen nearly saw his NHL career end prematurely due to Crohn’s Disease — a form of IBD — before he was correctly diagnosed and given a treatment plan. Today, Dineen is a national spokesperson for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.

For more information on the Flyers Alumni vs. Checkmates game and the cause it will help support, click here.

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