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.

Flyers in familiar spot in standings as critical games before break await

Flyers in familiar spot in standings as critical games before break await

While many people believe the Flyers are in far better shape right now than where they were a year ago, the fact is, they are pretty much the same.
 
After 48 games played, the Flyers have the same number of points now as they did last season – 52.
 
The critical difference – and this is why fans say they’re better off – is that a year ago at this juncture, the Flyers were five points behind Pittsburgh in the wild-card chase.
 
Right now, they own the second wild-card spot, but there are five teams behind them within four points or less of catching them, two of which have games in hand.
 
Earlier this week, Toronto was ahead of them and the Maple Leafs have three games in hand, which makes Thursday’s showdown against the upstart Leafs at Wells Fargo Center a very critical game.
 
That game represents the back end of the Flyers' 13th back-to-back set, which starts Wednesday with a date at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers.
 
If ever two games in a short week prior to the All-Star break were of prime significance, these next two seem to qualify.
 
“A hundred percent,” said Jakub Voracek, the Flyers' leading scorer with 42 points. “It’s the same for every game. Practice and come to the rink with a win in your head.”
 
To a man, the Flyers go into the nationally televised showdown with the Rangers feeling great about themselves because of the extraordinary effort they showed in Sunday’s 3-2 comeback victory against the Islanders in OT.
 
“I felt like we won the Stanley Cup with that overtime goal,” Voracek kidded. “That’s how happy we were. There was a lot of relief. Now we have to keep going.”
 
Just five points separate nine teams from the second wild-card position right now. The Eastern Conference is just as tight as it’s always been. Within the Metropolitan Division, just five points separate the Flyers from the three times tied for last in the conference - the Islanders, Sabres and Lightning.  
 
“It’s been that way,” said coach Dave Hakstol. “Right from the drop of the puck in October, it was going to be a battle. You can’t get too distracted by it. You worry about the job in hand and that’s tomorrow.”
 
The focus this week is rather narrow: two games left before the All-Star break begins on Friday.
 
“Yeah, both these games have implications directed to us in the standings,” said goalie Steve Mason, who will start against the Rangers. “Both being Eastern Conference teams and they are right with one another.
 
“We have to have a short mindset. We have the Rangers and that’s going to be a tough game going into MSG. Once that game is over, we focus on the Leafs.”
 
The Rangers have beaten the Flyers twice this season already – both in South Philly. While the games were mostly competitive, there remains a huge disparity in one critical area for both teams this season: goal differential.
 
The Rangers have a plus-40 differential while the Flyers check in at minus-18. As poor as Henrik Lundqvist (2.75 goals against average) has been this season – although his recent performances are trending upward – he still owns the Flyers.
 
In his last 15 games against the Flyers, going back to Jan. 1, 2013, Lundqvist is 11-3-0 with a 1.91 GAA and .938 save percentage.
 
“This is huge, especially in MSG,” Voracek said. “We lost two games in a row to them at home. Hopefully, we get points.”
 
In his last three starts this month, Lundqvist is 3-0, with a 1.32 GAA and .952 save percentage. In other words, the “old” King Henrik appears to have regained his throne just in time to face the Flyers.
 
“Their goaltender has been outstanding over this past stretch for them,” Hakstol said. “Their team is playing well.
 
“We have to worry more about our team. We’re not going to control what their side is going to do. We can control what we do.”

By the numbers: Inside the Flyers' maddening inconsistency

By the numbers: Inside the Flyers' maddening inconsistency

VOORHEES, N.J. — As the Flyers go into the final two games of the schedule before the All-Star break Wednesday night at MSG against the New York Rangers and Thursday night at home against the upstart Toronto Maple Leafs, here are some rather stunning numbers to consider.
 
Most glaring is the Flyers' power play, which is 0 for 14 over the last three games. The power play hit its season high in December as No. 1 in the NHL. It has since dropped to 10th.

Tuesday morning at practice, Claude Giroux and power-play coach Joey Mullen worked on some strategy on the chalk board at Skate Zone.
 
“The power play, we’re kind of a streaky team,” Giroux said. “When we start scoring, we begin believing more in what we do. We just hesitate a bit too much.
 
“We have all the tools. The power play has won us some games and lost us some games. It’s important that we stick with it. We know it can help us. We can’t get discouraged.”
 
0: The number of Flyers who are on the plus side of the ledger when it comes to plus/minus
 
3.06: The Flyers' goals-against average
 
3-10: Flyers' record in three-goal games
 
5 for 25: Flyers' power play in January so far
 
5-6-1: Flyers' record vs. Metropolitan Division
 
10-6: Flyers' overtime record
 
-18: Shayne Gostisbehere’s plus/minus this season
 
11: Brayden Schenn’s power-play goals total — first in NHL
 
21: Claude Giroux’s power-play points total — first in NHL
 
42: Jakub Voracek’s point total
 
102: Flyers 5-on-5 goals against total — 29th in NHL