Spying on the Saboteur: Philadelphia Flyers vs Columbus Blue Jackets

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Holding onto a wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia Flyers host the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight in a must-win game. With a win, there is the opportunity to propel into third place in the Metropolitan Division. The New York Islanders have the night off, so if just for an evening, the Flyers could be worth more than a wildcard spot in the post-season. Against playoff teams in the last five games, Philadelphia is one for three. That one win was against the Washington Capitals.

Tonight is just as important to the Columbus Blue Jackets for the same reason as the urgency for the Philadelphia Flyers. Both teams could become more than a wildcard team with a win. This season, the Flyers had overcome deficits to defeat the Blue Jackets in both previous meetings. If Philadelphia wins tonight and on Thursday, it would be their first season sweep of Columbus since 2001. Back on home ice, the Flyers are in prime position to distance themselves as an absolute playoff team, hosting four of the next five games in Philadelphia.

Carter Hart gets the nod tonight for the Philadelphia Flyers to start in the net. Across the pond for the Columbus Blue Jackets will be Elvis Merzlikins. Over the last ten games against each other, the Blue Jackets own a record of 6-3-1. Four of the last ten games went past regulation, but Columbus won three of those four games into overtime or a shootout. On the injury report, the Blue Jackets list Cam Atkinson (sprained ankle) and Joonas Korpisalo who is day-to-day (torn meniscus.)

Columbus Blue Jackets – Skaters

Offensively, Oliver Bjorkstrand has been pretty consistent on a slumping Columbus Blue Jackets team. In four of the last five games, he has tallied four points, including a goal. Currently, Bjorkstrand is ranked fourth in points on the Blue Jackets but leads the team in game-winning goals. Columbus is better when he is on the ice in terms of team play and Bjorkstrand doesn’t take bad penalties. He’s a well-rounded player with nineteen goals this season (two on the powerplay) and fourteen assists (three on the powerplay.)

Defensively, Zach Werenski is going to be the player designed to step up in Seth Jones’ absence. Jones is expected to be out for about ten weeks with an ankle injury. Werenski is ranked higher than Oliver Bjorkstrand in accumulated points on the Columbus Blue Jackets, sitting in third place. As a two way defenseman, Werenski’s presence is apparent on offense more than on defense. Expect a bigger workload from Werenski on the powerplay unit and the penalty kill.

Columbus Blue Jackets – Goaltending

Confirmed in the crease tonight is Elvis Merzlikins. As Joonas Korpisalo is day-to-day recovering from surgery to repair a torn meniscus, Merzlikins carries the weight of the Columbus Blue Jackets. In 26 starts this season, Merzlikins carries a 12-8-6 record. Of any goaltender to start a game for the Blue Jackets, Merzlikins wields the best goal against average (2.20) and save percentage (92.8%.) After perusing his games started, fourteen are quality starts, which is more than half.

Faceoff Possession

One team has a winning percentage in the faceoff circle that exceeds 50%. The Columbus Blue Jackets are at 48.7% while the Philadelphia Flyers maintain 54.2%. On the Blue Jackets, the best faceoff opportunist is Boone Jenner. For the Flyers, they look to Sean Couturier. The advantage here stays with Philadelphia.

Prediction

In games with heavy playoff implications on the line, the Philadelphia Flyers have found ways to squander those opportunities this season. Tonight, I think that changes. The Columbus Blue Jackets are not 100% in places that are critical while the Flyers are. After a rough loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on the road, Philadelphia needs to get back into their winning ways and prove that they are for real when it comes to other playoff opponents. The Wells Fargo Center has been a friendly confine for the Flyers to play some of their best hockey this season. Tonight, Philadelphia will make it three straight wins this season against the Blue Jackets.

Puck drop is at 7 pm from the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia Flyers are favorited on the money line at -150 and the over/under is set at 5.5. Follow along for live coverage on Twitter at EricReesePSN and additional coverage at PhiladelphiaSN!

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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