Flyers cough up puck as Gaudreau spoils Tortorella's return to Columbus

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John Tortorella did not have a memorable trip back to Columbus, Ohio.

Instead, it was a frustrating one for the head coach, an ultra competitive guy who didn't care to reminisce ahead of his return.

Tortorella watched the Flyers give away the puck and get burned by it in a 5-2 loss Thursday night at Nationwide Arena.

The bench boss was back where he last coached for parts of six seasons. The Blue Jackets' best run of success in franchise history came under the direction of Tortorella.

"I have a tremendous amount of friends there, great spot," he said Wednesday, "but I'm going back there to coach the Flyers and try to win."

Johnny Gaudreau made sure the Flyers (7-4-2) didn't leave with a win. He put up a season-high three points (one goal, two assists) and did so just 20:37 minutes into the game as the Flyers trailed 3-0 early in the second period.

They made the game interesting by cleaning things up the rest of the way and getting goals from their top defensive pair.

But the Blue Jackets (4-9-0) netted two empty-net goals to finish off the Flyers.

Because of injuries, Columbus had only four defensemen in the third period. Up front for the Blue Jackets, former Flyer Jakub Voracek was out with an upper-body injury.

• Gaudreau was the NHL's top free agent last offseason and wasn't heavily pursued by the Flyers.

"We don't have the cap space to pursue those high-end type of free agents," general manager Chuck Fletcher said July 13.

The Flyers' decision to not make room in an attempt to sign the hometown kid was highly criticized. The club went 25-46-11 the season prior and Fletcher said it would aggressively retool. That plan did not involve Gaudreau.

"Is it time to sign a free agent like that?" Tortorella said July 20, defending the Flyers' plan. "I think we have a little bit of building to do here and a little bit of growing."

To Tortorella's credit, despite injuries to key pieces, the Flyers have shown some growth early in this season. But Gaudreau and Tortorella's old team brought a pause to that Thursday night.

The Flyers did not help themselves whatsoever by committing bad turnovers on Columbus' first three goals.

"I still think we make it hard on ourselves with our turnovers," Tortorella said three days ago. "We have some needless turnovers."

Owen Tippett committed a turnover on each of the Blue Jackets' two first-period goals. Travis Konecny had a pass intercepted by Gaudreau, who led a 3-on-1 rush the other way for a goal 37 seconds into the second period.

Gaudreau scored Columbus' first goal and assisted the next two. The Blue Jackets are 3-0-0 when he has a multi-point effort and 1-9-0 in the other 10 games.

Tippett finished as a minus-5. He was on the ice for both of the empty-netters. Prior to Thursday night, the 23-year-old had five points (three goals, two assists) in six games after returning from a head injury.

• Carter Hart suffered his first regulation loss of the season, dropping to 6-1-2.

He wasn't a problem for the Flyers. He stopped 24 of 27 shots and had some key saves to keep the Flyers within striking distance.

Columbus netminder Joonas Korpisalo picked up his first win of the season by stopping 32 of 34 shots.

• Tony DeAngelo and Ivan Provorov provided the Flyers' goals.

Provorov finished with a two-point game.

Noah Cates had an assist on DeAngelo's goal, giving him three points (one goal, two assists) in the last two games. He had one point (a goal) in the first 11 games.

Konecny and Joel Farabee also recorded helpers.

• The Flyers host a back-to-back set this weekend as they welcome the Senators on Saturday (1 p.m. ET/NBCSP) and Stars on Sunday (1 p.m. ET/NBCSP).

Saturday's game marks the return of Claude Giroux, who will play in Philadelphia for the first time as a visitor.

The 34-year-old played parts of 15 seasons for the Flyers. He ranks second on the franchise's all-time leaderboards in games played (1,000), points (900) and assists (609), behind only Hall of Famer and Flyers icon Bob Clarke.

Before Saturday's game, the Flyers will recognize Giroux. They're encouraging fans to arrive early for the tribute.

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