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5 THINGS: Flyers @ Stars

Wrapping up a stretch of three games in four nights across three different cities, Alain Vigneault's Philadelphia Flyers (7-3-2) are in Big D on Saturday night to take on Rick Bowness's Dallas Stars (4-6-2).

by Bill Meltzer @billmeltzer / philadelphiaflyers.com

Wrapping up a stretch of three games in four nights across three different cities, Alain Vigneault's Philadelphia Flyers (7-3-2) are in Big D on Saturday night to take on Rick Bowness's Dallas Stars (4-6-2). Game time at the American Airlines Center is 8:00 p.m. ET (NBCSP+, 93.3 WMMR).

This is the first of two meetings this season between the inter-conference clubs, and the lone game in Dallas. The Flyers and Stars will rematch at the Wells Fargo Center on Jan. 24.

The Flyers enter this game coming off an emotional 2-1 road win on Friday against the Carolina Hurricanes. Stellar goaltending from Carter Hart and third period goals by Joel Farabee (4th) and Zack MacEwen (1st as a Flyer) carried Philadelphia to victory after being outplayed for two periods. A 5-for-5 performance on the penalty kill and 18 blocked shots proved vital.

Saturday's game figures to be another gut-check game for the Flyers. They are at a significant fatigue factor disadvantage and going up against a team that is in dire need of a win.

The Stars last played on Wednesday, have been at home all week and will be playing for just the second time in six nights. The players held a closed-door meeting after a disappointing performance in a 4-2 home loss to the rival Nashville Predators on Wednesday. Dallas has won just once in its last seven games (1-4-2).

Here are five things to watch in this game:

1. Ellis, Hayes and NAK.

On Thursday, Vigneault expressed optimism that key offseason acquisition Ryan Ellis would finally make his return to the Flyers' lineup in Saturday's game. Ellis has missed the last nine games with a nagging lower-body injury.

Ellis may not immediately be restored to the Flyers top defensive pairing alongside Ivan Provorov. Instead, he may be eased back into that role after all the time he missed and having had only two bonafide practices plus a Skills Day participation. Additionally, Justin Braun has done yeoman work filling in for Ellis, lessening the need to immediately go back to playing Ellis for 24-plus all-situations minutes per game. 

As long as the gradual step-up plan for Ellis' role remains in place, he will be paired with Keith Yandle on the third pair at 5-on-5. Ellis may also be restored to the second power play unit in a three-forward, two-defensemen set up along with Provorov. 

With Ellis' apparently imminent return to the lineup, NIck Seeler (who has dressed on 11 of the 12 games played to date) will exit the lineup. Seeler has averaged 12:36 of ice time per game on the third pair.

There is also a possibility that Kevin Hayes could be activated from long-term injured reserve status and play for the first time this season. Due to abdominal muscle surgery -- his second within the 2021 calendar year -- Hayes missed the exhibition season and all 12 regular season games the Flyers have played so far. Vigneault originally said that Nov. 16 would be the earliest date that Hayes could return. The player himself has been virtually pleading to be activated sooner. 

As a precursor to being able to remain salary cap compliant when Hayes goes from LTIR to the active roster, the Flyers placed winger Nicolas Aube-Kubel ($1.075 million cap hit) on waivers on Friday. The team will learn on Saturday if the player was claimed by another NHL team or if he clears waivers.

The Flyers will learn NAK's fate midday. If Aube-Kubel clears, he will be assigned to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Whether he's claimed or not, the Flyers will get the same $1.075 million of cap relief and will be able to activate Hayes. Whether that will be for the Dallas game or at home against Calgary on Tuesday remains to be seen.

Martin Jones, who has been excellent in goal in his own right in each of his first three starts, will get the call in this game. 

2. Flyers Power Play.

There will always be ebbs and flows to special teams success over the course of a season. Even the NHL's top power plays will have stretches where goals are hard to come by for awhile. That's not cause for alarm. However, the Flyers power play, after a good opening week, has not only been unable to score. It's created negative momentum.

The last two games against Toronto and Carolina have been especially ugly for both PP units. 

On Wednesday at home against Toronto, the Flyers saw four power plays sputter and scuffle to even gain attack zone entry and get set up much less create looks at the net. Philly went 0-for-4 and the problems had a carryover effect into why the Flyers ultimately suffered a 3-0 shutout loss.

On Friday against Carolina, a strategic decision to go with a four forward/ one defenseman setup when holding a late-game 2-1 lead nearly backfired. Hart had to come up huge twice in the span of a few seconds to prevent a game-tying shorthanded goal for the Hurricanes. Earlier in the game, the Flyers had a lengthy 4-on-3. 5-on-3, and 5-on-4 advantage and generated next to no pressure or scoring chances. 

Overall, the Flyers' deep slump on the power play in recent weeks has dropped the club to 22nd in the NHL (6-for-37, 16.2 percent). Although the Flyers went 2-1-0 on their first road trip of the season, they were 0-for-10 on the man advantage during the trip and further struggles have ensued since then, both on the road and at home. 

The Flyers clock in for this game at just 2-for-19 (10.5 percent) on the power play in the six road games played to date. In six home games, the Flyers are 4-for-18 (22.2 percent) but the numbers are buoyed by the success Philly had on the power play across their opening four-game homestand.

There has been a lot of personnel juggling on the power play since the western Canada trip. Until mid-game on Thursday, Yandle was moved off PP1 in favor of Provorov. Yandle was subsequently restored to PP1. Giroux is now back on his more accustomed left-wall spot on PP1 after playing the right side for awhile.

Cam Atkinson was promoted for a while from PP2 to PP1. James van Riemsdyk was moved down to PP2. During the Carolina game, JVR was eventually moved back onto PP1. Rasmus Ristolainen was tried on a point on PP2 for a couple games but then removed for the Carolina game with Oskar Lindblom getting a chance to play down low on the unit. 

It will be interesting to see how the power play units are arranged in Dallas. More than just who plays where and with whom, however, the Flyers need to restore a measure of confidence on the man advantage.

3. Inside the Numbers

There have been many reasons why the Stars have struggled of late; the biggest reason being that the team has had trouble scoring at 5-on-5 despite an overall puck possession and scoring chance differential edge over their 1-4-2 stretch in the last seven games. 

For the season, Dallas has scored just 13 goals at 5-on-5 in 12 games while allowing 20. Combine that with a struggling penalty kill (30-for-40, 75 percent, 25th in the NHL) and it's not a mystery why the team is struggling for wins. Dallas has yet to win a game in regulation. Three of the team's four wins came in overtime and one via shootout. The club is 3-0 in games decided in OT.

On the bright side, Dallas' power play is clicking. The team ranks third overall in the NHL (9-for-31, 29.0 percent) and has scored on four of their first 10 power plays in home games this season.

Tweet from @billmeltzer: Flyers vs. Stars: Goal and shot differential comparatives, special teams and penalty comparatives, GF-GA comparatives by manpower. pic.twitter.com/iXC00IvoCg

4. Behind Enemy Lines: Dallas Stars

The Stars are a veteran-oriented team. Although longtime captain Jamie Benn has gone back to center and is not with longtime linemate Tyler Seguin at 5-on-5 (they're still often together on the power play), the duo remains the team's two highest-profile forwards. Benn, now 32 years old, has posted just two goals and five points in the season's first five games. Seguin, who will turn 30 at the end of January, was only able to play in three games last season. He's still working his way back to form but he and 37-year-old Joe Pavelski are tied for the team scoring lead among forwards with seven points apiece. 

The Stars need more production than that from their veteran leaders. Ditto 35-year-old Alexander Radulov, who enters this game having scored just once on the season with five assists. Radulov was limited to 11 games played last season. Longtime Flyers two-way role player, Michael Raffl, is new to the Stars this season. He tallied goals in two of his first three games this season but has not scored since then.

Dallas hopes that some youthful energy could help to spark the team. 

Hulking forward Riley Tufte, whom the Stars drafted in the first round of the 2016 Entry Draft and is now in his third pro season, will make his NHL debut on Saturday night. The 6-foot-6 left winger, who dropped some weight during the offseason and had a solid preseason, has scored five goals in 10 games this season with the AHL's Texas Stars. The University of Minnesota-Duluth product has practiced on a line with Radek Faksa.

On Friday, Dallas also recalled 22-year-old Swedish center Jacob Peterson from their AHL farm team. He's appeared in six NHL games (one goal) and six AHL games (two goals, five points) thus far in his first North American pro season. Thirty-five-year-old Blake Comeau, a veteran of 909 NHL games who is in his fourth season with Dallas, was assigned to the Texas Stars after clearing waivers. The same process took place with Tanner Kero, who cleared waivers and was assigned to the AHL farm club.

On the back end, the Stars have seen 22-year-old Miro Heiskanen rapidly blossom into one of the top young blueliners across the NHL. Heiskanen also leads the Stars in scoring heading into this game. posting 12 points (3g, 9a). The Stars also continue to lean on offensive-minded John Klingberg, who suffered an opening-night injury and missed four games. In eight games played, Klingberg has chipped in two assists and is a minus-nine in traditional plus-minus. Meanwhile, although Ryan Suter will turn 37 in January, the veteran of 1,210 NHL regular season games is still being asked to 22:54 of ice time per game in his first year with the Stars. Suter has posted six points (1g, 5a) and 17 blocked shots.

In goal, the Stars veteran duo of new acquisition Braden Holtby (8 GP, 2-4-1 record, 2.54 GAA, ..918 save percentage) and Anton Khudobin (5 GP, 2-2-1 record, 3.27 GAA, .885 save percentage) have split time. Fellow veteran Ben Bishop has been on injured reserve throughout the season to date. Overall, the Stars rank 24th leaguewide in goals-against average at 3.17 and 23rd in save percentage at .907.The issue is not entirely with the goalies themselves -- it rarely is, because team defense and goalie play tend to go hand-in-hand -- but the Stars need more makeable saves from their two veteran netminders.

5. Players to watch: Farabee and Robertson

Farabee was mired in an offensive slump that saw him go pointless in eight games. On Friday, he was moved from Derick Brassard's line to Scott Laughton's line. The change paid dividends, as Farabee tied the game in Carolina at 1-1 in the third period after receiving a long-range bank pass from Laughton and then beating Frederik Andersen. Now that he's gotten back on the scoresheet again, Farabee will look to build from it against Dallas.

As with Farabee, Dallas forward Jason Robertson enjoyed a breakout second NHL season in 2020-21 and brought high expectations into this campaign. The 22-year-old power forward has been limited to six games this season (1g, 4a). Now that he's healthy, Robertson has posted at least one point in four of his five games.

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