Bill Meltzer: Flyers Gameday: 11/14/14 vs. CBJ

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PREVIEW: FLYERS VS. BLUE JACKETS

Looking to pick up where they left off before a five-night schedule hiatus, the Philadelphia Flyers (7-5-2) will look for their fourth consecutive win when they play host to the Columbus Blue Jackets (4-10-1) at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night. Game time is 7:00 p.m. EST. The game will be televised locally on The Comcast Network Philadelphia.

This is the first of five meetings between the teams this season, and the first of three in Philadelphia. The teams will rematch at the Wells Fargo Center on Nov. 22. The scene shifts to Columbus on Dec. 9 and Feb. 17. The season series concludes in Philly on Feb. 17.

The Blue Jackets got the better of the season series last year. Columbus won three of four against the Flyers, all in regulation. In the first meeting, the Flyers trailed 3-0 after two periods and 4-1 in the third period and somehow rallied to win the game by a 5-4 count. It was just the third time in regular season franchise history that the club trailed by three or more goals after two periods and went on to win.

After tonight, the Flyers head to Canada to take on the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night. Thereafter, the Flyers have a three-night schedule break until taking on the New York Rangers in a nationally televised road game on Wednesday. The Blue Jackets host the San Jose Sharks on Saturday and then the Detroit Red Wings come to Columbus on Tuesday. Flyers outlook

The Flyers wrap up a four-game homestand tonight. Last Tuesday and Thursday, they defeated the Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers by identical 4-1 scores. On Saturday, the Flyers grabbed a 4-0 lead through two periods against the Colorado Avalanche and then hung on for a too-close-for-comfort 4-3 victory. The Flyers currently have a 5-1-2 record on home ice this season.

Whenever a club is coming off a schedule break as long as the one the Flyers just had, it can be a challenge to recover game legs and timing in the first period of the first game back from the break. Philly has to avoid a slow start in this game.

Former Blue Jackets forward Jakub Voracek enters tonight’s game with points in 13 of 14 games this season. He has points in eight games in a row and has already recorded seven multi-point games. The Flyers top line right winger enters tonight tied with Dallas’ Tyler Seguin for second in the NHL in total points (22). Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby leads with 24 points. Voracek’s 16 assists are one behind Crosby’s league-leading 17. Flyers captain Claude Giroux (14 assists) is tied with Calgary defenseman Mark Giordano for third.

In the second period of Thursday’s game against Florida, Flyers head coach Craig Berube moved Wayne Simmonds from his customary right wing position to play left wing on the top line with Giroux and Voracek. The line remains intact tonight.

R.J. Umberger, whom the Flyers reacquired from the Blue Jackets this summer in exchange for Scott Hartnell, is off the slowest start of his NHL career. Flyers general manager Ron Hextall recently met one-on-one with Umberger, who admitted on Tuesday that he feels like he’s been “carrying a piano” on his back with all the pressure he’s been putting on himself.

In an effort to see if putting a natural playmaker on their line can create more scoring chances for Umberger (one goal, three points, 18 shots in 14 games) and Vincent Lecavalier (two goals, five points, 16 shots in seven games), Flyers head coach Craig Berbue has promoted Jason Akeson from the fourth line. Chris VandeVelde moves down to the line centered by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.

On the injury front, left winger Michael Raffl (lower body) will be out six weeks after sustaining an injury blocking a shot last Tuesday. Defenseman Luke Schenn (left shoulder) got hurt in the first period of Saturday’s game and is said to be somewhat ahead of the initial two-week estimate for his absence. Defenseman Andrew MacDonald (right knee) could return in late November. Blue Jackets outlook

Columbus drags a franchise record nine-game winless streak (0-8-1) into tonight’s game. The club has been decimated by injuries this season and has struggled to score goals of late. In eight of the nine games during the losing streak, Columbus has scored two or fewer goals. Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets enter this game with the worst team goals against average (3.67) in the NHL.

In their most recent game, the Blue Jackets buried themselves early, yielding three first period goals to the Washington Capitals and going on to lose by a 4-2 count. Cam Atkinson scored his sixth goal of the season to get Columbus on the board in the first period while David Savard’s third goal of the season in the final minute of the second period temporarily narrowed the gap back to one goal.

Statistically, first periods and third periods have been trouble spots for the Blue Jackets this season. While Columbus has outscored opponents in second periods by an 18-14 margin, they have been outscored 18-10 in first periods and a whopping 22-10 in third periods.

Despite a protracted contract dispute that caused him to miss training camp as an unsigned restricted free agent, Columbus top line center Ryan Johansen has picked up right where he left off last season. In 15 games played to date, Johansen leads the team with 16 points (six goals and 10 assists).

Tonight’s game marks Hartnell’s first game back in Philadelphia since the trade to Columbus in late June. One of the NHL’s streakiest scorers, Hartnell has filled the net of late for the goal-challenged squad. He has four goals in his last three games. Overall, Hartnell has five goals and 14 points on the season.

Nick Foligno is quietly having a strong season for the Blue Jackets as well. The 27-year-old winger has racked up seven goals and 14 points. He has four goals and six points over the last five games.

Beyond the aforementioned players, the Blue Jackets have been a mess in recent weeks. While no team wants to use injuries as an excuse, Columbus is missing eight regulars from the lineup. That does not count power forward Nathan Horton (degenerative back condition), who has missed the entire season and may never be able to resume his NHL career.

The litany of injuries: Former Flyers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (fractured left index finger) and forward Artem Anisimov (concussion) have made the trip to Philadelphia with the team but are considered extremely doubtful for tonight. Forwards Matt Calvert (upper body) and Jack Skille (head injury) did not travel with the team to the Philadelphia. Additionally, forwards Brandon Dubinsky (abdominal surgery) and Mark Letestu (groin) and defensemen Ryan Murray (knee surgery) and Cody Goloubef (knee) remain unavailable.

The Blue Jackets will get one player back in the lineup tonight. Defenseman Jack Johnson has finished serving a three-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of Carolina’s Jiri Tlusty in a Nov. 4 game. Key team stat comparisons (NHL overall ranking)

Non-shootout goals per game: Flyers 3.21 (4th), Blue Jackets 2.53 (T-20th)

Non-shootout goals against per game: Flyers 2.93 (21st), Blue Jackets 3.67 (30th)

Even strength Goals For/Against Ratio: Flyers 1.03 (20th), Blue Jackets 0.62 (29th)

Power play efficiency: Flyers 22.4% (8th), Blue Jackets 21.0% (T-10rd)

Penalty killing efficiency: Flyers 80.0% (T-15th), Blue Jackets 77.2% (23rd)

Faceoff percentage: Flyers 50.3% (14th), Blue Jackets 48.0% (T-24th) Projected lineups (Subject to change, will be updated)

FLYERS

17 Wayne Simmonds – 28 Claude Giroux – 93 Jakub Voracek

18 R.J. Umberger – 40 Vincent Lecavalier – 42 Jason Akeson

10 Brayden Schenn – 14 Sean Couturier – 24 Matt Read

36 Zac Rinaldo – 78 Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – 76 Chris VandeVelde

8 Nicklas Grossmann – 32 Mark Streit

15 Michael Del Zotto – 55 Nick Schultz

26 Carlo Colaicovo – 5 Braydon Coburn

35 Steve Mason

[29 Ray Emery]

Scratches: Andrew MacDonald (right knee), Luke Schenn (left shoulder), Michael Raffl (lower body), Blair Jones (healthy).

BLUE JACKETS

23 Brian Gibbons – 19 Ryan Johansen – 71 Nick Foligno

43 Scott Hartnell – 38 Boone Jenner – 13 Cam Atkinson

26 Corey Tropp – 41 Alexander Wennberg – 32 Adam Cracknell

34 Dana Tyrell – 39 Michael Chaput – 40 Jared Boll

7 Jack Johnson – 47 Dalton Prout

51 Fedor Tyutin – 58 David Savard

20 Tim Erixon – 21 James Wisniewski

30 Curtis McElhinney

[31 Anton Forsberg]

Scratches: Artem Anisimov (concussion, doubtful), Sergei Bobrovsky (broken left index finger, doubtful), Matt Calvert (upper body), Jack Skille (head injury), Brandon Dubinsky (abdominal surgery), Mark Letestu (groin), Ryan Murray (knee surgery), Cody Goloubef (knee), Frederic St. Denis (healthy).

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This post originally appeared on www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.

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