LIGHTNING (27-12-4) at FLYERS (16-19-7)
TV: NHLN-US, SN, SUN, CSN-PH
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Flyers will start Rob Zepp in goal Monday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
It will be the second NHL game for the 33-year-old Zepp, who was recalled from Lehigh Valley of the American Hockey League on Sunday after goaltender Steve Mason sustained a lower-body injury Saturday against the Boston Bruins.
Zepp made 25 saves in the Flyers' 4-3 win Dec. 21 against the Winnipeg Jets. According to Hockey-Reference.com, Zepp became the oldest player since the 1926-27 season to win his NHL debut.
"I liked his game in Winnipeg, liked his energy," Flyers coach Craig Berube said. "Going to need energy tonight. That's all. Just a decision I made."
In 21 AHL games this season Zepp is 11-5-4 with a 2.57 goals-against average and .921 save percentage. But he's won his past three starts, allowing six goals on 103 shots.
"He's played well down there," Berube said. "He's playing well. Won his last game down there. I like this energy right now, like the way he's playing. ... He's got really good structure to his game, hard worker in there. He's very competitive."
The Flyers, who enter the week 12 points behind the Boston Bruins for the final Eastern Conference wild-card spot into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, need every bit of spark if they have any hope of climbing back into the playoff race.
"We had to go on a run 10 games ago," Flyers forward Jakub Voracek said. "Second half of the season will be very tough. It's a good team; we have a lot of character in this room. Have to make sure we stay patient and go game-by-game. You never know. We have to win 28 games in the next 40. It's happened before. Just got to stick with it, be patient and hopefully we'll get there."
The Lightning almost are assured of getting back to the postseason. They enter the week one point ahead of the New York Islanders for the most points in the Eastern Conference, and with a win could tie the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks atop the NHL standings.
"I wouldn't say we're looking at the standings and trying to be the top team in the League," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "Obviously we want to be the best team we can be. We're buying into the fact that we're playing the right way we're seeing the results. We know we have the skills in this room; we're showing we can win in different ways. It gets contagious. It's fun. You're coming into games expecting to win. When you have that attitude, no matter the situation in the game, you always believe you can win. It's nice to have."
The Lightning, who play the Boston Bruins on Tuesday, will start Evgeni Nabokov in goal against the Flyers. It will be his second game since Dec. 19.
"We don't want our guys sitting idle for weeks on end," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "We're in a back-to-back situation here. He's usually played the tail end of the back-to-backs, but the way the calendar was set up and how things went, we thought this was the time for him to play. He's a part of our team, and a big part, and we need him to be able to play as big as all our other guys do. I expect him to do that tonight."
It will be Nabokov's 697th NHL game, 25th all-time and third among active goaltenders, making him a known commodity. Zepp, on the other hand, brings a bit of the unknown.
"It does add a little bit of a wrinkle, probably more for the coaches than the players," Cooper said. "I think when your'e facing say [Henrik] Lundqvist or [Jonathan] Quick or go down the list, it's a different mindset. ... This guy is a wild card. Who knows? They're tough games to play because you don't know what to expect."
Here are the projected lineups:
Alex Killorn - Steven Stamkos - Jonathan Drouin
Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov
Cedric Paquette - Valtteri Filppula - Ryan Callahan
Brenden Morrow - Brian Boyle - Brett Connolly
Victor Hedman - Anton Stralman
Jason Garrison - Andrej Sustr
Mark Barberio - Matthew Carle
Scratched: Nikita Nesterov, J.T. Brown
Injured: Radko Gudas (knee)
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
Andrew MacDonald - Mark Streit
Nick Schultz - Braydon Coburn
Michael Del Zotto - Luke Schenn
Scratched: Ray Emery, Carlo Colaiacovo
Injured: Kimmo Timonen (blood clots), Steve Mason (lower body), Nicklas Grossmann (upper body)
Status report: Emery had played once in six games prior to his relief stint Saturday against the Boston Bruins. ... It will be Nabokov's first start since Dec. 19; his only game since then was 45 minutes of relief of starter Ben Bishop on Jan. 2 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Who's hot: Johnson has seven goals and 12 points in his past nine games. ... Giroux has six goals and 10 points in his past 10 games.