GAME 61: FLYERS @ BLUE JACKETS
In the second half of a crucial home-and-home set, Alain Vigneault's Philadelphia Flyers (33-20-7 overall, 13-15-3 away) are in Ohio to play John Tortorella's Columbus Blue Jackets (30-19-12 overall, 18-11-3 home) on Thursday night. Game time at Nationwide Arena is 7:00 p.m. ET.
The game will be televised on NBCSP. The radio broadcast will be on 97.5 The Fanatic with an online simulcast on the Flyers Radio 24/7
component of the Flyers Broadcast Network. Additionally, there will be a live watch party at the IceWorks in Aston, featuring Flyers Alumni team players and members of the Flyers Warriors. There is no cover charge to attend. The event is part of the Flyers' Hockey Week Across Philadelphia celebration.
This is the third of four meetings this season between the teams, and the second and final game in Columbus. The Flyers are 3-0-0 against the Blue Jackets this season, including a 5-1 decision at the Wells Fargo Center
two nights ago.
Kevin Hayes (18th of the season) and Sean Couturier (18th) got the Flyers off to a quick 2-0 lead. Phil Myers (4th) opened a 3-0 lead in the second period before Oliver Björkstrand (20th) got a goal back on a power play to cut the gap to 3-1. A tip-in by Travis Konecny (20th) a tic-tac-toe Jakub Voracek power play goal (12th) rounded out the scoring in the third period. A would-be Ivan Provorov goal in the first period was wiped out for goaltender interference by Joel Farabee after a coach's challenge by Tortorella.
Carter Hart earned Tuesday's win for the Flyers. He stopped 28 of 29 shots. Blue Jackets starter Elvis Merzlikins stopped just eight of 12 shots before he was pulled at 3:40 of the third period. Countryman Matiss Kivlenieks went the rest of the way, stopping one of two shots.
The Flyers, Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes were all idle on Wednesday night. The three teams received good news on the scoreboard, however, as the New York Islanders sustained a 3-1 road loss to the Colorado Avalanche for New York's fourth straight loss.
Entering Thursday, the battle for playoff spots among these teams shapes up as follows (determinining factor in bold):
Metro 3rd Place -- Flyers (60 GP, 73 PTS
, 24 RW, 28 ROW)
Upper Wildcard -- Carolina (59 GP, 72 PTS, 24 RW
, 29 ROW)
Lower Widcard -- Islanders (59 GP
, 72 PTS, 22 ROW, 30 ROW)
Out of Playoffs -- Columbus (61 GP
, 72 PTS, 23 RW, 30 ROW)
The Hurricanes are idle again on Thursday, and then will play back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday. The Islanders, idle on Thursday, will look to snap their losing streak when they host the Detroit Red Wings on Friday.
The Flyers did not practice on Wednesday before departing for Columbus. The team recalled defenseman Mark Friedman from the AHL's Lehigh Valley Phantoms. With several different Flyers defensemen banged up to varying degrees (Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim and possibly Phil Myers), it is unclear as of this writing whether the recall was made as a precaution or if someone's availability is questionable for the rematch with the Blue Jackets.
UPDATE: Justin Braun is out with the flu. Friedman will start.
This will become a little clearer after the Flyers hold their morning skate at Nationwide Arena. So, too, will the identity of Thursday's starting goaltender. Will it be Hart, who has started four of the last five games and three in a row? Or will it be Brian Elliott, who was the winning goalie in each of Philadelphia's first two victories this season over Columbus?
Shayne Gostisbehere (injection to deal with post-surgical knee discomfort after Jan. 14 arthroscopic surgery) is still not quite ready to play. He has said that he's agreeable to a brief conditioning assignment with the Phantoms before his next NHL game. Update: The assigment is now official.
Nolan Patrick (LTIR, migraine disorder) is skating daily and traveling with the team but has not yet been cleared for contact.
To a man, the Flyers were pleased by their defensive performance in the first 28+ minutes of Tuesday's game. However, they were not happy with generating just 15 shots on goal for the entire game -- there was siginficant puck luck involved in three of the Flyers' five goals that counted toward the final score -- and they also weren't happy with the number of times that Hart had to bail them out when hemmed in over the latter 32 minutes of the game.
BLUE JACKETS OUTLOOK
Before being decimated by key injuries, the Blue Jackets had been one of the hottest teams in the NHL over the course of roughly two months. They have struggled of late, however, going winless in their last six games (0-3-3).
With every other Metro team that is in the thick of the playoff chase currently holding 1-3 games in hand on the Blue Jackets after Thursday, it is crucial for Tortorella's team to defeat the Flyers. A second straight regulation loss this week to the Flyers wouldn't be fatal but it would put Columbus three points off the pace behind the Flyers and vulnerable to their other two Metro rivals shooting past them in points if they can win their games in hand.
Merzlikins, a rookie standout this season, had a rough night on Tuesday. He was victimized by a couple bad bounces that were beyond his control -- including a Kevin Hayes goal that bounced off Andrew Peeke's skate then off the back of the goalie's mask -- but was not sharp in general. Merzlikins was very deep in his net and seemed vulnerable, turning some routine saves into adventures. He caught a break on the disallowed goal, because there was no chance of him making a save even without the bump from Farabee.
Goalie Joonas Korpisalo, out since Dec. 28 with a knee injury, has been cleared for an AHL conditioning assigment to the Cleveland Monsters before returning to the Blue Jackets.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS (subject to change, will be updated)
28 Claude Giroux - 14 Sean Couturier - 93 Jakub Voracek
49 Joel Farabee - 13 Kevin Hayes - 11 Travis Konecny
25 James van Riemsdyk - 21 Scott Laughton - 18 Tyler Pitlick
12 Michael Raffl - 82 Connor Bunnaman - 62 Nicolas Aube-Kubel
9 Ivan Provorov - 15 Matt Niskanen
6 Travis Sanheim -5 Phil Myers
8 Robert Hägg - 59 Mark Friedman
37 Brian Elliott
[79 Carter Hart]
Power Play 1: Giroux, Couturier, Konecny, Voracek, Provorov.
Power Play 2: JVR, Hayes, Farabee, Sanheim, Niskanen.
Scratches: 53 Shayne Gostisbehere (AHL conditioning assigment), 61 Justin Braun (flu).
LTIR: 55 Sam Morin (torn ACL, out for season), 23 Oskar Lindblom (Ewing sarcoma, out for season), 19 Nolan Patrick (migraines).
14 Gustav Nyquist - 11 Kevin Stenlund - 52 Emil Bemström
24 Nathan Gerbe - 38 Boone Jenner - 71 Nick Foligno
22 Sonny Milano - 18 Pierre-Luc Dubois - 28 Oliver Björkstrand
50 Eric Robinson - 28 Riley Nash - 50 Jakob Lilja
8 Zach Werenski - 65 Markus Nutivaara
44 Vladislav Gavrikov - 58 David Savard
4 Scott Harrington - 2 Andrew Peake
90 Elvis Merzlikins
[80 Matīss Kivlenieks]
Power Play 1: Foligno, Dubois, Björkstrand, Bemström, Werenski
Power Play 2: Nyquist, Jenner, Milano, Stenlund, Nutivaara
Scratches: 53 Gabriel Carlsson (healthy), 70 Joonas Korpisalo (AHL conditioning assigments).
IR: 3 Seth Jones (ankle surgery on Feb. 9, out 8-to-10 weeks), 10 Alexander Wennberg (upper body, Feb. 1, out 3-4 weeks), 13 Cam Atkinson (sprained ankle on Feb. 9, out 2-to-3 weeks), 17 Brandon Dubinsky (wrist, Sep. 24), 27 Ryan Murray (upper body, Dec. 13), 42 Alexandre Texier (lumbar stress fracture, Dec. 31), 46 Dean Kukan (torn knee meniscus, Jan. 2), 77 Josh Anderson (shoulder, Dec. 13).
PHANTOMS OUTSCORE PROVIDENCE, 8-5
It was more of a 5-on-5 shinny match than a typical hockey game but the Lehigh Valley Phantoms came out on the winning side of a wild 8-5 match against the host Bridgeport Sound Tigers at Webster Bank Arena on Thursday night.
There were scoring chances and turnovers galore on both sides during the game. Both starting goalies were pulled -- in the case of the Phantoms' Alex Lyon, after just 3:54 of the first period and two goals against on three shots -- and all four goalies yielded at least one fluky goal and/or one that would generally be stopped. There was very little physicality to the game, as reflected by the fact that only two minor penalties (both on Lehigh Valley) were called the entire game and one was an accidental trip.
Moreover, the whole scene unfolded in a nearly empty arena. Even by midweek AHL standards, Wednesday's game was sparsely attended in Bridgeport. The arena holds roughly 10,000 spectactors and the announced attendance was 1,817.
For the Phantoms, Carsen Twarynski (3rd and 4th) scored back-to-back goals in the second period as Lehigh Valley built was seemed at the time to be a commanding 5-2 lead that soon quickly dwindled to 5-4 before Lehigh Valley temporarily restored some breathing room. The outcome was actually in doubt until late, with Bridgeport trailing by a goal (6-5) and threatening to tie it up. Finally, Andy Welinski (8th) fired the puck through a Twarynski screen to restore a two-goal lead, and then Andy Andreoff (8th) scored a long-distance empty net goal to seal the 8-5 final.
Back in the first period, David Kase (6th) stepped out of the corner and beat Bridgeport starter Christopher Gibson (10 saves on 13 shots) for a 1-0 lead just 78 seconds into the game. Welinski earned a primary assist. The Sound Tigers answered back quickly with goals spaced 19 seconds apart. Lyon was beaten on a stoppable power play goal by Otto Koivula (9th) and then a fluky even strength goal by Grant Hutton (6th) at 3:54.
That ended Lyon's night in a hurry. Head coach Scott Gordon sent in J-F Berube, who went the rest of the way in stopping 32 of 35 shots. Berube had the best night of the four goalies who appeared. He made numerous tough saves, erasing turnovers. However, Berube also gave up a bank shot goal that he'd have liked back, and which was a momentum creator for Bridgeport at the time.
Greg Carey scored twice for the Phantoms (14th and 15th) off plays created by Cal O'Reilly (20th and 21st assists). The first, at 8:38 of the first period, was a nicely conceived play by the two veterans, and tied the game at 2-2. The latter, in a scramble around the Bridgeport net with relief goaltender Jared Coreau (17 saves on 21 shots) on in place of Gibson, opened a 6-4 Phantoms' lead in the final minute of the second period right after Bridgeport had come back within a goal.
Phantoms rookie center Morgan Frost scored perhaps the game's most notable goal, in that it gave him a three-game goal and point (3g, 1a) streak since being sent back down to the Phantoms last Friday by the Flyers. On the play, he intercepted an errant, sloppy clearing pass attempt by Bridgeport and sniped a shot from the left dot past Gibson. The goal gave the Phantoms a 3-2 lead at 2:04 of the second period and ended Gibson's outing.
Frost buzzed around the offensive zone often in this game, and racked up four shots on goal. There was actually a near carbon copy of a fluky goal he scored off a faceoff win in Sunday's game, but Coreau fought off the knuckler.
In the third period, Frost set up a good chance for Andreoff. There weren't a lot of clutch saves made on the Bridgeport side but this was one.
It wasn't entirely a positive game for Frost. After taking good care of the puck in his first two games back with the Phantoms, he got burned on a couple low-percentage plays in this game. Most notably, in one sequence in the second period, Frost tried to go 1-on-2 with fancy stickhandling and lost the puck. It caused a Joshua Ho-Sang breakaway, which Berube erased.
Later, Frost did pull off a third period one-on-one spinorama to keep control of the puck. Frost had a couple misreads in the D zone in this game. Overall, he was out for three goals against and two goals for in a mixed bag of results.
Frost had lots of company in this game in terms of high-risk plays that resulted in opposing scoring chances. Another one of Berube's better saves came in erasing a Misha Vorobyev turnover. Both teams were guilty at times of having forwards cheat out of the defensive zone too early and attempt passes in the "no-pass" area between the blue lines that drive coaches nuts. In a game where there wasn't much hitting and only sporadic defense played, winning the game in front of the two teams truly became a matter of who'd swing the momentum by scoring the next goal.
One of the few players on either team who had a consistently solid all-around performance was Phantoms forward Kyle Criscuolo. He was one of the players actively battling for -- and contesting -- space, and was usually on the right side of the puck. Criscuolo was rewarded with two assists and fired four shots on goal, but there was more to his game on this night than just the raw stats.
Phantoms rookie Isaac Ratcliffe did not have his best of games, but did have a near goal off a nice rush. He drew iron on the shot attempt. It was a pretty quiet game for Vorobyev (apart from the turnover) but he and German Rubtsov (3 shots on goal) had a couple well-orchestrated puck exchanges. In general, it's good to see Rubtsov back in the lineup after he missed a couple games with what initially looked like a potential broken jaw or concussion.
For Bridgeport, Robert Carpenter had a momentum-changing second period goal (2nd) and an assist midway through the third period after his partially blocked backhand shot went to Jeff Kubiak (4th), who potted it to narrow the gap to 6-5. Carpenter's goal made it a 5-3 game at the time, and was followed by a Travis St. Denis goal (9th) scored 1:10 later.
After the game, the Flyers announced that Berube had been traded to the New York Rangers for future considerations. The organization has promoted 21-year-old rookie Kirill Ustimenko from the ECHL's Reading Royals to the Phantoms. The purpose of the Berube trade was solely to open a promotion opportunity for Ustimenko and more playing time in Reading for Felix Sandström.
During his time with the Phantoms, Berube was serviceable and professional with a good compete level. He certainly wasn't spectacular. Apart from his rough, abbreviated start last night, Lyon has been the more consistent of the two Phantoms' goalies overall. That was why Lyon earned the recall (and an NHL win over Colorado) when Hart went down for awhile with an abdominal muscle strain. Berube's final numbers with Lehigh Valley were 29 games played, 12-11-7 record, 2.56 GAA, .906 SV%, and three shutouts.
On Thursday morning, the Phantoms acquired 30-year-old goalie Tom McCollum and 24-year-old forward Lewis Zerter-Gossage from the Hartford Wolf Pack in exchange for future considerations. Both players have been assigned to the Royals. While this was made possible by the Berube trade last night, it is not officially the completion of the Berube trade. Rather, it is officially an AHL trade, rather than an NHL deal.