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.

NHL Notes: Rangers' Kevin Hayes out 2-3 weeks with lower-body injury

NHL Notes: Rangers' Kevin Hayes out 2-3 weeks with lower-body injury

NEW YORK -- New York Rangers forward Kevin Hayes will miss two to three weeks with a lower-body injury.

The team announced the timeline Monday after Hayes underwent an MRI in the morning. Hayes left the Rangers' game Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings during the second period.

Hayes had seven points in his previous six games and is third on the team in points with 35. The 24-year-old has 13 goals and 22 assists in 47 games this season.

His injury is a major blow to New York, which holds the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. The silver lining for the Rangers is that Hayes will miss fewer games because of the upcoming All-Star break.

Senators sign Zack Smith to 4-year, $13 million extension
OTTAWA, Ontario -- The Ottawa Senators have signed forward Zack Smith to a four-year contract extension worth $13 million.

The Senators said that the extension goes through the 2020-21 season and carries an annual average value of $3.25 million.

Smith, 28, has 11 goals and 11 assists in 43 games this season and is averaging a career-high 16 minutes, 13 seconds per game.

He set career highs with 25 goals and 36 points in 2015-16. He has 75 goals and 61 assists in 443 games, all with the Senators.

Smith was Ottawa's third-round pick (79th overall) in the 2008 draft.

Dave Hakstol: Flyers 'played a full 64 minutes' in OT win over Islanders

Dave Hakstol: Flyers 'played a full 64 minutes' in OT win over Islanders

VOORHEES, N.J. — When a team is on a downward spiral where there’s little evidence of things improving, sometimes it takes an extraordinary effort to turn things around.
 
The Flyers got just that during Sunday’s 3-2 overtime victory in Brooklyn against the Islanders. To a man, you could see just how much that game meant to this group.  
 
You’d be hard-pressed to find a single player who didn’t dig a little deeper, as the Flyers snapped a nine-game losing skid on the road. They had lost five of six overall.
 
One play was symbolic of the victory and what it took for the Flyers to halt a three-game losing skid and erase memories of Saturday’s disastrous 4-1 loss to the Devils on home ice.
 
Midway through the third period, the Flyers’ PK units had to kill off consecutive penalties – the only power plays the Isles had during the game.
 
The first penalty kill really stood out as Ivan Provorov was in the box for hooking. The Isles had unrelenting pressure on Andrew MacDonald, Radko Gudas, Chris VandeVelde and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare for one minute and 43 seconds.
 
That unit played the entire kill and couldn’t get the puck out of the zone.
 
Goalie Steve Mason made four saves – three on John Tavares – while the Flyers had three blocked shots and one enormous clear at the end by Bellemare.
 
Thoroughly exhausted and chasing the puck up the right boards near the Flyers’ bench, Bellemare dove flat out with his stick extended to push the puck out of the zone at the blue line and down the ice.
 
Bellemare, who logs more shorthanded minutes than any other Flyers forward – he had 2:43 in this one – was so drained physically, he could barely lift his body over the side boards. He actually rolled himself over.
 
It was almost reminiscent of Sami Kapanen in the famed 2004 Game 6 semifinal playoff series at Toronto, where Keith Primeau had to fishhook Kapanen off the ice because he was concussed and had collapsed near the boards.
 
Bellemare’s extraordinary effort was typical of what it took for the Flyers to rise above their own self-inflicted mistakes of late for an emotional victory and key two points that got them back into the second wild card.
 
“We only had to kill two minor penalties, but we had to kill both in the last 10 minutes of the third period of a back-to-back,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “The extra effort on that kill, there’s a couple saves there that Mase made. 

“There’s a couple goal mouth scrambles where it’s all hands on deck battling down there. There’s a couple shot blocks by Belly and Vandy that stand out and then just the second effort to get the puck out of the zone and get off that kill, those are important things. 
 
“Obviously you have to have those to win games and I thought we had a lot of second effort, good effort in a lot of areas of our game.”
 
The emotion generated on the bench spilled into the overtime, where they won on Claude Giroux’s first goal in 12 games.
 
Now the critical question is, can this kind of performance have a carryover effect Wednesday night in New York against the Rangers.
 
“I think you can get some, you know what I mean?” Hakstol said. “I’m not a big believer of carrying momentum necessarily from one game to the next.
 
“But I think there’s a significance to the fact that we played a full 64 minutes and we had everybody contributing. I think that’s significant for us and I think that’s something we can carry forward.”
 
Incidentally, Hakstol used eight forwards in overtime, something he usually doesn’t do. Even rookie Travis Konecny got on the ice, which hasn’t been the case most times this season. 
 
“We’ve used seven or eight forwards before but specifically [Sunday] night on a back-to-back where we’ve got a lot of guys that are going pretty well, we used a lot of guys that are part of our 3-on-3 rotation quite often,” Hakstol said.
 
“But we also last night used Belly, who’s played regularly, with Cousins. They were our fourth pair on the rotation. Ultimately, if you look at it, we scored the game-winning goal against a tired group that the Islanders had on the ice.”
 
Tavares had gone up and down the ice twice – Mason made a tremendous glove save on him before the game-winning shift. Hence, Tavares was gassed when Shayne Gostisbehere came up ice with Jakub Voracek, went around the net and hit Giroux in front for the game-winner.
 
“Our guys did a good job,” Hakstol said. “They were all moving and going. We get a great save on the breakaway and that buys us the chance to go back and get the play at the other end.”
 
Loose pucks
Only five players took the ice for Monday’s optional skate after the 12th set of back-to-back games. … Players on ice were goalie Michal Neuvirth plus skaters Nick Schultz, Brandon Manning, Dale Weise and Roman Lyubimov. … The Flyers play back-to-back this week one more time before the All-Star break. After the Rangers, they have Toronto at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday, where the wild card will again be at stake.