In the tightly bunched Metropolitan Division, both team are fighting for a coveted playoff spot. Nine points separate second place and last place in the Metro.
And so Friday night’s matchup between the Flyers and the Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena is a key game for both teams.
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The Flyers (28-19-10) are perched in the third spot with 64 points. The Blue Jackets (29-24-4), who play their next four games against division opponents, are sitting in sixth with 62 points.
Both teams are coming off losses. The Flyers finished on the short end of a 5-4 shootout with the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night and the Blue Jackets were beaten 6-3 by the Maple Leafs on Wednesday night in Toronto.
But the two teams had been playing well before that. The Flyers are 12-5-2 since Jan. 1 and the Blue Jackets had won two in a row after ending a five-game losing streak.
The Blue Jackets appear to have found a solution to their sluggish offense. In each of the past three games, they’ve put at least 50 shots on net, a feat that hasn’t been done in the NHL for more than 50 years, and totaled 13 goals.
Asked if the Blue Jackets can continue peppering the net with shots, Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said, “I hope so. I don’t see why not. I don’t foresee us changing anything we’re doing. We’re playing really good hockey.
“I hope the shots keep going up and up and up but just with more going in. It’s the old saying the more shots you put on net the more chances you have to score.”
Foligno accounted for two of the Blue Jackets’ goals in the loss to the Maple Leafs. Despite taking 57 shots, Columbus managed to get just three pucks past Toronto goaltender Frederik Andersen.
“We just have a good flow offensively,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said. “When you have a good flow offensively, the next step is to finish. The past couple of games, we have.
“I like the way we played, but again, we don’t finish the game and we don’t get anything out of it. That’s the hard part about it. So we move on and get ready for our next game.”
The concern is that an aggressive offensive mentality could lead to defensive breakdowns. The Maple Leafs produced six goals against Blue Jackets backup goalie Joonas Korpisalo, but No. 1 netminder Sergei Bobrovsky is expected to start against the Flyers.
“We dominate a lot of games,” Foligno said. “We’ve just got to make sure we don’t get overzealous and trying to create offense it costs us. I hope that doesn’t stop. We need to continue to go. If we play like that against a lot of teams, it’s going to be dangerous.”
The Flyers had won four in a row before the loss to the Devils. They were in position to win that game before giving up the tying goal with 1:21 left in regulation.
“It’s frustrating,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “But at the same time we know we played a pretty solid game. We’ve got to keep going from here.”
With goaltender Brian Elliott out for six weeks after undergoing core muscle surgery, the Flyers have to keep going for now with inconsistent Michal Neuvirth in goal.
“Got all the confidence in the world in Neuvy,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said.
Flyers defenseman Shane Gostisbehere will be playing Friday’s game with a heavy heart. He attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where the horrific shooting that left 17 dead and others injured occurred Wednesday.
“They always say it’s close to home, but when it is actually home, it is pretty tough to see,” Gostisbehere said. “I haven’t really processed it yet. I still can’t believe it.
“I was only there for two years and I felt safe in that school every day I was there. To see something like that happens, those kids and teachers, it sucks.”