Flyers at Avalanche preview: We're already halfway there?

Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

As the Flyers ring in the new year, they'll hit the midway point of their season, and in the process will try to continue their winning ways from earlier in the week.

It's amazing how time flies sometimes, isn't it? Seems like just yesterday we were talking about the Flyers firing their head coach and sitting in dead last in the NHL and being really terrible at hockey and all of that business. But tonight, exactly three months after opening up their season, the Flyers will reach the halfway point of their 2013-14 campaign, with things looking about as good as they have been in a while.

They've won four games in a row, they've got points in eight of their last nine games, and they're even in a playoff spot as of this morning. They're scoring goals like they should have been from the start, they're getting satisfactory-or-better goaltending, and they're even winning games against opponents from the far-superior Western Conference.

Tonight they'll try and keep that all going against an opponent they haven't faced in over two years.

Flyers_orange_mediumAvs_burgandy_medium
Philadelphia Flyers (20-16-4, 44 pts) at Colorado Avalanche (24-11-4, 52 pts)
9 p.m. | Pepsi Center | Denver, Colo.
TV: CSN Philly | Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic
Get the Colorado perspective at Mile High Hockey

Granted, the Flyers' four-game winning streak -- all against Western Conference teams -- hasn't exactly seen them running the gauntlet or anything. The only particularly good team they've faced in that time was the Canucks last Monday, and they only won that game thanks to some last-second heroics and an outstanding effort in net from Steve Mason. But they should get a pretty solid test tonight, against a team that's been one of the league's biggest surprises this year.

Just months after having the first overall pick in the draft, the Colorado Avalanche find themselves very much in the thick of the playoff race in the West, even after they cooled off a bit from a white-hot 14-2-0 start that saw them sitting atop the league for a while. They've been fueled by their offense, which sits eighth in the league in scoring thanks largely to a top-heavy group of young, talented forwards. From star center Matt Duchene to captain Gabriel Landeskog to recent first overall pick Nathan MacKinnon -- just to name a few -- the Avs are a team that have some fine offense to throw at whoever they're up against. (They won't be fully healthy, though, as winger P.A. Parenteau recently went down with an MCL injury that will keep him out for tonight's game and multiple weeks after.)

The forwards are the highlight, but much more surprisingly has been the Avs' relatively strong defensive play this year. They sit comfortably in the top half in fewest goals allowed this season, and that's mostly thanks to a strong effort from goalie Semyon Varlamov, who after two pedestrian years in Denver finally looks like he's justifying the draft pick haul that Colorado gave up to get him two years ago. He's posted a .926 save percentage this year and has been tough to crack throughout the season, so that will be the big test offensively for the Flyers.

As for the Flyers themselves, they've also been fueled of late by strong play in their top two forward lines. Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek recently both saw long point streaks come to an end, but they've been absolutely on fire lately, and along with Michael Raffl, they're probably the biggest reasons the team is on the hot streak that it's on now. Meanwhile, after a cold December that saw him almost go the entire month without scoring a goal, Brayden Schenn has had himself a nice week, and his whole line has been solid of late.

As such, the line matching that takes place tonight should be fun to watch. You figure that Sean Couturier's third line will match up with the Duchene line whenever Berube is able to make it happen, but Giroux's unit against MacKinnon and Paul Stastny should be quite the treat, and Schenn's line against the Avs' third line (featuring former Flyer Max Talbot!) could be a matchup the Flyers can exploit if that line is able to keep doing what it's done lately on the scoreboard.

Also of note in tonight's contest is the return of Steve Downie to Colorado, as well as Talbot's first time facing the Flyers since the Halloween trade that sent the two players packing. Downie's visit back to Colorado will likely coincide with a return to the top-9, with the late afternoon news per Anthony SanFilippo that Matt Read will not play due to an "upper body injury" suffered on Tuesday against Calgary. (He got hit in the head. Draw your own conclusions.) Jay Rosehill figures to be back in the lineup for the first time in a few weeks as a result.

Steve Mason and Varlamov are your starters in net, per Sam Carchidi. 9 p.m. ET start. Gamethread up around 7:30. Go Flyers.

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