UPDATE 1:15 PM ET
The Flyers have sent Mark Friedman down to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Justin Braun will return to the lineup.
GAME 49: FLYERS vs. KINGS
In the penultimate game before the NHL All-Star break and the team's bye week, Alain Vigneault's Philadelphia Flyers (25-17-6 overall, 15-4-4 home) host Todd McLellan's Los Angeles Kings (18-26-5, 7-16-4 road) on Saturday night. Game time at the Wells Fargo Center is 7:00 p.m. ET.
The game will be televised on NBCSP. The radio broadcast will be on 97.5 The Fanatic with an online simulcast on Flyers Radio 24/7
Saturday's game is Eighties Night at the Wells Fargo Center, with related elements throughout the game presentation.
This is the second and final meeting of the season between the inter-conference teams, and the lone game in Philadelphia. On New Year's Eve, the Flyers closed out the 2019 calendar year with a dud rather than fireworks in a 5-3 loss to the Kings at the Staples Center.
A disastrous first period and an awful night on special teams proved to be the Flyers' undoing. A third period pushback from the Flyers was too little and came too late.
Entering the Dec. 31 game, the Kings had the worst combined special teams in the NHL (12.6 power play + 73.8 penalty kill) but shredded the Flyers for three power play goals and added a shorrhanded tally on top of it. In a single night, the Flyers' penalty kill dropped from a 6th-ranked 83.7 percent on the season to a 12th-ranked 81.6 percent. The Flyers did score one late power play goal but it scarcely made up for yielding one shorthanded goal (and very nearly a second) and for having such at atrocious night on the PK side.
The Kings roared out to a 4-0 lead in the first period on goals by Kyle Clifford, Alex Iafallo (power play), Tyler Toffoli (power play) and Adrian Kempe (shorthanded).
Justin Braun (1st goal as a Flyer) got the Flyers on the board with 5:01 left in the second period on a shot that generated a friendly bounce into the net.
Martin Frk (power play) put the Kings back ahead by four goals just 91 seconds into the third period. Claude Giroux (power play) converted a nice feed from Jakub Voracek, narrowing the gap to 5-2 and Scott Laughton pulled the Flyers a bit closer.
Brian Elliott was pulled after the first period, yielding four goals on 15 shots. He was also charged with two giveaways. Carter Hart went the rest of the way.
Jonathan Quick earned the win for LA. He stopped 32 of 35 Flyers shots.
The Flyers came through a brutally tough gauntlet of four straight games against elite-grade opposition with a 3-1-0 record. They defeated Washington, Boston (shootout) and St. Louis (overtime), with the only loss being a 1-0 decision against Tampa Bay that just as easily could have gone their way in a contest that essentially came down to a single bounce of the puck.
On Thursday, however, the Flyers suffered a disappointing 4-1 home loss at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens. While they didn't play an awful game, Philly also didn't play well enough to deserve to win. Carey Price was excellent in making 40 saves for the Habs but he was only tested a handful of times -- mostly in the second period -- and never had to make any bonafide 10-bell saves to keep the puck of the net. At the other end of the ice, Alex Lyon was adequate in a spot start with the Flyers' playing the second half of a back-to-back and middle game of a three-in-four set.
One positive from Thursday's game: Giving the Flyers a very short-lived 1-0 lead in the latter stages of the first period, Joel Farabee finally bagged his long-elusive fourth goal of his NHL rookie campaign. The 19-year-old had been recently knocking on the door of getting back on the scoresheet after going through a spell where he had little offensive confidence and fell back upon relying on his sound defensive play to keep him in the lineup. On Thursday, he ended a nine-game pointless drought and 15-game spell since his last goal (an empty-netter against Toronto on Dec. 3).
Farabee's goal against Montreal marked the third straight game in which the Flyers received a tally from a member of the fourth line. Connor Bunnaman was credited with his first NHL goal on Monday against Boston (and his first NHL assist on Farabee's goal three nights later). Tyler Pitlick was originally credited with a goal in Wednesday's win in St. Louis; however, the scoring was changed by the NHL the next day to credit Scott Laughton with the goal and Pitlick with the primary assist.
The Flyers are hoping to have Justin Braun (groin) back in the lineup for Saturday's game. His status was unofficially upgraded from questionable for the LA game, probable for Tuesday's showdown with Pittsburgh to probable to be able to play against the Kings. If Braun is ready to go, the Flyers can either leave the roster as is or re-assign defenseman Mark Friedman to the AHL's Lehigh Valley Phantoms and recall veteran winger Chris Stewart.
Stewart cleared waivers on Thursday and was assigned to the Phantoms as part of the salary cap juggling act needed to have Lyon on the NHL roster while Carter Hart recovers from a lower right abdominal muscle strain. One night earlier, Stewart dressed in the St. Louis game while on waivers and Farabee was assigned to the Phantoms for one day in order to clear cap space for Lyon. When Stewart cleared waivers, Farabee was immediately recalled. Stewart attended Friday night's Phantoms game but did not play.
The Flyers enter Saturday's game below the Eastern Conference wildcard cutoff line. However, a Philadelphia win over the Kings would put the Flyers back above the line and potentially into the upper wildcard spot. The Flyers are one point behind the Carolina Hurricanes, who sustained a 2-1 overtime loss at home against the Anaheim Ducks on Friday. The Canes are idle on Saturday, so a Flyers win will move Philly at least temporarily ahead of Carolina.
A best-case scenario for Saturday: The Flyers defeat the Kings, the Devils upset the host Columbus Blue Jackets in regulation, and the visiting Washington Capitals beat the New York Islanders in regulation. If all of those things happen, the Flyers will move into the upper wildcard spot and two within two points (plus a tiebreaker disadvantage) of the Islanders for the automatic playoff spot that comes with being in third place in the Metro Division.
The Flyers are currently one point ahead of the Florida Panthers, who play in Detroit on Saturday. After Saturday, Florida will still have two games in hand on the Flyers. Their next two games are are road matches in Minnesota on Monday (Flyers idle) and Chicago on Tuesday (Flyers host Pittsburgh).
The road has been inhospitable to the Kings this season, and the team is 1-2-1 on its current five-game road trip. The trip started on a high note, beating the Vegas Golden Knights by a 5-2
score, but the Kings then proceeded to get shut out (2-0) in Carolina. The last two games could have gone either way, as LA battled Tampa to a 3-3 stalemate through 65 minutes before dropping a shootout and then losing 4-3 to the Panthers on Thursday.
LA's roster is one of the oldest in the NHL, with seven players who are age 30 or older. The lone remaining remnant of the Kings' "Philadelphia West" contingent of the early-to-mid is 35-year-old Jeff Carter (14 goals, 23 points in 49 games). But there are still plenty of holdover veterans from the team's Cup-winning era, including 32-year-old Anze Kopitar, 30-year-old Drew Doughty, 35-year-old Dustin Brown, 32-year-old Alec Martinez, 33-year-old Trevor Lewis, and goaltender Jonathan Quick (who will turn 34 on Jan. 21).
Kopitar, still one of the NHL's elite two-way centers, leads the Kings in scoring with 43 points. He was recently selected to his fifth All-Star Game appearance. Tyler Toffoli, an impending unrestricted free agent who figures to be one of the most sought-after rental candidates at the 2020 NHL trade deadline, is second on the team with 27 points (12 goals, 15 assists).
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS (subject to change)
25 James van Riemsdyk - 28 Claude Giroux - 11 Travis Konecny
12 Michael Raffl - 14 Sean Couturier - 93 Jakub Voracek
21 Scott Laughton - 13 Kevin Hayes - 62 Nic Aube-Kubel
49 Joel Farabee - 82 Connor Bunnaman - 18 Tyler Pitlick
9 Ivan Provorov - 15 Matt Niskanen
6 Travis Sanheim -5 Phil Myers
8 Robert Hägg - 61 Justin Braun
37 Brian Elliott
[34 Alex Lyon]
Power Play 1: Giroux, JVR, Konecny, Hayes, Provorov.
Power Play 2: Couturier, Aube-Kubel/Farabee, Voracek, Sanheim, Niskanen.
Scratches: 79 Carter Hart (abdominal muscle strain), 53 Shayne Gostisbehere (knee).
LTIR: 55 Sam Morin (torn ACL, out for season), 23 Oskar Lindblom (Ewing sarcoma, out for season), 19 Nolan Patrick (migraines).
19 Alex Iafallo - 11 Anze Kopitar - 73 Tyler Toffoli
13 Kyle Clifford - 77 Jeff Carter - 23 Dustin Brown
9 Adrian Kempe - 10 Michael Amadio - 51 Austin Wagner
74 Nikolai Prokhorkin - 28 Jaret Anderson-Dolan - 22 Trevor Lewis
27 Alec Martinez - 8 Drew Doughty
24 Derek Forbort - 26 Sean Walker
15 Ben Hutton - 3 Matt Roy
32 Jonathan Quick
[36 Jack Campbell]
Power Play 1: Kempe, Kopitar, Toffoli, Iafallo, Doughty
Power Play 2: Carter, Amadio, Brown, Prokhorkin, Walker
Scratches: 56 Kurtis MacDermid (healthy), 64 Matt Luff (healthy), 46 Blake Lizotte (lower body, day-to-day).
IR: 6 Joakim Ryan (lower body).
PHANTOMS UPDATE: JANUARY 18, 2020
The Lehigh Valley Phantoms have built a four-game winning streak and have held opponents to one goal or none (two shutouts) in each of the last games. On Friday, in the team's best overall performance over the current stretch, the Phantoms defeated the Binghamton Devils, 4-1, at the PPL Center. Binghamton had been on an eight-game winning streak heading into Allentown.
Friday's night performance, apart from veteran goalie J-F Berube's 25-save performance, was encouraging on several fronts. First and foremost, it was a game where the youth contingent on the Phantoms stepped to the forefront in ways that showed up on the scoresheet and ways that didn't.
Even before he finally broke out of a long scoring drought, Isaac Ratcliffe was recently showing signs of improvement in his game with the puck. Last night, the hulking rookie power forward got rewarded on the scoreboard with a deflection goal that opened the scoring and, later, had a nice assist on a rare goal by veteran defenseman Nate Prosser.
Flyers 2016 first-round pick, who had not scored a goal since October and who struggled for several weeks after returning from a shoulder injury, played arguably his strongest two-way game of the season. He also got a scoreboard reward, showing hustle to intercept a too-casually played puck from the goalie, and deposit it in the net. Rubtsov made several good defensive zone plays as well. Later, he came very close to a shorthanded goal.
Flyers 2017 first-round pick Morgan Frost, who was up on his skates in Wednesday's game and broke through for a two-goal performance (including a highlight reel end-to-end goal on the power play), did not get a point in Friday's game. However, he put forth one of his best shift-in and shift-out performances of his rookie pro season. The 20-year-old played with good pace for the second straight game, had three shots on goal (two of which were dangerous) and created several other chances with his playmaking.
Third-year pro Mikhail Vorobyev atoned for an egregious own-zone turnover in the second period with an outstanding hustle play and assist on a rebound goal by Kurtis Gabriel. First-year pro Maksim Sushko also assisted on both the Ratcliffe and Gabriel goals.
There weren't many downsides to Friday's game from a Phantoms standpoint. One, however, is that second-year pro winger Pascal Laberge had to to leave the game with an apparent hand or wrist injury. Second-year winger David Kase was a healthy scratch.
The Phantoms (17-19-5) buried themselves so far in the standings during their injury-riddled, goal-starved, Murphy's Law stretch of roughly six weeks. Getting bodies back, especially at center, and having some of the young players start to step up of late, has made a huge difference. Even with the current winning streak, the Phantoms are eight points below the playoff cutoff. For now, however, the focus is simply on continuing to improve and producing more performances like Friday's.
The Phantoms wrap up their current five-game homestand on Saturday. With an opportunity to sweep the homestand, Lehigh Valley hosts the Rochester Americans (21-11-6) at 7 p.m. ET. The Amerks have been struggling of late, winning just two of their last 10 games (2-6-2).
The primary challenge of playing Rochester is that, although they are themselves a low-scoring team, the team has allowed the fewest goals (100) in the Eastern Conference. Despite the Phantoms' offensive surge the last two games, Lehigh Valley still ranks next-to-last in the AHL with just 97 goals scored through 41 games.
Former Flyers/Phantoms forward Taylor Leier was traded a year ago this week to the Buffalo Sabres organization for forward Justin Bailey (currently scorching hot for the Utica Comets, including three hat tricks in the last four games). This season, Leier has been limited to just 10 games (5g, 1a) due to a torn labrum in his shoulder that he initially feared to be career threatening and cost him 23 games to start the season. More recently, the 25-year-old, was struck up high by the puck in the team's Jan. 3 game, and remains out of the lineup.