For the second time in less than a week, it’s the Flyers and the Blue Jackets, but this time the Flyers will play host in a key matchup between two clubs presently in playoff position in the crowded Eastern Conference.
Back on February 16, the Flyers picked up an overtime win and two big points in Columbus thanks to a Sean Couturier goal. Since then the Flyers have picked up two wins and moved into the third position in the Metropolitan, while the Blue Jackets split games with Pittsburgh and New Jersey to move into the second and last wild card spot.
Though the Flyers find themselves seven points clear of Columbus and the final playoff spot, they also have tiebreakers in the form of regulation plus overtime wins over both the Blue Jackets and Devils.
Jake Voracek, who scored twice in the win over the Canadiens on Tuesday, said postgame that the Flyers weren’t just concerned with their third-place standing but were aiming towards the top of the division. Washington leads the Metro with 75 points with the Penguins at 74 points (with one more game played) and then the Flyers with 72 points. As it stands, the Flyers would be staring a first-round matchup with Pittsburgh in the face.
Maybe the Flyers will continue to roll and leap all the way to the top of the division, as Voracek hinted the goal is. If that’s indeed the case, the Flyers will need points from this game against a somewhat disappointing but dangerous Blue Jackets club.
Sergei Bobrovsky is always an x-factor for Columbus, and was outstanding in the last matchup, looking impressive in stopping 23 of 25 shots to nearly steal the Blue Jackets a win. There’s also Artemi Panarin, who probably should have scored at least a goal of two in the last game and is a threat to find the back of the net anytime he’s on the ice.
Despite a talented roster, the Blue Jackets are 28th in scoring and have the 31st-ranked power play and 27th-ranked penalty kill. Last time around the Blue Jackets were shorthanded just once, and they might not be so lucky this time around with the Flyers’ ever-clinical sixth-ranked power play lurking.
In goal, the Flyers will turn to Petr Mrazek to make his first start in the Orange and Black. Acquired for a conditional third-round pick and a conditional fourth-round pick on Monday night, Mrazek will be counted on to keep the Flyers in playoff positioning down the stretch with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth both on the injured list.
Mrazek was 8-7-3 with a 2.89 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage in 22 games for the Red Wings prior to his arrival in Philadelphia. The 26-year-old is 1-3-1 with a 2.79 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage in five career games against Columbus.
In the other cage, Bobrovsky’s numbers against the Flyers are well-documented, and super-good. He’s 9-2-1 with a 1.81 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage to go along with two shutouts against his former team. The good news is that he has lost two of his last three starts against the Flyers, but has given up just seven goals in those three games.
Broad Street discipline
The Flyers haven’t taken a penalty in three full games, and sure enough that ties an NHL record. Given the Flyers’ history as a rough and tumble franchise, holding onto this record is cool and ironic a the same time.
But on the ice, this more disciplined version of the Flyers has kept the NHL’s 28th-ranked penalty kill off the ice and helped the club pick up all six possible points in that span. Coach Dave Hakstol’s bunch is solid just about everywhere but on the penalty kill, and while they won’t be angels every game, they significantly improve their chances of winning by simply playing a disciplined game and avoiding their glaring weakness at the moment.
The Lindblom effect
All Oskar Lindblom did in his NHL debut on Tuesday was lead the Flyers with a Corsi For percentage of 72%. He registered one official shot on goal, but had two missed shots included a real nice scoring chance in close on Carey Price that he just couldn’t get a quality shot off on.
He was strong along the walls, sound defensively and got work on the second power play unit with Nolan Patrick jumping onto the first unit to take the place of the injured Wayne Simmonds. Hakstol had Lindblom on a regular 5-on-5 line with Scott Laughton and Michael Raffl, a line that saw all three guys with at least a Corsi For of 60% or better.
Lindblom excelled in the Swedish Elite League a year ago and transitioned well to the AHL game this year, but was always built for an NHL spot. With Wayne Simmonds on the shelf for a couple of weeks, the rookie has a chance to prove he belongs as a regular on the NHL roster.
Claude Giroux has eight points (three goals, five assists) in his last five games to pace the Flyers, but Travis Konecny (who may not play tonight after injuring his foot on Tuesday against Montreal) isn’t far behind with seven points (two goals, five assists) in that same span. Sean Couturier has points in three straight games, as does rookie Nolan Patrick. Jake Voracek also broke out of a mini-slump with a three-point night against the Canadiens.
It’s important that the Flyers’ top guns are clicking right now given that Wayne Simmonds now finds himself out at least a couple weeks in the midst of a playoff race. Simmonds has 20 goals, and is an integral part of the Flyers’ top power play unit and a unique player to try and replace in the lineup.
Lindblom is a promising but still unproven commodity that isn’t likely to replicate Simmonds’ production right away, so the Flyers will continue to lean on their top guns to keep the scoring pace up until No. 17 returns.
Flyers’ (subject to change) lineup:
Giroux - Couturier - Konecny
Weal - Patrick - Voracek
Lindblom - Laughton - Raffl
Lehtera - Filppula - Weise
Provorov - Gostisbehere
Hagg - MacDonald
Manning - Gudas