Flyers Backcheck: Shocking, Another Loss to Columbus

It’s not rocket science. The Flyers knew they had to get it going after a five-day layoff. They also knew the Columbus Blue Jackets had a surplus of incentive to win, or die trying. And while the stars can be found yet again on the stat sheet, another loss to Columbus shouldn’t sit well with them, or the fan base.

Nick Foligno (above) and James Wisniewski scored a pair of goals each against the Flyers on Friday night. The 4-3 loss marked Philadelphia's fourth straight loss to Columbus.
Nick Foligno (above) and James Wisniewski scored a pair of goals each against the Flyers on Friday night. The 4-3 loss marked Philadelphia’s fourth straight loss to Columbus. Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr

Two Streaks Snapped

The Flyers entered Friday night’s game against Columbus winners of three straight at home, scoring 12 goals en route to bettering their overall record to 7-5-2. The Blue Jackets, on the other hand, entered the Wells Fargo Center losers of their last nine, which tied a franchise record. And with Scott Hartnell returning to the building he called home for seven seasons, who do you think was hungrier?

Despite missing most of its regulars, Columbus outshot the Flyers, 38-27.

Stunningly, the Flyers allowed three power-play goals on Columbus’ first four chances. Before Friday, the Flyers had been 24 of 25 (96 percent) in killing home penalties. — Sam Carchidi, philly.com

The Flyers, who have been without regulars of their own, used power play goals to stay in the game throughout. Claude Giroux buried his third goal in two games with a one-timer past Columbus’ Curtis McElhinney, while Jakub Voracek extended his point streak to nine games with a power play goal and an assist. But even Michael Del Zotto’s early third period goal with one second remaining on an overlapping power play from the second period wasn’t enough to overcome the out-of-sync play from the Flyers.

The Blue Jackets rode a pair of goals from both James Wisniewski, and Nick Foligno to their fourth straight win over the Flyers. Assisting on all four Columbus goals, Ryan Johansen recorded his first four point game of his career.

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Columbus was able to beat Steve Mason four times by outworking the Flyers, which resulted in countless turnovers and extended time in Philadelphia’s zone. In Friday night’s triumph over the Flyers, the Jackets scored four goals for just the second time in their last 10 games, but have now done so in two of their last three.

Despite being within striking distance all game, Philadelphia’s overall performance left much to be desired. Their sloppy passing, coupled with turnover after turnover, overshadowed the blips of positives throughout the matchup.

The Flyers were coming off a five-night schedule break, riding a three-game winning streak and had a trip to Montreal looming on Saturday. The Blue Jackets brought in a nine-game losing streak (0-8-1), were missing nearly half of their roster due to injury, brought a struggling offensive and a team defense that was hemorrhaging goals against into this game.

To their credit, Columbus played an urgent, hard-working and tenacious game. However, the bigger issue on this night was a lack of attention to detail by the Flyers: bad turnovers and failed clears, poor positioning, lazy penalties, soft play along the walls by a significant number of players, plus average goaltending from Mason. The Flyers penalty killing work was abysmal, with insufficient puck pressure, a lack of blocked shots when needed, failed clears and no one clearing the porch. — Bill Meltzer, Hockey Buzz

The Flyers loss, of course, not only snapped Columbus’ woeful nine-game losing streak, it ended their own three-game home win streak as well. Sure, the Jackets had been horrid throughout their winless stretch. And yes, the odds were growing in their favor of even slipping and falling into a win. After all, how often does a playoff team from the year before lose 10 games in a row?

But winning on the road in the NHL isn’t an easy task to tackle. Especially in Philadelphia. Without taking anything away from Columbus’ effort and execution on Friday night, the Flyers had little, if any, of that combination with the exclusion of their top line and Michael Del Zotto.

The R.J. Umberger experiment has been disastrous no matter how many times it’s re-packaged for perspective. It’s not like he received any help from his linemates on Friday, though. With Vinny Lecavalier and Jason Akeson, Umberger’s line combined for a goose egg in the scoring department on three total shots. That was before Akeson was benched, of course, in favor of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.

Nevertheless, if nicknaming lines in the league is the going trend, the line consisting of Lecavalier, Umberger, and Akeson would fit the moniker of The Invisible Line.

Scott Hartnell Returns

Speaking of R.J. Umberger, the build up to Friday’s battle was centered around the return of Scott Hartnell. The former Flyer, as it’s been documented countless times, wanted to prove that Flyers GM Ron Hextall, and apparently head coach Craig Berube, were wrong for shipping him off to Columbus last offseason.

“These are important games for guys that spend a lot of time in one place,” Columbus coach Todd Richards said before Friday’s game. “You lay some roots down, and then in our business things happen. But it’s always neat to come back the first time and it’s a big game for him. It’ll probably be a big game for the guys on the other side, but when it’s big for one guy on your team it becomes important for everyone.”

Hartnell’s play on Friday night reflected that of a player playing in an important game. That’s not to say the opposite of Claude Giroux or Jakub Voracek, who actually scored. But despite being held scoreless against his former mates, Hartnell’s finger prints were all over the Flyers’ most recent loss to Columbus.

In 20:02 of ice time, Hartnell was credited for six shots, three blocked shots, and a single hit – although his punch to the face of Voracek went unnoticed to those that mattered. In all, it was a night that Hartnell certainly won’t forget, even if it took him a few shifts to grow accustom to playing against the Flyers, instead of for them.

“It was really weird,” said Hartnell. “My first shift I knew we were white and they’re orange and all I saw was Jake and G in our zone. I was like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t know what’s going on.'”

Perhaps the most memorable part of the night, for Hartnell and Flyers fans alike, was the video tribute played in honor of Hartnell’s tenure in Philadelphia. Hartnell’s recognition, which was shown during the first television timeout, was met with a hearty applause, with many throughout the arena standing in appreciation.

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“Even for us, it was touching a little bit,” said ex-teammate Giroux. “He’s a good guy.”

Although being held scoreless for the second straight game, Hartnell has gotten off to a decent to good start with his new team in Union Blue. Three of Hartnell’s five goals through Columbus’ first 16 games have come via the power play, while his nine assists tie for 33rd in the league.

The Flyers haven’t missed one aspect of Hartnell’s game, however. The former Flyer has taken his knack for racking up penalty minutes with him to Columbus, where his 23 PIM lead all current Flyers. In fact, Hartnell’s time in the penalty box exceeds Philadelphia’s PIM leader, Zac Rinaldo’s, by eight minutes.

Still, the fans in Philly remain appreciative of Hartnell’s 326 points as a Flyer, and Hartnell didn’t allow their acknowledgement to go unrequited.

Tidbits from Another Loss to Columbus

While it’s no secret the Blue Jackets have enjoyed playing the Flyers of late, one Jacket has especially relished in facing off against the orange and black.

Nick Foligno, who added two more goals against the Flyers on Friday night, has torched the Flyers for 11 goals now in 21 games. The next closest teams to the Flyers in terms of goal scoring against for the eight-year veteran are the Calgary Flames and Florida Panthers (six goals).

“Really? Wow. That’s awesome,” said Foligno after being informed. “I don’t know what the recipe is. … [The Flyers] are a tough team to play against. I always get excited to play against them.”

Jakub Voracek’s scorching start to an already career-best start through 15 games wasn’t hindered by Friday night’s loss to Columbus. Voracek’s two-point night extended his current scoring streak to nine, with seven of the nine coming in the fashion of multi-point efforts.

Voracek sits at 24 points through 15 games, which is a single point behind the league leader, Sidney Crosby’s 25 though the same number of games. With an assist in Pittsburgh’s 2-1 win over Toronto on Friday, the Penguins captain was able to inch ahead of Voracek once again.

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Claude Giroux’s first period power play goal was his third goal in Philadelphia’s last two games. The one-time snipe gave the Flyers captain his fifth goal of the season. It also gave him his fifth power play goal of the campaign. So while Giroux begins to heat up, he’s technically in search of his first even-strength goal of the year.

After an unusually lengthy five-day break, the Flyers will be in action seven times over the next two weeks. Ray Emery will be in net for the quick turnaround against Montreal on Saturday, as Philly begins a two-game road trip.

After squaring off against the Habs, the Flyers will get a three-day break before traveling to Madison Square Garden on Wednesday to take on the Rangers. They’ll return home after that to face the Minnesota Wild in another back-to-back.

The Flyers will cap off their next homestand on Nov. 22nd, where they’ll look to even the score with Columbus. But let’s cross that bridge when we get there.