PREVIEW: FLYERS VS. MAPLE LEAFS
Playing the fourth match of a five-game homestand, Craig Berube’s Philadelphia Flyers (21-22-7) host Peter Horachek’s Toronto Maple Leafs (22-24-4) 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 second of three meetings between the teams this season, and the lone game in Philadelphia.
On Dec. 20 in Toronto, the Flyers racked up a 7-4 win. The season series concludes on Feb. 26 at the Air Canada Centre.
The Flyers have a light schedule over the next week. After this game, the club has four idle before hosting the New York Islanders on Feb. 5. For the Maple Leafs, this game is the last match of a three-in-four stretch. The team was idle on Friday night. After this game, the Islanders are off for two nights before a road game in Nashville. FLYERS OUTLOOK
The 2014-15 campaign has thus far been a tale of two seasons for the Flyers.
On the road, the club has been atrocious, posting a 7-15-4 record, getting outscored by a combined 87-65 (2.50 GFA, 3.35 GAA) margin. They have an atrocious road special teams index of 87.3 due to their 69 percent penalty kill in away games.
At home, however, the Flyers have fared quite well for the most part. The club brings a 14-7-3 home record into Saturday’s game, and has opponents by a 72-59 margin (3.00 GFA, 2.46 GAA). The team enjoys a 109.4 special teams index (a stellar 28.7% power play plus and 80.7% percent penalty kill) on home ice, along with a positive 5-on-5 goal differential as well.
On Saturday night, the Flyers will look for their fourth straight win at the Wells Fargo Center. The team has yet to achieve a four-game winning streak this season.
The Flyers enter this game coming off an impressive 5-2 win on Thursday against a Winnipeg Jets team that brought the NHL’s best road record into the game. Philadelphia never trailed in the tilt and got goals from Chris VandeVelde, Wayne Simmonds (power play), Nick Schultz, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier (empty net). Steve Mason earned a 36-save victory.
Jakub Voracek enters this game leading the NHL’s Art Ross Trophy race with 58 points and also paces the league with 41 assists. He set up Simmonds’ power play goal on Thursday, which put Simmonds in the team goal-scoring lead with 18 goals overall and 11 power play goals (tied for third in the NHL).
Flyers captain Claude Giroux lacked nothing for scoring chances in the Winnipeg game but was not able to earn a point in the game. He enters this game third in the NHL with 36 assists and tied with Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby for fourth in the Art Ross Trophy race (52 points). Giroux’s 25 power play points (nine power play goals, 16 power play assists) lead the NHL.
Mark Streit enters this game tied for fifth in scoring among the NHL defensemen, with 35 points (seven goals, 28 assists). His 20 points on the power play (four goals, 16 assists) are tied for second among NHL defensemen this season.
Overall, the Flyers have six different players who have reached double-digit goals on the season: Simmonds (18), Voracek (17), Giroux (16), Michael Raffl (12), Brayden Schenn (11) and Couturier (11). Winger R.J. Umberger has nine goals to date.
In goal, Mason brings the NHL’s seventh-highest save percentage into this game among qualifying netminders. For season, he has posted a .922 save percentage, 2.40 goals against average, one shutout and a 10-12-6 record into this game in 31 games overall and 29 starts.
Flyers defenseman Nicklas Grossmann, out since suffering a right shoulder injury on Jan. 8, will participate in Saturday’s morning skate and be a game-day decision. If he is ready to play, he is likely to replace Carlo Colaiacovo in the lineup.
Rookie center Scott Laughton (concussion sustained Jan. 14) has rejoined the the team at practice. He is not, however, ready yet to return to game action. Raffl (upper respiratory illness) remains off-ice, as does defenseman Braydon Coburn, who was projected to miss approximately four weeks from the time he sustained a left foot injury on Jan. 12. The Flyers are awaiting potential medical clearance for Kimmo Timonen (blood clots) to return to play hockey this season. A final announcement is expected within the next few days.
Zac Rinaldo will serve the third game of an eight-game NHL suspension for charging/boarding Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang on Jan. 20. He is eligible to return for the Feb. 17 home game against Columbus. Maple Leafs outlook
This match is a potential trap game for the Flyers. Philly is riding a three-game winning streak and has been a strong team at home. Coming off a win against Winnipeg, a home game against the struggling Maple Leafs has to potential to bite the Flyers if they relax too much.
The Leafs haven’t scored much of late and they’ve hemorrhaged opposition goals all season. Nevertheless, Toronto still has the firepower to gun down an unprepared opponent. Toronto comes into this game ranked 11th in non-shootout goals-per-game in the NHL.
Things have very rough in Toronto in recent weeks. The Maple Leafs drag an eight-game losing streak (0-7-1) into this tilt and are 1-10-1 over their last 12 games. Over the last dozen games, the Leafs have been outscored by a combined 40-16. Toronto fired head coach Randy Carlyle on Jan. 6.
On Wednesday, the Maple Leafs claimed their first point since a 5-2 home win over Columbus on Jan. 9. Toronto played to a 1-1 tie in New Jersey through 65 minutes of hockey before losing a shootout to the Devils.
The next night, the Leafs returned home and nursed a 1-0 lead — Phil Kessel scored his 20th goal of the season –into the third period against the Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes then broke loose for three goals in the final stanza to deal the Leafs a 3-1 loss. Peppered with 45 shots, Jonathan Bernier turned back 42.
As was the case last season when Toronto was in playoff position in early March and then the bottom dropped out down the stretch, the Maple Leafs’ dressing room leadership has been called into question this season. Much of the heat has fallen on team captain Dion Phaneuf (two goals 20 assists, minus-four) and All-Star forward Kessel (45 points, minus-14). However, no one including former Flyers left winger James van Riemsdyk (21 goals, 43 points, minus-16) has escaped the wrath.
Phaneuf is out indefinitely with a hand injury sustained on Jan. 21 against Ottawa. He is officially on a “week-to-week” basis. Veteran defenseman Stephane Robidas is questionable with an upper-body injury.
Earlier this season, former Flyers forward Joffrey Lupul (nine goals, 17 points in 27 games) missed a month with a broken bone in his hand. More recently, he was out from Dec. 31 until Thursday’s game against Arizona with a lower-body injury. Key team stat comparisons (NHL overall ranking)
Non-shootout goals per game: Flyers 2.74 (16th), Maple Leafs 2.82 (11th)
Non-shootout goals against per game: Flyers 2.92 (24th), Maple Leafs 3.06 (25th)
Even strength Goals For/Against Ratio: Flyers 0.99 (19th), Maple Leafs 0.87 (25th)
Power play efficiency: Flyers 23.7% (4th), Maple Leafs 18.8% (T-14th)
Penalty killing efficiency: Flyers 74.6% (28th), Maple Leafs 83.2% (8th)
Faceoff percentage: Flyers 51.1% (13th), Maple Leafs 48.2% (T-20th) Projected lineups (Subject to change, will be updated)
10 Brayden Schenn – 28 Claude Giroux – 93 Jakub Voracek
18 R.J. Umberger – 14 Sean Couturier – 24 Matt Read
51 Petr Straka – 25 Ryan White 17 Wayne Simmonds
76 Chris VandeVelde – 78 Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – 40 Vincent Lecavalier
55 Nick Schultz – 32 Mark Streit
15 Michael Del Zotto – 22 Luke Schenn
8 Nicklas Grossmann – 47 Andrew MacDonald
35 Steve Mason
[29 Ray Emery]
Scratches: Scott Laughton (upper body, suspected concussion), Braydon Coburn (IR, left foot), Nicklas Grossmann (questionable, right shoulder), Carlo Colaiacovo (healthy, will play if Grossmann is not ready), Zac Rinaldo (suspension), Michael Raffl (illness).
21 James van Riemsdyk – 42 Tyler Bozak – 81 Phil Kessel
26 Daniel Winnik – 43 Nazem Kadri – 25 Mike Santorelli
47 Leo Komarov – 24 Peter Holland – 71 David Clarkson
20 David Booth – 23 Trevor Smith – 19 Joffrey Lupul
55 Korbinian Holzer – 4 Cody Franson
44 Morgan Rielly – 46 Roman Polak
51 Jake Gardiner – 8 Petter Granberg
45 Jonathan Bernier
[35 James Reimer]
Scratches: Dion Phaneuf (hand), Stephane Robidas (questionable, upper body), Richard Panik (healthy).
*********** PROSPECT WEEKEND UPDATES
* AHL: The Phantoms’ recent skid continued on Friday night as the team sustained a 6-1 mauling on home ice by the Hershey Bears. Anthony Stolarz was pulled after yielding four goals on 22 shots. Veteran Rob Zepp, who started Thursday’s 4-1 loss to Albany, mopped up the rest of the way (eight saves on 10 shots). Rookie winger Taylor Leier scored his 10th goal of the season for the lone Phantoms goal against Hershey. Nick Cousins and Jason Akeson got the assists. Cousins has 13 points (five goals, eight assists) over the last 10 games. Rookie defenseman Robert Hägg was a combined minus-four with one shot on goal in the losses to Albany and Hershey.
* WHL: The Calgary Hitmen crushed the Prince Albert Raiders by a 10-1 count on Friday night. Flyers 2014 first-round pick Travis Sanheim had three assists and was plus-five on the night. Fellow Flyers prospect, 2014 sixth-round pick Radel Fazleev scored two goals.
* QMJHL: Flyers 2013 first-round pick Samuel Morin had one assist, three shots, one credited hit and an even plus-minus in the Rimouski Oceanic’s 9-3 blowout of Victoriaville on Friday.
* NCAA (WCHA): Bowling Green sustained a 5-2 setback against Bemidji State but Flyers 2014 third-round pick Mark Friedman registered an assist and was plus-one. The freshman Bowling Green defenseman has posted points (one goal, 10 assists) in nine of his last 10 games and points in six games in a row.
* NCAA (WCHA): North Dakota suffered a 3-2 overtime setback against UN-O on Friday to drop to 18-6-2 on the season. Flyers 2010 fifth-round pick Michael Parks was held off the scoresheet in this game but generated two shots on goal.
* NCAA (ECAC): Cornell defeated Colgate in overtime, 3-2. Cornell junior defenseman and Flyers 2012 fifth-round pick Reece Willcox missed his second straight game with an undisclosed injury suffered last Friday.
*********** MASON’S MATURITY SHINED IN WIN AGAINST WINNIPEG
There is a good reason why young goaltenders generally take longer to develop than their counterparts who play forward or defense. Being a consistently successful goaltender, especially at the NHL level, requires not only assembling an array of different physical components like a jigsaw puzzle but also clearing mental and emotional hurdles.
When Flyers goaltender Steve Mason was a young player in the National Hockey League — despite winning the Calder Trophy in his rookie season — he was not yet ready to succeed for the long term.
“I was not mature yet as a goaltender or as a person,” Mason said after the Flyers practice at the Skate Zone on Friday afternoon. “I would let a bad goal or even just an early goal bother me. For the next 10 minutes, that’s all that would be in head when the play was going on. If I had a bad game, I would beat myself up afterwards.”
Thursday night’s game between the Flyers and Winnipeg Jets was a perfect case in point of how Mason, now 26, has blossomed into a mature NHL goaltender over the last couple years.
The Jets scored a pair of early goals against him. Neither one was a soft goal but the two plays — a rebound off a deflected shot and a screened shot — were ones where Mason clearly felt he could have done something a little better or differently. The bottom line was that two pucks were past him, the Flyers had taken and lost a pair of leads, and there was still 43 minutes left to play.
“Maybe when I was younger, that would have been a five-goal game instead of two,” Mason noted.
Mason was unflappable. He finished the night with 36 saves on 38 shots, including stops on all 24 shots he faced after the first period. It was a very impressive performance that was the mark of a confident and mature goaltender as well as a physically talented one.
After every game, the goaltender and Flyers goaltending coach Jeff Reese discuss what happened on the ice that night. Mason said that he and Reese talked last night about how the game against Winnipeg was a good case of point of a mental plateau the goaltender has obtained through years of work, self-critique and turning considerable adversity into valuable learning experiences.
The best part: Mason is only just entering what should be his prime years in the NHL if he stays healthy. He’s assembled a pretty consistent body of work now in Philadelphia that will soon reach two calendar years and parts of three seasons. While Mason may still not get enough respect from some corners of NHL media and fandom, his teammates and opponents alike consider him the real deal.
In the meantime, Mason still very much has the mindset of a goalie. He likes things to be just so.
At Friday’s practice, he tried out a brand new set of leg pads, blocker and glove in a retro caramel color rather than his usual white set. The pads themselves are customized to the same fit and feel as the white ones.
Nevertheless, Mason did not like the new pads. Why? He noticed the different color in his peripheral vision when he was in his stance.
“It was too much color for me,” he said. “The white just kind of blends into everything.”
Mason had originally considering giving the new retro-look pads a try in Saturday’s game against Toronto, in conjunction with the Flyers’ third jersey. After using the new ones at practice today, he decided to go with his usual white pads but did say he will probably give the new ones another try or two in future practices.
Before talking to the media, Mason and teammate Michael Del Zotto chatted about how the pads looked to the shooter. Del Zotto said the caramel pads made Mason look a little taller but skinnier to him in the net.
The bet here is that the retro pads never see the light of day — or at least the glare of the arena lights — on a game night.