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.

Future Flyers Report: Questionable hit ends Sam Morin's AHL ironman streak

Future Flyers Report: Questionable hit ends Sam Morin's AHL ironman streak

Before this week begins, it's time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.

In this week’s report, we feature an AHL defenseman whose ironman streak has come to an end thanks to a suspension and a blueliner who made a huge impact in his return from a concussion.

Sam Morin, D, 6-7/227, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
Morin’s 125-game ironman streak came to an end last week, not because of injury, but because of a dangerous cross-check to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Garrett Wilson last Tuesday that resulted in a two-game suspension. Morin missed Friday and Saturday’s games against Hartford and returned Sunday night when the Phantoms traveled to Utica, adding an assist in Lehigh Valley’s 7-4 win over the Comets.

The hit in question came in the first period of Lehigh Valley’s 5-1 loss to the Penguins, when Morin cross-checked Wilson head-first into the boards near the Phantoms’ blue line. Wilson did not return after the hit, and he will miss “at least a month” with an upper-body injury. Morin did not appear to attempt to injure Wilson, but the hit was rather reckless and unnecessary. It could have been avoided and should have. Morin avoided a suspension in October for boarding Hershey’s Travis Boyd and that hit was far more vicious than the hit on Wilson. Boyd did not suffer an injury and remained in that game while Wilson did get injured, so that may have played a factor into the decision not to suspend Morin in October. Injuries should not be the deciding factor in disciplining players for dangerous hits, but that is often the case in how the NHL’s Department of Player Safety disciplines players. There at least appears to be the same standard in the AHL. That’s a standard that has to change.

Morin plays with a physical edge and a lot of snarl. His fights often become candy for the Internet, and the burly blueliner brings the old-school fear into his opponents. Still, he’s a decent skater for a 6-foot-7 defenseman who continues to work on his puck-handling. During warmups before each game, Morin can be seen working on his stick-handling. In his second professional season, he had never missed a game before Friday. He was the only Phantom to play in every game last season and played in all 46 games this year prior to Friday.

Dirty hits have not been Morin’s style, but as a player who does play a physical brand, there has to be a recognition as to when to deliver a hit. The cross-check on Wilson was not a play that Morin should have made, and the suspension could be a wake-up call for him. When he does come to the Flyers — likely next season, depending on what the Flyers do at the trade deadline — he’ll add much-needed size on the blue line. Until then, he’ll continue to develop with the Phantoms and learn from this suspension.

Philippe Myers, D, 6-5/209, Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL)
Myers, a rising defensive prospect whom the Flyers found as an undrafted free-agent signing in September 2015, returned to game action after a lengthy absence because of a concussion suffered at the world junior championships in December, and it didn’t take him long to put his imprints back on the Huskies. Myers had a hand in both of the Huskies’ goals in their 2-1 win over Val-d’Or last Wednesday, his first QMJHL game since Dec. 9. (He was away with Team Canada during the world juniors. He had last played Dec. 31.) One assist set up a one-timer that led to Rouyn-Noranda’s first goal, and the other was a one-timing shot that led to a rebound being put into the net. He was held pointless in two other games. There should be some concern about Myers because he’s had two concussions this season, missing six games from Oct. 23 to Nov. 4  because of his first concussion. Head injuries can derail a player’s career, and consider Myers’ trend upwards, it would be a devastating blow to have his progress hampered by consistent head injuries and concussions.

German Rubtsov, C, 6-0/190, Chicoutimi (QMJHL)
Rubtsov continued to dominate the Q last week, though he appeared in just one game because of an upper-body injury. Rubtsov had a goal and an assist in Chicoutimi’s 6-4 loss to Blainville-Boisbriand last Wednesday. It was his second straight multi-point game, and his third in his previous four games. He’s now at 18 points and seven power-play points in 11 QMJHL games. It’s unclear exactly what Rubtsov’s injury is and how long he’ll be out.

Oskar Lindblom, LW, 6-1/192, Brynäs IF (SHL)
After being held out of the Sweden Hockey Games portion of the Euro Hockey Tour as precautionary reasons, Lindblom didn’t miss any time for Brynäs last week, and it was another productive, consistent week for the 20-year-old left winger. Lindblom had two more goals last week, and now has 18 on the season, second in the SHL behind teammate Kevin Clark. He registered his 17th goal in a 6-5 overtime win over Djurgarden last Tuesday on a goal that should help silence the concern about his skating. Two days later, Lindblom put his wrist shot on display in a 4-0 win over Leksand for his 18th. Lindblom has been a consistent force for Brynäs, with 39 points in 44 games. He’s held pointless in just 14 games this season, and the longest he’s gone without a point was three games.

Cooper Marody, C, 6-0/178, Michigan (NCAA)
Michigan lost both weekend games to No. 20 Wisconsin, but Marody continued to pick up points. The sophomore added a goal on Friday in a 5-2 loss and an assist Saturday in a 6-4 defeat. After sitting out the first semester because of academics, Marody has shot up the Wolverines’ scoring list in far fewer games than his teams. His 11 points in 12 games have him fourth on the team in scoring. The six players ahead of him have all played at least 23 games. It’s a testament to Marody’s ability to put up points in bunches. He now has eight points in his last six games, and five goals and six assists on the season.

Quick hits
• A rough outing last Tuesday saw Felix Sandstrom sit out Brynäs IF’s last two games. Sandstrom was slapped for a season-high five goals in a 6-5 overtime win over Djurgarden.

• Ohio State freshman Tanner Laczynski’s point streak reached five games with a goal and an assist against in the No. 14 Buckeyes' 3-2 win over Michigan State last Friday, but it was snapped Saturday night in a 4-3 win over the Spartans.

• Harvard goalie Merrick Madsen now has not lost in his last 10 games — 9-0-1 (yes, there are still ties in college hockey). Madsen stopped 21 of 23 shots in No. 3 Harvard’s 4-2 win over Yale on Friday, and then Madsen pitched an 11-save shutout over Brown Saturday.

• Four games, four wins for Everett’s Carter Hart, who allowed just six goals on 115 shots.

• Sarnia’s Anthony Salinitri scooped up two assists last Wednesday in a 6-2 win over Guelph, and a goal in a 7-5 loss to Flint. Salinitri has 20 goals and 45 points in 54 games.

• The Phantoms’ Robert Hagg, a sound two-way defender who’s a perfect of example of patience with development, scored his sixth and seventh goals of the season Sunday for his first multi-goal game of his pro career. Check out his first goal here, an impressive howitzer.

• With an assist Sunday, Travis Sanheim now has a three-game assist streak going. He’s up to 26 points in 52 games in his first pro season with the Phantoms.

• It was a 50/50 split in net for Lehigh Valley last week, with Anthony Stolarz starting Tuesday and Saturday and Alex Lyon starting Wednesday and Sunday. Not the best week in terms of the number of goals allowed — nine by Stolarz, seven by Lyon — but both faced a ton of shots last week. Stolarz saw 43 and 44 shots, respectively, in both of his starts; Lyon saw 18 and 47, respectively. Both won a game and lost a game last week.

Flyers' power play rediscovers swagger in win over Canucks

Flyers' power play rediscovers swagger in win over Canucks

BOX SCORE

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – The Flyers got some swagger back Sunday night.

But especially so on the power play, which entered Sunday's clash just 2 for 19 over the last six games.

Two markers on the man advantage helped the Flyers edge the Canucks, 3-2, at Rogers Arena in Vanvoucer (see Instant Replay).

“It all comes back to finding a way to produce – and they did that tonight,” said Flyers coach Dave Hakstol, who had called for his power-play participants to rediscover that swagger.

Hakstol’s club won for the first time in its last nine games in Western Canada. More importantly, the Flyers (28-24-7) moved within a point of the eighth and final playoff spot, currently shared by Florida and Boston, in the Eastern Conference.

Thanks to the power-play success, the Flyers built a 3-0 lead in the game’s first 23 minutes and then hung on, atoning for a sub-par effort in a one-sided loss to the Oilers in Edmonton on Thursday night.

The Flyers converted two of three power plays while blanking the Canucks on all four of their man advantages. The loss prevented the Canucks (26-28-6) from getting closer to a Western Conference playoff berth.

“I thought we were playing some pretty good hockey of late, but the pucks weren't going in,” said Flyers center Brayden Schenn, who scored the winning goal on the power play at 2:38 of the second period. “Tonight, we tightened up defensively again from Edmonton's game and were able to score a few more goals. It's a huge two points going home."

Wayne Simmonds, also on the power play, and Jakub Voracek scored the Flyers’ other goals.

“We needed a win,” Simmonds said. “Especially after the game in Edmonton, this is good for the morale."

Shayne Gostisbehere assisted on all three goals, recording the first three-point night of his career.

Schenn’s winning goal came only a minute and 27 seconds after Voracek gave the Flyers a 2-0 lead at 1:11 of the second by sending Sean Couturier’s huge rebound into a gaping net behind Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller. Voracek’s goal was his first in 10 games. He had not scored since Jan. 25 against the New York Rangers.

How did long sought-after goal make him feel?

"Like I scored a goal,” deadpanned Voracek. “We won the game. That’s the way I looked at it. It doesn't matter who scored the goals. Special teams were huge tonight. I liked our power play. We were going all 60 minutes. This one kept us in the race."

The Flyers were a well-rested team thanks to a two-day break between games and a three-day break before the start of the road trip. The Canucks, on the other hand, were playing their second of back-to-back home games with only a day’s rest following a grueling six-game United States road trip. But there was still considerable suspense over the final 30 minutes.

Markus Granlund and Jannik Hansen tallied for the Canucks, who are known as comeback artists, at 3:43 and 12:42 of the second, respectively, before the Flyers shut Vancouver down the rest of the way. Voracek indicated the Flyers were not nervous in the final frame.

"I don't think we changed anything to be honest,” he said. We were pretty tight in the neutral zone. We didn't give them much. When we had a couple of breakdowns, [Michal Neuvirth] was on his act.”

Neuvirth stopped 18 of 20 shots as the Flyers outshot the Canucks, 28-20. He enjoyed a much better start Sunday, holding the Canucks scoreless in the opening period after allowing four goals on his first 12 shots on Thursday in Edmonton. One of his better saves came with just over a minute into the game as he got his toe on Markus Granlund’s dangerous chance from in close.

"I felt good,” said Neuvirth. “I have been practicing well and playing with confidence. The last game, it didn't work out. I put that one behind me and restarted my mind and got back to work tonight.”

“I thought he was excellent,” said Hakstol. “He was calm and settled in there. You can go back through that 60 minutes and you can pick out three or four pretty darned good saves.”

Neuvirth excelled while making his fourth consecutive start and sixth in the past seven games overall.

“It feels good,” he said of the heavy workload. “It feels better when we win.”

But he was not about to get too excited. The Flyers have a tough clash at home Wednesday against NHL-best Washington and a road game Saturday at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field against the rival Penguins as part of the NHL’s Stadium Series.

“We have a tough schedule coming and we have to be ready,” Neuvirth said.