The Blue Jackets visit the Philadelphia Flyers on Friday night hoping to avoid a 10-game winless streak. It will be Scott Hartnell’s first game back in Philadelphia since being traded to Columbus, after having spent seven seasons in black and orange. The Flyers were off to a rocky start to the season, with only one win in their first six games. They’ve since righted the ship and are riding a three-game winning streak into Friday night’s tilt at the Wells Fargo Center.
That three-game winning streak for the Flyers comes against the Panthers, Oilers, and Avalanche - three teams that have combined to win only five of their past 10 games. Still, the Flyers scored four goals in each game and have offensive firepower that always gives them a chance no matter the deficit.
Jakub Voracek is second in NHL scoring behind Sidney Crosby. Claude Giroux has raced out to a fast start and has 18 points in 14 games, and the Flyers also boast the league’s seventh-best power play. Their penalty kill is only 80 percent after a sluggish start to the season but has been better of late, killing 11-of-12 chances in the last three games.
Columbus has fallen into two-goal deficits in seven games during their losing streak. The Flyers have allowed two goals or fewer in six of their last seven games.
Last April, the Blue Jackets had a late-season rendezvous with the Flyers at Wells Fargo Center, and it was a 2-0 win for Columbus. It was also Sergei Bobrovsky’s first game back in Philadelphia as a visitor, and he shined in a 37-save shutout effort, out-dueling former Blue Jackets goaltender Steve Mason.
James Wisniewski opened the scoring late in the second period with a power play goal, and Brandon Dubinsky padded that lead early in the third.
"It obviously meant a lot to him," Dubinsky said to NHL.com regarding Bobrovsky’s effort. "When you get traded from a team, it always feels good to go into their building and beat them." The Jackets would like to have similar comments about Hartnell in his first game back in Philadelphia.
Of course a superstar like Claude Giroux will garner attention, as will a former Blue Jacket having a career season like Jakub Voracek. But the Flyers also employ one of the more dominant and perhaps underrated power forwards in the game in Wayne Simmonds. Simmonds has 11 points this season and four power play goals for the Flyers, along with a team-best +9 rating. Few players are stronger than Simmonds, the prototypical net-front presence on the power play that is nearly impossible to move. Not only is Simmonds a lethal threat in close, but he also creates chaos in front with his mere presence, opening up room for Giroux and Voracek.
Back to Voracek. Voracek has four goals and nine points in his past five games. His overall scoring streak is at eight games and he already has seven multi-point games on the season. Voracek has been held off the scoresheet only once all season -- when the Flyers were shut out by the Chicago Blackhawks.One of the greatest dangers is that Voracek’s linemate Giroux is having nearly as good a season as he is. If Voracek isn’t scoring, he’s finding someone else who is. He had three assists against the Avalanche on Saturday and has five games this year with multiple helpers. Needless to say, that line is going to be a challenge for the Blue Jackets to defend.
The rivalry between the Blue Jackets and Rangers is fed by familiar faces in new jerseys. While the ire hasn’t reached that level yet between the Blue Jackets and Flyers, it may soon. Voracek has been an unstoppable force for the Flyers offensively. Steve Mason had a bumpy start but has recently resembled last spring’s playoff performance more so than his final seasons in Columbus. He’s 3-1-0 in his last four starts with a .950 save percentage. Hartnell has been one of Columbus’ best point producers since his arrival and there's little doubt that he will try his best to unnerve his former mates right from the drop of the puck (if not before) on Friday.