The Boston Bruins couldn’t have asked for better timing in regards to Zdeno Chara’s return (assuming he gets inserted into the lineup Saturday).
After missing the last two games with a lower body injury, the 6-foot-9 defenseman is listed as probable as the Bruins (20-9-1, 41 points) travel to Philadelphia to face the Eastern Conference leading Flyers (20-7-3, 43 points) with first place up for grabs Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center. Puck drop is scheduled for 1 p.m.
While the Bruins earned two victories without Chara, the team certainly had their hands cut out without the presence of the captain. In the two wins over LA and Ottawa, Boston allowed 90 shots on goal, but thanks to the stellar play of Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas on back-to-back nights, the Bruins earned four points and come into Saturday’s contest with a three-game winning streak.
Thomas is expected to get the start for the Black and Gold against Philly for the second time this year, while Ilya Bryzgalov should be in the Flyers net as they look to go 2-0 against the defending champs. Philly won the first meeting back on opening night by a 2-1 final at TD Garden.
Puck drop: 1 p.m.
TV/Radio: NESN, NHL Network/98.5 The Sports Hub
2011-12 season series: 1-0 Flyers
Expected goalie matchup: Thomas vs. Bryzgalov
What to watch for (Bruins):
While Chara’s likely return will generate the most discussion — and rightfully so — the Bruins’ offense has been striving over the last few games. After scoring just one goal in their two losses against Winnipeg and Florida, Boston has been relentless on the attack with 13 goals in the last three games.
Although the top line of David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton has been inconsistent, the Bruins have been able to use their depth at will. Brad Marchand scored twice in Tuesday’s victory over LA, while Rich Peverley has three goals in the last two games, including a two-goal night up in Ottawa Wednesday.
While the top line hasn’t found its stride as of late — at least on the scoresheet — they have been able to contribute to the lineup as evident by Lucic’s fight against Senators defenseman Matt Carkner during the first period. It was only Lucic’s second fight of the season as the 30-goal scorer from last year has put his focus a little more on scoring goals over dropping the gloves (something Bruins fans were accustomed to his first three years in Boston). But the power-forward also shows that, when necessary, he can throw some fists and try to get his team some momentum that way, while also maintaining his physical play.
What to watch for (Flyers)
Philly comes in the winners of seven straight and has taken advantage of the Sidney Crosby-less Penguin squad to take over first place in the Atlantic Division.
Offensively, The Flyers come in ranked No. 1 in the league in scoring with 110 goals in 30 games, an average of 3.1 per contest. But with Claude Giroux — the league’s leading scorer with 39 points (16 goals, 23 assists) — out indefinitely with a concussion, Philly will look to rookie Matt Read, veterans Danny Briere and Jaromir Jagr and former first round pick James van Riemsdyk to provide the bulk of the offense.
Defensively, the Flyers suffered another key loss when they announced that Chris Pronger would miss the rest of the regular season with post-concussion syndrome and a knee operation looming. Kimmo Timmonen (20 assists) takes over as the team’s top defenseman.
All of this should make for some interesting storylines for the upcoming edition of HBO’s 24/7 series with the Flyers and the New York Rangers being documented behind the scenes in the hype for their Winter Classic matchup on Jan. 2 at Citizens Bank Park — home of the Phillies.
Gameday links (Bruins):
Tyler Seguin is currently fighting through some “sophomore streaks” during the first few months says CSNNE’s Joe Haggerty
James Murphy from ESPN Boston says the Bruins must raise their game — or in coach Claude Julien terms, their “compete level” — against Philly.
Justin Aucoin from Days of Y’Orr has another post on the news of former Bruins coach and Islanders GM Mike Milbury being charged with assaulting a 12-year old.
Gameday links (Flyers):
Apparently, the wife of Flyers coach Peter Laviolette didn’t like his language on the debut edition of 24/7 (Tim Panaccio, CSN Philly)
Sam Carchidi of Philly.com has a story on how the Flyers making adjustments without Pronger for the rest of the year.