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., CSN

The Flyers (7-9-2) will try to avoid a fifth consecutive defeat when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets (6-11-2) at the Wells Fargo Center Saturday night.

Let’s take a closer look at Saturday’s matchup:

1. Stop the skid
The Flyers tried their best to find some positives in Thursday’s 3-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild (see game story).

To sum it up, head coach Craig Berube thought the Flyers were competitive and had a much stronger effort than they did in Wednesday’s no-show performance at Madison Square Garden.

Captain Claude Giroux thought the Flyers played “the right way all game” and the team gave itself a “chance to win.”

Defenseman Mark Streit thought the Flyers “did a lot of good things offensively” and the team took a “step in the right direction” after a horrible showing in New York.

It’s never a bad thing to stay positive, but the fact of the matter is the Flyers are still not winning. Playing harder and showing improvement on special teams will only get you so far. The Flyers are 4-6-0 in their last ten and could soon find themselves in the basement of the Metropolitan Division. They need to put an end to this skid now before it spirals into something worse.

2. Catch that kid
Maybe a little youth is exactly what is needed for struggling veterans Vinny Lecavalier and R.J. Umberger.

In just his second game with the Flyers since being recalled from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, 20-year-old Scott Laughton skated on a line with Lecavalier and Umberger in Thursday’s 3-2 loss to the Wild and was productive in his 10:53 of ice time.

Laughton’s aggressive play seemed to spark Lecavalier and Umberger, who have combined for just three goals and six assists this season. The line had a handful of chances and had a strong shift that resulted in Mark Streit’s second-period marker that tied the game at 1-1. Lecavalier faked a shot on the rush and then sent a nifty pass that landed on Streit’s tape and eventually into the back of the net.

It hasn’t been easy to make Lecavalier and Umberger look good, but Laughton did just that Thursday. It’s unclear if the young forward will hang around when Michael Raffl is fully recovered, but it sure does look like Laughton is ready for a bigger role with the organization.

Laughton has been labeled as a defensive-minded center, much like Sean Couturier. He recently talked about gaining more confidence in his game and how he always thought of himself as an offensive player. That’s certainly shown in his short time in the AHL this season. He posted six goals and 11 points in 13 games with the Phantoms before his call-up. The Flyers have been relying heavily on their top line for scoring, but if Laughton can translate those numbers to the NHL level, it will be difficult to send him back to Allentown.

3. Injuries
The Flyers’ defense got a boost with Andrew MacDonald and Luke Schenn making their returns against Minnesota. But fellow blueliner Michael Del Zotto sat out his first game of the season because of a lower-body injury sustained in Wednesday’s loss to the New York Rangers. Del Zotto is listed as questionable for Saturday’s tilt.

On offense, Chris VandeVelde (lower-body) exited Thursday’s game in the third period. General manager Ron Hextall said Friday night that VandeVelde is unlikely to play against the Blue Jackets. Raffl (lower-body) remains sidelined.

Columbus is still banged up. Forwards Nathan Horton (back), Brandon Dubinsky (lower-body), Mark Letestu (groin) and defensemen Ryan Murray (knee), Fedor Tyutin (lower-body) and Cody Goloubef (knee) are all on injured reserve and will not play against the Flyers.

4. Keep an eye on …

Flyers: I’m not sure what was more impressive: Jakub Voracek’s saucer pass to Brayden Schenn, Brayden Schenn’s backhand dish to Claude Giroux, or Claude Giroux’s rocket on the power play that tied Thursday’s game at 2-2 in the third period. And that was all one play! Simply put, the Flyers’ top line of Giroux, Voracek and Schenn is the only unit worth watching right now. The trio has provided most of the offense over the past two weeks and could certainly use some help. From anyone.

Blue Jackets: Last week I said to keep an eye on Ryan Johansen. So what did he go out and do? How about assist all four of Columbus’ goals in a 4-3 victory over the Flyers. The 22-year-old is off to the best start of his young career. He leads the Blue Jackets with 23 points and is coming off a three-point performance in Friday’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Boston Bruins. His combination of size (6-3, 223) and offensive instincts make him a threat every time he touches the puck. He’s good.

5. This and that

• Dating back to last season, the Flyers have just one win in their last five games against Columbus.

• Nick Foligno scored twice against the Flyers on Nov. 14. His 11 career tallies against the Flyers are the most he’s posted against any team he’s faced.

• In six games against Columbus, Voracek has three goals, six assists and a plus-4 rating.

• James Wisniewski has three goals and three assists in his last four games against the Flyers. 

• Giroux fired seven shots on goal against Minnesota. He has an NHL-high 86 shots, one ahead of Washington’s Alex Ovechkin.

NHL Notes: Penguins, Senators have chance at history in Game 7

NHL Notes: Penguins, Senators have chance at history in Game 7

PITTSBURGH -- Craig Anderson is a realist, the byproduct of 15 years playing the most demanding position in the NHL.

The Ottawa goaltender would like to chalk his 45-save masterpiece in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals against Pittsburgh up to his own brilliance. He knows that's not exactly the case.

"I think you need to be a little bit lucky to be good at times," Anderson said.

Ottawa has relied on a bit of both during its deepest playoff run in a decade and Anderson helped force Game 7 Thursday night. Yet here the Senators are, alive and still skating with a chance to eliminate the deeper, more experienced and more explosive Stanley Cup champions.

So much for the series being over after the Penguins destroyed Ottawa 7-0 in Game 5.

"I think, if you believe you're beaten, you're done already," Anderson said. "If you believe that you can win, there's always a chance."

All the Senators have to do to reach the Stanley Cup Final for just the second time in franchise history is take down one of the league's marquee franchises on the road in a building where they were beaten by a touchdown last time out.

No pressure or anything. Really. The Senators weren't supposed to be here. Then again, in a way neither were the Penguins. No team has repeated in nearly two decades and at times during the season and even during the playoffs this group was too beat up. Too tired from last spring's Cup run. The bullseye on their backs too big.

Yet they've survived behind the brilliance of stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, coach Mike Sullivan's impeccable decisions and a resiliency that has them one game from being the first Cup champion to return to the finals since Detroit in 2009.

Those Red Wings, by the way, fell to the Penguins in seven games. There have been several Game 7s for Pittsburgh in the interim on both sides of the ledger, though the Penguins are 2-0 in Game 7s under Sullivan. They edged Tampa Bay in Game 7 of last year's East finals and clinically disposed of Presidents' Trophy winner Washington in Game 7 of the second round earlier this month (see full story).

Predators: Goalie Rinne on smothering run
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Knocking the smile off Pekka Rinne's face right now is nearly impossible.

The longest-tenured player with the Nashville Predators, the 34-year-old goaltender finally will play in his first Stanley Cup Final in his ninth full NHL season.

"As a player, I feel like I've had a fairly long career and never had this opportunity," Rinne said. "So very fortunate and really appreciate this opportunity. I guess as a player you just enjoy being in this position. Enjoy the chance that you get, and you put your body on the line every night and give everything you have."

Teammates call the 6-foot-5 Finn the backbone of the Predators, and he's probably the best goalie in the world at the moment. He handles the puck like an extra defenseman. He foils the dump-and-chase efforts of opponents. And, oh, is he good in front of the net, aggressive with forwards in the crease, seeing seemingly everything and occasionally making saves with a Dominik Hasek-like contortion.

Not only is Rinne a playoff-best 12-4, his .945 save percentage ranks third all-time for a single postseason behind a pair of Conn Smythe Trophy winners in Jean-Sebastien Giguere for Anaheim in 2003 and Jonathan Quick for Los Angeles in 2012, according to HockeyReference.com. Rinne's 1.70 goals-against average is 10th all-time for one postseason.

"What he does every night, you can't put into words," Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban said (see full story).

Blues: Sydor returns to Blues as assistant
ST. LOUIS -- Darryl Sydor has returned to the St. Louis Blues as an assistant coach under mentor Mike Yeo.

Sydor agreed to a three-year deal Wednesday.

The 45-year-old Sydor finished his 18-year NHL playing career with the Blues in 2009-10, then broke into coaching as Yeo's assistant the next season with the American Hockey League's Houston Aeros. Sydor went with Yeo to Minnesota and spent five years with the Wild before working as an assistant last season with the Blues' then-Chicago affiliate in the AHL.

Sydor was a defenseman for Los Angeles, Dallas, Columbus, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and St. Louis, winning Stanley Cup titles with Dallas and Tampa Bay.

Coyotes: Cunningham hired as pro scout
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Coyotes have hired Craig Cunningham as a pro scout and say he will assist with player development.

General manager John Chayka announced the two-year contract Wednesday that allows Cunningham to remain in hockey.

Cunningham collapsed on the ice with a cardiac disturbance prior to a game Nov. 19 while playing for the American Hockey League's Tucson Roadrunners and required emergency life-saving care. He had part of his left leg amputated and saw his playing career end.

But the 26-year-old who was captain of the Roadrunners last season says he's excited to start the next chapter of his hockey career in the Coyotes' front office. Chayka called Cunningham a "smart, hard-working player with an incredible passion for the game" that he believes will translate to his new job.

NHL Playoffs Senators battle past Penguins to force Game 7

NHL Playoffs Senators battle past Penguins to force Game 7

BOX SCORE

OTTAWA, Ontario -- Craig Anderson and the Ottawa Senators bounced back nicely two days after a blowout loss put them on the brink of elimination.

Anderson stopped 45 shots, Mike Hoffman scored the tiebreaking goal early in the third period and the Senators beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 Tuesday night to force a decisive Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The 36-year-old Anderson was coming off a pair of rough outings, including Sunday when he was pulled after yielding four goals in Ottawa's 7-0 loss in Game 5 at Pittsburgh.

"You can't change what happens in the past," said Anderson, who has credited work with a sports psychologist early in his career for helping him manage the mental side of the game. "From that moment on you have to look forward and get ready for the next one."

Hoffman fired a slap shot through traffic off a pass from Fredrik Claesson to put the Senators ahead at 1:34 of the third. Bobby Ryan also scored a rare power-play goal for Ottawa.

It was quite a response after the drubbing in the previous game.

"I think the biggest message for us was if somebody told us back in training camp in September that we'd have an opportunity to win Game 6 in the Eastern Conference final at home in front of our fans we would've taken it," Ryan said. "So let's not dwell, let's not kick ourselves and put our heads down. Let's embrace this opportunity to extend this for two more days together and go from there."

Evgeni Malkin gave Pittsburgh, vying for its second straight trip to the Stanley Cup Final, the lead early in the second period and Matt Murray finished with 28 saves.

"I thought we played a real good game," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "I thought we dominated zone time. We had lots of chances. We didn't score tonight. The puck didn't go in the net, but if we continue to play the game that way, then I believe we'll get the result."

Game 7 is Thursday night in Pittsburgh, with the winner advancing to face the Nashville Predators for the championship.

Ottawa was primarily looking for a return to structure in Game 6, beginning with a smoother start -- which they got. Notable in a scoreless opening period were two effective penalty kills, one of which saw Viktor Stalberg get the best opportunity short-handed.

Pittsburgh had four shots with the man advantage, but Anderson stopped them all. It was evident early that he had his game back in this one. He stopped Nick Bonino off a rebound in transition, Scott Wilson off a deflected shot by Phil Kessel, and Bonino again when Kyle Turris gave the puck away.

Anderson then stopped 22 of 23 shots in the second period.

"I think Anderson was the reason that they got this one, he played big for them," Murray said. "But in our room we just focus on what we need to do. We played really well, we just didn't get the bounces and weren't able to put one home."

Anderson's performance was a reminder for Senators coach Guy Boucher of why he took the job with Ottawa in the first place last May.

"I'll be honest with you, if I didn't have a No. 1 goalie, I didn't want the job," Boucher said. "I've lived it for quite a few years, and it's hell when you don't have it because everything you do turns to darkness, and there's nothing that really matters when you don't have a real No. 1 goaltender.

"It's like a quarterback in football and a pitcher in baseball, and we have it," Boucher added.

Murray was also sharp. The 22-year-old, who replaced Marc-Andre Fleury after Game 3, made maybe his finest save of the first on Derick Brassard, who found an open lane down the middle of the ice following a pass from Ryan.

The Penguins appeared to have opened the scoring just over three minutes into the second, but Trevor Daley was deemed to have interfered with Anderson following an Ottawa challenge.

Less than two minutes later though, Pittsburgh took the 1-0 lead anyway off a few moments of brilliance from Malkin. The playoff scoring leading (24 points) bounced off a check from Zack Smith behind the goal and after being stopped on his drive to the net, followed up with a nifty backhand rebound to beat Anderson.

It was the 153rd career playoff point in 142 games for Malkin -- three back of Sidney Crosby for second among active players behind Jaromir Jagr -- who had been jarring with Hoffman a few minutes earlier.

The Senators had little going until a lengthy 5-on-3 advantage for 1:24 just past the midway point of the period. The Ottawa power play, which had gone 0 for 29 in the previous 10 games, came through with Ryan ultimately wiring a one-timer short-side to tie the score.

It was the sixth goal and 15th point of the playoffs for Ryan, who is second on the Senators behind captain Erik Karlsson (16 points).