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.

Flyers' poor division record biggest factor in being out of playoff picture

Flyers' poor division record biggest factor in being out of playoff picture

PITTSBURGH -- There's a bit of tragic irony to how the Flyers' season will end over the next two-plus weeks.
 
They have seven games left on the schedule. Six of them are teams residing in the Metro Division. Tuesday's opponent, Ottawa, is the lone exception.
 
There are so many reasons why the Flyers are scrambling now, clinging to the desperate belief they can still make the playoffs -- mathematically, they're alive -- against all rational thought.
 
They're six points behind Boston for the second wild-card spot, but they still have to hurdle Carolina, Tampa Bay and the Islanders just to get to Boston.
 
Yet one major reason for the Flyers' dilemma seems pretty obvious: They've been simply awful in head-to-head play against their own division.
 
The Flyers have a winning record against both divisions in the Western Conference.
 
That's not the case, however, in the East where the Metro Division is the only division with three teams over 100 points and where the Flyers have failed miserably to challenge from within.
 
Sunday's 6-2 rout of the Penguins in Pittsburgh left the Flyers with a poor 9-13-2 record against the Metro. It's the only division they have a losing record against.
 
Last season, Dave Hakstol's group finished 14-10-6 against their own division. That was a critical factor in enabling the Flyers to make the playoffs.
 
"We know where we are in the standings and it's not going to be easy to make the playoffs," Jakub Voracek said. "We all know that. We have to work off results of the other teams and try to play relaxed and loose."
 
Against the Eastern Conference overall, the Flyers are close to .500 (21-22-4) yet realize they should be better.
 
These two records represent a very large reason why the Flyers are sitting on the outside looking in as the playoffs near.
 
Right now, at least four clubs from the Metro -- half the division -- will make the playoffs. That says a lot about why games within your section are so pivotal at season's end.
 
"The numbers don't lie," Hakstol admitted on Sunday. "It's a tough road every single night. You've got to do a good job within your division, within your conference.
 
"We've played a lot of tight, hard games. The reality is, we're a number of points out of the playoffs and those points within your division are very valuable."
 
It's something the Flyers have to greatly improve upon next season if they want to be sitting in a playoff spot a month before the season ends instead of playing catch-up when the odds are hopelessly against them.
 
Pens killers
Every team in the NHL has a couple players who have fairly impressive career numbers against other teams.
 
Voracek averages better than a point against the Penguins. His goal Sunday gave him 17 goals and 34 points in 32 career games against Pittsburgh.
 
Voracek admitted after the game he's not sure why.
 
Claude Giroux also has excellent numbers against the Pens -- his two assists in the win left the Flyers' captain with 41 points (14 goals) in 40 career games vs. Pittsburgh.
 
Shayne Gostisbehere has been around a fraction as long as either Giroux or Voracek -- eight career games vs. the Pens -- yet has two goals and nine points in those games.
 
Brayden Schenn doesn't average a point a game against the Pens, but he's close. His assist on Sunday left the winger/center with 20 points (8 goals) in 26 games.
 
The only Flyer who has solid numbers against Pittsburgh and didn't make Sunday's score sheet was Wayne Simmonds. He has 23 points in 28 games. 

Dave Hakstol: Travis Konecny on 4th line 'makes sense in a lot of respects'

Dave Hakstol: Travis Konecny on 4th line 'makes sense in a lot of respects'

PITTSBURGH -- The curious line juggling of Travis Konecny continued Sunday night.

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol again started Konecny on Pierre-Edouard Bellemare's fourth line with Chris VandeVelde, but just as he did in Columbus, Hakstol moved the rookie around.

This was Konecny's third straight game off Valtteri Filppula's unit with Jakub Voracek at the start. The obvious message to Konecny seems to be: Get yourself into a more defensive-minded role early and then let the offense come to you.

Konecny has made some defensive strides.

"It makes sense in a lot of respects," Hakstol said of the move to Bellemare's unit. "He's playing with two players with a lot of structure. He excels in that type of setting.

"If you look at [Saturday], he can bounce around the lineup with different lines and we used him that way. He didn't just play with his two linemates. He moved around a little bit. He's very effective in that role when we're able to get him out there. He gives us a good boost, a good push."

Against Columbus on Saturday, Konecny played on two units with Sean Couturier -- one featuring Jordan Weal and the other, Dale Weise. He also played a few shifts with Filppula and Wayne Simmonds.

The same thing happened Sunday in the Flyers' 6-2 rout of the Penguins (see game story). Konecny finished with an assist and plus-1 in just 8:02. He is one of the very, very few Flyers who is an even. Most are minus.

Konecny, who just turned 20, and Weal, 24, gave the Flyers a lift on Sunday. Weal had a goal and an assist in 13:06.

"No matter who it is contributing, everyone is excited for everybody," Konecny said. "A lot of guys put up some numbers tonight and contributed. It was a good team effort. That's what we want to see."
 
The Flyers were so relaxed it makes you wonder if the pressure of trying to make the playoffs is gone because their odds are so stacked against them.
 
"We’re at that point where you just need to win and just show up," Konecny said. "There's nerves in the back of your mind. We're pretty loose and trying to enjoy it as much as we can going through a stressful time.
 
"We've handled it well. We played a good team, we knew they would push but we pushed harder."
 
Konecny said he's not fazed by the different line combinations he's a part of, often in the same period.
 
"It's not too bad," he said. "I kind of expected it going into a game. I know when I am playing with Belly and Vandy that throughout the game, there's going to be times like penalty kills come up and he'll fill me in with another line.
 
"At the start of the third [tonight], I filled in another line. I know it's going to come. I just expect it. I've played with pretty much everybody on the team. I'm comfortable out there."
 
Loose pucks
The six goals on the road against Pittsburgh last happened on Feb. 20, 2013, when the Flyers won, 6-5. ... Sunday was the Flyers' largest margin of victory in Pittsburgh since March 31, 2003, when they beat the Penguins, 6-1, at Mellon Arena. ... Weal picked up the second two-point game of his career -- both of which have taken place this month. ... Weise has three goals in his last seven games. ... Claude Giroux had two assists, and now has two goals and eight assists for 10 points in 13 games this month.