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Flyers at Oilers preview: Starting the road trip by getting reacquainted with an old friend

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The Flyers will begin a five-game Western Conference road swing with a trip to Alberta to visit the recently-bought out Ilya Bryzgalov and his new team, the Oilers.

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

About a month ago, the Flyers began a 18-game stretch that we mentioned would probably go a long way towards seeing how much of a playoff contender they could actually be. A road trip against mostly-Central Division teams was middling at best (2-3-1), while a set of six games in the last two weeks against mostly-Eastern Conference teams went a bit better (4-1-1).

Tonight, they'll begin to wrap that stretch up as they begin another six-game road trip, with the first five of those games coming against Western Conference teams. And they'll open it all up against a familiar face in net for the other team.

Philadelphia Flyers (17-16-4, 38 pts) at Edmonton Oilers (13-24-3, 29 pts)
10 p.m. | Rexall Place | Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
TV: TCN Philly, CBC | Radio: 93.3 WMMR
Get the Edmonton perspective at The Copper & Blue

Yes, for the first time since the Ilya Bryzgalov experiment was brought to an end last June, the Flyers' primary goaltender of the two previous seasons will get a crack at his old team. Or, alternatively, the Flyers will get their first crack at Bryzgalov. However you'd like to look at it.

It's been a bit of a wild few months post-buyout for Bryz, as he began the year on an ECHL tryout with the Las Vegas Wranglers and has since, of course, signed with Edmonton to push the struggling Devan Dubnyk a bit in net. With Dubnyk starting last night for the Oilers in Calgary, Bryzgalov will get the start tonight, and to his credit he's been respectable so far for Edmonton, with a .915 save percentage in eight games in front of a very bad defense. So that's the big story tonight. He'll be excited for it, the Flyers will be excited for it, and we'll probably hear a lot about it throughout the entire game. Fun, right?

All of that said ... goalie story aside, this Oilers team is really not very good, as they currently sit last in the Western Conference and have a solid five points separating them from the team right above them. As mentioned, they've got a really brutal defense corps -- one that their young and exciting set of forwards can't quite cover for. In theory, this should be a good chance for the Flyers to start their road trip on the right foot, especially given that they're well-rested and facing a team that played just last night. Of course, you never know. Hockey's funny like that.

The Flyers, though, do get a boost tonight in the form of personnel. Steve Downie, who missed the team's last two games with an undisclosed upper-body injury, will be back in the lineup. He won't be in his familiar spot alongside Sean Couturier and Matt Read, though -- Vincent Lecavalier will remain in that spot for now, while Downie will reportedly man the fourth-line wing. He'll play next to Adam Hall, who was apparently under the weather earlier this week but is good to go now, and Zac Rinaldo.

Chris VandeVelde will sit (against his old team) for the first time since signing a one-year contract with the Flyers, and Jay Rosehill will join him in the press box. All things considered, it's probably the healthiest the Flyers' forward group has been in a while, depending on how good to go Downie actually is. Ideally, they can take advantage of that tonight. We'll see.

On defense, Erik Gustafsson is still out, meaning Andrej Meszaros will remain in the lineup.

Steve Mason will be in net for the Flyers. In the department of basically meaningless facts, Mason's last six starts have alternated between bad and good. He'd be in line for a bad start tonight if we expected that to continue, but again, that's basically meaningless. December hasn't been too kind to him on the whole, but hopefully he can start to close it out strong with a good performance tonight.

Questions to Answer:

  1. So. Flyers vs. Ilya Bryzgalov. How's that go?
  2. Steve Downie's first game after missing some time last week, and he's on the fourth line. How does he do while playing somewhere other than on Couturier's wing for the first time in months?
  3. The Flyers are well-rested in their first game in five days, while the Oilers played last night. Can they control the play in a favorable situation like that?

10 p.m. start because the Flyers are in Alberta and on Hockey Night In Canada and all that crap -- and for you locals, don't forget tonight's contest is on TCN. Gamethread up around 8:30 or so. Go Flyers.