Flyers-Blue Jackets: 5 things you need to know

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Flyers-Blue Jackets: 5 things you need to know

The Flyers (16-15-4) will wrap up their home-and-home series with the Blue Jackets (14-17-4) when the two teams square off Saturday evening.

Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. (CSN) at Nationwide Arena in Columbus.

Here are five things you need to know:

1. Nothin’ but a G thang
Is Claude Giroux finally on track? If Thursday’s dramatic 5-4 come-from-behind victory over the Blue Jackets was any indication, then it’s a safe bet to say yes.

The Flyers’ captain led a furious rally, assisting two goals and netting the game-tying and game-winning markers to cap an incredible third period for the orange and black. Giroux looked like the player we’ve grown accustomed to seeing over the past few seasons. He was intense, motivated and would not let the Flyers settle for a loss against a team right behind them in the standings.

Giroux’s four-point performance also inched him closer to a point-per-game pace this season as the centerman now has 30 points in 35 contests. He’s collected 10 of those points during his current five-game scoring streak in which he’s potted four goals and assisted six more.

Just a few weeks ago, the Flyers were relying on their third line for offense. It’s been a completely different story since head coach Craig Berube placed Michael Raffl on the top line with Jakub Voracek and Giroux against the Montreal Canadiens. The trio has combined for nine goals, 13 assists and a plus-18 rating in the past four games.

The play of Giroux and the top line has helped the Flyers get over the .500 mark and back into the playoff race in a very weak Metropolitan Division. Now it’s time for the club to carry over the momentum from Thursday’s game and put a serious run together. If they want that to happen they’ll need Giroux, who shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon, to continue to lead the charge.

2. Mediocre Mason?
It’s hard to imagine where the Flyers would be without goalie Steve Mason this season.

Mason, who has been the team’s most valuable player, got off to an incredible start but has struggled lately. After Thursday’s 5-4 win, the netminder has now allowed four goals in four of his past seven games (3-1-2).

Mason went around the room and thanked his teammates for bailing him out Thursday, but there have been numerous occasions this season where it should have been his teammates thanking him.

In 27 games played, Mason is 13-9-4 with a 2.40 goals-against average and .922 save percentage. There’s no need for him to put any pressure on himself.

Berube has yet to name a starter for Saturday’s game. If it’s Mason, it will be his first start in Columbus since he was dealt by the Blue Jackets to the Flyers last season.

3. Help is on the way
A pair of key players will return to the Blue Jackets’ lineup Saturday. Columbus activated sniper Marian Gaborik and hard-hitting defenseman James Wisniewski off injured reserve Friday afternoon.

Gaborik hasn't played since Nov. 14. He's been out with a knee injury. His return led Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards to switch up his forward lines at practice. Gaborik skated with Artem Anisimov and Nick Foligno, moving Matt Calvert onto Ryan Johansen’s line with R.J. Umberger.

Wisniewski, who has been out since Dec. 6 with an upper-body injury, split time on the third defensive pair with Nikita Nikitin and Tim Erixon.

4. Injuries
Although Columbus has two players returning Saturday, it remains a banged-up club.

Forwards Nathan Horton (shoulder), Cody Bass (thumb), Jared Boll (ankle) and Derek Mackenzie (lower body), defenseman Dalton Prout (upper body) and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky remain out for the Blue Jackets. Forward Jack Skille (hand) is questionable to play.

For the Flyers, Vinny Lecavalier (back) is still sidelined. He remains optimistic of returning for the post-Christmas trip to Western Canada. 

5. This and that
• Voracek has six goals and four assists during his current six-game scoring streak.

• Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson has three goals and three assists in his past five games.

• Giroux became the 31st Flyer in franchise history to score at least 100 goals with the team after registering two tallies Thursday.

• The Blue Jackets have a 91.7 percent penalty kill in December. The previous two months they were 79.1 percent.

• The Flyers are 0-2-2 in their last four games on the road.

Ron Hextall, Flyers follow through with wingers on Day 2 of NHL draft

Ron Hextall, Flyers follow through with wingers on Day 2 of NHL draft

CHICAGO — If the Flyers had somehow managed to finagle a third pick in the first round of the NHL draft on Friday night, they had a specific kid in mind.

Guelph left winger Isaac Ratcliffe.

"When you really like a guy, you go after him and that's what happened," general manager Ron Hextall said after trading up in the second round Saturday at United Center to draft the power forward (see story).

"He fits the organizational needs at left wing. Real good size. He plays hard and can score goals. He is really raw, at the front end of the process. Some are average and some on the back end of the process. He's got work to do. We like his upside."

The Flyers swapped their own second-round pick, plus two more (75th and 108th overall selections) with Arizona to move from 44th to 35th and select Ratcliffe (see Day 2 draft tracker).

"He is a prototypical power forward," Hextall said of the 18-year-old. "Didn't quite have the power down yet in terms of his body. He needs to put some weight on and add strength. Real excited about him."

The Flyers came into the draft with 11 picks and ended up with nine because of a couple deals. They finished with seven forwards (three left wingers), one D-man, a goalie, and have 10 picks already stockpiled for 2018, too.

Speaking of goalies, Hextall didn't foresee himself taking one early in the draft. Yet he did, selecting Russian Kirill Ustimenko at No. 80 in the third round.

"I'm not gonna chase a goalie," Hextall said days earlier.

Did he chase this kid? Well, Ustimenko, 18, was considered to be a possible sleeper. NHL Central Scouting had him ranked fifth internationally. The Flyers saw a lot of him overseas.

"We did not chase him," Hextall said. "We were surprised he fell there. We actually talked about him much earlier. Our guys really liked him and our comfort level was better than other teams."

The 6-foot-3, 187-pound Ustimenko catches left and had some impressive numbers in 27 games for MHK Dynamo St. Petersburg this season with a 1.74 goals-against average and .938 save percentage.

If you are keeping track, that's Anthony Stolarz, Carter Hart, Alex Lyon, Felix Sandstrom, Matej Tomek and now Ustimenko.

That's an enormous number of Flyers goalie prospects at this point.

Left winger Matthew Strome fell into their laps in the fourth round, where the Flyers had back-to-back picks at 106 and 107.

They took Strome (No. 106), the third brother in recent drafts, joining Dylan (2015 draft/Coyotes) and Ryan (2011/Islanders), who has played 258 games for New York.

"Call a spade a spade — his skating has to improve," Hextall said of Matthew. "We all know it. He's a good hockey player with good size. He makes plays, scores goals and knows how to play the game.

"He's got one deficiency there he can focus on and we like where we got him. It's up to Matthew to put the work in."

A 6-3, 207-pound left winger, Strome, 18, was projected to go in the second round. Upset?

"Not really," Strome replied. "Just being drafted and being one of the top 300 players or whatever it is, just to be honored, it's very special.

"I'm going to use it as motivation to prove people wrong. If people did think I slipped down, I'm gonna prove them wrong, that they made the wrong choice."

He said "all" the attention in his family has been on his brothers. Now it's his turn. His brothers helped prepare him for the moment.

"Entering my first OHL year, they told me there would be ups and downs and I would have to work through it," Strome said. "The past couple weeks, they told me, 'Enjoy the moment, it goes by fast.'

"Once it's over, you're on that team for three years and you've got to make [sure] that first impression on them is really good."

At No. 107, the Flyers tabbed 18-year-old Russian right winger Maksim Sushko (6-0/185), who last season played for Owen Sound (OHL), where he scored 17 goals with 32 points in 54 games. He spoke through an interpreter.

"I model my game after [Nikita] Kucherov of Tampa Bay," he said. "I like a physical style of play and give out assists. I'd like to become a better sniper."

In the fifth round, at No. 137, the Flyers tabbed 18-year-old left winger Noah Cates, from Stillwater High School in Minnesota.

He served as captain of his team and scored 20 goals with 65 points in 25 games last season and has committed to the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

In the sixth round, at No. 168, the Flyers chose smallish (5-10, 163) 17-year-old Swedish center Olle Lycksell, who played for Linkoping last season in the Super Elite League where he had nine points in 29 games.

"He's a hard worker who understands the game and has good hockey sense," Hextall said.

Hextall had two final picks in the seventh round.

At No. 196, the Flyers took their only defenseman in this draft, overage Wyatt Kalynuk, who is 6-2, 186 and 20 years old.

"Really good skater," Hextall said. "Good mobility and size, good puck skills. He's been through drafts and he's going to Wisconsin, which we really like. So we have four years with him."

Ironically, Hextall traded their final pick at No. 199 to Montreal for a seventh-round pick next year so the Canadiens could choose goalie Cayden Primeau, who happens to be Keith Primeau's son.

Habs GM Marc Bergevin called and asked for the pick.

"I thought he would go sooner than he did," Hextall said.

Ron Hextall doesn't make move for veteran goalie; Steve Mason 'still in the mix'

Ron Hextall doesn't make move for veteran goalie; Steve Mason 'still in the mix'

CHICAGO — While the Flyers picked up a young first-round centerman in Nolan Patrick — who many feel will be in their lineup this season — at this weekend's NHL draft, they returned home with one major dilemma unresolved.
 
They still don't have a veteran goalie to pair with Michal Neuvirth next season.
 
The draft is usually a pretty good place to piece together a deal for a goalie about to become a free agent or one already under contract who a team might be willing to move.
 
In the Flyers' case, general manager Ron Hextall said nothing came about. That might be because a couple of teams made some moves prior to the draft involving goalies and there doesn't seem to be a rush to fill the spots.
 
"I didn't expect to [do a deal]," Hextall said. "I would have liked to have it done a month ago. But I am not going to do something just for the sake of having something in place.
 
"We are going to do our due diligence. Sometimes you have to wait and sometimes it's part of the process to see what is out there. It's a high priority. We have to get something in place."
 
Three teams have three goalies — Arizona, Dallas and Carolina. And there are several in free agency.
 
Hextall likes to get a jump on free agency but …
 
"I don't know," he replied when asked if that is where he's headed.
 
Maybe a trade? Again, no commitment. Hextall said he's not worried.
 
"My comfort level is there are a number of goalies out there," Hextall said. "So, there's not six No. 1 spots out there and just one goalie. I have comfort in that.
 
"We are still doing our due diligence and in the end, it's probably going to come down to a guy we take and term and money. I might like this guy, but is he asking unreal term? We'll go somewhere else. I keep telling you, [Steve Mason] is still in the mix."
 
Like a lifeboat in the vast ocean.