Bill Meltzer: Flyers Gameday: 1/15/14 vs. Canucks, Autism Winter Classic

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PREVIEW: FLYERS vs. CANUCKS

Craig Berube’s Philadelphia Flyers (17-20-7) return home to the Wells Fargo Center to host Willie Desjardins’ Vancouver Canucks (23-15-3) on Thursday night. Game time is 7:00 p.m. EST. The game will be televised on CSN Philadelphia.

This is the first of two meetings between the inter-conference teams. The clubs will rematch in Vancouver on March 17.

The Flyers are playing the second half of back-to-back game nights and for the third time in four nights of a home-road-home schedule. The team played in Washington on Wednesday. The Canucks are in the second game of a five-game road trip, the middle segment of a three-in-four and the front half of a back-to-back. The Canucks had Wednesday night off after playing in Nashville on Tuesday. On Friday night, the Canucks have a game in Raleigh. Flyers outlook

The Flyers won three of four games on their recent homestand, before dropping a 1-0 regulation decision in Washington on Wednesday. Philly has fared much better on home ice (11-6-3) than away (6-14-4) thus far in the 2014-15 season. Over their last 20 games overall, the Flyers are 9-7-4.

Philadelphia has struggled to win low-scoring this season. The Flyers have won just four games this season in which they’ve scored fewer than four regulation/overtime goals. When scoring three or fewer goals in a game, Philly has a 4-19-6 record. That includes just one win when scoring three (1-3-3) non-shootout goals in a game and a pair of wins (2-4-1) when scoring two goals. The team does not own any 1-0 wins this year but did pick up one point from a 0-0 tie after 65 minutes that ended in a shootout loss to the New York Islanders.

Four is the magic number for the 2014-15 Flyers. When scoring four or more goals, Philly is 13-1-1. However, the team’s 7-3 blowout win over Tampa Bay on Monday marked the only time since the Christmas break — a span of 10 games — that the club has scored four goals in a game. Over that 10-game span, the Flyers are 3-6-1 and winless (0-5-1) on the road.

Making his second straight start in goal, Rob Zepp gave the Flyers a very solid performance in net on Wednesday in Washington. Zepp turned back 25 of 26 shots, yielding only a wicked deflection goal by Jason Chimera early in the first period. He received no goal support, and the team went down 1-0 despite generating some good scoring chances.

The Flyers, who have the NHL’s top-ranked power play at home, went 0-for-3 on the power play in Washington on two full-length advantages and one that was the abbreviated carryover time from a Capitals penalty that quickly canceled out Washington’s first of two power plays in the game (0-for-2).

Philadelphia has recently been bitten by the injury bug with regularity. Rookie center Scott Laughton left Wednesday’s game in the second period with an upper-body injury as the result of a jarring but clean open ice hit by Washington defenseman Matt Niskanen. His status is unknown as of this writing but the player appeared woozy after the hit.

Defenseman Braydon Coburn (left foot) is expected to miss approximately four weeks from Jan. 12. Steve Mason is expected to miss up to two weeks with the suspected right knee injury he sustained on Jan. 10. Defenseman Nicklas Grossmann (right shoulder) is expected to miss approximately three weeks from an injury sustained on Jan. 8.

Entering Thursday’s game, Jakub Voracek leads the NHL Art Ross Trophy race with 52 points and is tied with Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby for the league with 35 assists. Voracek leads the Flyers with 17 goals, one ahead of Wayne Simmonds. However, Voracek has only one multi-point game since the Christmas break and has been kept off the scoresheet in five of the last 10 games.

Claude Giroux is third in the NHL with 34 assists and is tied for third in points with 48. Mark Streit is tied for fourth among NHL defensemen this season with 31 overall scoring points (five goals, 26 assists). The veteran Swiss player is tied for 3rd among NHL defensemen with 16 power play points, including three points in the Tampa game.

The streak-scoring Simmonds and Brayden Schenn have both been in goal-scoring funks in recent weeks. Simmonds, who leads the team with nine power play tallies, has one goal and four points in the 10 games since Christmas and two goals and six points over the last 14 games. Schenn, who has 10 goals and 27 points on the season, has one goal and four points since Christmas and one goal and seven points over the last 17 games (dating back to Dec. 11).

Matt Read, who reportedly has been playing through a high-ankle sprain, has been stuck on three goals for the season since Dec. 11 and has only one goal and nine points in his last 28 games. Sean Couturier enjoyed a strong month of December (five goals, 12 points, plus-five in 14 games) but has just one point — a goal against Washington on Jan. 8 — in seven January games.

Couturier and Read’s linemate, much-maligned R.J. Umberger has actually been one of the team’s more productive secondary scorers in the last six weeks. In his last 21 games, Umberger has six goals and eight points.

Vincent Lecavalier, who had five goals in the team’s season-high eight-game road trip in December to early January, is pointless in the last five games and has two points (one goal, one assist) thus far in the month of January. In Washington on Wednesday, Lecavalier had a last-minute scoring opportunity from the doorstep with a yawning net staring at him hop over his stick as the Flyers attacked six-on-five with Zepp on the bench. Canucks outlook

Vancouver is winless in its last three games heading into Thursday’s game in Philadelphia. The club, which is 5-4-1 over the last 10 games, currently holds the lower wildcard seed in the Western Conference playoff race.

The Canucks’ five-game road trip will go a long way toward how the club situates itself with the trade deadline and stretch run approaching in upcoming weeks after the All-Star break. The trip did not get off to a good start on Tuesday against the powerhouse Nashville Predators.

The Predators grabbed a 2-0 lead by the first intermission and then pulled away in the third period after Vancouver defenseman Alexander Edler narrowed the gap to 2-1 with the lone goal of the middle stanza. Goaltender Eddie Läck made 25 saves in a losing cause.

As is usually the case with the Canucks, the Sedin twins rank first and second on the team in scoring this season. Daniel and Henrik share the club lead with 27 assists apiece, while Daniel’s nine goals are one more than Henrik. Radim Vrbata paces the squad with 16 goals and seven power play tallies among his 29 points. Edler’s five goals and 14 points are tops among the defense corps.

Veteran Ryan Miller (30 games) and Läck (14 games, 11 starts) have identical .912 save percentages this season but Miller (20-9-1 record) has gotten better goal support than the Swede (3-6-2 record). Miller has also recorded three shutouts this season to one for Läck. Miller has been battling the flu but is reportedly feeling better and is expected to play tonight.

Defenseman Dan Hamhuis, the native of Smithers, BC (home of the Watson brothers and Ron Flockhart) whose rights very briefly belonged to the Flyers and then the Penguins before signing a free agent contract with the Canucks, is close to returning to the lineup. However, the veteran is still on injured reserve with a suspected groin issue. Key team stat comparisons (NHL overall ranking)

Non-shootout goals per game: Flyers 2.68 (17th), Canucks 2.73 (14th)

Non-shootout goals against per game: Flyers 2.84 (23rd), Canucks 2.63 (17th)

Even strength Goals For/Against Ratio: Flyers 1.00 (18th), Canucks 0.89 (23rd)

Power play efficiency: Flyers 22.8% (5th), Canucks 19.4% (13th)

Penalty killing efficiency: Flyers 74.3% (30th), Canucks 87.0% (3rd)

Faceoff percentage: Flyers 50.8% (12th), Canucks 48.3% (23rd) Projected lineups (Subject to change, will be updated)

FLYERS

10 Brayden Schenn – 28 Claude Giroux – 93 Jakub Voracek

12 Michael Raffl – 40 Vincent Lecavalier – 17 Wayne Simmonds

18 R.J. Umberger – 14 Sean Couturier – 24 Matt Read

76 Chris VandeVelde – 78 Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – 36 Zac Rinaldo

15 Michael Del Zotto – 55 Nick Schultz

47 Andrew MacDonald – 32 Mark Streit

26 Carlo Colaiacovo – 22 Luke Schenn

29 Ray Emery

[72 Rob Zepp]

Scratches: Scott Laughton (upper body), Braydon Coburn (left foot), Nicklas Grossmann (right shoulder), Steve Mason (right knee).

CANUCKS

22 Daniel Sedin – 33 Henrik Sedin – 14 Alexandre Burrows

20 Chris Higgins – 13 Nick Bonino – 17 Radim Vrbata

15 Brad Richardson – 27 Shawn Matthias – 9 Zack Kassian

51 Derek Dorsett – 53 Bo Horvat – 36 Jannik Hansen

23 Alexander Edler – 8 Chris Tanev

18 Ryan Stanton – 3 Kevin Bieksa

5 Luca Sbisa – 26 Frank Corrado

30 Ryan Miller

[31 Eddie Läck]

Scratches: Dan Hamhuis (IR, groin), Linden Vey (healthy), Yannick Weber (healthy).

*********** FLYERS ALUMNI TO PLAY IN 3RD ANNUAL CENTER FOR AUTISM WINTER CLASSIC

On January 17, 2015, the Flyers Alumni will play in the third annual Center for Autism Winter Classic. The event will be held at the IceWorks Skating Complex, Rink #3, in Aston, PA. All proceeds will benefit the work the Center does to support evaluation and treatment services for children and families in the Philadelphia region.

Puck drop for the game game between the Flyers Alumni and the Autism Puzzlers will be at 7;30 p.m. with doors opening at 7:00. Ninety minutes prior to doors opening, at 5:30 p.m., day-of-event tickets will be available along with a silent auction. In addition to the silent auction, the Winter Classic activities will include a 50/50 raffle, a Chuck-a-Puck contest, and a postgame autograph signing & player meet & greet with the Flyers Alumni.

For more information, visit the Flyers Alumni official website.

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