Flyers-Blue Jackets: 5 things you need to know

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Flyers-Blue Jackets: 5 things you need to know

Flyers vs. Blue Jackets
7 p.m., TCN

After a long five-day break from game action, the Flyers (7-5-2) will finally wrap up their four-game homestand when they host the slumping Columbus Blue Jackets (4-10-1) at the Wells Fargo Center Friday evening.

Here are five things to get you ready for the tilt:

1. Back from the break
While it’s common for beer-league teams to have a week in between games, it’s not something you see happen with an NHL squad very often. Regardless, the Flyers will attempt to pick up where they left off when they take the ice against the Blue Jackets Friday.

In case you forgot, the Flyers are riding a three-game winning streak and have picked up at least a point in seven of eight home games this season. In their three victories leading up to the break, the Flyers outscored their opponents 12-5 and looked much better on the power play and were producing regularly at even-strength.

While the five-day break wasn’t ideal, Craig Berube tried to make the best of it. The Flyers’ head coach had his team skating hard at the Skate Zone this week, working on all facets of the game — 5-on-5, power play, penalty kill — in hopes to avoid rust. The Flyers should have no problem outskating Columbus early in Friday’s matchup. There’s no excuse for a slow start.

2. Relax, R.J.
It appears R.J. Umberger’s slump has the veteran forward a bit down on himself. So much that Flyers general manager Ron Hextall sat down with him last week to remind him that he can be an effective player and to simplify his game.

“I’d love to be scoring more,” Umberger said (see story). “I put a lot of pressure on myself, and that is the thing that gets me. I need to relax and have fun with the game — continue to work on the penalty kill and other areas of my game. Be hard on the forecheck and block shots and be a hard player for our team.”

The Flyers are hoping a matchup with the Blue Jackets will get Umberger going. He requested a trade out of Columbus this past summer and was thrilled to rejoin the Flyers, his first NHL club. Umberger, who has just one goal and two assists in 14 games, said he has “a lot of emotion built up” for Friday. A strong performance against the Jackets could do wonders for Umberger’s confidence.

3. Black and Blue Jackets
To say Columbus is going through a rough patch would be a severe understatement. The team is in the midst of a nine-game winless stretch (0-8-1) and has been ravaged by injuries to key players.

Still, Berube knows better than to underestimate a slumping opponent.

“They play a hard, physical game," he said (see story). "They are aggressive. And now they are in the division. They’re a team to be reckoned with. I know they have a lot of injuries now, but that is a very good hockey team.”

The Blue Jackets play an up-tempo, in-your-face type of game. In a system like that, injuries are to be expected. But what’s happening in Columbus is just bizarre, maybe even dumb luck.

The Jackets are down forwards Nathan Horton (back), Brandon Dubinsky (lower-body), Mark Letestu (groin) and defensemen Ryan Murray (knee) and Cody Goloubef (knee). Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (finger) and center Artem Anisimov (concussion) made the trip to Philadelphia, but aren’t expected to play. Finally, defenseman Fedor Tyutin and forwards Matt Calvert and Jack Skille are listed as day to day with undisclosed injuries and are questionable to play against the Flyers. Phew.

4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: How about Claude Giroux? He’s quietly gone about his business this season, picking up four goals and 14 assists. He registered his first three-point performance of the season in last Saturday’s 4-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche, scoring twice on the power play to go along with an assist. The Flyers’ captain also is a big reason why Jakub Voracek is off to the best start of his NHL career. The duo doesn’t show any signs of slowing down, either.

Blue Jackets: Ryan Johansen is proving he is worth every cent of his three-year, $12 million bridge deal. He sat out most of training camp while trying to negotiate that contract, but hasn’t missed a step so far this season. He enters Friday with a team-high 10 assists and 16 points through 15 games. Johansen has great size (6-3, 223) and excellent offensive instincts. The 22-year-old is also sound defensively and can be relied on to play 20 minutes a game. He sure does look like a future franchise player.

5. This and that
• The Flyers went 1-3-0 against Columbus in 2013-14. They were outscored by a combined score of 17-10 in those games.

• With a 4-2 loss to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday, the Blue Jackets tied the 2009-10 club for the longest losing streak in franchise history.

• Giroux had two goals and three assists in four games against Columbus last season.

• Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson will return Friday after a serving a three-game suspension for an illegal check.

• For the Flyers, Michael Raffl and Andrew MacDonald remain sidelined with lower-body injuries. Luke Schenn will miss his first game of the season because of an upper-body ailment.

Flyers' poor division record biggest factor in being out of playoff picture

Flyers' poor division record biggest factor in being out of playoff picture

PITTSBURGH -- There's a bit of tragic irony to how the Flyers' season will end over the next two-plus weeks.
 
They have seven games left on the schedule. Six of them are teams residing in the Metro Division. Tuesday's opponent, Ottawa, is the lone exception.
 
There are so many reasons why the Flyers are scrambling now, clinging to the desperate belief they can still make the playoffs -- mathematically, they're alive -- against all rational thought.
 
They're six points behind Boston for the second wild-card spot, but they still have to hurdle Carolina, Tampa Bay and the Islanders just to get to Boston.
 
Yet one major reason for the Flyers' dilemma seems pretty obvious: They've been simply awful in head-to-head play against their own division.
 
The Flyers have a winning record against both divisions in the Western Conference.
 
That's not the case, however, in the East where the Metro Division is the only division with three teams over 100 points and where the Flyers have failed miserably to challenge from within.
 
Sunday's 6-2 rout of the Penguins in Pittsburgh left the Flyers with a poor 9-13-2 record against the Metro. It's the only division they have a losing record against.
 
Last season, Dave Hakstol's group finished 14-10-6 against their own division. That was a critical factor in enabling the Flyers to make the playoffs.
 
"We know where we are in the standings and it's not going to be easy to make the playoffs," Jakub Voracek said. "We all know that. We have to work off results of the other teams and try to play relaxed and loose."
 
Against the Eastern Conference overall, the Flyers are close to .500 (21-22-4) yet realize they should be better.
 
These two records represent a very large reason why the Flyers are sitting on the outside looking in as the playoffs near.
 
Right now, at least four clubs from the Metro -- half the division -- will make the playoffs. That says a lot about why games within your section are so pivotal at season's end.
 
"The numbers don't lie," Hakstol admitted on Sunday. "It's a tough road every single night. You've got to do a good job within your division, within your conference.
 
"We've played a lot of tight, hard games. The reality is, we're a number of points out of the playoffs and those points within your division are very valuable."
 
It's something the Flyers have to greatly improve upon next season if they want to be sitting in a playoff spot a month before the season ends instead of playing catch-up when the odds are hopelessly against them.
 
Pens killers
Every team in the NHL has a couple players who have fairly impressive career numbers against other teams.
 
Voracek averages better than a point against the Penguins. His goal Sunday gave him 17 goals and 34 points in 32 career games against Pittsburgh.
 
Voracek admitted after the game he's not sure why.
 
Claude Giroux also has excellent numbers against the Pens -- his two assists in the win left the Flyers' captain with 41 points (14 goals) in 40 career games vs. Pittsburgh.
 
Shayne Gostisbehere has been around a fraction as long as either Giroux or Voracek -- eight career games vs. the Pens -- yet has two goals and nine points in those games.
 
Brayden Schenn doesn't average a point a game against the Pens, but he's close. His assist on Sunday left the winger/center with 20 points (8 goals) in 26 games.
 
The only Flyer who has solid numbers against Pittsburgh and didn't make Sunday's score sheet was Wayne Simmonds. He has 23 points in 28 games. 

Dave Hakstol: Travis Konecny on 4th line 'makes sense in a lot of respects'

Dave Hakstol: Travis Konecny on 4th line 'makes sense in a lot of respects'

PITTSBURGH -- The curious line juggling of Travis Konecny continued Sunday night.

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol again started Konecny on Pierre-Edouard Bellemare's fourth line with Chris VandeVelde, but just as he did in Columbus, Hakstol moved the rookie around.

This was Konecny's third straight game off Valtteri Filppula's unit with Jakub Voracek at the start. The obvious message to Konecny seems to be: Get yourself into a more defensive-minded role early and then let the offense come to you.

Konecny has made some defensive strides.

"It makes sense in a lot of respects," Hakstol said of the move to Bellemare's unit. "He's playing with two players with a lot of structure. He excels in that type of setting.

"If you look at [Saturday], he can bounce around the lineup with different lines and we used him that way. He didn't just play with his two linemates. He moved around a little bit. He's very effective in that role when we're able to get him out there. He gives us a good boost, a good push."

Against Columbus on Saturday, Konecny played on two units with Sean Couturier -- one featuring Jordan Weal and the other, Dale Weise. He also played a few shifts with Filppula and Wayne Simmonds.

The same thing happened Sunday in the Flyers' 6-2 rout of the Penguins (see game story). Konecny finished with an assist and plus-1 in just 8:02. He is one of the very, very few Flyers who is an even. Most are minus.

Konecny, who just turned 20, and Weal, 24, gave the Flyers a lift on Sunday. Weal had a goal and an assist in 13:06.

"No matter who it is contributing, everyone is excited for everybody," Konecny said. "A lot of guys put up some numbers tonight and contributed. It was a good team effort. That's what we want to see."
 
The Flyers were so relaxed it makes you wonder if the pressure of trying to make the playoffs is gone because their odds are so stacked against them.
 
"We’re at that point where you just need to win and just show up," Konecny said. "There's nerves in the back of your mind. We're pretty loose and trying to enjoy it as much as we can going through a stressful time.
 
"We've handled it well. We played a good team, we knew they would push but we pushed harder."
 
Konecny said he's not fazed by the different line combinations he's a part of, often in the same period.
 
"It's not too bad," he said. "I kind of expected it going into a game. I know when I am playing with Belly and Vandy that throughout the game, there's going to be times like penalty kills come up and he'll fill me in with another line.
 
"At the start of the third [tonight], I filled in another line. I know it's going to come. I just expect it. I've played with pretty much everybody on the team. I'm comfortable out there."
 
Loose pucks
The six goals on the road against Pittsburgh last happened on Feb. 20, 2013, when the Flyers won, 6-5. ... Sunday was the Flyers' largest margin of victory in Pittsburgh since March 31, 2003, when they beat the Penguins, 6-1, at Mellon Arena. ... Weal picked up the second two-point game of his career -- both of which have taken place this month. ... Weise has three goals in his last seven games. ... Claude Giroux had two assists, and now has two goals and eight assists for 10 points in 13 games this month.