CAPTAIN CLAUDE’S RETURN WILL SPARK FLYERS TODAY AGAINST COYOTES

By Martha Sullivan

One of the Flyers’ best players should be back this afternoon as they take on the Arizona Coyotes at the Wells and one of their stars will be out.

The Flyers (27-22-11) have been without captain Claude Giroux for the past three games with an upper-body injury, and though he returned to practice Friday, his coach wouldn’t yet commit to him.

“We want to have him back as soon as possible, but we want to have him back when he’s ready to go,” coach Dave Hakstol told the team’s official website.

The Flyers will be without Jakub Voracek, who has played 286 straight games, after the forward suffered a lower-body injury in Thursday’s 3-2 win over Minnesota.

It kicked off an extremely manageable six-game home stand on which the Wild and Coyotes are followed by Calgary, Edmonton, Columbus and Tampa Bay – the last being the only team in the top half of their respective division.

The Flyers have also come around offensively, scoring 17 goals over a 3-1-1 span after being held to a goal in three of their previous four.

They’ve also had something of a goaltending shift to Michal Neuvirth, who made two stellar saves late against the Wild, including a highlight-reel stop with 1.6 seconds remaining.

Hakstol hasn’t announced a starter, but Neuvirth replaced typical starter Steve Mason in a 5-4 win in Toronto last Saturday and has played ever since. Mason is 1-3-0 with a 2.82 goals-against average and .908 save percentage in his last five with a season GAA 0.50 higher than his backup.

“It’s part of the body of work,” Hakstol said of the clutch save. “There’s no question. Neuvy’s body of work (Thursday) was good; it was solid. His first save of the game is just as important as the last save.”

The clubs split two games a season ago, and those came with Sam Gagner on the other bench. Gagner, who has scored in two of his last three games for the Flyers, has been limited to four goals and five assists in 31 games since being traded.

“I feel like in the opportunity I got the last little while, I’ve stepped up to the plate and played well,” Gagner said. “But at the same time, you realize that changes are going to be made with guys coming back in the lineup. I think wherever I am, I’ve just got to do my best to help the team win hockey games.”

That’d be more difficult back on the other side. Arizona (27-28-6) has lost its last four overall and six straight on the road, all in regulation. Thursday’s 3-2 loss in Florida set the Coyotes up to match a season-long overall skid and set a new season mark on the road as they hit the fourth stop on a five-game trip.

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