Flyers

Flyers-Stars: 5 things you need to know

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Flyers-Stars: 5 things you need to know

The Flyers (13-13-2), currently in the midst of a six-game road trip, will again try to get over the .500 mark when they take on the Dallas Stars (13-9-5) Saturday afternoon.

Puck drop's set for 2 p.m. at American Airlines Center (CSN).

Here’s a closer look at the matchup:

1. Lecavalier still sidelined
Back spasms will keep Flyers forward Vinny Lecavalier out of the lineup for a third consecutive game (see story).

Lecavalier was going to try to skate Friday, but the Flyers’ practice was canceled because the power went out at the Dallas facility -- caused by the massive ice storm moving through North Texas.

“He was going to try [to practice],” head coach Craig Berube said. “He would have gone out there and we would have learned how he felt. He will not play.”

Despite missing six games already this season because of three separate injuries, Lecavalier remains tied with Matt Read for the team lead in goals with nine.

Brayden Schenn will continue to center the Flyers’ second line. He's skated in between Michael Raffl and Wayne Simmonds the last two games and says he is “comfortable playing the middle.”
 
2. Three of a kind
Some call them the checking line. Others refer to them as the third line. But the trio of Sean Couturier, Steve Downie and Read has been the Flyers’ best line over the past few weeks.

Couturier had his best offensive performance of the season in Wednesday’s 6-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings. The third-year Flyer potted two goals and assisted two more.

After a slow start offensively -- his defensive play has been stellar all season -- Couturier is beginning to find the scoresheet regularly. Of his 14 points, 10 have come in the last nine games.

Couturier’s outburst is due in large part to the guys on his wings. Since being put together as a line, Couturier, Downie and Read have combined for 12 goals, 17 assists and a plus-28 rating in 12 games.

“Things are clicking for us,” Read said after the Flyers’ win over Detroit (see story). “We’re just trying to outwork the other line. Just play smart and get pucks deep. Things went our way tonight. Sean made a couple of good plays out there and is looking more confident every game.”

3. Banged up Stars
The Stars will be without two key defensemen for the foreseeable future.

Stephane Robidas landed on injured reserve last week after he suffered a broken leg against the Chicago Blackhawks. The veteran is expected to miss the next four to six months.

Things got even more grim for the Dallas blueline when Trevor Daley went down with a high ankle sprain against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday. Daley was placed on IR Friday.

Although they lost Daley vs. Toronto, the Stars did receive a boost when Tyler Seguin returned to the lineup. Seguin, who missed two games with concussion-like symptoms, leads Dallas in goals with 12 and is second in scoring with 23 points.

Dallas could get another forward back Saturday. Ryan Garbutt practiced with the team Friday after missing Thursday’s game with a foot injury.

4. Lighting up Lehtonen
Stars netminder Kari Lehtonen will not be happy to see the Flyers on Saturday afternoon.

In 12 career games (11 starts) against the Orange and Black, Lehtonen is 0-10-2 with an .891 save percentage and 3.50 goals-against average.

To make matters worse for Lehtonen and the Stars, the Flyers have won six straight over Dallas -- their longest active win streak vs. any opponent.

5. This and that
• The last time these two clubs met, Claude Giroux had a goal and three assists to lead the Flyers to a 4-1 victory over the Stars on Dec. 21, 2011. Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell had two helpers apiece. Nicklas Grossmann -- then a member of the Stars -- played 19 minutes and was a minus-1.

• Hartnell, currently in his 13th NHL season, will play his 900th career game Saturday (see story).

• The Stars, who are 1-2-4 at home since Oct. 26, have played in 16 one-goal affairs this season and are 8-3-5 in those games.

• The Flyers, who went 3 for 3 on the man advantage against Detroit, have clicked on 30 percent of their power-play opportunities since Nov. 12 -- third best in the NHL during that span. They’ve also killed off 19 of their last 20 shorthanded situations.

• After going five games without a point, Stars rookie forward Valeri Nichushkin has three points in his past two games.

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets shut out Rangers

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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