Game 33 Preview: Philadelphia Flyers @ Dallas Stars

Philadelphia Flyers (20-8-4, 44 pts) @ Dallas Stars (19-12-1, 39 pts)

6:30 PM CT, December 21, 2011

American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas

The Stars face the other half of the Winter Classic teams tonight as the Philadelphia Flyers come into town in a matchup of division leaders. The Flyers are first place in the tough Atlantic Division, ahead of the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins while Dallas clings to its lead in the Pacific.

The Flyers have had large success against the Stars in recent years. Dating back to the 2008-2009 season, the Stars have lost 5 in a row against the Philly. Two of those games were played in Dallas. To make matters worse, the Flyers now employ astronomer and law expert Ilya Bryzgalov himself. Bryzgalov has been a thorn in the side of the Stars for years now. As a member of the Phoenix Coyotes, Bryzgalov is 13-8-2 against the Stars with a 2.27 GAA and a .924 save percentage.

The Flyers have been in a small rough patch recently, mostly due to their injury situation. They were rolling along this month, winning the first seven games of December, but have lost their last two games by a combined 9-2 score. NHL points leader Claude Giroux has missed the past four games due to a concussion while captain Chris Pronger hasn’t played since November 19 and has been ruled out for the entire season and playoffs due to post-concussion syndromes.

Giroux (who leads the team in goals, assists and points) has amazingly seemed to recovered quickly from his concussion as he has been practicing with the Flyers and is officially listed as questionable for tonight. Despite missing the past four games, he is still tied for the league lead in points, a testament to his great season. If he returns to the ice, it will only be that much more difficult to beat this team. 

Without Giroux, the Flyers have relied mostly on Scott Hartnell, Jaromir Jagr and Danny Briere to motor the number one offensive team in the NHL. Philly scores 3.5 goals a game, best in the league. They’ve scored 57 times on the road, second best in the NHL. Philly only has three games this month in which they have scored less than four goals. The last two games they have played, a 6-0 loss to the Bruins and a 3-2 SO loss to the Avalanche, have counted for two of them.

As odd as it may be, the Flyers have actually fared better on the road this year. They have a 8-5-2 home record and a 13-3-2 road record (best in the NHL). They have a better road PP percentage (19.2%) than home (18.3%) and a much better road PK percentage (85.4%) than how they are at home (78.3%).

The one thing that goes in the Stars favor is the Flyers are an extremely undisciplined team. They average 16.5 PIM per game, most in the NHL and have taken 204 penalties this year, 19 more than second worst Ottawa. If the Stars can get a bunch of power-plays tonight and score on them, they stand a good chance of winning. Dallas has a power-play goal in 5 of the 8 games this month.

Dallas is coming off a 5-3 win over the Anaheim Ducks and is in the midst of a short 3 game homestand. Brenden Morrow extended his point streak to four games and has been a strong contributor since his return from injury.

Richard Bachman will be starting his sixth straight game tonight for Dallas.

The Stars will be without Kari Lehtonen (groin), Tomas Vincour (knee) and Philip Larsen (lower body) tonight. Stephane Robidas has some trouble with his foot and is questionable for tonight. The Stars get a small boost tonight though with the return of Adam Burish. Burish has missed the last 15 games while recovering from a broken hand.

The Flyers have a myriad of injuries. They are without three defensemen: Chris Pronger (concussion), Andreas Lilja (ankle) and Erik Gustafsson (wrist). They will also be without forwards Brayden Schenn (concussion), Blair Betts (knee) and Sean Couturier (head). Again, Claude Giroux is questionable to play tonight but it looks strongly like he will play.