CAPITALS (21-11-7) at FLYERS (15-18-7)
TV: TVA SPORTS, SN360, CSN-DC, CSN-PH
PHILADELPHIA -- Steve Mason will be in goal for the Philadelphia Flyers when they play the Washington Capitals at Wells Fargo Center on Thursday.
Mason took part in the entire morning skate after sitting out practice Wednesday because of what the Flyers called general soreness. The Flyers said Mason went for an MRI on Wednesday but would not specify what part of his body was being checked.
"He's fine," Flyers coach Craig Berube said Thursday. "Just more of a maintenance day than anything [Wednesday]. He's good."
Flyers goaltenders are not available for comment on game days, but Mason's teammates were happy to see him looking like his usual self.
"We didn't really know what we were dealing with," captain Claude Giroux said. "Steve is a big part of this team. If he's ready to go, that's awesome."
Mason is 7-12-6 in 27 games with a 2.50 goals-against average and .919 save percentage. He made 41 saves in regulation and overtime and another four stops in the shootout in the Flyers' 2-1 win against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday.
"The way Mason has been playing lately you want to keep him in the net," Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds said. "He's been playing awesome for us, giving us a chance to win every night."
Having a full complement of healthy players will make the Flyers' attempt to climb into the Stanley Cup Playoff picture a bit easier. They enter play Thursday nine points behind the Boston Bruins for the final Eastern Conference wild-card spot.
"It's a big deal; it's a lot of points," Giroux said. "At the end of the day our progress is good, we're playing the way we want to play. Our wins are going to follow. We have to stay focused. We have to be patient with this. Can't want to do too many big things. Have to go a game at a time. We've got to worry about tonight. Can't be worried about Boston [on] Saturday. Have to be worried about tonight."
The Flyers will make one lineup change, with defenseman Luke Schenn replacing Andrew MacDonald.
"They [Washington] are a big team," Berube said. "They've got some big forwards that really cycle the puck well, including [Alex Ovechkin]. He's a physical player. We need some physicality back there tonight."
It's the first time the Flyers and Capitals have played this season. The Capitals have won three straight, including 6-2 against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday, and have won seven of 10 to move into third place in the Metropolitan Division.
Coach Barry Trotz said Braden Holtby will be in goal Thursday; it will be Holtby's 23rd straight game and 17th straight start. Holtby made 31 saves against the Maple Leafs.
Trotz said he wasn't worried about the work load being placed on Holtby.
"Our rest and recovery, the way we've practiced, all that, he'll be fine," Trotz said. "He's a guy that works. I've had goalies that have been top-end goalies, they get a lot of work. I think those guys thrive on it. ... Having the [holiday] break, he's refreshed, he's tracking the puck. ... I think he's enjoying playing."
It will be the second time Holtby plays each game of a back-to-back. He started Dec. 22 and 23 against the Senators and New York Rangers; he allowed one goal on 39 shots in a win against Ottawa but let in four goals on 27 shots in a loss to New York. On Nov. 28 and 29, Holtby started the front end of a back-to-back, defeating the New York Islanders; the next day he played 20 minutes in relief of Justin Peters against the Maple Leafs.
Trotz said he's aware of the analytics that address playing the same goaltender in each game of a back-to-back, but he said he believes Holtby can handle it.
"Everyone throws them toward me," Trotz said. "There's a place for analytics but there's also a place for the old eyeball test."
Thursday will be the 41st game for the Flyers.
"We're not where we want to be," Simmonds said. "We've played some good games, we've played some bad games, we've played some horrible games. But we've got the second half of the season ... make sure we're making every little aspect of our game count going down the stretch. We're not out of this thing by any means. We just have to believe it."
Here are the projected lineups:
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Andre Burakovsky
Marcus Johansson - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Troy Brouwer
Brooks Laich - Eric Fehr - Joel Ward
Jason Chimera - Jay Beagle - Tom Wilson
Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - John Carlson
Jack Hillen - Mike Green
Scratched: Michael Latta, Nate Schmidt
Injured: Aaron Volpatti (neck), Dmitry Orlov (wrist), John Erskine (neck)
Brayden Schenn - Claude Giroux - Jakub Voracek
Michael Raffl - Scott Laughton - Wayne Simmonds
R.J. Umberger - Sean Couturier - Matt Read
Chris VandeVelde - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - Vincent Lecavalier
Nicklas Grossmann - Mark Streit
Nick Schultz - Braydon Coburn
Michael Del Zotto - Luke Schenn
Scratched: Zac Rinaldo, Andrew MacDonald, Carlo Colaiacovo
Injured: Kimmo Timonen (blood clot)
Status report: Trotz said he wasn't set on his lineup and that every healthy player would take the warm-up. "We're going to make a couple changes," Trotz said. "I'll see where they are, I'll take a look at their lineup." One option could be moving Wilson to the top line in place of Burakovsky and playing Latta on the fourth line. Trotz also said there could be a change on defense. ... This will be the second time MacDonald will be a healthy scratch. Schenn had sat out three of the previous four games.
Who's hot: Fehr has six goals in his past five games, including two goals Wednesday against the Maple Leafs. ... Giroux has five goals and four assists in his past eight games.