If Thursday night’s game at Columbus was a bit of a glimpse into the Flyers’ future, it looks rather bright.
Goals by 23-year-old Owen Tippett and 23-year-old Noah Cates were instrumental in the Flyers’ 4-1 victory over the Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena.
The win avenged a 4-2 loss to the Jackets on Tuesday night in Philadelphia. Goaltender Martin Jones picked up the win. To top it off, it made Cam Atkinson’s noteworthy return trip to Columbus just a little more special.
“Some of the youth we’ve injected – these guys aren’t just getting an opportunity to play, they’re having an impact,’’ interim head coach Mike Yeo said. “I think they (players such Cates and Tippett) are feeling comfortable (because) they’ve been playing well. That’s one way to fit into the group. They’re just not on the score sheet, they’re doing the right things with and without the puck. That’s how you get rewarded, that’s how you get success. That’s how you earn the trust of your teammates and your coaches.’’
Things didn’t start well but there was a happy ending for a change.
The Flyers gave up their 10th shorthanded goal of the season to provide the Blue Jackets with a 1-0 lead in the first period.
Eric Robinson took a lead pass from Vladislav Gavrikov, raced in and beat Jones with a high shot.
In the second period, Kevin Connauton’s goal at 8:00 tied the score. The defenseman paired up with Kevin Hayes on a two-on-one rush and beat goaltender Elvis Merzlikins from the left circle. It was Connauton’s first goal as a Flyer and first overall since 2019.
Then Tippett put the Flyers in front with a goal at 13:26. Merzlikins attempted a clear along the boards but the puck took a bad hop and Tippett gained possession, firing home his second goal as a Flyer since coming over from Florida in the Claude Giroux trade last month.
Cates scored for a second straight game to make it 3-1 at 16:41. Cates took a rebound off the end board and chipped it in off Merzlikins. In the third period, Travis Konecny scored with 3:05 to play to account for the final margin.
“I’m getting more comfortable on the ice,’’ Cates said. “I think it’s even more important off the ice being with the guys. I’m getting more confidence, playing the way I want to play and getting more minutes.’’
Added Tippett: “When you learn the systems and get more familiar with the organization it makes you feel more comfortable and more confident. I feel my game’s gotten a little better every game, whether it’s holding onto pucks or getting shots off.’’
Atkinson, back in Columbus for the first time since last summer’s trade, credited some of the young players for the successful night.
“They were the first guys to give me a hug after we won,’’ he said. “Just goes to show the character we have in this organization.’’
>Atkinson homecoming made special
Atkinson, who spent a decade playing for the Blue Jackets, was given a video tribute during a break in the action in the first period as part of his special homecoming.
The audience at Nationwide then provided Atkinson with a long standing ovation. Atkinson was traded from Columbus last summer in a deal which returned Jake Voracek to the Blue Jackets.
Atkinson, a Connecticut native, said he plans to make Columbus his home when his career is over.
There were signs, jerseys and smiling faces all over the stands before the game began, making it a memorable night for Atkinson.
And getting the win made it just a little more magical.
“It was a special night for sure,’’ Atkinson said. “You could just feel the buzz as soon as we landed (on Wednesday). Today, the anticipation of coming to the rink, the warmups, seeing all the signs, jerseys -–just the support around the city, it’s truly a special place for me and my family. This is why I call this place home.’’
There were plenty of highlights to show in the tribute. Atkinson ranks near the top of every Blue Jacket career offensive category.
“What a great tribute,’’ he said. “I want to thank the Blue Jackets for that. Truly something I will remember for the rest of my life.’’
A win just put the cherry on top.
“That was one of the things I emphasized, I talked to the guys before we went out,’’ Atkinson said. “How special, emotional it was going to be for me. I asked each guy to dig a little bit deeper because a win would make the feeling even more special for me. I give a lot of credit to my teammates and coaching staff. They wanted to get the win for me and they sure did that.’’
>Western Michigan connection
Connauton and a fellow Western Michigan University product, Ronnie Attard, were paired together and there appeared to be some chemistry in the making.
“We were talking about going to Western so it’s cool having that connection,” Connauton said during a second intermission interview. “He’s a big guy, he skates well. It’s just about keeping calm and playing with confidence — not being hesitant out there. I think we’ve been working well together. If he needs advice, I’ll be happy to give it to him.”
The Flyers return to action on Saturday when they play host to the Anaheim Ducks. Prior to the game, the Flyers will provide a salute to public address announcer Lou Nolan, who is celebrating his 50th anniversary behind the microphone. . .Keith Yandle was scratched for the third time in the last four games. His NHL ironman streak of 989 straight games was snapped last Saturday. . .Hayes had assists on the goals by Tippett and Cates and now has 18 points in 17 games since returning from injury.