Saturday, December 27, 2014

Could Blue Jackets be Flyers new rival?

A new rivalry could be brewing for the Flyers with now Metropolitan division foe Columbus.

Could Blue Jackets be Flyers new rival?

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Tonight, against the Flyers, the Blue Jackets will play their 1,000th game in franchise history.

In 13 seasons in Ohio’s capital city, the Jackets have yet to develop a true rivalry. Considering that it took 8 years for Columbus to finish within 40 points of first place in the old Central division, it’s not a mystery as to why the Blue Jackets could never work up a healthy hate for an opponent: they couldn’t compete. 

Columbus is 23-40-12 all-time against the Red Wings. They are 28-35-10 versus Chicago. Even against Nashville, a franchise with just two more seasons’ experience, the Blue Jackets are 23-41-11.

Now, playing in the Eastern Conference for the first time, their most natural rivalry is heating up across the border in Pittsburgh.

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Games at Nationwide Arena, though, have served more as Penguins second-home games than an advantageous environment for the Jackets.

Yet, through two games this season, the Flyers may be Columbus’ best bet for a brewing rivalry in the new Metropolitan division. Tonight marks just the Flyers’ eighth game at beautiful Nationwide Arena.

In some ways, the Blue Jackets have been one of the most anonymous teams in professional sports. They have made the playoffs just once in their first 12 seasons - no banner hangs in the Nationwide rafters.

Columbus will likely never be to the Flyers what the Penguins, the Rangers, or even the Capitals are; there is no way to duplicate that history. But all of the pieces are in place - geography, former players on both sides, gritty team - to make for an interesting possibility. The Flyers have played other division opponents like Carolina or even the Islanders without much fanfare. 

The first two meetings between these teams this season, a thrilling 5-4 Flyers win in Philadelphia and a 6-3 Blue Jackets win in Columbus, could serve as a catalyst.

“The first two games, we combined for what, 18 goals? They have been great games to watch,” said Jake Voracek, who has now been in Philadelphia (3 seasons) as long as he was in Columbus. “They are a great young team. We haven’t played them enough to be a rivalry yet, but we’re going to need to beat them to be a playoff team.”

For the Flyers, Columbus isn’t the cupcake divisional opponent they once might have been. The Blue Jackets’ record over their last 100 games (51-37-11) is better than the Flyers (48-43-9).

Columbus enters tonight’s game riding a franchise-best 7-game winning streak. Steve Mason is the Blue Jackets’ record-holder for wins (96) and shutouts (19). Jody Shelley, now a broadcaster for the Jackets, holds the record for penalty minutes (1,025). Sergei Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy last summer as the league’s top goaltender.

The Columbus Dispatch's Aaron Portzline provided an interesting franchise history lesson in today's paper, looking back at the first 1,000 games. Not surprisingly, Nik Zherdev's name popped up.

“We are still a young franchise,” former Flyer R.J. Umberger said, now second in career goals (115) for Columbus. “It hasn’t been that easy for us to get that rivalry going like we’d want, I don’t think playing in the West helped. Playing Pittsburgh, the building is always loud, but it was like that against Detroit, Chicago, even St. Louis.”

Finally competitive on a consistent basis, the Blue Jackets have made it through the salad days of their franchise without a natural rival. Right now, it’s not something they yearn for or even think about - but with the right taste, they may change their mind.

“The other part of moving to the East is short flights, less time zone changes, more rivalries,” Bobrovsky said Thursday. “Rivalries are more for fans. For us, the hockey is the same, we just try and go out and take the points.”

SLAP SHOTS: After not skating for two days prior to their Wednesday loss in Carolina, 18 players took the ice for an optional morning skate on Thursday in Columbus. Vinny Lecavalier, Mark Streit and Claude Giroux did not participate ... Ray Emery will oppose Bobrovsky in net. It’s Bobrovsky’s first time facing the Flyers since his June, 2012 trade to Columbus ... Bobrovsky is 8-0-0 with a 1.77 GAA during the Jackets’ streak ... The Flyers are 2-3-2 all-time at Nationwide Arena and 5-0-1 against the Blue Jackets at Wells Fargo Center.

For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers

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Frequent Flyers is your home for news and analysis of all things orange and black.

Frank Seravalli Daily News Staff Writer
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