We’re truly in the home stretch of the season, as tonight’s Flyers-Blue Jackets game in Columbus is Philly’s 71st of the season. The Flyers have been officially eliminated for around a week now, but haven’t really played any meaningful games in months. At least they’ve been fairly interesting, though, for those of us still tuning in.
The Claude Giroux trade packaged some contracts with it that cleared up some spots for college draftees, who were promptly signed, inserted into the lineup, and last game hit the scoresheet for the first time. Noah Cates, a 23-year-old forward who just wrapped up a strong career with the University of Minnesota Duluth, scored his first career goal, and Ronnie Attard, a 23-year-old defenseman formerly of Western Michigan University, notched his first point on a deflection goal. Hopefully, Denver University forward and Hobey Baker nominee Bobby Brink is up next.
That, and the strong play of a few players who are supposed to be a part of the future like Kevin Hayes and Ivan Provorov, is just about all we’ve got to glom onto for these last dozen games. Hell, even the Flyers’ opponents besides maybe the Maple Leafs in two weeks don’t inspire much excitement—they’re all either non-playoff teams or playoff teams that I don’t want to have to root for the Flyers to lose to.
Tonight’s opponent, the Columbus Blue Jackets, falls into the former category. They’re currently sixth in the Metropolitan Division and just barely over the NHL’s version of .500. In a lot of ways, it’s a franchise whose recent trajectory has been similar to the Flyers: they were hopeful they could compete for a lot of the last half of the 2010s and even coming into this season, but have now missed the playoffs in consecutive years and don’t really have a lot of exciting pieces that point towards a brighter future.
The Flyers just lost to this same Blue Jackets team two days ago in what was actually one of their best outings in a very long time. They set their season high in shots with 49 and shot attempts with 78 but still lost 4-2. Honestly, a game where some important players look good, some shiny young players perform well, and the Flyers still lose is kind of the gold standard for games at this point. Maybe we’ll see that again tonight—although to be even more honest, I won’t be watching because I’ll be chaperoning prom. Enjoy the game, suckers!
Projected Flyers lines:
Joel Farabee—Morgan Frost—Cam Atkinson
James van Riemsdyk—Kevin Hayes—Owen Tippett
Noah Cates—Scott Laughton—Travis Konecny
Oskar Lindblom—Nate Thompson—Patrick Brown
Ivan Provorov—Cam York
Travis Sanheim—Rasmus Ristolainen
Keith Yandle—Ronnie Attard
Projected Blue Jackets lines:
Jakub Voráček—Jack Roslovic—Patrik Laine
Gustav Nyquist—Cole Sillinger—Emil Bemström
Justin Danforth—Sean Kuraly—Oliver Bjorkstrand
Eric Robinson—Brendan Gaunce—Carson Meyer
Zach Werenski—Andrew Peeke
Vladislav Gavrikov—Jake Bean
Jake Christiansen—Adam Boqvist
Keep an eye on:
- Ivan Provorov, the aforementioned partially rejuvenated defenseman who has been looking to bounce back to form for what feels like a few years now. In the last 10 games, Provorov may only have 3 points, but he’s put 34 shots on goal, including 18 in just the last 4 games. Most of this time has been spent alongside Cameron York, who, despite being born lefthanded, has magically been playing on the right side of the ice.
- Carson Meyer, who, thanks to a two-point night against the Flyers in his second career game, is now a career point-per-game player and has scored on his only career shot on net. I didn’t know who he was before Tuesday, and, to be honest, I still don’t really know who he is. But he looked pretty dangerous a few days ago and he’s playing the exact same team, albeit a different goalie.
- Morgan Frost, who has slowly been given a more prominent role in the lineup and on the top power-play unit and has been looking strong even without putting pucks in the net. He put 4 shots on goal against the Rangers over the weekend and 5 more on Elvis Merzļikins on Tuesday.
- Patrik Laine, who is quietly having a bounce back season in his first full year with the Blue Jackets. Laine has 52 points in 52 games, including 25 goals—a goal-scoring rate (.48 per game, 1.5 per 60 minutes) that is much closer to his first two seasons (.49 per game, 1.7 per 60 and .54 per game, 2.0 per 60) than the rest of his career. His shooting percentage of 16.3% is also his highest since he was a teenager.
- The Flyers’ most consistently paired defensemen this season have been Rasmus Ristolainen and Travis Sanheim. They’ve played over a thousand minutes together and have emerged as the only Flyers pair to break even in goals. The Flyers have scored 48 even-strength goals with both players on the ice and have allowed 47.
- There are 50 cities in North America with professional sports teams in at least one of the four major American sports leagues. Columbus is the second most recent city to join that list (after Las Vegas) and the fifth-largest city that only has one team (after Montreal, Vancouver, Orlando, and Portland).
- The Blue Jackets’ all-time career leaders lists are chock full of players who also suited up for the Flyers at some point: there’s obviously Cam Atkinson (2nd in games played, goals, points; 1st in hat tricks; and 4th in assists) and Jake Voracek (10th in assists) but there’s also R.J. Umberger (10th in games, 5th in goals, 6th in assists), Nikolai Zherdev (8th in power-play goals), Jody Shelley (2nd in PIMs), Scott Hartnell (9th in power-play goals, 2nd in shooting percentage, 4th in hat tricks), Derick Brassard (10th in power-play goals), Sergei Bobrovsky (1st in basically every goaltending category), and Steve Mason (2nd or 3rd in basically every goaltending category.
- At 1,036, Jake Voracek is fast approaching the most games in the NHL by a Columbus draft pick, although only 309 of them have been for the Blue Jackets. He is currently only behind Rick Nash’s 1,060 games.