Flyers-Blues 5 things: Returning from holiday break with different look

Flyers-Blues 5 things: Returning from holiday break with different look

Flyers (20-12-4) at Blues (18-12-5)
8 p.m. on NBCSN, and the NBC Sports App

The Flyers are back from the holiday break and should look somewhat different when they play the St. Louis Blues at the Scottrade Center on Wednesday night.

Here are five things you need to know for the matchup:

1. A boost from Coots?
The Flyers will get their top defensive forward Sean Couturier back, who has missed 16 straight games with a left knee injury.

“Coots has a shot at playing soon,” general manager Ron Hextall said Tuesday at practice.“Hopefully he plays [Wednesday]. We will probably flip Reader (Matt Read) to LTIR.”

Couturier’s presence would be timely and welcomed given forward Michael Raffl — playing well on the top line — is out one to two weeks after suffering a knee sprain right before the holiday break.

Couturier, of course, won’t join the team’s top line. He won’t play on the second unit, either, because head coach Dave Hakstol doesn’t want to break up Travis Konecny, Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds. So Couturier appears set for a third-line role.

“I haven’t seen him or talked to him in a few days, but he’s a huge part of our team and we’ve seen that time after time, when he’s in the lineup versus out,” Hakstol said Tuesday. “If he’s available, it would be nice to have him back.”

2. Leier sees the top
So who takes Raffl’s first-line duty with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek?

Make that 22-year-old Taylor Leier in his 15th NHL game and ninth of the season.

“If I get put up there, they are putting me up there for a reason and that’s to play my game,” Leier said Tuesday. “I’ll stick to my strengths. Bring speed. Those guys are world-class talents. It’ll be nice to play with them if I get the opportunity.”

Leier was called up on Dec. 5 from AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley, where he posted six goals and 14 assists in 22 games. With the Flyers, he has a goal and an assist in eight games this season, receiving 8:28 of ice time.

“He’s done a good job in a couple different roles,” Hakstol said. “He doesn’t seem to change his game. He’s a pretty intelligent two-way player, responsible defensively. Each and every night he’s brought good pace and tenacity.”

Speaking of changes, defenseman Nick Schultz is expected to play his first game since Nov. 11, as Brandon Manning will sit as a healthy scratch.

3. A look at St. Louis
After going 14-7-3 in their first 24 games, the Blues have lost seven of 11.

However, St. Louis poses a much bigger challenge at home than on the road. The Blues, who went to the Western Conference Final last season, are 13-2-4 at the Scottrade Center compared to 5-10-1 away from it. They’re also allowing a league-worst 3.69 goals per game on the road but just 2.26 at home, seventh-best in the NHL.

St. Louis, which ranks second in penalty-kill percentage (87.4) and seventh in power-play percentage (21.3), will also have center Paul Stastny back following his one-game absence because of an upper-body injury.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Shayne Gostisbehere has lit the lamp just once in his last 21 games dating back to Nov. 8. He’s gone 13 games without a goal, matching his longest drought from last season in which he was the Calder Memorial Trophy (top rookie) runner-up. Against the Blues, he’ll have a new defensive partner in Schultz.

Blues: Vladimir Tarasenko is a handful. The explosive winger is fourth in the NHL with 38 points (16 goals, 22 assists). The 25-year-old is pointless over his last two games. He has not gone three straight games without a point this season.

5. This and that
• Flyers goalie Steve Mason is 8-6-3 with a 2.47 goals-against average and .912 save percentage in 19 career games against St. Louis.

• Blues goalie Jake Allen has faced the Flyers only once. He allowed four goals on 31 shots in a 4-3 loss in Philadelphia back on Dec. 21, 2015.

• The Flyers are 4-0-2 in their last six meetings with the Blues.

• The Flyers are coming off their worst margin of defeat (four goals) this season vs. the Devils.

Why the Flyers? How Canadians decided to 'bleed orange'

John Boruk/NBCSP

Why the Flyers? How Canadians decided to 'bleed orange'

Aaron Roberts proudly wore his No. 88 Eric Lindros jersey when the Flyers traveled to Edmonton in December. Aaron also owns a John LeClair jersey, a Wayne Simmonds sweater, and at the time, a Claude Giroux that was on order.    

Roberts, like many who attended that game, is an Orange and Black diehard who was born and raised in Canada.

“Growing up when Philly won their Cups I started watching hockey,” Roberts said. “I don’t know. I went with a winner then and I just never, ever veered away from it. Of course, there’s temptation, but it’s always been Philadelphia for me.”

It’s not unusual to see a Philly faithful make their way out of the Canadian woodwork. Their popularity even rivals that of American-based Original Six teams.  

“I find that when I go to games Flyers fans are more friendly, like everyone wants to high five and stuff, which is cool,” said Troy Krechuniak, who lives in Calgary, but grew up in Edmonton. “I had to go through all of that (the Oilers winning the Stanley Cup). That’s the problem going through the (Wayne) Gretzky years, 1985 Game 5, 1987 Game 7.” 

So why this allegiance to a team located hundreds of miles away in another country? 

At one time, the Philadelphia Flyers were as Canadian as the Montreal Canadiens themselves, considering they’re still the last team to win a Stanley Cup with an all-Canadian roster. 

“First off, you choose the identity of a team when you’re probably six-to-nine years old, and at my age, I cheered for the Broad Street Bullies - Bobby Clarke, Dave Schultz and so forth,” said Rick LeFort of Saskatchewan. “I moved to Manitoba years later. Manitoba connections are Bobby Clarke and Reggie Leach.”

More than 40 years after bringing the city of Philadelphia it’s first Stanley Cup championship, the Broad Street Bullies left behind a legacy that has impacted a region where hockey is indeed a religion.

“Being in Calgary when there was no team, you got to choose which team you wanted to affiliate yourself with,” said Shawn Cochlan of Langdon, Alberta. “I did love that brand of hockey, and yet, a lot of my friends didn’t. I liked Philadelphia better because they were tougher.”

And the allegiance to the Flyers has been passed down from a generation of fans to their children and siblings.  

“My aunt and uncle were big Flyers fans, and I loved being an outsider,” said Ryan Doram of Edmonton. “Every year when the Flyers come to Edmonton we make sure we come to the games. I loved Lindros. I loved the Recchi years, and you always find your new favorites I guess. You always find players you look and gravitate to.”

Giroux has that gravitational pull. As the Flyers hit Ottawa and Montreal one final time this weekend, you’ll see No. 28 jerseys scattered throughout the arenas for the Hearst, Ontario native.

“We haven’t won a cup in a while. We’ve been there four or five times, but we’re getting better. I like what Ron Hextall is doing, and we’re going in the right direction,” said 54-year-old Tom Banks. 

“You cut me in the winter months, I bleed orange.”

Pekka Rinne notches milestone in Predators' rout

USA Today Images

Pekka Rinne notches milestone in Predators' rout

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Pekka Rinne made 33 saves in his 300th career win and the Nashville Predators routed the San Jose Sharks 7-1 on Thursday night.

Nick Bonino, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson each had a goal and an assist, and Scott Hartnell, Kevin Fiala and Mattias Ekholm also scored for Nashville, which has won three straight. The Predators moved within one point of expansion Vegas for the Western Conference lead.

Nashville defensemen Roman Josi and P.K. Subban each had two assists.

All of Rinne's wins have come with Nashville. He tied former Predators goalie Tomas Vokoun for 33rd place in NHL history.

Logan Couture had the San Jose goal. The loss snapped the Sharks' three-game winning streak (see full recap).

Wild use big 2nd period to top Devils
NEWARK, N.J. -- Joel Eriksson Ek and Chris Stewart scored in a 39-second span during Minnesota's three-goal second period, and the Wild rallied from two down to beat the New Jersey Devils 4-2 on Thursday night.

Wild defenseman Mike Reilly also scored in the second period and Eric Staal iced the game with an empty-net goal, his 900th NHL point. Backup goalie Alex Stalock made 38 saves as the Wild moved into third place in the Central Division after winning for the 11th time in 17 games (11-3-3).

Taylor Hall and Stefan Noesen scored for the Devils, who have lost two in a row after a four-game winning streak. Eddie Lack made 21 saves.

Hall's 13-game point streak is the longest in NHL this season, one more than David Pastrnak of Boston.

Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau made the right moves in this one, inserting Reilly and Stewart into the lineup and electing to give No. 1 goaltender Devan Dubnyk a night off (see full recap).

Matthews exits Maple Leafs’ SO victory with injury
TORONTO -- Tyler Bozak scored the shootout winner and the Toronto Maple Leafs edged the New York Islanders 4-3 on Thursday night.

Auston Matthews tipped in Jake Gardiner's shot to tie it 3-all with 3:29 remaining in the third period, but later left the game favoring his right side after taking a hit from Cal Clutterbuck and did not return. The 20-year-old Toronto star missed six games in December with a concussion and another four games with an undisclosed upper-body injury.

Mitch Marner and Morgan Rielly had the other Maple Leafs goals, and Frederik Andersen made 32 saves. Toronto (38-20-5) has won eight straight at home.

Ryan Pulock, Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle scored for the Islanders (29-26-7), and Jaroslav Halak turned aside 28 shots. New York, one point out of a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, dropped to 4-6-2 since the All-Star break and 13-15-3 on the road this season.

With his three points, Barzal has a team-leading 65 and a 14-point lead over Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks in the NHL's rookie scoring race (see full recap).