Flyers' next opponent proving trade deadline deals work

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Flyers' next opponent proving trade deadline deals work

The Flyers and Blue Jackets were headed in two different directions at the trade deadline.

The Flyers were pushing for first place in the Metropolitan Division, while Columbus was attempting to climb its way back into the wild card after looking like a playoff lock for much of the season. At the time, the two teams were separated by nine points.

Thursday, the Jackets can pull into a tie for third place with the Flyers with a regulation win at the Wells Fargo Center. They've made up seven points on the Flyers in the first two weeks of March.

“We came into this year with our focus pretty clear, knowing that it’s a hard fight to get in,” Dave Hakstol said. “It’s a great time of year to be right in the middle of that fight and to control our own destiny and that’s what you want to have.”

Interestingly, Columbus made the big, bold moves you’d expect from a team in the Flyers' position at the deadline and the Flyers remained quiet after previously addressing their goaltending dilemma out of necessity. The Blue Jackets added Mark Letestu, Thomas Vanek and Ian Cole, and all three have solidified their lineup.

Not big-name acquisitions but solid additions to an already established core. In turn, Columbus brings a five-game winning streak to South Broad.

“We want to give our team the best possible chance to make the playoffs," Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen said after the deadline. “That’s the goal. Adding the veterans we added will give us a better chance. We like our team right now.”

“They’re rolling right now, playing some good hockey and they’ve got momentum,” Claude Giroux said. “It’s important for us to get off to a good start in here, and get the fans on our side.”

Jakub Voracek believes the Flyers' magic playoff number is 92 points, which would seem manageable, a number that requires just 11 points over the team’s final 12 games.

“It’s all in our heads — the schedule, the points, everything,” Voracek said. “We know we have our destiny in our hands, and we just have to focus on ourselves. Obviously, it helps that we’re playing Columbus tomorrow. We know what it is about them.”

“It’s definitely the biggest game of the season, we know that,” Giroux said. “Sometimes you just can’t overthink it. You've got to go out there and play the game. If you don’t enjoy it, you’re not going to play your best.”

Now longest tenured
With the Eagles' release of Brent Celek, Giroux now holds the title as Philadelphia’s longest-tenured athlete. Giroux debuted on Feb. 19, 2008, against Ottawa.

“I did not know that,” Giroux said Wednesday. “It doesn’t feel that long. I mean, I’m a little old. It’s been 10 years, it feels like five. Teams change quick. We have a lot of the players we had in 2012, but from 2010, we don’t have any guys. I guess we have [Ian Laperriere], but he’s coaching now.”

Blackhawks expect Joel Quenneville to coach next season

Blackhawks expect Joel Quenneville to coach next season

It won’t be long before Joel Quenneville is trending on Twitter, and not just in Philadelphia.

Hockey Hall of Famer Chris Chelios was in Chicago for Thursday night’s Flyers-Blackhawks game, but it was his appearance earlier in the week on WGN Morning News where he opened up about the 60-year-old head coach.

Chelios is hoping the Maple Leafs get bounced in the first round of the playoffs, and with that, the organization elects to part ways with Mike Babcock, currently the league’s highest-paid coach after signing an eight-year, $50 million contract in the summer of 2015. 

Chelios and others in Chicago see growing tension between Babcock and the Leafs organization, and the former Blackhawks defenseman prefers to see Quenneville land in Toronto or with the future expansion team in Seattle that doesn’t start play until the 2021-22 season.

Unquestionably, Babcock’s style can wear on players, and with the probability of facing the Boston Bruins again in the first round, Babcock and the Leafs are looking at the possibility of another first-round exit. 

As for Quenneville, even his former players believe the three-time Stanley Cup-winning coach is ready to jump at another chance, whether that’s in Philadelphia or somewhere else.

“It would be pretty weird if he’s coaching somewhere else next season and not with the Blackhawks,” Patrick Kane said. “I think we all know that Joel has a big passion for hockey and a fire and a desire to win. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s coaching somewhere else next season.”

“I would be surprised if he’s not coaching,” Duncan Keith. “He never really changed [this season]. I think it’s just that competitive nature inside him. That’s what made him a great coach. The competition of winning games. There’s never anybody who loves winning more than him.”

Even Quenneville recently admitted during his first television interview since his firing, “There’s an appetite to get back into the game.” Quenneville spoke to Chicago’s WGN-TV on St. Patrick’s Day and said that he’s in “no hurry right now” to accept a head coaching position while also adding, “We’ll see how things transpire in the offseason. We’ll have to think about it, and we’ll see.”

Several Blackhawks insiders believe Quenneville’s relationship with the general manager and input regarding personnel decisions will go a long way toward determining where he eventually coaches again, pointing to the trades of defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson and forward Artemi Panarin, which created organizational strife the past few years in Chicago, and eventually led to Quenneville’s firing in early November.

There could be as many as nine teams looking for a permanent head coach heading into the 2019-20 season.

Quenneville admitted he still watches a lot of NHL games, but not as many Blackhawks games.

Perhaps he’s evaluating what he sees on the ice and which organization might be a good fit.

When it comes to the Flyers, there’s a lot to like.

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More on the Flyers

NHL playoff picture: Flyers still knocking on the door

NHL playoff picture: Flyers still knocking on the door

The Flyers aren’t riding on the rims just yet. They pumped a little air in their tires Thursday night after completing a season sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Despite earning two points, the Flyers actually gained a point on the second wild-card team as the Canadiens leapfrogged the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have lost three straight games.

Wild-card standings

Carolina: 40-26-7, 87 pts, 9 GR
Montreal: 39-28-7, 85 pts, 8 GR
Columbus: 40-30-4, 84 pts, 8 GR
Philadelphia: 35-29-8, 80 pts, 8 GR

Thursday’s games

PHI: W 3-1 at Chicago
CAR: L 6-3 vs. Tampa Bay
MTL: W 4-0 vs. NY Islanders
CBJ: L 4-1 at Edmonton

• James van Riemsdyk continued his red-hot play with the go-ahead goal midway through the third period to lift the Flyers over the Blackhawks. Van Riemsdyk is tied with Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl with the most goals (20) in the NHL since Jan. 7. It was also his fourth game-winner over that span.

• The storm surge in Carolina was the Lightning’s high-powered offense as Tampa Bay scored four unanswered third-period goals. Forward Nikita Kucherov became the first player since Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby in 2006-07 to top 120 points in a single season.

• Goaltender Carey Price stopped all 28 Islanders shots for his 44th career shutout while former Flyer Jordan Weal added a goal and an assist as the Canadiens blanked the Islanders. Montreal now sits in the playoff driver’s seat.

• The Oilers broke open a 1-1 game in the third period with three unanswered goals as the NHL’s hottest player, Draisaitl, continued his torrid pace with his 300th career point, adding three assists.

What are the odds?

According to Sports Club Stats, the Flyers saw a slight climb in their playoff percentage up to 1.6 percent. The closer they inch to Montreal, the greater that number will jump as the Canadiens moved up 20 percentage points after overtaking Columbus in the standings.

The website Money Puck has the Flyers' odds at 1.7 percent.

What lies ahead?

The Flyers have the first of two weekend back-to-backs as they host the New York Islanders Saturday afternoon, looking to beat the Isles for the third time this month, with another meeting against the Washington Capitals Sunday afternoon in D.C.

The Canadiens have a back-to-back as well, hosting the Sabres Saturday with a game at Carolina on Sunday.

On the verge of being swept, the Blue Jackets can’t wait to wrap up their Western Canadian road swing with two full days off between games.

Strength of schedule

According to, with eight games remaining, the Flyers' schedule isn’t nearly as grinding. The Flyers now have the 13th-toughest schedule but will play five games over the final nine days in March.

Blue Jackets: 9th
Canadiens: 10th
Hurricanes: 21st

Interestingly, the Flyers can pull within a tie of the Blue Jackets with a weekend sweep of the Islanders and Capitals before the Jackets' next game in Vancouver Sunday night.

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