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FIVE THINGS: FLYERS-YOTES
FLYERS (14-7-3--31pts) at COYOTES (13-8-3--29pts)
1. THE LAST TIME WE MET
Tonight’s game will be the first time since the 2003-04 season that the Flyers have played the Coyotes twice in one season… In their earlier meeting this year, rookie Matt Read provided a dramatic finish by scoring the game-winning goal with just 18.6 seconds left in the game to give the Flyers a 3-2 win on Nov. 17.
2. SHUT DOWN EARLY
The Coyotes lead the NHL in least amount of first-period goals allowed (10) and over the course of their last three games, goaltender Mike Smith has allowed just two goals on 82 shots.
3. BACK TO PHOENIX… FOR TWO
Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov spent the past four seasons playing in Jobing.com Arena ... Tonight is his first trip back since signing with the Flyers as a free agent... In his four years there he amassed 130 wins in 257 games… He is the franchise’s all-time wins leader… Flyers rookie Sean Couturier is the only active player in the NHL (and second all-time) to be born in Phoenix, Arizona.
4. Player to watch FLYERS: Claude Giroux
For the second straight game, Claude Giroux will be the Flyer to watch… Giroux posted the game-winner in overtime in last night’s win in Anaheim and with his two-point night, currently ranks second in the NHL in points (31 - one behind Toronto’s Phil Kessel)… He also has nine multi-point games so far this year.
5. Player to watch for COYOTES: Mike Smith
Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith posted an 8-2-1 record and stopped 346 of 366 shots (.945 SV %) in the month of November… He recorded two shutouts in those 11 games and allowed more than two goals only twice in the other nine… Overall, he has posted a 12-5-3 record and a .936 SV% this season. (His SV% is second-best among goaltenders that’ve appeared in at least 1,200:00).
Ilya Bryzgalov already beat the Phoenix Coyotes two weeks ago.
Now, he may get a chance to do it again in his return to Arizona.
It's unclear if Bryzgalov will start on back-to-back nights for the first time this season Saturday when the Flyers attempt to sweep the season series from the Coyotes.
Bryzgalov made 30 saves as Philadelphia (14-7-3) won 2-1 over Phoenix (13-8-3) in his first meeting with his former team Nov. 17.
His departure from the desert came as he was headed toward free agency last summer, with the Coyotes' murky ownership situation preventing them from meeting his salary expectations.
Bryzgalov's rights were sent to the Flyers in exchange for forward Matt Clackson, a third-round pick and future considerations, and Philadelphia inked him to a nine-year, $51 million contract.
So far, he's 9-5-2 with a 2.89 goals-against average and one shutout, going 5-1-1 with a 2.42 GAA in eight road games. He spent three-plus seasons with the Coyotes, and holds the team record for victories (130) while tying Nikolai Khabibulin's franchise-high 21 shutouts.
It's uncertain if this will be his official return to Jobing.com Arena after he made 19 saves as Philadelphia overcame a three-goal deficit to win 4-3 in overtime at Anaheim on Friday.
Sergei Bobrovsky has started at least once in each of the Flyers' four previous back-to-back situations this season.
"We played him once already. It's been there, done that," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said of Bryzgalov. "I'm sure anytime a player leaves for free agency and comes back, there's lots of hoopla about it. I am not sure how (the fans) will treat him. We'll see."
Tippett will likely turn to Mike Smith, who continues to prove he's an excellent and economical replacement for Bryzgalov.
Smith, who signed a reported two-year, $4 million deal to join Phoenix from Tampa Bay in July, is among the league leaders with a 2.08 GAA while going 12-5-3 with two shutouts.
He lost his fourth straight start against the Flyers despite making 40 stops opposite Bryzgalov last month, but he enters this meeting with a 1.84 GAA while winning four of six overall.
Smith's 30 saves weren't enough Thursday, as the Coyotes fell 1-0 at Winnipeg in the team's first visit since relocating from there in 1996.
"That's a frustrating game for me because that was a winnable game that we didn't win. Those are tough to take," Tippett said.
Radim Vrbata leads Phoenix with 12 goals. The right wing had six goals and two assists in his previous six games before the Coyotes were blanked for the fourth time this season Thursday, tying Dallas for the most in the Western Conference.
Jagr scored two goals and set up the game-tying tally by Scott Hartnell after sitting out four of five games, including the last two, with a lower-body injury.
"Even when we were down 2-0, 3-0, we felt like we didn't play that bad," Jagr said. "The score was bad, but I don't think we played that bad. We had some shifts where we cycled the puck really well, and it was just a matter of time as to when the puck would go in."
Jagr played only 1:22 against the Coyotes last month before leaving with the injury. He's making his first appearance in Phoenix since getting four points in a win with the New York Rangers on Oct. 28, 2006.
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