MINI-PREVIEW 6:30 AM EDT
In the fourth game of a five-game homestand in which they've gone 1-1-1 to date, the Philadelphia Flyers (14-17-3) will take on the Washington Capitals (16-17-1). Tonight's game at the Wells Fargo Center starts at 6 p.m. EDT and will be televised locally on CSN Philadelphia.
This is the third and final meeting between the teams this season. The Capitals won, 3-2, on their home ice on Feb. 1. The Flyers returned the favor in Philly on Feb. 27, prevailing by a 4-1 count.
Yesterday, the Flyers rode a strong goaltending performance by Ilya Bryzgalov and goals by Mike Knuble, Matt Read and Ruslan Fedotenko to a 3-1 win over the Boston Bruins. However, the club has only won three of its last 10 games overall (3-5-2).
The Capitals, who got off to an even worse start than the Flyers this season, have played much better hockey of late. With a win tonight, Washington would reach the .500 mark for the first time all season. The Caps have won six of their last 10 overall and four in a row on the road, including a last-minute comeback to force overtime against the Buffalo Sabres and ultimately prevail, 4-3, via shootout.
The Flyers remain without Danny Briere (concussion), Nicklas Grossmann (upper body), Braydon Coburn (separated left shoulder) and Andrej Meszaros (torn left rotator cuff). It is not yet know if newly acquired defenseman Kent Huskins will be with the team for tonight's game.
PROJECTED LINEUPS (subject to change)
24 Matt Read - 28 Claude Giroux - 93 Jakub Voracek
19 Scott Hartnell - 10 Brayden Schenn - 17 Wayne Simmonds
25 Max Talbot - 14 Sean Couturier - 36 Zac Rinaldo
12 Simon Gagne - 26 Ruslan Fedotenko - 9 Mike Knuble
44 Kimmo Timonen - 22 Luke Schenn
29 Erik Gustafsson - 27 Bruno Gervais
38 Oliver Lauridsen - 3 Kurtis Foster
30 Ilya Bryzgalov
[49 Michael Leighton]
Marcus Johansson - Nicklas Bäckström - Alexander Ovechkin
Brooks Laich - Mike Ribeiro - Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera - Mathieu Perreault - Joel Ward
Matt Hendricks - Jay Beagle - Wojtek Wolski
Karl Alzner - Mike Green
Jack Hillen - John Carlson
Jeff Schultz - Steven Oleksy
Braden Holtby / Michal Neuvirth
Yesterday's 3-1 win over the Boston Bruins was a gratifying and well-deserved outcome for the Philadelphia Flyers. An injury-depleted, struggling team received stellar goaltending from Ilya Bryzgalov on this day and the skaters pulled together to play a hard-working and determined game.
On this day, a Flyers team playing with potentially its weakest blueline starting lineup (at least in its second and third pairings) since the early 1990s pull together to beat a team that has tormented them in recent years. Bryzgalov made 33 saves. The team stepped up to block 20 other attempts and generally gave the goaltender a chance to make the stops.
This time around, the Flyers didn't cough up the game after being unable to build on a 2-0 lead. They bent, but didn't break after Boston finally got on the board in the third period.
The Flyers' top two defensemen, Kimmo Timonen and Luke Schenn, played well in tough minutes. They helped to calm things down when things threatened to get chaotic. With three regular starters out of the lineup (two of them likely for the remainder of the season), high-caliber performances from Timonen and Schenn were an absolute must.
Meanwhile, much-maligned Bruno Gervais played arguably his best game as a Flyer under the duress of playing as the default number three defenseman on the squad. He played 21:34 worth of mostly solid hockey, and chipped in an assist. While that level of performance is unlikely to be sustained, the player deserves praise for the way he stepped up yesterday. This theme will be reiterated.
Rounding out the blueline yesterday, Erik Gustafsson shook off a couple of giveaways and contributed four blocked shots. In his NHL debut, Oliver Lauridsen had a few hairy moments with the puck on his stick but generally kept things simple and chipped in with three hits and three blocks. Veteran Kurtis Foster was not a liability in this game.
Offensively, three second-year players in dire need of offensive confidence boosts at least get back on the scoresheet again yesterday.
Matt Read scored his first goal and third point in 10 games since returning early from a late February rib injury. His defensive play has remained strong all along, but he had to be relieved to start contributing again in the goal department. Brayden Schenn, who racked up seven hits i the game, earned the primary assist on Mike Knuble's goal to snap a 10-game pointless drought (he's still working on breaking free from a 14-game stretch without a goal). Sean Couturier's secondary assist on the same play ended a drought of 15 games without a point (he hasn't scored a goal since Jan. 27).
The 40-year-old Knuble scored for the second straight game since getting back into the lineup following a lengthy string of healthy scratchings. If nothing else, he serves as a leader by example to young players to work hard in practice and then put himself in position to make the most of the opportunity when he does get to play.
Ruslan Fedotenko put the game away yesterday with a last-minute empty netter. It was nice to see the veteran, who is pretty much solely a defensive specialist nowadays, rewarded with just his second goal of the season.
I'm not going to go overboard with the significance of yesterday's game. I'm a realist. This is a Flyers team that hasn't strung together three straight wins all year, and rarely has even played well in back-to-back games. One isolated win against a tough opponent does not suddenly propel the Flyers into the 2013 playoff race.
I'm not concerned about the Flyers' desire or work ethic. I just don't think what we saw yesterday will be sustainable, especially with the blueline in the state it is in and given the team's suspect defensive and offensive play in five-on-five situations. I don't see that turning around this season.
The Flyers actually now how the NHL's number one ranked power play (24.8 percent) and number six ranked penalty kill (84.6 percent). Unfortunately expecting Bryzgalov and special teams to win games hasn't proven too successful of a formula.
The Flyers are "only" four points behind the eighth place Rangers with 14 games remaining on both teams' schedules. Four points is actually a mighty tough gap to make up at this point, especially when there are five other teams currently closer to catching the Rangers than the Flyers are. The high number of three-point games and in all in-conference schedule make it that much tougher.
The playoffs have become a pretty unrealistic hope. But that DOES not mean the Flyers' players should simply roll over and give up on the season.
To put it mildly, I am not a proponent of any team tanking in the hopes of landing a higher draft pick. First of all, it cheats the game. It cheats the paying customers. It also cheats the team's coach who is likely fighting for his job. Secondly, there is no one player in ANY draft who is going to singlehandedly turn a pile of manure into a stairwell to the Stanley Cup.
That does not mean Flyers' management should not be realistic in assessing the team's status heading into the trade deadline. It makes sense to sell off tradeable assets -- especially desirable impending unrestricted free agents -- to stockpile a few more draft picks, and I am in favor of doing so.
However, as far the players and coaches go, being sellers at the deadline never means it's OK to stop competing at hard as possible. Jobs for next season are at stake and personal and professional pride alone should make the thought of tanking unpalatable to anyone the Flyers should actually WANT to have around in the future.
The reality of the 2013 Flyers is that, apart from the run of injuries the team suffered in January and March, that the roster pieces simply don't fit together. Re-evaluation is order up and down the roster, behind the bench and in front office decision-making and/or close advisory roles. Re-evaluation doesn't mean blowing everything up, but it does mean there should be no automatic "sacred cows."
Some very tough decisions need to be made, and the team's most glaring long-term need (restructuring the top end of the blueline) is one that is especially hard to accomplish. The wrong decisions could further set back the franchise for years to come.
Hell, even if the Flyers do somehow end up picking first, second or third in the Draft there is no guarantee the player they pick will either make an immediate impact or someday end up being the best player at his position from the available pool of talent.
The outlook for the future will not be automatically bleaker if the Flyers end up picking a couple spots lower in the draft because they had the audacity to actually win a few hockey games in late March and April. What's more, believe it or not, there actually IS a pretty good nucleus of forwards and young players who will have brighter days ahead.
With Andrej Meszaros and Braydon Coburn potentially lost for the rest of the season due to shoulder injuries and Nicklas Grossmann having missed the last week with an upper body injury, the Flyers made a minor trade yesterday.
Philadelphia acquired 33-year-old Kent Huskins, a veteran of 310 NHL games, from the Detroit Red Wings for a conditional 7th-round pick in the 2014 Draft. The condition is whether the Flyers re-sign the impending unrestricted free agent this summer.
Huskins, who dressed in 11 games for the Red Wings this year, is a no-frills defensive defenseman suitable to a sixth or seventh defenseman role. He's a slightly better depth option at this point than Andreas Lilja, who has virtually no mobility left at this stage of his career. Huskins is no speedster, either, but not as slow as Lilja. The Clarkson University product will play a reasonably solid positional game and use his 6-foot-4 frame to block some shots.
Phantoms defenseman Brandon Manning, a potential callup player, has been dealing with a hip injury and has had a pretty rough second pro season in general. That's likely why Oliver Lauridsen, a big, fearless and physically aggressive player with suspect puck, skating and decision-making skills, got the callup to start yesterday. Both Manning and Lauridsen are earnest and hard-working young players.
When Lauridsen skated his first shift yesterday, he became the first Danish player to suit up for the Flyers. They became just the second NHL team to have had players hailing from all three Scandinavian countries: Sweden, Norway and Denmark.
The Flyers, of course, have had dozens of players from Sweden suit up for the team since the early 1980s. They've also had two Norwegian players (Patrick Thoresen and O-K Tollefsen). Lauridsen makes it Scandic hat trick.
When Frans Nielsen joined the New York Islanders to become the first Danish-born and (at least partially) trained player to reach the NHL, the club also became the first to have featured players from all three Scandinavian countries. Apart from the many Swedish players to play for the Islanders, Norwegian defenseman Anders Myrvold played 12 games with the team in 2000-01.
Technically, the Edmonton Oilers did it before the Flyers or Islanders. Apart from their contingent of Swedes, the Oilers had Danish-born defenseman Poul Popiel on the team in 1979-80 and Thoresen first broke into the NHL with Edmonton.
However, Popiel, who first broke into the NHL in 1965-66, is generally not regarded as a "true" European player. He emigrated to North America during childhood and all of his hockey training took place in Canada. Also, Popiel was granted American citizenship by the time he became an adult and embarked on his career. For these reasons, Popiel's name is typically omitted from lists of the NHL's early European players. Ditto Hall of Fame forward Stan Mikita (born in what is now Slovakia) and others.
Kindle users: Please sign up for Flyers Buzz. For more information click here
Click below to follow me on Twitter: