Flyers-Blue Jackets: 5 things you need to know


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.

Best of NHL: Oilers blank Jets to win outdoor Heritage Classic

Best of NHL: Oilers blank Jets to win outdoor Heritage Classic

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Cam Talbot made 31 saves and Mark Letestu scored the first of three second-period goals, lifting the Edmonton Oilers over the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday in an outdoor game delayed almost two hours by sunlight melting the ice.

The Heritage Classic victory extended Edmonton's winning streak to three in front of 33,240 at Investors Group Field. Fans wore both Jets and Oilers jerseys to the league's 19th outdoor game.

Zack Kassian had a goal and an assist and Darnell Nurse also scored for Edmonton.

Connor Hellebuyck, who had a tuque attached to his helmet, stopped 29 shots for Winnipeg.

The NHL said the start of the Heritage Classic game was delayed "due to intermittent sunlight on the playing surface" and "in the interest of player safety." (see full recap)

Girardi leads Rangers past Coyotes
NEW YORK -- Dan Girardi scored 1:55 into the third period and New York beat Arizona.

Josh Jooris and J.T. Miller also scored for New York, which has won consecutive games to improve to 4-2-0. Henrik Lundqvist made 27 stops.

Radim Vrbata had both of Arizona's goals, and Louis Domingue made 23 saves. The Coyotes have lost their first four games on a six-game trip since beating Philadelphia in overtime at home to start the season.

Girardi put the Rangers ahead with a slap shot from the right point. The veteran was paired with rookie Brady Skjei in his first game after missing New York's previous three with a strained groin, and Skjei assisted on the goal (see full recap).

Tavares' big night helps Isles defeat Wild
NEW YORK -- John Tavares had two goals and an assist, Johnny Boychuk scored for the second straight game and New York beat Minnesota.

Calvin de Haan, Alan Quine and Thomas Hickey also scored to help New York get its highest scoring total of the year and win for the third time in four home games after opening with two road losses. Thomas Greiss stopped 26 shots for his first win in two starts this season.

Islanders rookie Anthony Beauvillier had two assists, giving the 19-year-old at least a point in three straight games.

Zach Parise scored twice for Minnesota to top 300 goals for his career, and Nino Niederreiter also scored. Second-string goalie Darcy Kuemper made 27 saves (see full recap).

Ducks hand Canucks 1st regulation loss
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) -- Nick Ritchie scored the tiebreaking goal on a rebound with 8:36 to play, captain Ryan Getzlaf had three assists and Anaheim finally opened its home schedule with a victory over Vancouver.

Andrew Cogliano, Cam Fowler and Corey Perry also scored for the Ducks, who have won two straight after a four-game winless start. John Gibson made 17 saves in the Western Conference's final home opener, thanks to a schedule that forced Anaheim to play in five teams' home debuts this month.

Henrik Sedin scored the tying goal early in the third period for the Canucks, who lost in regulation for the first time this season. Bo Horvat scored a short-handed goal, and Loui Eriksson had two assists (see full recap).

Michael Del Zotto, Scott Laughton return to practice

Michael Del Zotto, Scott Laughton return to practice

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers welcomed two more players out on to the rink for their practice following Saturday’s 6-3 win over Carolina. 

Michael Del Zotto (lower body) and Scott Laughton (lower body) returned to the ice for the first time since suffering injuries within days of each other. Before Sunday’s light practice, Del Zotto and Laughton had skated two consecutive days prior to work on their conditioning. 

“It’s nice to see them back with the group,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. 

Laughton, who injured himself during a training camp practice after losing an edge, was a bit more forward than Del Zotto on when he hopes to return. 

“I would say within the next five to seven days,” Laughton said.

The 22-year-old pointed to Saturday’s game with Pittsburgh as his target to return. 

As for Del Zotto, the defenseman didn’t want to jinx anything, saying it’s a “day-by-day” situation. He would like to think he’s working on the same timetable as Laughton. If that’s the case, he would be back either a few days before or right on cue with the projected four to five weeks he was scheduled to miss after suffering an injury to his left knee in the preseason against the New York Rangers on Oct. 6. 

“It’s kind of trial and error,” Del Zotto said. 

Above all else, though, the two were just happy to be back with their teammates. Del Zotto said that being around everyone really rejuvenated his spirits. 

“Just being back around the guys and having that team chemistry and camaraderie and being able to joke with the guys,” Del Zotto said, “it’s probably been the best thing for me.”

This past month has especially been hard on the two because of the timing and how last season ended for them. 

While there’s never an ideal time to suffer an injury, the pair saw training camp and the approaching start of the regular season in a different light than most of their teammates.

It was supposed to be their new start. Last season, Del Zotto missed the final few months, including the postseason, after ligament damage to his left wrist. He was having a strong preseason, arguably the top defenseman in camp at the time before suffering his setback.

“Being out so long last year and having to sit and watch playoffs than having six months of grueling rehab to get back into it … that made it sting that much more,” Del Zotto said. “That’s part of the game. It’s a contact sport. I signed up for this.”

The same can be said for Laughton, who experienced a scary injury in Game 4 against Washington after being dumped head first into the boards. 

“I was really excited to have camp and start the year here,” Laughton said. 

The two will be traveling to Montreal with the rest of the Flyers for Monday’s contest. They will each do the morning skate with another bag skate afterward.