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Flyers return from break, head out west to San Jose

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It’s #FlyersAfterDark time, gang!

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at San Jose Sharks Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

We’re back, folks! We’ve made it through the holiday break, and we hope you all had just a lovely few days off. The Flyers are back tonight, kicking off their road trip with a game in San Jose, so we’ve got a bit of Flyers After Dark on deck, here.

The Flyers hit the break on a four game winning streak and have been steadily climbing back up in that standings. Presently, they’re fourth in the Metro, but just two points behind the second place Islanders. They’ve been playing some good hockey, of late, and for this reason it feels like the break may have come at a bad time. They were building up some momentum, and now they’re going to have to get back into the swing of things after a few days off.

The Sharks, by contrast, have had a bit of a tough go to start the season. They’re on a three game skid and have totaled 34 points so far, which has them sitting at both second to last in the Pacific and the Western Conference in general. They’ve also posted a conference worst -32 goal differential, and yeah, that’s just pretty ugly. Maybe the Flyers could take advantage of that? That would be nice.

Three players to watch

1. Kevin Hayes

Hayes is certainly on a bit of a tear, as he’s recorded three goals in his last two games and seven points in his last five. He was just about lights out in our last game before the break against the Rangers (who, you might have heard, are his old team), picking up two pretty nifty goals in that game. He’s been playing some very good hockey, of late, and we’ll be looking to see if he’ll be able to bring that momentum that he wasn’t gathering before the break into this stretch of games on the road trip. Will he extend his scoring streak? We’re going to find out!

2. Nicolas Aube-Kubel

Aube-Kubel picked up his first NHL goal in our last game before the break (how’s that for an early Christmas present?) and overall has been looking solid since he was recalled from the Phantoms. He got some time playing up in the lineup, but it looks like for tonight at least, he’s been shuffled back down to the fourth line. His minutes will obviously be a bit more limited, so it will be up to him to make the most of them and show he can still be effective in that more limited role. This isn’t a brand new task for him, but it’s a little different, and we’re hopeful that he can make it work. Players are starting to get healthy and that means someone’s bound to be sent back to Lehigh Valley sooner or later, and he’ll be working to make sure that he’s not the one.

3. Justin Braun

A lot is made of games like this one, where Braun is returning to the city where he played for his whole career before he was traded to Philly, so all eyes will likely be turned to him tonight. And maybe it’s more of us narrativizing than anything else, but it surely means something. I mean, we just saw Hayes face off against his old team and positively dunk on them. Will Braun go on a tear like Hayes did last week against the Rangers? Maybe not, that’s not really his game, but maybe we’ll see him with a bit of extra jump as, in some ways, he comes home again.

Two big questions

1. Can we get a bit of opportunism?

We mentioned it in our introduction, but the Sharks, despite posting not horrendous underlying numbers (not great, but not awful), have been giving up a lot of goals this season, and with the Flyers’ offense showing some extra jump recently, it’s not difficult to foresee a scenario where the Flyers are able to run away with this one. It isn’t a sure thing, of course, but if the Flyers are able to buckle down and just keep to their game, they’re facing an opponent that looks vulnerable on paper, and they figure to be able to do some damage.

2. Is this thing on?

It’s old news, we know, that the power play has been struggling this season, and we know that they’re going to need to figure it out as we get deeper into the season. Having consistent 5-on-5 scoring is nice, but you also can’t really bank on that being able to carry you through a whole season and into the playoffs, should you make it there. The Flyers are going to need to figure out the power play eventually, and we’re just going to keep watching for improvements and signs of life. Do we expect them to flip a switch and have all of their problems magically fixed? No, definitely not. But we are looking for some incremental improvement, and there’s no better time than right after the break than to work on getting themselves on track.

The puck drops tonight at 10:30, and you can check out the Flyers’ projected lineup below.

Forwards

Giroux - Couturier - Konecny

Van Riemsdyk - Hayes - Farabee

Laughton - Frost - Voracek

Aube-Kubel - Vorobyev - Pitlick

Defensemen

Provorov - Niskanen

Sanheim - Braun

Gostisbehere - Myers

Goaltender

Hart

(Elliott)