The Blue Jackets' three-day hiatus has come to an end. It’s the longest stretch of rest they will have between games for the remainder of the season, and it came in handy, allowing time for James Wisniewski and Brian Gibbons to get healthy and possibly be prepared for Friday night’s game at Nationwide Arena against a Metropolitan Division rival, the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Flyers dug themselves a hole early in the season, losing five of their first seven games and never quite playing consistently enough to make that ground up. Even with two of the best scorers in the game in Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux, the Flyers rank in the middle of the pack in goals-scored at 17th in the NHL. After quality contributors Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds, the Flyers haven’t gotten overwhelming production from anyone else.
The Flyers' defense has hurt them, with the team ranking 23rd in goals-against. Mark Streit has put up points, his 36 the third-highest total on the team, but no other defenseman has cracked 20. Michael Del Zotto, a periodic healthy scratch earlier in the season, has emerged as one of Philadelphia’s better blue line options in recent weeks.
Most troublesome to the Flyers and their playoff hopes is the hit they recently took to their last line of defense, ex-Jackets goaltender Steve Mason. Mason sustained a fluke lower-body injury during a TV timeout in Sunday’s game against the Capitals. With Mason out, the crease will belong to veteran Ray Emery, who has seen inconsistent results in 22 appearances this season. Anthony Stolarz is currently with the Flyers serving as Emery's backup.
The Blue Jackets and Flyers last met on Dec. 9, an overtime win for the Jackets that extended their winning streak to four games and offered a bit of validation to their winning visits to the Panthers and Lightning. After Boone Jenner and Brayden Schenn traded first period power play goals, the Jackets tacked on another power play goal in the second from Scott Hartnell and carried that lead late into the third. With 56 seconds remaining, it was Schenn again sneaking a deflection past Sergei Bobrovsky to tie the game.
After a strong, yet long, shift in the Blue Jackets’ zone, Kevin Connauton was able to intercept a pass and send it ahead to Ryan Johansen. Connauton beat the back-checker down the ice, got the puck back from Johansen, and broke in alone to win the game in overtime. It was Connauton’s first goal as a Jacket, and he’d go on to score six more in the following 14 games.
While the Flyers aren’t having the season they had hoped for, they are getting an incredible breakout campaign from Jakub Voracek. Voracek leads the team in scoring with 59 points in 54 games, and he ranks second on the team with 18 goals. Voracek is third in league scoring and only three points from the top spot. He and regular line mate Claude Giroux have been in the top 10 in league scoring from the start of the season, and the duo have done their share of damage against the Jackets this season. Voracek has at least a point in all three of the meetings with his former team this season (1-4-5), the same figures for Giroux in the three games. Voracek is also due to find the net, with his tally two games ago his only goal in the last 11 contests.
With the Jackets keeping an eye on a former teammate, the Flyers should be doing the same. Fresh off his 1,000th career game on Monday night, Scott Hartnell has had some extra jump in his step of late and has goals in three straight games and points in five straight (3-3-6). Hartnell has seemed energized from the line-shuffling done by coach Todd Richards in the last few games, with Hartnell playing with Ryan Johansen and a similarly-sparked Cam Atkinson. Those three have factored heavily in the Jackets’ offense since the change, but they may not play together Friday. Hartnell took line rushes on Thursday alongside Johansen and Nick Foligno, a loaded combination that's been used frequently in 2014-15.
The Blue Jackets have only drawn five power plays over the course of their last four games. They’ve managed to do just fine, though,.with 14 even-strength goals during that stretch, but a team that has relied as heavily on its power play as the Blue Jackets have needs to not only play with the edge that earns more opportunities, but also capitalize on those chances. The Jackets are one for their last 19 on the power play, with that lone goal being their only goal in a loss to the Coyotes. The Flyers have taken 232 penalties this season, 11th most in the NHL, and their penalty kill ranks 28th. It’s likely the Jackets will see more power play chances than they have in recent games, and they’ll need to take advantage. They’re 6-for-11 (54.5 percent) on the power play against Philadelphia this season.