By Martha Sullivan
The Flyers continue their steady drive to the Stanley Cup playoffs tonight against the New York Islanders, one of their toughest competitors for that spot.
New York (38-23-9) has struggled to score during a 1-3-1 stretch, and back-to-back regulation losses at Nashville and Dallas dropped the Islanders to fourth place in their division.
The Islanders are in the league’s top third offensively but have scored only seven goals in their last five games. They suffered their first shutout loss since a 4-0 setback at Philly on Jan. 9 with Saturday’s 3-0 defeat at Dallas, failing to connect on 27 shots to close a road trip 0-2-1.
New York has only seven power plays in its last six games, scoring on one of them. Frans Nielsen hasn’t scored during that span, while John Tavares is without a goal the last four.
”There’s no puck luck for our hockey team right now,” coach Jack Capuano said.
The Islanders have only played two home games since Feb. 19, winning both to extend a seven-game point streak at Barclays Center.
New York still holds the East’s first wild card with 85 points and has 12 games left, while Philadelphia (34-24-12) is out of the playoffs in the ninth spot with 80.
The Flyers averaged 3.6 goals over a 10-2-2 stretch before producing a season-low 17 shots in Saturday’s 4-1 home loss to Pittsburgh – snapping a six-game point streak and wasting an opportunity to gain on another playoff-hopeful team.
”It was a day where we couldn’t find any energy and couldn’t get ourselves going in the right direction,” coach Dave Hakstol said. ”It comes at a bad time and against the wrong team.”
Steve Mason made 31 saves after finding out he was starting 20 minutes before warmups when backup Michal Neuvirth was scratched after injuring himself stretching. The Flyers announced Sunday that Neuvirth will miss the final three weeks of the regular season with an unspecified lower-body injury.
He was 17-8-4 and ranked fifth in the league with a .925 save percentage, but Mason will shoulder the load down the stretch with rookie Anthony Stolarz as the backup. Stolarz could make his NHL debut Tuesday at Columbus.
Mason has started all three games in the season series and has seen mixed results. He stopped 33 of 35 shots in a 3-1 loss on Nov. 25, was pulled early after surrendering three goals on 10 shots in a 4-3 shootout defeat Dec. 8 and made 20 saves in the January meeting.
That victory marked just the second for the Flyers in the last eight games in the series, which includes four straight losses in New York.
The Flyers are riding a 4-1-2 stretch on the road, where they play their next four.
The Islanders’ Jaroslav Halak has made all three starts in the season series but has been out since earlier this month with a groin injury. Backup Thomas Greiss has started five of six games since, posting a .918 save percentage.