Flyers riding momentum behind Giroux
The Flyers (16-15-4) will wrap up their home-and-home series with the Blue Jackets (14-17-4) when the two teams square off Saturday evening.
Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. (CSN) at Nationwide Arena in Columbus.
Here are five things you need to know:
1. Nothin’ but a G thang
Is Claude Giroux finally on track? If Thursday’s dramatic 5-4 come-from-behind victory over the Blue Jackets was any indication, then it’s a safe bet to say yes.
The Flyers’ captain led a furious rally, assisting two goals and netting the game-tying and game-winning markers to cap an incredible third period for the orange and black. Giroux looked like the player we’ve grown accustomed to seeing over the past few seasons. He was intense, motivated and would not let the Flyers settle for a loss against a team right behind them in the standings.
Giroux’s four-point performance also inched him closer to a point-per-game pace this season as the centerman now has 30 points in 35 contests. He’s collected 10 of those points during his current five-game scoring streak in which he’s potted four goals and assisted six more.
Just a few weeks ago, the Flyers were relying on their third line for offense. It’s been a completely different story since head coach Craig Berube placed Michael Raffl on the top line with Jakub Voracek and Giroux against the Montreal Canadiens. The trio has combined for nine goals, 13 assists and a plus-18 rating in the past four games.
The play of Giroux and the top line has helped the Flyers get over the .500 mark and back into the playoff race in a very weak Metropolitan Division. Now it’s time for the club to carry over the momentum from Thursday’s game and put a serious run together. If they want that to happen they’ll need Giroux, who shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon, to continue to lead the charge.
2. Mediocre Mason?
It’s hard to imagine where the Flyers would be without goalie Steve Mason this season.
Mason, who has been the team’s most valuable player, got off to an incredible start but has struggled lately. After Thursday’s 5-4 win, the netminder has now allowed four goals in four of his past seven games (3-1-2).
Mason went around the room and thanked his teammates for bailing him out Thursday, but there have been numerous occasions this season where it should have been his teammates thanking him.
In 27 games played, Mason is 13-9-4 with a 2.40 goals-against average and .922 save percentage. There’s no need for him to put any pressure on himself.
Berube has yet to name a starter for Saturday’s game. If it’s Mason, it will be his first start in Columbus since he was dealt by the Blue Jackets to the Flyers last season.
3. Help is on the way
A pair of key players will return to the Blue Jackets’ lineup Saturday. Columbus activated sniper Marian Gaborik and hard-hitting defenseman James Wisniewski off injured reserve Friday afternoon.
Gaborik hasn't played since Nov. 14. He's been out with a knee injury. His return led Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards to switch up his forward lines at practice. Gaborik skated with Artem Anisimov and Nick Foligno, moving Matt Calvert onto Ryan Johansen’s line with R.J. Umberger.
Wisniewski, who has been out since Dec. 6 with an upper-body injury, split time on the third defensive pair with Nikita Nikitin and Tim Erixon.
Although Columbus has two players returning Saturday, it remains a banged-up club.
Forwards Nathan Horton (shoulder), Cody Bass (thumb), Jared Boll (ankle) and Derek Mackenzie (lower body), defenseman Dalton Prout (upper body) and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky remain out for the Blue Jackets. Forward Jack Skille (hand) is questionable to play.
For the Flyers, Vinny Lecavalier (back) is still sidelined. He remains optimistic of returning for the post-Christmas trip to Western Canada.
5. This and that
• Voracek has six goals and four assists during his current six-game scoring streak.
• Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson has three goals and three assists in his past five games.
• Giroux became the 31st Flyer in franchise history to score at least 100 goals with the team after registering two tallies Thursday.
• The Blue Jackets have a 91.7 percent penalty kill in December. The previous two months they were 79.1 percent.
• The Flyers are 0-2-2 in their last four games on the road.