NHL on NBCSN: Flyers, Wild hope to enter break on high note

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NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the Philadelphia Flyers host the Minnesota Wild at the Wells Fargo Center at 7:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

We’re approaching the halfway point of the 2013-14 campaign and neither of these teams can be terribly happy with how things have gone so far, but they’re also far from hopeless.

Philadelphia in particular might be on the brink of an upswing as their offense, which has been a big concern for much of the season, has picked up lately.

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The Flyers have recorded at least three goals in each of their last four games. Forwards Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek have played a big part in the team’s offensive resurgence with their six and seven game point streaks respectively. Now that Vincent Lecavalier has returned from a back injury, they are becoming a very challenging team to contain.

To make matters more difficult for the Wild, Josh Harding is currently unavailable. He’s been one of the best goaltenders this season despite everything he’s had to overcome, but he needed some time off while he adjusts his treatment for Multiple Sclerosis.

That leaves the Wild with Niklas Backstrom, who has struggled mightily this season and has lost his last six starts, or 21-year-old Johan Gustafsson, who hasn’t made his NHL debut.

So the stage seems to be set for the Flyers to find the back of the net regularly tonight, but even if that proves to be the case, the Wild can’t be ruled out. That’s not so much thanks to anything Minnesota has been doing right — they rank 29th in the league with an average of 2.16 goals per game — but because of the Flyers own shortcomings.

Even as their offense has heated up, Flyers goaltender Steve Mason has taken a step back with a 3.23 GAA and .890 save percentage in eight contests this month. On the one hand, a game against the Wild might be just what Mason needs to break out of his slump, but the reverse might be true and Mason might prove to be the man that helps Minnesota snap its slump.

After all these squads have already endured, this is their chance to go into the break on a positive note. Otherwise their worries will be left to fester over the Christmas break.

Report: Wings, Hawks, Preds in mix to sign ‘strong two-way center’ Ejdsell

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Keep an eye on Swedish forward Victor Ejdsell in the coming days.

Ejdsell, 21, caught the eye of several NHL clubs following a standout year with Bofors of the Swedish first division — including Detroit (where he visited earlier this week, per MLive.) Reports suggest that Chicago and Nashville are also interested in securing Ejdsell’s services.

It’s easy to see why.

He racked up 25 goals and 57 points in 60 games this year, and he’s got terrific size. At 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, the physical presence is there to potentially make the shift to the NHL next season.

“He’s evolved into a strong two-way center,” Detroit assistant GM Ryan Martin told MLive. “His move from wings to center helped his defensive game. He’s got good hands and offensive ability.”

Vlasic joins Canada for Worlds, extending marathon campaign

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Marc-Edouard Vlasic is putting in work this year.

On Friday, Hockey Canada announced that Vlasic — along with Mitch Marner, Brayden Schenn and Chad Johnson — has been added to the 22-player roster for the upcoming World Hockey Championship in France and Germany.

Vlasic’s season started early as a member of Canada’s World Cup of Hockey squad. He appeared in all six games, which included his tournament high TOI (24:04) in final against Team Europe.

From there, the 30-year-old rejoined the Sharks and appeared in 75 contests, averaging 21:14 per evening. He was part of a remarkably durable San Jose defense that saw Brent Burns play all 82 games, while Paul Martin, Brenden Dillon and Justin Braun appeared in 81.

In the playoffs, Vlasic was once again a busy guy. He finished second only to Burns in time on ice (23:16 per) and was often tasked with trying to shut down the Connor McDavid line. The Sharks would eventually bow out to the Oilers in six games.

And Vlasic might have even more to do this summer.

During his end-of-year media availability, Sharks GM Doug Wilson said getting Vlasic signed to an extension prior to September’s training camp was a big priority.

Vlasic’s current deal — a five-year, $21.25 million pact — expires next summer, and carries an average cap hit of $4.25M. Wilson didn’t mince words in describing how good he thinks Vlasic is.

“Vlasic [is] arguably one of the best defensemen in the league,” he said. “Marc-Edouard is still one of the most underrated players in the league in the outside world.”

Stepan: ‘I’ve stunk since the playoffs started’

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Derek Stepan knows he’s not playing very well, and he knows he’ll have to be better if the New York Rangers are going to make it past the Ottawa Senators.

With just one goal (an empty-netter) and one assist in seven playoff games, Stepan’s offensive production has fallen off a cliff after a respectable 55-point regular season, which included 38 assists.

“I’ve stunk since the playoffs started,” Stepan said, per NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “I’ve been not very good with the puck.”

An all-situations center, Stepan is more than just an offensive type. But he’s produced in previous playoff runs, and the Rangers need him to produce now — especially against a tight-checking Sens team that boasts a 2.00 goals-against average¬†in these playoffs.

Stepan has 45 points (18G, 27A) in 92 career playoff games.

To be fair, he’s not the only Ranger who needs to get going offensively. One of the Blueshirts’ big strengths during the regular season was their balanced scoring, with all four lines contributing — and that’s not happening right now.

No Bieksa for Anaheim tonight, but Vatanen could return

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The Ducks will be without their most veteran skater on Friday as they look to even up their series with Edmonton.

Kevin Bieksa, who exited Game 1 with a lower-body injury following a collision with fellow d-man Shea Theodore, has been ruled out for tonight’s Game 2. It marks the first tilt the 35-year-old will miss this postseason.

Bieksa was enjoying a pretty good playoff prior to getting hurt. He racked up four assists in five games, while averaging just under 17 minutes per night. Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle is holding out hope Bieksa could return later in the series.

While this is a loss for the Ducks, it goes a long way in illustrating how much defensive depth they have.

While Carlyle wouldn’t confirm, all signs point to Sami Vatanen drawing in for Bieksa. Vatanen has been out since Game 1 of the Calgary series with an upper-body injury, but has resumed practicing and sounds like he’s ready to go.

“It’s always nice when a player is closer to coming back and you can potentially put them back in the lineup,” Carlyle said of Vatanen.

Anaheim dressed a blueline of Bieksa, Theodore, Cam Fowler, Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Montour in Wednesday’s 5-3 defeat. If Vatanen can’t draw in for Bieksa, the club still has Korbinian Holzer in reserve.