Philadelphia Flyers v Chicago Blackhawks

NHL on NBCSN: Streaking Flyers host Blackhawks

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

When you consider how tight the playoff race in the Eastern Conference is, you’d probably never know how well the Flyers are playing of late.

Philly heads into Tuesday’s battle against Chicago winners of the past two games and nine of the past 12. You would think that kind of run would put some distance between them and the rest of the bunch in the Metropolitan Division but you’d be wrong. The Flyers sit in second place behind Pittsburgh just one point ahead of both the New York Rangers and Columbus Blue Jackets and three points ahead of the Washington Capitals.

Just think of where they’d be if they hadn’t been on a roll.

Leading the way of late for the Flyers is captain Claude Giroux. Over his past seven games, Giroux has four goals and 12 points and he along with his linemate Jakub Voracek (3-6-9 over the past seven games) have turned into a solid scoring duo. Add in Wayne Simmonds’ power play scoring prowess (12 on the man advantage this season) and the Flyers offense is one to be wary of.

There’s a flipside to every coin, however, and the offense has had to be strong to help pick up Steve Mason. In his past 13 games, Mason has three shutouts (that’s good!) but also allowed 30 goals (that’s bad!).

After his hot start to the season, it’s been a little Jekyll and Hyde-ish for Mason, but more often than not the offense has picked him up. It’s a good thing to have help like that, but makes the prospect of heading into the postseason a bit daunting.

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $1,500 Fantasy Hockey league for Wednesday night’s NHL games. It’s just $10 to join and first prize is $350. Starts Tuesday at 7pm ET. Here’s the FanDuel link.

The Blackhawks haven’t exactly been a house of fire lately. Since returning from Sochi, they’re 4-4-0 and while that’s OK, they’ve been jumped in the standings by both the Blues and Avalanche.

source: Getty ImagesSeeing Chicago sitting in third place in the Central Division seems weird, but it’s not like they’re in a bad place. With 92 points they’re one back of Colorado and light years ahead of the wild card (12 points to be exact). They’re basically in a battle with the Avs for home ice in the first round as the Blues are nine points ahead of them.

With that kind of setup, you can’t really blame the Blackhawks for being so blasé of late. Don’t tell Jonathan Toews that, however, as he’s got eight goals in the past seven games and has scored in two straight games. Marian Hossa’s return against Detroit on Sunday provided a lift to the offense that had just scored two goals in each of the previous three games.

It’s hard to find real faults for what the Blackhawks are doing. If nothing else, they’re still lacking a spark at center on the second line, but even with that Patrick Kane has five points in the past seven games.

Like last night’s game between the Wild and the Bruins, this one is a measuring stick for the Flyers against the Blackhawks. Winning nine of the past 12 is nice and all, but they’ll see how they really stack up against a definitive playoff team.

Bruised Blackhawks will be without Seabrook, Toews vs. Rangers

CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 13: Brent Seabrook #7 and Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks
celebrate a second period goal by Seabrook against the Anaheim Ducks at the United Center on February 13, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Scott Darling isn’t the only member of the Chicago Blackhawks who will be asked to step up with key players out of the lineup.

The Blackhawks have already ruled out Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews for Friday’s game against the New York Rangers, as CSN Chicago notes.

This will mark the eighth consecutive game Toews is missing, although the bright side is that Joel Quenneville didn’t dismiss the possibility of Chicago’s captain playing on Sunday.

Seabrook is considered day-to-day after being shaken up by this awkward spill from Wednesday:

A few days ago, Patrick Kane called upon others to step up with Toews out. That message can now apply to Chicago’s defensemen with Seabrook banged up.

Pre-game reading: Laine better than Matthews?

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— Up top, Bob McKenzie talks NHL and the Olympics. The Board of Governors is meeting today in Palm Beach, but don’t expect any decision until January.

— TSN’s Gary Lawless believes Patrik Laine will end up being better than Auston Matthews. “Laine is the rarest of talents. Scoring goals is the most difficult thing to do in the NHL and he is well ahead of just about every player in the world right now at the age of 18.” Yep, it’s basically Alex Ovechkin versus Sidney Crosby all over again. One’s a winger, the other’s a center. The prevailing hockey wisdom says the center is more valuable, because a center can make more of an impact at both ends of the ice. And, of course, Crosby’s backers can say he’s won two Stanley Cups. But Ovechkin has scored 537 goals in just 864 games, and that’s incredible in this day and age. We’ll have to wait and see who wins a Cup first between Laine and Matthews, assuming one wins one at all. Connor McDavid will probably have something to say as well. (TSN)

— Here’s Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill on why some NHL owners are reluctant to send players to the Olympics: “February is one of our biggest months and it’s hard to shut down for three weeks. First of all, you are shutting down your business. Period. And there is the risk of injuries and everything that goes with it. So it’s a tough situation. And the other part of it is, we’re not competing against the NFL at that time. We’re not competing against baseball at that time. It’s really just us and the NBA. So it’s really kind of our time. February, it’s hockey time in these types of markets.” (Postmedia)

— Another impassioned plea to change the NHL’s points system and award three points for a win. “A three-point regulation win gives coaches and teams much greater incentive to win in regulation, and discourages teams sitting back in the third period of close games playing just to guarantee their point and hope for two in the extra frame. This would immediately improve the 60-minute NHL product, especially in the third period of tied and close games.” We couldn’t agree more, but the league has shown no appetite for such a change, so don’t hold your breath waiting for it. (Metro)

Matt Duchene remembers former Avalanche teammate Marek Svatos, who died last month of a drug overdose. “Svats, I hope people don’t judge him on that because he was an outstanding guy. He had a tough go — a lot of injuries, a lot of surgeries. As an athlete, it’s hard to not be a little depressed at times. For him, the amount he went through, it’s sad and all I can do is send my condolences to his family and hopefully they can stay strong. We’re all praying for them.” (Denver Post)

— Sean McIndoe has a list of 10 lies all hockey fans tell themselves. We particularly enjoyed Lie No. 5: “Our prospect pipeline is stacked.” Because general managers are guilty of this too. The way the NHL is set up, it’s basically impossible to have zero prospects. Writes McIndoe: “Every team has prospects. Some of those, by definition, will even be the team’s best prospects. But it doesn’t mean they’re any good. And just pointing out that they exist doesn’t mean the future is bright.” (Sportsnet)

Enjoy the games!

Price, Weber will be key to Canadiens’ survival without Galchenyuk, Desharnais

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 08:  Shea Weber #6 of the Montreal Canadiens congratulates Carey Price #31 for their victory over the Boston Bruins during the NHL game at the Bell Centre on November 8, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Boston Bruins 3-2.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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The Montreal Canadiens were already starting to wobble. With just four wins in their last 11 games, now the Habs will be forced to play without centers Alex Galchenyuk and David Desharnais for the next six to eight weeks.

It’s a heck of a challenge for any team, let alone one that endured a horrendous collapse last season when Carey Price was lost to injury.

Galchenyuk is the big loss now. The 22-year-old is Montreal’s leading scorer with 23 points (9G, 14A). He’d developed great chemistry with Alex Radulov, who is likely to skate now with Tomas Plekanec on the first line.

To be sure, the Habs still have Max Pacioretty, Shea Weber, Brendan Gallagher, Paul Byron, and Andrew Shaw to provide scoring. Shaw can also play center. So can Phillip Danault, the 23-year-old who came to Montreal in February in a trade with Chicago.

But above all, they’ll need Price to be Price. The best goalie in the world (sorry, Bruce Boudreau), Price can keep the Habs in any and all games, even ones where they’re outshot badly.

Given the standings, the Canadiens just need to survive this next month or two without a full-on collapse. They’ve already built a nice playoff cushion. They don’t have to worry if they lose a couple here and there, which they’re bound to do given their situation.

This is also where Weber’s leadership will be tested. GM Marc Bergevin traded away a pretty popular player to get Weber, whom he called a “tremendous leader,” as well as a “complete and reliable defenseman.” Bergevin made that move for times like these, when the heat in that hockey-mad market goes way up.

Montreal starts a four-game home stand tonight against New Jersey. Looking ahead on the schedule, there’s a six-game road trip after Christmas, with stops in Tampa Bay, Florida, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Dallas and Toronto.

If they can survive that trip, they can survive anything.

It should be fascinating to watch them try.

Goalie nods: Oilers give Gustavsson shot at cooling off Flyers

EDMONTON, AB - OCTOBER 12:  Goalie Jonas Gustavsson #50 of the Edmonton Oilers warms up before the home opener against the Calgary Flames on October 12, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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With six straight wins, Philly is one of the NHL’s hottest teams — and tonight, the Flyers will look to make it seven as Edmonton and backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson come to town.

Gustavsson hasn’t been used much this season, but has fared well when called upon. He made 31 saves in a 2-1 OT loss to the Wild this past Sunday and, on the year, has posted a 2.00 GAA and .923 save percentage.

Of course, those numbers have come in a small sample size. The Monster has just five appearances this season, and only three of them were starts.

Now, he’ll be thrown into arguably his biggest test of the year at Wells Fargo. The Flyers are rolling, Steve Mason has been lights out and the team continues to get terrific production from Wayne Simmonds, who has four goals in his last two games (and 15 total on the year, to lead the club).

Of note, tonight is the first of a back-to-back for the Oilers — they play in Minnesota tomorrow — so Gustavsson goes in Philly, while regular No. 1 Cam Talbot faces the Wild on Friday.

Elsewhere…

Calvin Pickard gets his first start since Nov. 29 when the Avs take on the B’s in Boston. No word yet on a Bruins starter.

— The red-hot Jake Allen, who has won his last eight starts, will be in for the Blues. The Isles will counter with Thomas Greiss, who draws in after Jaroslav Halak performed well over the last three contests.

Roberto Luongo has lost three of his last four, despite posting a stellar .928 save percentage over that span. He’ll be in for the Panthers tonight as they host Pittsburgh. Matt Murray is in goal for the Pens.

Ryan Miller‘s back in goal for Vancouver, after Jacob Markstrom got last game in New Jersey. Miller will face Ben Bishop, who gets the nod for the host Lightning.

— Marquee matchup in Montreal, as Cory Schneider and the Devils take on Carey Price and the Habs.

Henrik Lundqvist gets a night off after starting four straight, as Antti Raanta will face the Jets. Winnipeg is likely to go with Michael Hutchinson, who occupied the starter’s net at practice this morning.

Pekka Rinne will look to beat the Stars for the second time this season. Dallas has yet to name a starter.

— To nobody’s surprise, Chad Johnson will be back in goal when the Flames take on the Coyotes in Arizona. Johnson has won seven of his last eight. For the Coyotes, Mike Smith is in goal.

Jeff Zatkoff, who made 25 saves in a win his last time out, looks to be the Kings starter. No word yet from the ‘Canes, but Cam Ward was in for last night’s 6-5 shootout loss to Anaheim.