Flyers News & Rumors: Tortorella, Gaudreau, Atkinson, Giroux, Ristolainen

The Philadelphia Flyers sit narrowly outside playoff position in the Eastern Conference with 16 points. They stole a road victory against their former captain Claude Giroux in Ottawa on Saturday. They followed it up with a win in Philadelphia over their former head coach Craig Berube and the St. Louis Blues before dropping a road decision against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The mysterious absence of Cam Atkinson continues to hang over the head of the organization.

Flyers-Blue Jackets Connections

A loss against the Blue Jackets on Thursday night featured some considerable overlapping storylines between the two franchises. John Tortorella returned to Nationwide Arena as a visiting head coach for the first time since his six-year tenure as bench boss of the Blue Jackets ended after the 2020-21 season. The crowd in Columbus rose to their feet during a video tribute during the first tv timeout. Tortorella led the Blue Jackets to four of their six playoff appearances in franchise history. He did not meet with the media after the 5-2 loss for unknown reasons.

Johnny Gaudreau changed the perception of Columbus as an NHL market when he chose to sign with the Blue Jackets as the top free agent on the market in July. However, the South Jersey native reportedly wanted a homecoming of his own to Philadelphia. Flyers general manager (GM) Chuck Fletcher balked at the opportunity to add top-end talent to an unintimidating roster. Gaudreau showed the Flyers what they passed up when he capitalized on three sloppy turnovers for a goal and two assists on three similarly constructed plays in transition. He now has 19 points in 14 career games against the team he grew up supporting.

Johnny Gaudreau Columbus Blue Jackets
Johnny Gaudreau, Columbus Blue Jackets (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

The Flyers dealt Jakub Voráček to Columbus for Atkinson in July 2021 in a move that paid off for both teams last season. However, both players missed the early-season Metropolitan Division showdown. Voráček and Atkinson are both coincidentally out indefinitely with upper-body injuries. Lukáš Sedlák also played his first game against the Blue Jackets after spending 162 games over three seasons in union blue during Tortorella’s tenure.

Wins Against Senators, Blues

Giroux took just 2:44 to find the back of the net in his first career game against the Flyers. The long-time Philadelphia captain has settled well in his return to the area where he starred in junior hockey and spent most of his offseason time during the first 15 years of his NHL career. He has seven goals and five assists in 13 games for a Senators team who will look to him as an elder statesman with a talented group of young players experiencing growing pains at 4-8-1 early in the season.

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The Flyers put together their most complete effort of the season when they handed the Blues their eighth consecutive loss by at least a two-goal margin on Tuesday. While the Flyers have struggled to control the pace of play at 5-on-5, they showed a knack for winning hockey in an impressive 5-1 victory at the Wells Fargo Center. Travis Konecny led the way with a goal and an assist. He leads the team with 15 points in 13 games.

Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Flyers have encouraged fans to show up early for their matinee against the Senators at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 12 for a pregame tribute to one of the greatest players in their franchise history. Giroux admitted after his 1000th and final game with the Flyers on March 17 that he wasn’t in the right emotional state to skate for the final shift of the game. He will unquestionably run through countless memories this weekend.

Atkinson Injury Update

Atkinson remains sidelined with a mysterious injury that didn’t become apparent until he left practice early the day before the season opener. No members of the organization have provided much clarity about the nature of the upper-body injury. Charlie O’Connor of The Athletic spoke about Atkinson’s status on Wednesday.

“He is in no way, shape, or form in condition to play…The team continues to be completely mum. Noone is talking. I’ve heard from a couple people that it could be like a neck thing. These are people who I tend to trust on these sorts of things, but they’re all outside the organization a few steps removed.”

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The feisty 5-foot-9 winger finished the 2021-22 season second on the Flyers in goals with 23 and points with 50. He won the Bobby Clarke Trophy as the team’s most valuable player. His previous experience and rapport with Tortorella encouraged optimism during the offseason about his role in the transition to a new era in Philadelphia. He skated with the Flyers in Columbus on Thursday.

Ristolainen Scratched

Rasmus Ristolainen missed the first six games of the season with a lower-body injury. He returned to the lineup for four games before sitting out against the Senators on Saturday night. Tortorella spoke with his typical candor about his 6-foot-4 bruising blueliner. “Everything about his (Ristolainen’s) game I think he needs to be better. That’s the easiest way of me explaining it,” he said.

Rasmus Ristolainen, Philadelphia Flyers
Rasmus Ristolainen, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Fletcher sent an extravagant trade package to acquire Ristolainen in July 2021 and inked him to a five-year, $25.5 million contract extension last season. The former eighth-overall pick has played on the third defensive pair alongside veteran journeyman Nick Seeler for his two games since returning to the lineup. He received only 13 seconds of ice time on special teams in both games combined.

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