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Ken Hitchcock's first game as Columbus Blue Jackets coach comes against the team that gave up on him only one month ago.
Hitchcock hopes to prevent Columbus from tying the longest losing streak in franchise history on Friday and beat a Philadelphia Flyers team which has not been much better since dumping the Stanley Cup-winning coach.
"When I was on the plane flying here, I felt like, man, I'm in the Twilight Zone," Hitchcock said Thursday of his trip back to Philadelphia for this game. "I hope the players have a lot better day than I'll have tomorrow. It's going to be a tough day."
Another tough day for Hitchcock came on Oct. 22, when he was suddenly fired by the Flyers after a 1-6-1 start. Philadelphia has gone 4-8-2 since replacing him with John Stevens, who received a two-year contract on Monday.
The only team in the league with fewer points than the Flyers (5-14-3) are the Blue Jackets (5-13-2), who hired Hitchcock as their fifth coach in six years.
"They have veteran players who have won the Stanley Cup before, guys who know what it takes," Hitchcock said. "They've got people like Sergei Fedorov, Adam Foote and Fredrik Modin, who know what it takes to win."
Hitchcock knows what it takes, having won a championship with Dallas in 1998-99 and having made the playoffs eight straight times when coaching a team for a full season. The Blue Jackets have never made the postseason in their five-plus years of existence.
Hitchcock signed a three-year, $3.6 million contract to replace interim coach Gary Agnew, who was the team's top assistant before Gerard Gallant was fired on Nov. 14.
"He's a winner. He's a guy that pushes people to the limit," Blue Jackets general manager Doug MacLean said of Hitchcock. "And we have a lot of guys that need to be pushed."
Despite their collection of stars, the Blue Jackets have lost seven in a row. It's the team's worst slide since matching the club record with eight straight losses from March 3-18, 2003.
Columbus was expected to challenge for a playoff spot this season, but has produced a league-low 43 goals while allowing 65.
"We need to change the culture and I think he's the guy to do it," MacLean said. "(Hitchcock's hiring) is a crossroads and I think it's an important one."
The 54-year-old Hitchcock is hoping to lead Columbus to its first victory in seven meetings with Philadelphia, a team he led to two Atlantic Division titles in three-plus seasons.
While Columbus is coming off a 4-3 shootout loss to St. Louis on Wednesday, the Flyers dropped their third in a row with a 3-2 overtime loss to Ottawa.
Philadelphia snapped a 37-year-old club record with its sixth consecutive home loss.
"It's a game we have to win. We need the points right now," Flyers center Mike Richards said after being asked about facing the team's former coach on Friday.
"It doesn't matter who we're playing, we've got to go out and try to win the game. It doesn't matter who's on the bench. I don't think he's got an advantage."