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' 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.

Instant Replay: Flyers 3, Canucks 2

Instant Replay: Flyers 3, Canucks 2

BOX SCORE

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The Flyers passed a freshness test Sunday night — barely.

After building a 3-0 lead in the first 23 minutes, the Flyers held on for a 3-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena.

The Flyers were the more rested team. They had two days off here following Thursday’s loss in Edmonton — and a three-day break before the start of the trip.

But they almost allowed Vancouver to come back in the Canucks' second of back-to-back home games with only a day’s rest following a grueling six-game United States road trip.

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. The Canucks (26-28-6) were denied a chance to gain ground on the final postseason berth in the Western Conference.

Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek and Brayden Schenn — who added the goal that proved to be the winner — scored for the Flyers. Two of the three goals came on the power play. Both teams failed to score in the third period.

Markus Granlund and Jannik Hansen replied for the Canucks.

With the win, the Flyers avoided going winless on a three-game tour through British Columbia and Alberta. They posted their first victory in Western Canada in the past nine attempts.

Goalie report
Coach Dave Hakstol showed loyalty in Michal Neuvirth after the Flyers' netminder allowed four goals on his first 12 shots in Thursday’s one-sided loss in Edmonton. Neuvirth started off much better Sunday, as he got his toe on Markus Granlund’s dangerous chance from in close early and stopped all eight shots that he faced in the first period.

Power play
Hakstol was looking for the Flyers to rediscover their “swagger” on the power play. He got his wish early as Simmonds jammed in a Shayne Gostisbehere rebound only 5:45 into the game. The puck barely crossed the line but was clearly in, as confirmed by a video review. Vancouver winger Alex Burrows was off for hooking at the time. In the second period, Schenn padded his NHL power-play goals lead as he gave the Flayers a 3-0 lead at 2:38. Schenn scored his 14th power-play goal of the season on a shot from the slot as Simmonds screened Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller. With his goal, Simmonds moved into a tie for second in NHL man-advantage markers with Washington’s Alex Ovechkin. Both players have 12.

Voracek busts his slump
The drought is over for Voracek. The winger busted his scoring slump as he gave the Flyers a 2-0 lead at 1:11 of the second period. The goal was Voracek’s first in 10 games. He had not scored since Jan. 25 against the New York Rangers.

Shayne the unfriendly ghost
Gostisbehere did not live up to his nickname. Ghost was quite visible as he assisted on all of the Flyers’ goals. It was Ghost's first career three-point game.

Did you notice?
Defenseman Michael Del Zotto had a chance for a rare breakaway with about five and a half minutes left in the first period, but missed a well-placed lead pass as he was coming out of the penalty box. Instead of a scoring opportunity, the missed pass led to an icing call and a face-off in the Flyers’ end.

Up next
The Flyers head back home to meet the NHL-best Washington Capitals on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center. Puck drop is set for 8 p.m.