Game 7 Preview: Flyers @ Blue Jackets
Dave Hakstol's Philadelphia Flyers (3-3-0) are in Ohio on Thursday evening to take on John Tortorella's Columbus Blue Jackets (3-2-0). Game time at Nationwide Arena is 7 p.m. EDT.
The game will be televised on NBCSNP. The radio broadcast can be found on 97.5 FM The Fanatic with an online simulcast at FlyersRadio247.com
Thursday's game is the Flyers' first game of the season within the Metro Division. Among the first six games played this season, four were against Western Conference clubs (the season series with the Vegas Golden Knights is already finished), and the other two have been against Atlantic Division teams.
This is the first of four meetings this season between the Flyers and Blue Jackets, and the first of two at Nationwide Arena. The teams will rematch in Philadelphia on Dec. 6 and Dec. 22 before the season series concludes in Columbus on Feb. 28.
Last season, the Flyers went 2-1-1 against the Blue Jackets for five of eight possible points. On the road, the Flyers lost 2-1 via shootout on Dec. 23, 2017, and then then won 2-1 in overtime on Feb. 18. When the scene switched to the Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers won 2-1 on Feb. 22 and then lost 5-3 on March 15.
The Flyers are coming off a 6-5 home shootout win over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night.
It was actually a far-inferior performance to the team's 1-0 home loss to Vegas last Saturday.
On Tuesday, a five-goal outburst in the second period -- Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds scored twice apiece and Jordan Weal tallied once -- and successful shootout attempts by Jakub Voracek and Weal were just enough to rescue two points. The downside was poor first and third period play, a squandered 5-2 lead and an unsuccessful overtime 4-on-3 power play.
Giroux has at least one point in five of the Flyers' first six games this season. Giroux (three goals, five assists) and Voracek (two goals, six assists) share the team overall scoring lead through six games. Wayne Simmonds paces the team with five goals. Scott Laughton is off to an excellent all-around start this season, both at five-on-five and on the penalty kill.
With the exception of the home game against Vegas, the Flyers have struggled defensively in five of the six games played thus far. The good news is that Philly has scored five or more goals iin four of the first six games. The bad news is that they've given up five or more goals in four of six.
Primarily, it has been a team defense issue with plenty of blame to go around. The forwards have been spotty in back pressure and in assisting in getting pucks out of the defensive zone. The blueline overall has struggled -- including number one defenseman Ivan Provorov -- and had issues on breakouts, gaps and more. The goaltending play has been adequate to decent overall despite a couple of stoppable goals or bad rebounds that were converted into goals.
Veteran defenseman Andrew MacDonald, an alternate captain on the road, has been struggling all season to date after returning in two weeks from a pre-camp lower body injury that was projected initially to keep him out for six games. He is still not 100 percent healthy, and admitted twice within the past week that he came back too early. He was a semi-healthy scratch in the Panthers game and appears to be out of the lineup again for the Columbus tilt. On a much happier note, MacDonald and his wife welcomed the arrival of a healthy baby girl, Sage, on Tuesday. Both mother and daughter are doing well and "AMac's" teammates congratulated him with whoops and stick-taps at the end of practice in Voorhees on Wednesday
Forward Corban Knight was activated from the injured non-roster list on Tuesday. He was a healthy scratch on Tuesday. When he is in the lineup for the first time, it will mark his Flyers regular season debut.
Hakstol made an in-game lineup change in the second period of Tuesday's game. He moved Laughton from left wing to center, playing in the middle of Michael Raffl and Wayne Simmonds. Rookie forward Mikhail Vorobyev, playing well defensively but struggling of late with pacing and establishing offensive space after a strong offensive preseason, was dropped to the fourth line and switched from center to left wing. The revised lines remained in place at Wednesday's practice.
Nolan Patrick, slated to miss 7 to 10 days after suffering an upper-body injury last Wednesday in Ottawa, practiced in a no-contact jersey yesterday. It is not definite that he will return for the Flyers' home game on Saturday against the New Jersey Devils. It is, however, possible.
Broken up situationally, the Flyers have scored 14 goals at 5-on-5 (tied for 5th most in the NHL to date) but have also yielded 14 (only five clubs have given up more so far). Through six games, the Flyers are 5-for-24 on the power play, with two shorthanded goals yielded. They've come up empty on the power play in the last two games despite excellent puck movement and heavy pressure on several opportunities.
The Flyers penalty kill enters Thursday's game at 18-for-25 (72.0%). Most of the damage (five of the seven PPGA) was done by San Jose in the home opener and in Ottawa the next night. Overall, the Flyers' up-ice pressure and zone-entry disruptions have been significantly improved in the early going of the season. Own-zone work has been inconsistent overall but better over the last two games.
Philadelphia enters this game having already set an unwanted new franchise record. Never before has the team yielded the game's first goal in each of the first six games of the season. The previous record was the first four games (2001-02, 2008-09). Last season, the Flyers gave up the first goal in 47 of 82 games, posting a 19-20-8 record. In the 35 games when the Flyers scored first, they were 23-6-6.
Blue Jackets Outlook
The Blue Jackets have been an inconsistent team in their own right early this season. The club won three of its first four games, although a couple of the victories were in rather uneven performances, and then gotten flattened, 8-2, on the road in Tampa Bay on Saturday. Apart from giving up four even-strength goals, the penalty kill was torched by Tampa's deadly power play for four goals on seven opportunities. The Columbus power play went 0-for-5.
Tortortella's team has subsequently had four nights off and several days of practice to regroup and prepare for this game. Without specifying, he said that there will be some personnel changes on his PK units.
Thursday's game marks the start of a three-game homestand for the Blue Jackets. Tortorella is among the NHL coaches who has abolished the morning skate for his team on game days. The Flyers will skate at 11:30 a.m. at Nationwide Arena.
Through the first five games, the deadly Artemi Panarin leads the Blue Jackets in scoring with seven points (three goals, four assists). The top-line trio of Panarin, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Cam Atkinson (two goals, two assists) has combined for 14 points thus far and its members have scored six of the team's first 16 goals (37.5 percent).
Nick Foligno has two goals and two assists thus far on the season. Foligno has scored 14 career goals against the Flyers in 33 career his games; his most against any opponent. There have been scoring chances thus far but not much payoff yet this season for Oliver Björkstrand (one goal), Alexander Wennberg (zero goals, three assists), Riley Nash (one assist), Lukas Sedlak (zero points) and Sonny Milano (zero points).
Boone Jenner, a former Oshawa Generals teammate and close friend of Laughton's, has only scored one goal this season. However, he has scored six goals in 19 career games against the Flyers, several of which have been crucial tallies for his team.
Speedster forward Anthony Duclair, who has bounced around the league a bit despite his jet-propelled skates and a 20-goal season for Arizona in 2015-16, has been installed on the Blue Jackets' top power play unit (in place of Atkinson). He has one goal and three points through the first five games.
Ex-Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner in Columbus, is 10-3-1 lifetime against Philly with a .933 save percentage and two shutouts. Bobrovsky, an unrestricted free agent after this season, has struggled in the playoffs in his NHL career. He has been excellent during regular seasons for Columbus when healthy -- a couple of injury-marred seasons were not his best -- and can carry the team on his back at times. However, he is off to a subpar start to this season (1-2-0, 4.38 GAA, .860 save percentage) and Joonas Korpisalo has been tabbed to start two of the five games played to date.
The Blue Jackets have sorely missed standout young-veteran defenseman Seth Jones, who is sidelined with an MCL sprain. He remains on the injured reserve list, as veteran agitating forward Brandon Dubinsky.
In terms of situational breakdown, the Blue Jackets have scored 10 goals at 5-on-5 through five games and have yielded 13. On the power play, the team is 4-for-23 (17.4 percent). Largely due to the pummeling it took in the Tampa game, the Columbus penalty kill ranks tied for 28th in the league thus far at 64.7 percent (11-for-17).
Over the team's first five games this season, the Blue Jackets have scored first in three and are 3-0-0. The team is 0-2-0 when giving up the first goal.
(Subject to change)
28 Claude Giroux - 14 Sean Couturier -93 Jakub Voracek
23 Oskar Lindblom - 40 Jordan Weal -11 Travis Konecny
12 Michael Raffl - 21 Scott Laughton - 17 Wayne Simmonds
22 Dale Weise -15 Jori Lehterä -10 Corban Knight
9 Ivan Provorov - 53 Shayne Gostisbehere
8 Robert Hägg - 26 Christian Folin
6 Travis Sanheim - 3 Radko Gudas
33 Calvin Pickard
[37 Brian Elliott]
Scratches: 24 Mikhail Vorobyev (healthy), 47 Andrew MacDonald (healthy), 19 Nolan Patrick (upper body), 25 James van Riemsdyk (IR, lower body), 30 Michal Neuvirth (IR, lower body), 5 Sam Morin (ACL surgery).
9 Artemi Panarin - 18 Pierre-Luc Dubois - 13 Cam Atkinson
71 Nick Foligno - 10 Alexander Wennberg - 91 Anthony Duclair
38 Boone Jenner - 20 Riley Nash - 28 Oliver Björkstrand
22 Sonny Milano - 45 Lukas Sedlak - 77 Josh Anderson
8 Zach Werenski - 58 David Savard
27 Ryan Murray - 65 Markus Nutivaara
4 Scott Harrington - 6 Adam Clendening
72 Sergei Bobrovsky
[70 Joonas Korpisalo]
Scratches: 14 Dean Kukan (healthy), 37 Markus Hännikäinen (healthy), 3 Seth Jones (IR), 17 Brandon Dubinsky (IR).
FLYERS PROSPECT UPDATE
* Four Flyers CHL prospects were in action on Wednesday night. Here's a roundup:
-- Morgan Frost notched three assists and tacked on an empty net goal for a four-point game as and first-star honors as the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds doubled up the visiting Saginaw Spirit, 6-3. Despite being held pointless against North Bay on Sunday, Frost has 10 points over his last four games. He has 19 points (six goals, 13 assists) in 11 games this season. Frost, along with Isaac Ratcliffe (Guelph Storm) was named to Team OHL for the CHL vs. Russia series.
-- Matthew Strome racked up four assists (one shorthanded) and scored a shootout goal but was not selected among the stars of the game in the Hamilton Bulldogs' 7-6 road win over the Owen Sound Attack on Wednesday night. His four-helper night boosted Strome to 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) through 11 games. Fellow Flyers prospect Maksim Sushko got off the goal-scoring schneid for the season in this game, giving Owen Sound a short-lived 3-2 lead after the team had led 2-0 early. Sushko had four shots on goal in the game. Overall, the streaky Belarusian forward is off to a rough statistical start (one goal, three assists, -10) through 10 games.
-- Yegor Zamula was even with four shots on goal in the Calgary Hitmen's 5-4 overtime road win on Wednesday against the Saskatoon Blades. A puck-moving defender rather than an offensive defensive, Zamula has one assist through 10 games. He is minus-four, but that indivudal number should be taken with a grain of salt, as usual. The Hitmen as a team are 2-6-2 with 32 goals scored vs. 49 allowed in 10 games.
* Over on the Flyers website, I have a season-to-date roundup
of the Flyers' seven prospects playing in Sweden this year and the two goalie prospects in Russia.