PREVIEW: FLYERS vs. BRUINS

Aiming to build a three-game winning streak as they begin the statistical second half of the season, Craig Berube’s Philadelphia Flyers (16-18-7) will take on Claude Julien’s Boston Bruins (21-15-6) at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday afternoon. Game time is 1:00 p.m. EST. The game will be televised on CSN Philadelphia and NHL Network.

This is the second of three meetings between the teams this season, and the lone game in Philadelphia. The season series concludes in Boston on March 7.

On opening night of the 2014-15 season, the host Bruins got a fortuitous bounce of the puck with 1:51 remaining in the third period, leading to a 2-1 regulation win for Boston.

Saturday’s game is the third match of a four-game homestand for the Flyers. All of the games are playing on an alternating-day basis, with a practice day in between. The Bruins have had a more intensive schedule over the past week and will be in action for the third time in less than four nights. Boston played in Pittsburgh on Wednesday and hosted New Jersey on Thursday. Flyers outlook

The Flyers have won just four games this season in which they’ve scored fewer than four regulation/overtime goals. However, they’ve won back-to-back games in that fashion to start the homestand.

On Thursday, two nights after the Flyers scratched out a 2-1 shootout win over the Ottawa Senators, Philly secured a 3-2 overtime win against the Washington Capitals.

An overtime power play goal by Jakub Voracek decided the game against the Caps. Linemates Sean Couturier and R.J. Umberger each tallied once apiece in regulation.

Winning goaltender Steve Mason, playing through a lower-body “tweak” he’s experienced in each of the last two games, stopped 26 of 28 shots against Washington. Through the first half of the season, he has a record of 8-12-6, 2.48 goals against average, .919 save percentage and one shutout in 27 starts and one relief outing (last Saturday against New Jersey).

Entering this game, Voracek leads the NHL Art Ross Trophy race with 49 points and tops the league with 33 assists. He is on a statistical pace for 32 goals, 66 assists and 98 points. Voracek and Wayne Simmonds share the Flyers’ goal-scoring lead with 16 tallies. Simmonds paces the club with nine power play goals.

Flyers captain Claude Giroux assisted on the game-winning goal on Thursday. He enters the game tied for second in the NHL with 32 assists and tied for third in points with 45. He is on a 26-goal, 90-point pace for the season.

Flyers defenseman Mark Streit is tied for seventh among NHL defensemen this season with 27 overall scoring points (four goals, 23 assists). His is tied for 7th among NHL defensemen with 12 power play points, including his assist on Voracek’s game-winner against Washington.

Over their last 17 games overall, the Flyers are 8-5-4. For the season, Philly enjoys a 10-5-3 home record. It has been on the road where the team has struggled (6-13-4 record, 68 percent penalty kill). When scoring three or fewer goals in a game, Philly has a 4-17-6 record. That includes two wins when scoring three (2-3-3) non-shootout goals and one win (1-4-1) when tallying twice.

Defenseman Nicklas Grossmann, who dressed in all 41 games to start the season, suffered an upper-body injury — seemingly to his right shoulder — on a first period hit in the Washington game. Per the Flyers, he is expected to miss approximately three weeks from January 8.

Andrew MacDonald, a healthy scratch in the Caps game, will re-enter the lineup. Zac Rinaldo and Carlo Colaiacovo also remain healthy scratches. Bruins outlook

The Bruins have had a disappointing — and often injury-riddled — first 42 games of the season by their standards. However, the club is currently in wild card playoff position and has risen to the occasion in the first two-third of their current three-in-four gauntlet of games.

On Wednesday night, Boston earned a 3-2 road overtime win against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The following night, the Bruins posted a picket fence against the visiting New Jersey Devils.

Boston tallied once apiece in all three periods and limited to just 14 shots for the game in a 3-0 shutout win behind backup goaltender Niklas Svedberg. Milan Lucic posted his seventh and eighth goals of the season, while Carl Söderberg scored his ninth of the season.

Long-term absences of David Krejci (22 games played, five goals, 17 points) and Zdeno Chara (23 games, three goals, nine points) have hurt the Bruins this season along with generally inconsistent play by the club as a whole. Both key players have returned to the Boston lineup, and Krejci has five points (one goal, four assists) in the last five games. Chara scored in the Pittsburgh game.

Perennial Selke Trophy candidate Patrice Bergeron leads the Bruins in scoring this season with 31 points (10 goals and a team-high 21 assists) in 41 games. He is two points ahead of Söderberg, who has nine goals including four power play tallies. Speedy agitator Brad Marchand paces the team with 11 goals.

While Boston’s offensive output thus far is far short of the ability the club showed in recent seasons to put the puck in the net, it is worth noting that Boston has seven players on pace to finish with 40-plus points this season. Dougie Hamilton leads the blueline contributors with seven goals and 23 points.

Defending Vezina Trophy winner Tuukka Rask remains one of the NHL’s most capable goaltenders but has, thus far, not played with the same consistent excellence he displayed last year. Through 33 games (32 starts), the Finn has compiled a 16-10-6 record, 2.52 goals against average, .913 save percentage and one shutout. Svedberg has a 5-5-2 record, 2.22 goals against average, .922 save percentage and one shutout in 10 starts and two relief outings.

On the Boston injury front, two-way winger Loui Eriksson (hand) is questionable for this game. Former Flyers left winger Simon Gagne is on personal leave from the team to be with his family. Gagne’s father, former Quebec Aces forward Pierre Gagne, passed away on Dec. 26. Key team stat comparisons (NHL overall ranking)

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

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

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

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

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

Faceoff percentage: Flyers 51.0% (12th), Bruins 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

47 Andrew MacDonald – 32 Mark Streit

15 Michael Del Zotto – 22 Luke Schenn

35 Steve Mason

[29 Ray Emery]

Scratches: Zac Rinaldo (healthy), Carlo Colaiacovo (healthy), Nicklas Grossmann (shoulder).

BRUINS

63 Brad Marchand – 46 David Krejci – 88 David Pastrnak

17 Milan Lucic – 37 Patrice Bergeron – 20 Daniel Paille

23 Chris Kelly – 34 Carl Söderberg – 18 Reilly Smith

38 Jordan Caron – 11 Gregory Campbell – 61 Craig Cunningham

33 Zdeno Chara – 27 Dougie Hamilton

44 Dennis Seidenberg – 54 Adam McQuaid

47 Torey Krug – 86 Kevan Miller

40 Tuukka Rask

[72 Niklas Svedberg]

Scratches: Loui Eriksson (questionable, hand), Simon Gagne (personal leave), Matt Bartkowski (healthy), Seth Griffin (healthy).

********** PHANTOMS UPDATES: JANUARY 10, 2015

The Phantoms return to action tonight with a road game against the St. John’s IceCaps. The teams will rematch in St. John’s on Sunday. Here’s a look at how notable prospect-aged players on the team are progressing to date. Defense and Goaltending Robert Hägg (D, 28 GP, 2 G, 11 A, 13 PTS, -1, 1 PPG, 1 SHG, 62 SOG): The Flyers’ 2013 second-round pick has rejoined the Phantoms after an uneven performance in his third and final World Junior Championships for Sweden. He played a lot in all game situations for the Junior Crowns, and was leaned on as much to be a shutdown defender as a power play point man.

At times, Hägg delivered and looked capable of matching up favorably against most anyone at the tournament. At other times, he was very ordinary. As has been the case during his rookie year with the Phantoms, the soon-to-be 20-year-old (born Feb. 8, 1995) sometimes played at a very high level in his WJC minutes and other times seemed guilty of lapses in focus.

With Hägg, the challenge is to keep him consistently skating on the correct side of fine line between being calm and poised versus being too casual in his pacing; for instance, in pouncing on pucks in retrievals and making a breakout pass ahead of the first forechecker.

This push to an assertive player is going to have to come from within because it cannot be taught. Hägg is NOT a lazy or non-competitive player by any means but does need to push himself to set the bar as high as possible for himself. He’s an earnest and coachable young player but needs to develop a take-charge mentality at the pro level. Perhaps it may come in time. It’s easy to forget how young he still is because he’s in his third pro season between Sweden and North America.

Hägg has frequently been used on the power play for the Phantoms this season. He has a knack for getting shots through and on net. There is potential for him to become a fine two-way defenseman who can put up a healthy number of points in addition to playing solidly in his own end and moving the puck efficiently. The ceiling could be high enough to develop into a top-three defenseman as a pro or he could allow himself to become a third-pairing track NHL defenseman.

There’s nothing “wrong” with being the latter. However, when the natural all-around skill potential is there in a prospect’s developmental years to become more than that, it’s easy to feel a touch of disappointment when the player does not show more dramatic year-to-year improvement than Hägg has from ages 17 to 19. The most important thing to keep in mind is the need for some patience. He’s still not even 20 years old, and there IS another level to his game that he’s shown flashes of at times. Shayne Gostisbehere (D, 5 GP, 0 G, 5 A, 5 PTS, -1): Gostisbehere has resumed skating while rehabbing after surgery to repair a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) suffered in early November. There is nothing “miraculous” or dangerous about his timetable, despite the concerns some have expressed. If the ACL had been completely torn and needed reconstructive surgery, then it would have been a devastating injury that would have shut him down for the rest of the season. A partially torn ACL is still a significant and serious injury, of course, but things could have been much worse.

Apart from his speed and overall offensive ability, the thing that stands out the most with Gostisbehere is his mental maturity. In his cup of espresso with the Flyers, he got a taste of NHL pacing and forechecking pressure — which rise to a significantly higher level in the regular season (and then even higher in the playoffs) compared to the preseason. Gostisbehere understood that he wasn’t yet NHL ready from an all-around game perspective.

It is unfortunate that Gostisbehere will miss a big chunk of the 2014-15 by the time he’s cleared to play. The Flyers’ organization entered the year with a seeming timetable in mind of having him play one full AHL season and then assessing his NHL readiness next season. That plan got waylaid by the ACL injury. Could he still make a legitimate push for an NHL job next season? We will see what happens when he eventually returns to game game.

It’s probably going to take Gostisbehere a few weeks after his return to once again feel fully comfortable and get back to the point he was at the time of the injury. Back in training camp, Phantoms coach Terry Murray said of “Ghost” that the goal is to develop him into a 20-minute-a-night defenseman in the NHL. He’s already got the 90 to 120 seconds down in which he’s got direct puck possession or otherwise playing to his strengths. The rest of the minutes without the puck are a matter of refinement and consistency.

That’s where things left off with Gostisbehere at the time of the injury and where they will probably pick up again once he gets back up to speed. Mark Alt (19 GP, 1 G, 4 A, 5 PTS, -3): This has been a tough season for Alt in terms of injuries. He is currently shelved with a broken hand and will miss a few more weeks. Earlier this season, he missed a month with a shoulder injury. As such, it is hard to judge how much progress he’s made from his rookie season. Alt has had some ups and downs in the games he’s played this season. However, when on his game, the righthanded shooting defenseman shows a promising combination of size and underrated puck skills. Brandon Manning (D, 31 GP, 6 G, 17 A, 23 PTS, +3, 80 PIM): The 24-year-old was recently named to his second AHL All-Star Game. Manning is one of those players — a little bit like Phantoms forward Blair Jones in some regards — whose AHL and NHL job responsibilities are quite different. At the AHL level, Manning carries significant offensive responsibilities (he leads the Phantoms in overall scoring points) and plays a very aggressive and feisty game. In the NHL, his role is to keep things very simple because he is not quite gifted enough at either end of the ice to play the equivalent role to the one he performs in the American League.

Manning has always stood out for his maturity and work ethic. Even at 21 years old or so, he had the mentality of a seasoned pro who takes younger players under his wing. Manning has long known that his main challenge in the AHL is avoid playing out of control and leaving his team defensively vulnerable and cutting down on the number of avoidable penalties he takes. Knowing and doing aren’t always the same thing, but Manning has definitely improved as a two-way player within Terry Murray’s system.

Could Manning eventually make the Flyers come next season? He might be able to as a seventh defenseman with the potential of grabbing the six spot if he gets an opportunity and runs with it. That is probably his ceiling at the NHL level. However, he is currently blocked by the glut of veterans at the NHL level. He is number nine on the current depth chart, moving up to eight for a few weeks while Nicklas Grossmann is out of the lineup and current eighth defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo slots up one notch to number seven.

Manning arguably holds more value — though he may understandably disagree — as a young veteran AHLer who plays a lot of minutes at that level and can fill in as needed as an NHL callup than he would as a spare NHL defenseman trying to impress enough in practice to get the first crack at the lineup in case of injury. The latter role is better filled for now by an experienced NHLer who was once an NHL regular in his own right. Jesper Pettersson (D, 25 GP, 0 G, 2 A, 2 PTS, 17 PIM, -3): The 20-year-old has had the expected ups and downs that come with a young player — especially a defenseman as short and stocky as him — trying to make the transition from European/international to the small-rink game and the demands of the American Hockey League. He was a frequent healthy scratch in December but has gotten back into the lineup.

Pettersson was nicknamed “Pitbull” in Sweden for his tenacity and competitiveness but is not immune to all the usual adjustments — and occasional bouts of tentativeness — that go along with it. Being a severely undersized player is usually a tough road to the pros and being an undersized defensive defenseman is even tougher. Keeping that in mind as well as the fact that he’s one of the rare modern-day Swedish players who did not arrive in North America already comfortably fluent in speaking English, Pettersson is doing OK so far. He gets beaten physically at times by bigger players at the AHL level but doesn’t get outworked. Oliver Lauridsen (D, 33 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 61 PIM, +2): The hulking Dane is likely in his final season in the Flyers’ organization. He’s someone who is easy to root for to succeed — personable, hard-working and earnest — and is physically a monster who isn’t afraid to throw his weight around or drop the gloves. Unfortunately, he just doesn’t process the game , skate or handle the puck well enough to make the step up from AHL player to NHLer; although he did handle himself surprisingly well — giveaway stat aside — in his NHL stint late in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. Lauridsen is on a one-way contract this season and is one of the AHL’s highest-paid players this year. Anthony Stolarz (G, 5-6-1, 14 GPI, 730 MIN, 2.63 GAA, .924 SV%, 2 SO): Before the start of the season, the word on the Flyers’ 2012 second-round draft pick was to expect a long development cycle for the young netminder at the pro level. He had come a very long way since his draft year but still had a very long way to go to become an NHL-ready, starting-caliber goaltender. That was to be expected and is still the case. The size, athleticism and work ethic are all there but refinement and consistency in his game — playing the angles, rebound control, not committing too early, etc — will take time to reach an NHL-caliber level.

However, Stolarz may be a little bit ahead of where he was expected to be midway through his first professional season. He has had three starts in particular for the Phantoms where he has stolen games with spectacular goaltending. The 20-year-old native of Jackson, NJ, has also battled through a minor injury and shown an ability to put a mistake behind him and get back on his game before it snowballs.

There is a lot to like about Stolarz’s potential. He has shown annual improvement since his 2012 draft year, plays with a high degree of self-confidence and is a very bright and mature young man who seems ambitious and self-motivated.

There are still times, even within some of his good games when his body gets out of control or he is guilty of being a little over-aggressive. He hasn’t hit that level yet — for instance, watch Steve Mason when he is on a multi-game role — where there is a replication, save after save after save, of being totally locked in physically with fluidity and economy. However, there are hints of Stolarz being able to get to that plateau with the main challenge being to make that closer to his baseline.

Goalies usually take the longest to develop into NHL players of any position on the ice because there are so many different physical elements as well as developing one’s mental approach that are quite difficult for even an athletically talented prospect to continually stay on top of on a game-in and game-out basis. Stolarz is off to a fine start in his professional hockey journey but do not be fooled by a couple of games into thinking he’s nearly a finished product.

With that said, if Stolarz keeps improving, season to season, at the same rate he’s shown in the last two-and-a-half years, he’s going to someday be an NHL goalie and could be a good one. At the beginning, he was just a bundle raw materials. Now the assembly is underway and progressing. Forwards Taylor Leier (LW, 30 GP, 8 G, 7 A, 15 PTS, 4 PPG, 54 SOG): Leier is dealing with an upper-body injury (shoulder) that has sidelined him since Dec. 27. He is close to returning and has skated this past week. Prior to the injury, the speedy two-way winger was making solid progress during his rookie professional season. Leier is on track to play in the NHL at some point. Nick Cousins (C, 33 GP, 8 G, 10 A, 18 PTS, 43 PIM, 4 PPG): Cousins leads the Phantoms forwards in scoring and is second on the team in overall scoring. Started out the season red-hot offensively and then hit a dry spell for awhile. A team source said he’s making noticeable progress in his game at the pro level but still sometimes falls into the “glide mentality.” Consistency is the key, especially for a player who is not big and lacks blazing speed but has good skills and anticipation. Over his last 14 games, Cousins has four goals, one assist and 10 points. Jason Akeson (16 GP, 8 G, 6A, 14 PTS, 2 PPG, 2 SHG, 2-for-4 in shootouts): Despite spending the first two months of the season with the Flyers until clearing waivers and being reassigned to the Phantoms on Nov. 28, the fourth-year pro is well on his way to leading the Phantoms in scoring for the fourth straight year. Akeson is nine points off the team lead in about half as many games. Akeson may have privately sulked a bit the first couple of games after his demotion back to the AHL — he got benched for much of the third period in one of his early games and produced just one point in his first four games — but has come on like gangbusters since then offensively. The scouting report on his strengths and weaknesses hasn’t changed but his goal is to get another NHL opportunity, whether in Philadelphia or another organization. Over the last 12 games, Akeson has eight goals, five assists and 13 points. Petr Straka (RW, 31 GP, 8 G, 5 A, 13 PTS): The 22-year-old Czech forward is one goal away from matching his rookie total of last season. Straka is a player primarily known for his offensive ability but the Phantoms have worked on trying to make him a more consistently well-rounded player. Nevertheless, the main way he needs to stand out is through regular production. Straka scored a goal against Norfolk in the Phantoms’ last game. Over the last 14 games, he has two goals and three points. Brandon Alderson (RW, 19 GP, 3 G, 2 A, 5 PTS, 30 PIM, 32 SOG): Alderson was demoted to the ECHL’s Reading Royals for a 14-game stint but recently got recalled to the Phantoms again. The organization wants to see him be more consistently assertive in using his 6-foot-4 frame to his advantage at both ends of the ice.

********** 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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