Flyers

Flyers-Capitals: 5 things you need to know

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Flyers-Capitals: 5 things you need to know

Flyers at Capitals
8 p.m. on NBCSN

Fresh off a seven-goal outburst against one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference, the Flyers (17-19-7) will hit the road for a divisional clash with the Washington Capitals (23-11-8) at the Verizon Center.

Let's take a closer look at Flyers-Caps:

1. Another defenseman down
Already without the services of Nicklas Grossmann (shoulder), the Flyers' defensive corps took another significant hit in Monday's 7-3 shellacking of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Braydon Coburn, who blocked a shot attempt from Nikita Kucherov early in the first period, is expected to miss at least four weeks with a suspected left foot fracture. You may recall the same injury cost Coburn 12 games earlier this season after he blocked a shot in the opener against the Boston Bruins. Chalk it up to some unfortunate luck.

Coburn's season, much like many of the Flyers', has been mired by inconsistent play. He's been uncharacteristically weak when handling the puck, which has led to numerous glaring turnovers. The veteran blueliner has also had difficulty clearing lanes in the slot, usually an area of strength in his game.

It should be interesting to see how the Flyers perform with Coburn sidelined. They've gone 6-4-2 without him in the lineup this season, and a string of wins over the next few weeks could potentially damage his trade value. He's unquestionably a solid second-pairing defenseman, but moving the 29-year-old would clear a good chunk of a cap space — something the Flyers desperately need — and provide an opportunity for young prospects to compete for the vacant spot. Let's not forget, Nick Schultz and Michael Del Zotto are on one-year deals, too.

In the meantime, Carlo Colaiacovo will step in to fill Coburn's void. Many fans have wanted Colaiacovo reinserted to the lineup anyway, but don't be surprised if he shows some signs of rust in his first game back. Remember: He hasn't played since Nov. 19 against the New York Rangers.

2. In the crease 
It was somewhat startling to see head coach Craig Berube give recent call-up Rob Zepp the start against Tampa Bay over backup Ray Emery.

Then again, Emery hasn't exactly been dependable in net as of late. The team was in need of a spark, which Zepp ultimately provided.

Berube rewarded Zepp with another start Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

Maybe the Flyers' coaching staff is losing faith in Emery. Maybe it was just a gut decision. No matter, Emery holds no resentment for the decision.

“You always want to be in there and want to contribute,” Emery said (see story). “I want the team to do well. I can’t control when I play. ... I try to use it as motivation to get better and contribute when I get in there.”

Emery has had the same positive attitude since rejoining the orange and black. He has struggled to find a rhythm, but has a well-respected voice in the locker room. With that said, it remains imperative for Emery to elevate his game with Mason out. 

3. Catch the Caps?
It's going to be mighty tough to catch the Caps for the third and final automatic playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division.

The Flyers enter Wednesday 13 points back of Washington and have played one more game than their divisional foe.

It doesn't help that the Caps are one of the hottest teams in the NHL. They've picked up at least a point in 17 of their last 18 games and have allowed just 36 non-shootout goals during that stretch. Oh yeah, and they are riding a six-game home winning streak. Like we said, one of the hottest clubs in the league.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: The one thing that has been consistent for the Flyers' defense this season has been Mark Streit's offensive production. The 37-year-old has five goals and 26 assists in 43 games after tallying a marker and two helpers against the Lightning. Streit, who is on pace for 60 points, has the tendency to cough the puck up now and again, but he's never been relied on to shut down the opposition's top lines. He's paid to provide some extra offense, and that's exactly what he's done.

Capitals: Nicklas Backstrom is like a man possessed when he faces the Flyers. The 27-year-old has 12 goals and 29 assists in 27 career games against the orange and black. It shouldn't come as a surprise, however. The veteran centerman displays outstanding patience when handling the puck and has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He enters Wednesday leading the Caps with 42 points in as many games. Why hasn't this guy ever been an All-Star? Arguably the biggest offensive snub from this year's festivities.

5. This and that
• The Flyers have won their last four meetings with Washington.

• The Capitals have gone 13-1-4 in their last 18 games.

• Zepp had 21 saves on 24 shots Monday, but stopped the last 12 he faced.

• Braden Holtby is 0-1-2 with a 4.74 goals-against average in his last four starts against the Flyers.

• Claude Giroux has 12 goals and nine assists in his last 15 games against the Caps.

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets shut out Rangers

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AP Images

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets shut out Rangers

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Sergei Bobrovsky made 36 saves for his 21st career shutout and Zach Werenski and Artemi Panarin scored in the Columbus Blue Jackets' 2-0 victory over the New York Rangers on Friday night.

New York ran into a hot goalie in Bobrovsky, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner who notched his second shutout of the season in powering Columbus to its third straight victory.

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was nearly as good against the increasingly aggressive Blue Jackets, stopping 40 shots on the night. The Rangers (11-8-1) lost their second straight following a six-game win streak.

After a scoreless first period in which both goalies made some slick, sprawling saves, Werenski found the back of the net with his sixth goal of the season 13:34 into the second.

Brandon Dubinsky lost the handle of the puck in the slot, and Werenski picked it up just inside the right circle and beat Lundqvist with a one-timer.

Columbus (12-7-1) was the aggressor in the second frame, outshooting the Rangers 19-9, and kept up the pressure in the third.

Panarin scored his fourth goal of the season on a power play 7:14 into the third period, rocketing a slap shot from the high slot that ricocheted off the bar and in.

The Blue Jackets are 9-1-0 this season when allowing two goals or fewer (see full recap).

Red Wings’ 3rd-period goals enough to top Sabres
DETROIT -- Tomas Tatar scored a go-ahead goal midway through third period and the Detroit Red Wings went on to beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-1 on Friday night.

Detroit's Luke Glendening broke a scoreless tie late in the second period. Ryan O'Reilly pulled Buffalo into a 1-all tie 5:50 into the third.

Dylan Larkin scored late in the game and Jimmy Howard had 19 saves for the Red Wings. They have won consecutive games at home for the first time this season.

Buffalo's Robin Lehner stopped the first 20 shots he faced and finished with 30 saves.

The Sabres have lost four straight, one away from their longest losing streak of the season, but were thankful they didn't lose more than a game in Detroit.

Jack Eichel went to the dressing room late in the second period after coming off the ice slowly, keeping weight off his right skate following a collision with Glendening, and making a brief stop on the bench. Buffalo's standout center was cleared to return at the start of the third period.

After a scoreless first period with a combined 14 shots, Detroit outshot Buffalo 13-4 in the second and took control without that translating to a big lead (see full recap).

End to End: How to solve the Flyers' scoring woes

End to End: How to solve the Flyers' scoring woes

Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End today are NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall.

The topic: How to solve the Flyers' scoring woes.

Dougherty
If Thursday night's 3-2 shootout loss in Winnipeg confirmed anything, it's the Flyers cannot break up their top line. They might not be able to score much, but their only scoring is coming from Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.

The Couturier line accounts for 48 percent of the Flyers' offense, or 25 goals. Factor the defense and top line together, and that's 59 percent, as the blue line has produced six tallies this season.

Of the 21 goals the Flyers have scored that do not come from the top line or blue line, 12 have come from two players, Wayne Simmonds and Valtteri Filppula. Simmonds hasn't scored in 11 games, and Filppula has one goal in his past nine games.

Two lines have stayed intact since Day 1 — the Couturier line and the fourth line of Scott Laughton, Taylor Leier and Michael Raffl. Head coach Dave Hakstol has been hesitant about breaking up his fourth line, and rightfully so. Laughton, Leier and Raffl have chemistry, and they're almost always cycling in the offensive zone.

Nolan Patrick just returned after missing three weeks because of a "suspected" concussion and played sparingly against the Jets. He should help the Flyers' scoring woes, but he won't solve them. I think it's time to break up the fourth line, and based on the Winnipeg game, it looks like a possibility Hakstol is considering.

Here's why. Raffl played on the second power-play unit against the Jets, which was a first this season. Perhaps Hakstol didn't want to throw Patrick back into the fire and watched the rookie's minutes.

Breaking up lines Nos. 2, 3 and 4 is the best course of action. Travis Konecny is struggling with confidence, Jordan Weal hasn't been great, and those are two players the Flyers need to get going. It's time to end the Dale Weise in the top-nine experiment.

With what the Flyers have, here is what I would do:

Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Travis Konecny-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Michael Raffl
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Dale Weise

Hall
There's no need to panic if you're the Flyers.

First, you finally have a no-doubt-about-it top line. Voracek, Couturier and Giroux have blended beautifully and are doing damage, as the Flyers entered Friday one of only three teams in the NHL with a trio of players over 20 points each. Don't break that up just because there's an imbalance below it. 

And second, it's a long season. Ups and downs are common and things can change quickly. Just look at last season. The Flyers ripped off 10 straight wins and scored the NHL's second-most goals through the first two months of 2016-17. As we all know, they didn't make the postseason and finished as a bottom-third goal-scoring club.

The Flyers simply need to continue experimenting with their middle six and see what eventually works best. A little patience was going to be required when you're relying on a 19-year-old rookie in Patrick, a 20-year-old still finding himself at this level in Konecny and a 25-year-old facing his first full NHL season in Weal.

And let's not forget, the defense is exceptionally young with two rookies (Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim), a 20-year-old leader (Ivan Provorov) and a third-year player coming off a sophomore slump (Shayne Gostisbehere).

But back to the forwards. 

If you recall, a stretch from Oct. 10-17 featured Filppula centering Weal and Simmonds on the second line, with Patrick centering Konecny and Weise on the third unit. It resulted in a pretty productive three-game span in which the Flyers picked up two wins and outscored the opposition 18-9.

I really liked the dynamic of that middle six. And the Flyers can now return to it with Patrick suiting up. He will be eased back into heavier minutes, but he can make a difference when healthy and comfortable. Patrick and Konecny can still play plenty of minutes on the third line with less pressure and potentially more favorable matchups.

We've seen Weal and Simmonds work well together, and Filppula adds smarts and steadiness down the middle.

But the important thing to remember is the Flyers are only 19 games into an 82-game grind. Scoring can come and go at times, and there's no reason it can't come down the line.

So, here's what I like best for the Flyers right now:

Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Travis Konecny-Nolan Patrick-Dale Weise
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl