Bill Meltzer: Flyers Gameday: 1/20/15 vs. PIT

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PREVIEW: FLYERS VS. PENGUINS

Craig Berube’s Philadelphia Flyers (18-22-7) return home to play Mike Johnston’s Pittsburgh Penguins (26-12-6) at the Wells Fargo Center. Game time is 7:00 p.m. EST. The game will be televised nationally on NBC Sports Network.

This is the second of four meetings between the teams this season and the first of two in Philadelphia.

The Flyers won a 5-3 decision in Pittsburgh on Oct. 22. The teams will rematch on April 1 at Consol Energy Center and April 5 at Wells Fargo Center.

This the Flyers’ final game before the All-Star break. Philadelphia is playing the second half of back-to-back games, for the third time in four nights and the fifth time in seven nights. The Penguins are a much more rested team, but are in the middle segment (after an idle night on Monday) of a three-in-four and back-to-back. This will be the Penguins’ third game in seven nights. Pittsburgh hosts the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday. Flyers outlook

The Flyers enter this game off a 7-4 road whipping at the hands of the New York Islanders. The Islanders outshot Philadelphia, 41-29, for the game. The Flyers repeatedly shot themselves in the foot against a dangerous team, and fell into a quick 2-0 hole. They took steps toward getting back into the game but then had additional lapses that the aggressive Islanders repeatedly put in the net.

In what was a wide-open game at both ends of the ice, Mark Streit (power play), Michael Del Zotto, Claude Giroux and Chris VandeVelde scored for the Flyers. Jakub Voracek had two assists, as did Brayden Schenn.

Starting Flyers goaltender Rob Zepp lasted 31:19, giving up four goals on 20 shots. Ray Emery went the rest of the way, getting charged with the loss. Emery stopped 18 of 20 shots in 26:56. The final Islanders’ goal was an empty netter.

Over their last 23 games overall, the Flyers are 10-9-4. When scoring four or more goals this season, Philly is 14-2-1. When scoring three or fewer goals in a game, Philly has a 4-20-6 record.

Penalty killing has been the Flyers single biggest problem this season. The club’s 73.4 percent penalty killing percentage is not only the lowest in the NHL during the 2014-15 season, it’s the worst of any NHL team since the 1993-94 Ottawa Senators (73.3%). The Islanders went 1-for-4 on the power play yesterday.

At even strength, the Flyers are a shade below the break-even point on the season. The team scores an average 0.96 goals at five-on-five for each one it yields (19th in the NHL). The power play remains Philadelphia’s biggest strength. The team’s 23.3 percent power play success rate ranks 6th in the NHL.

The Flyers went 1-for-4 on the power play in Long Island. However, the team yielded a shorthanded breakaway goal on their second power play. Zepp was forced to make a spectacular skate save to deny Cody Cizikas’s shorthanded bid on Philly’s first power play.

After the game, Berube called out the entire Sean Couturier line (wingers Matt Read and R.J. Umberger as well as Couturier) because “they didn’t compete hard enough” in the Islanders game. Read, who was responsible for the shorthanded breakaway, was a career-worst minus-five in the game. Ditto Couturier, who made no glaring mistakes but, along with much of the team, was not winning battles he needed to win. Umberger was ineffectual in going minus-four.

Entering Tuesday’s game, Voracek leads the NHL Art Ross Trophy race with 55 points and tops the NHL with 38 assists. The Czech forward leads the Flyers with 17 goals, one ahead of Wayne Simmonds. Voracek attempted five shots in the Islanders game but all five got blocked.

Giroux is tied for third in the NHL with 35 assists and is tied for fourth in points with 50. His 23 power play points (eight power play goals, 15 assists) are second in the NHL to St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk’s 24 points. Giroux is third on the Flyers with 15 goals.

Streit is fourth among NHL defensemen this season with 33 overall scoring points (seven goals, 26 assists). The veteran Swiss player is 3rd among NHL defensemen with 17 power play points. However, owing to the team’s collectively shoddy defensive play, he is minus-11 at even strength since the Christmas break. Since the break, he’s gone from plus-nine on the season to minus-2.

The injury bug continued to bite the Flyers’ defense corps on Monday, leaving the team with only four healthy defensemen. Nick Schultz went down with an upper-body injury and is out for Tuesday’s game. Carlo Colaicovo had to be helped off the ice in the third period with what looked to be a lower body injury. Afterwards, Berube said he suspected Colaiacovo would be doubtful for the game against Pittsburgh. However, the official word from the Flyers is that the veteran is questionable with an upper-body injury.

In order to fill out the starting lineup on defense, the club has recalled young veterans Brandon Manning and Oliver Lauridsen from the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Manning will wear number 43, while Lauridsen will sport number 38.

Elsewhere the Philadelphia injury front, rookie center Scott Laughton is day-to-day with an upper-body injury sustained last Wednesday. Defenseman Braydon Coburn (left foot) is expected to miss approximately four weeks from Jan. 12. Starting goaltender 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.

Veteran Flyers defenseman and team leader Kimmo Timonen has missed the entire season while on blood thinners to deal with blood clots found in his lungs and right calf. A recent medical examination revealed that his lungs are now clear but some clotting remains in his calf. Timonen must also contend with the need to take medication for a congenital blood disorder he shares with his mother and brothers. Penguins outlook

The Penguins enter this game in second place in the Atlantic Division (five points behind the Islanders with two games in hand), with the fifth-most points (58) in the Eastern Conference. Pittsburgh has scuffled a bit of late, losing six of the last 10 (4-5-1) and dropping back-to-back decisions in regulation heading into this tilt with the longtime arch-rival Flyers.

On Sunday, the Penguins were downed on home ice by the New York Rangers, 5-2. The loss came on the heels of a 6-3 road loss to the Islanders on Friday. Against the Rangers, the Pens fell behind by scores of 2-0 in the first period and 4-1 by the second intermission. The Pens and Rangers traded off closely spaced goals in the third period.

Sidney Crosby scored a power play goal against the Rangers late in the first period, assisted by recently acquired Perron and Kris Letang. Perron later scored the Penguins’ other goal of the game, with Letang picking up his second assist.

Marc-Andre Fleury took the loss against the Rangers, lasting 25:19 and yielding four goals on 17 shots. Thomas Greiss went the rest of the way in relief, stopping 13 of 14 shots. For the season, Fleury has posted a 2.33 goals against average, .921 save percentage and a half-dozen shutouts in 36 starts (22-9-4 record).

Penguins’ captain Crosby enters this game third in the Art Ross Trophy race with 51 points, and is third in the NHL with 36 assists. Teammate Evgeni Malkin is tied with Flyers’ captain Giroux for fourth in the NHL with 50 points, and leads the Penguins with 19 goals. Letang is fifth among NHL defensemen with 32 points (nine goals, 23 assists in 39 games played) and tied for fourth in power play points with 16.

The Penguins enter Tuesday’s game as one of six NHL teams averaging three or more goals scored per game, with the NHL’s fifth-highest power play success rate (23.4 percent) and the seventh best five-on-five GF/GA ratio (1.17). Pittsburgh also boasts the NHL’s third-best penalty killing success rate at 87.7 percent.

As with the Flyers, the Penguins bring a lengthy list of injury-related absentees into this game. Forward Patric Hörnqvist, who racked up points at a brisk pace early this season after his off-season acquisition from Nashville, is on injured reserve with a lower-body injury. Young defenseman Olli Määtta remains on IR after shoulder surgery. Forward Blake Comeau is on IR with a wrist injury.

Veteran forward and dressing room leadership group staple Pascal Dupuis is dealing with blood clots in his lungs. He is on injured reserve. Key team stat comparisons (NHL overall ranking)

Non-shootout goals per game: Flyers 2.68 (18th), Penguins 3.00 (T-5th)

Non-shootout goals against per game: Flyers 2.96 (24th), Penguins 2.46 (8th)

Even strength Goals For/Against Ratio: Flyers 0.97 (19th), Penguins 1.17 (7th)

Power play efficiency: Flyers 23.3% (6th), Penguins 23.4% (5th)

Penalty killing efficiency: Flyers 73.4% (30th), Penguins 87.7% (3rd)

Faceoff percentage: Flyers 50.9% (13th), Penguins 49.4% (15th) Projected lineups (Subject to change, will be updated)

FLYERS

10 Brayden Schenn – 28 Claude Giroux – 93 Jakub Voracek

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

36 Zac Rinaldo – 12 Michael Raffl – 17 Wayne Simmonds

76 Chris VandeVelde – 78 Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – 40 Vincent Lecavalier

47 Andrew MacDonald – 32 Mark Streit

15 Michael Del Zotto – 22 Luke Schenn

38 Oliver Lauridsen – 43 Brandon Manning

29 Ray Emery / 72 Rob Zepp

Scratches: Scott Laughton (upper body), Braydon Coburn (IR, left foot), Nicklas Grossmann (IR, right shoulder), Steve Mason (IR, right knee), Nick Schultz (upper body), Carlo Colaicovo (officially questionable with an upper-body injury), Oliver Lauridsen (healthy scratch if Colaiavoco can play).

PENGUINS

14 Chris Kunitz – 87 Sidney Crosby – 39 David Perron

19 Beau Bennett – 71 Evgeni Malkin – 26 Mark Arcobello

13 Nick Spaling – 16 Brandon Sutter – 23 Steve Downie

38 Zach Sill – 57 Marcel Goc – 27 Craig Adams

7 Paul Martin – 58 Kris Letang

4 Rob Scuderi – 10 Christian Ehrhoff

41 Robert Bortuzzo – 47 Simon Despres

29 Marc-Andre Fleury / 1 Thomas Greiss

Scratches: Patric Hörnqvist (IR, lower body), Olli Määtta (IR, shoulder surgery), Blake Comeau (IR, wrist), Pascal Dupuis (IR, bloot clots in lungs), Andrew Ebbett (healthy), Scott Harrington (healthy).

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