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5 THINGS: Flyers @ Coyotes

Concluding a three-game road trip and playing for the fifth time in seven nights, interim head coach Mike Yeo's Philadelphia Flyers (9-12-4) are in Glendale on Saturday to take on André Tourigny's Arizona Coyotes (5-19-2).

by Bill Meltzer @billmeltzer / philadelphiaflyers.com

Concluding a three-game road trip and playing for the fifth time in seven nights, interim head coach Mike Yeo's Philadelphia Flyers (9-12-4) are in Glendale on Saturday to take on André Tourigny's Arizona Coyotes (5-19-2). Game time at Gila River Arena is 9:00 p.m. ET (NBCSP, 93.3 WMMR).

This is the second and final meeting of the season between the teams, and the lone game in Arizona. On Nov. 2 at the Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers skated to a 3-0 victory. The game was tougher than the Flyers would have ideally wanted it to be but the team stepped up in the third period. Carter Hart recorded a 29-save shutout.

A loosely played first period ended without a goal from either side. A controversial reversal of a would-be Cam Atkinson goal kept the second period scoreless, too, Finally, at 6:54 of the third period, Sean Couturier (4th goal of the season) put the Flyers on the board. Tallies followed by Scott Laughton (2nd) and Claude Giroux (empty net, 5th). Rookie goaltender Karel Vejmelka was strong in net for the Coyotes in stopping 31 of 33 shots.

On Friday night, the Flyers put an end to a 10-game winless streak (0- 7-3) with a 4-3 road victory against the Vegas Golden Knights. Special teams and spectacular goaltending were the keys to victory. The Flyers went 2-for-3 on the power play and 5-for-6 on the penalty kill. 

Hart was nothing short of brilliant in net for the Flyers. He earned the win with 41 saves on 44 shots. The Flyers received a 4-on-4 first period goal by Kevin Hayes (2nd of the season), a second period 5-on-5 tally by Max Willman (1st NHL) and third period power play goals by Sean Couturier (6th) and James van Riemsdyk (3rd). 

The Coyotes, who are 2-8-1 on home ice this season, have lost four games in a row in regulation. Arizona has dropped six of their last seven games and seven of their last 10 (3-6-1). The team is coming off a 3-1 home loss on Friday night to the Florida Panthers.

Mid-first period goals by Patric Hörnqvist and Sam Bennet, scored just 10 seconds apart, staked the Panthers to a 2-0 lead. After Phil Kessel (4th goal of the season) got Arizona on the board with a power play goal, Sam Reinhart tallied a power play goal in the final half-minute of the first period to restore a two-goal margin. In a losing cause, Scott Wedgewood made 20 saves on 23 shots for Arizona. 

Here are five things to track for this game:

1. Energy management.

Both teams are in the second game of a back-to-back. However, Arizona has had less travel and more off-time prior to this weekend. The team was idle on Dec 4-5. After a one-game trip to Dallas (4-1), the Coyotes had three nights off before hosting the Panthers. Philly, conversely, is playing its fifth game in seven nights and the Flyers have played across three different time zones.

For the Flyers, Saturday's game is a gut check regardless of the opponent's record. Philly's own 10-game freefall, which brought about the dismissal of Alain Vigneault after the eighth loss, sank the team in the Eastern Conference standings. A single win in Vegas, while a relief, will not mean anything in the bigger picture unless it's followed up by a series of further improvements.

The Flyers competed hard as a team against the Golden Knights and it was particularly encouraging that Couturier (who'd gone 14 games without a goal) and van Riemsdyk (12-game pointless stretch) finally notched goals. But offensive momentum does not automatically carry over from game to game. The process has to be re-established and improved the next time out. Meanwhile, the Flyers were defensively under siege and it took a spectacular goaltending performance by Hart for the team to come away with a win. There's still a whole lot of room to improve in terms of 200-foot play. 

The Flyers may have tired legs in Arizona. They'll have to battle through it, keeping their shifts short and staying away from extended defensive zone shifts and penalties. This applies to any game and any opponent but is especially important when battling travel/schedule related fatigue. "

"We were tired" cannot be an excuse for losing, especially to a team that has struggled as much as the Coyotes. Meanwhile, the Coyotes can look at the Flyers' own issues over the last month and enter the game believing they have a winnable match on their hands if they play the right way. 

The team that is hungrier for the puck, manages its energy better and bears down in the moments where details make all the difference will be the one to one. It's not about win-loss records entering the game. Quite simply, it's about which team executes better on that given night. 

2. Hayes' line and Friday followup.

Even apart from his first-period goal, Kevin Hayes played his best overall game of the season since being activated from injured reserve. The same could be said of linemate van Riemsdyk and Willman. The trio started the game together on Friday, although there was some line combo shuffling by the Flyers on certain shifts throughout the game. 

Hayes' goal came on the final tick of the clock on a 4-on-4 in the first period; if it had been scored one second later, it'd have been a shorthander. Willman's goal was scored while out on a shift with the fourth line (Patrick Brown and Zack MacEwen assisted). JVR's goal was a power play tally while out with PP1. All three players were around the puck frequently in Friday's game. It was a welcomed sight, and Hayes was a positive-play catalyst for Philadelphia.

In the first period of Friday's game, Couturier suffered a cut on his wrist after a skate accidentally came up and caught him on a faceoff sequence. He had to temporarily leave the game but returned during the second period. Couturier's go-ahead goal in the third period -- a one-timer from the top of the right circle -- hopefully enabled him to put aside some of the frustration that seemed to be creeping into his game. 

The Flyers need better performances on Saturday than they received in Vegas at 5-on-5 from a line of Morgan Frost, Claude Giroux and Cam Atkinson. The line spent too much time pinned in its own end of the ice. At the offensive end, it created no scoring chances of note against the Golden Knights and was mostly limited to one-and-done forays. 

For Frost, who had been quite effective in Monday's game against Colorado, it has now been back-to-back games where he has not had the volume of puck touches or pace he needs to be a difference maker. Frost did not attempt any shots on Friday. Additionally, Frost made a couple of questionable decisions with the puck in the defensive zone in Friday's game, but emerged unscathed. The rookie needs a bounceback performance. On a brighter note, he was credited with a pair of hits and registered one of the Flyers' 20 blocked shots.

Giroux in his own right did not have one of his better games in Friday's tilt. He went an uncharacteristic 3-for-12 on faceoffs. With Giroux subbing for Couturier on a late first period shift with Scott Laughton and Travis Konecny and the defense pair of Ivan Provorov and Justin Braun (the latter had a particularly rough night), the Flyers got pinned in their D zone and William Karlsson eventually scored on a tap-in play where Hart was hung out to dry by scrambled covered by the five-man unit (starting with Braun getting caught behind the net on his partner's side). Giroux did not generate any shot attempts in the game.  

However, Friday's game ultimately produced a milestone moment for the Flyers captain. His assist on Couturier's third-period power play goal gave Giroux 334 career points on the power play. He surpassed the iconic Bob Clarke for sole possession of the all-time franchise lead in power play points. 

Konecny has begun collecting some assists again over the last week, including a heads up play near the net that resulted in van Riemsdyk's game-winning goal. However, goals have remained elusive. He's 11 games removed from his last goal (Nov. 18 against Tampa Bay). As with Couturier and van Riemsdyk in Vegas, getting a goal in Arizona could be a weight off TK's shoulders. 

Derick Brassard, who returned briefly this week from a hip ailment that had sidelined him, was unavailable for Friday's game. Jackson Cates, called up from the Phantoms on Thursday, was a healthy scratch in Vegas. 

On the back end, Rasmus Ristolainen (23:42 TOI, six hits, four blocks, one shot on goal) and partner Travis Sanheim (24:28 TOI, two hits, five blocks, one shot on goal) were the Flyers' most effective defensive pairing in Friday's game. Braun shook off what had been a rough game to step up on the penalty kill in the third period, along with Provorov. Keith Yandle recorded a pair of power play assists, while newcomer Kevin Connauton skated 12:39 and held his own in the veteran's Flyers debut. Nick Seeler was a healthy scratch.

With Hart having started on Wednesday in Newark and Friday in Vegas -- a pair of hard-battling, encouraging performances after a rough game in getting pulled against Tampa -- chances are good that Martin Jones gets the nod in Glendale. Jones had a subpar performance against Colorado on Monday, although it should be noted that he was strafed for 50 shots on goal. Nonetheless, among the seven pucks that got past him in the Avs game, there were at least two that Jones would have liked back. Overall, the Flyers backup has done his part when called upon.

3. Inside the numbers.

The Flyers' power play has begun to show signs of life lately after struggling mightily for six weeks. The team scored at least one goal on the man advantage in three of the last four games. Entering the weekend, the Coyotes ranked dead last leaguewide on the power play and the Flyers ranked 28th. However, Arizona notched a first-period PPG against Florida and the Flyers had their first two-goal game on the power play since the first week of the regular season.

Tweet from @billmeltzer: Flyers vs. Coyotes: Goal/Shot differentials by period, special teams comparatives, Situational GF/GA. pic.twitter.com/OnJLgaLMG3

As has been widely publicized, second periods have been a major problem for the Flyers this season, both from a puck possession and a goal-differential standpoint. The team enters the game with a 34-16 cumulative deficit in second period GA/GF. Arizona has been even worse, though, with a 35-9 cumulative deficit in second periods. The Flyers entered the weekend having been outshot in second periods by a 297-228 margin. Arizona brought a 297-203 deficit into the weekend.

Hayes' goal on Friday was the Flyers' first 4-on-4 goal of the season. On the flip side, Vegas' 6-on-4 power play goal late in the third period with goalie Laurent Brossoit pulled for an extra attacker was the first goal the Flyers have yielded in that particular situation (which does not come up very often) this season.

4. Behind Enemy Lines: Arizona Coyotes

The Coyotes can relate to the type of goal-scoring woes the Flyers have had for the majority of the season to date (recent five-goal and four-goal efforts aside). The Coyotes enter this game averaging an NHL-worst 1.81 goals per game for the entire season -- the Flyers had similar numbers from Oct. 28 to Dec. 8 but Arizona's scoring has been as dry as the surrounding desert over the season as a whole. 

Former Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere has been one of the few Coyotes to produce offense with any regularity this season. He's chipped in four goals and 17 points in 26 games. Clayton Keller leads the team in overall scoring with six tallies and 17 points. 

Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun had back-to-back strong allp-around seasons in 2019-20 and 2020-21 despite the challenges created by the pandemic-shortened campaigns. He had a dozen goals in 63 games in the 2019-20 season and produced 18 goals and 41 points in 56 games in 2020-21. This season, however, has been nightmarish for the 23-year-old Florida native. In 26 games, Chychrun has posted just seven points (2g, 5a), been prone to some frustration-driven overplays and penalties, and drags a minus-29 on the season into this tilt. He averages a team-high 24:49 of ice time.

Wedgewood (14 GP) and Vejmelka (15 GP) bring identical .906 save percentages into this game and fairly similar goals against averages (2.97 for Wedgewood, 3.13 for Vejmelka). Neither has received much goal support. Vejmelka has a 2-10-1 record while Wedgewood comes in at 3-8-2. 

Neither the Coyotes nor the Flyers will hold morning skates on Saturday. Lineups will be known closer to game time for both teams.

5. Players to watch: Konecny and Kessel

At times of late, Travis Konecny has seemed to be on the brink of an offensive breakthrough to put a lengthy slump to rest. At other times, he's seemed to fall deeper into frustration and struggles keeping his 200-foot game in order. The Flyers need regular all-purpose offense from the likes of Couturier and Konecny and a goal-scoring heat up from James van Riemsdyk. It would be an ideal outcome if those players could build off big plays from the Vegas game. 

Now 34 years old and a veteran of 1,148 NHL games, Phil Kessel enters this game with four goals and 15 points in 26 games. He's scored at least 20 goals in all but one season (the pandemic shortened 2019-20 campaign) dating back to 2008-09. He enters this game five goals shy of the career 400-goal milestone.

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