Over the past two and a half years, the two teams that will face each other tonight in the Wells Fargo Center have become about as familiar and intertwined with each other as two teams that only actually played against each other once in that time frame possibly can. The Blue Jackets have been the Flyers' most frequent trade partner over the past few years, and we've seen the storylines from those trades develop in quite a few different directions.
As fate would have it, tonight only one side will really be showcasing the products of its trades in the past few seasons. Lucky for us, our side will have that privilege.
Columbus Blue Jackets (14-16-4, 32 pts) at Philadelphia Flyers (15-15-4, 34 pts)
7 p.m. | Wells Fargo Center | South Philadelphia
TV: CSN Philly, FS Ohio | Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic
Get the Columbus perspective at The Cannon
Yes, the matchup that was more or less pegged in the offseason when the schedule came out as "Sergei Bobrovsky returns to Philadelphia and laughs at Steve Mason and the Flyers" has been shelved, for a couple of reasons. Not just because Mason's mostly been good this year, but sadly also because our old friend Bob -- the reigning Vezina Trophy winner who's had a slightly less impressive time in his second season with the Jackets -- has been recovering from a groin injury in December. 'Tis a shame.
But in seriousness, with Bob on the shelf, it's no secret that the big storyline for tonight will be Steve Mason and his .924 save percentage facing off -- for the first time -- against the franchise that drafted him, brought him up to the NHL, saw him succeed for a year, gave him a chance to be the #1 guy, saw him fail spectacularly for a while, gave up on him, traded for his replacement, saw his replacement flourish, and exiled him to Philadelphia, where he's now trying to get things back together. (Did I miss anything in there?)
It's a big game for Mason, who's in the midst of his first real stretch of struggles (stretching over his last five starts) as a Flyers goalie. He played a decent game on Tuesday night against the Capitals, letting in one bad goal early but making a few nice saves as the game went on. Despite his struggles in December, he's largely been a good goalie and the Flyers' best player since they acquired him last April. You figure he wants to show that to his old team that it isn't a fluke and that he's still got it (as you can imagine, they're skeptical about that), so it's a big test in what is (for him, at least) a high-profile game.
That said, Mason having a good game won't be easy. The Jackets, against all odds with the injuries they have (they're still waiting for prized free agent acquisition Nathan Horton to make his season debut), have been lighting the lamp a fair bit of late. They've scored four or more goals in four of their seven December games after a rough start to the season offensively.
Mason's got to make the stops on his old teammates, but the Flyers will have to do their job as a whole to keep things from getting to him. Hopefully they're up to it -- with the exception of ten minutes or so in D.C. on Sunday afternoon, the Flyers' defense has done a pretty good job in its past few games. Continuing that against a relatively hot offensive team would be nice.
And meanwhile, the Flyers have also been getting offensive help lately, too. Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek (another former Blue Jacket who's come into his own since the last time these two teams met) have looked more like their selves of recent years in the past few games, especially since Michael Raffl was moved up to their line. The third line, led by Matt Read and Sean Couturier (who was technically not ever a Blue Jacket, but we got him with their pick from the Jeff Carter trade, so he kinda counts, right?), has scored in two straight games while winning the territorial battle as it often does.
Even the second line, with recently-injured Brayden Schenn, has been looking alright and had a very good game on Tuesday before Schenn got violently pasted into a wall by Tom Wilson. Things have been looking better up front lately, and it's on them to keep that up against a team with a pretty respectable defense group that's also been getting pretty good goaltending lately from Bobrovsky's reinforcements.
No guesses at the lineup just yet because we don't quite know what Schenn's status is (ignoring the fact that the possibility that he might play in this game, while allegedly not even being tested for a concussion on Tuesday night, is beyond ridiculous). The lines might get a bit messy if he's out.
The aforementioned Steve Mason and Curtis McElhinney will be your starters in net. Game thread up around 5. Go Flyers.