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Flyers’ defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen has turned up his game

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Rasmus Ristolainen, Philadelphia Flyers

Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen has turned it up a gear since coming back from the holiday break.

Ristolainen (finally!) scored his first goal of the season Tuesday in a 5-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks at the Wells Fargo Center.

His teammates were happy for him.

“It was hilarious, just the way he turned the corner” and celebrated, center Morgan Frost said about Ristolainen.  “I think I was the first one on the corner of the bench. I was getting a good chuckle out of it.”

Frost and his teammates know Ristolainen hasn’t been much of an offensive force, but he has kept opponents away from the crease with his physicality.

“You guys see it. He does so much of the dirty work out there,” Frost said. “Everyone is happy when a guy like that gets rewarded (with a goal). I think if you looked at the bench or you looked at his face, that’s probably a good gauge of how excited everyone was for him.”

Playing smarter

Ristolainen has played smart hockey overall. In the past, Ristolainen has had a tendency to throw a big hit that takes him out of the play. Being out of position has haunted him somewhat during his career.

He’s improved in that area. The Finnish native has been steady and has thrown more hits at the perfect time. He had a huge hit Tuesday against Anaheim’s Max Jones before scoring a few minutes later — shorthanded, no less.

The shorthanded goal was a stunner. The 6-foot-4, 221-pound Ristolainen looked like like a skilled forward as he made an artistic forehand-backhand move that had the crowd roaring.

“A sick goal,” Frost said.

Ristolainen, 28, who has been playing primarily on the third pairing with Nick Seeler recently, has three points over his last two games. He had two points, total, in his first 37 games.

The former Sabre has also done a solid job on the penalty kill, getting into lanes and blocking shots. He’s had an active stick and has been very noticeable in a good way.

He hasn’t been over-committing to pucks or leaving his partner out to dry. In short, he has adhered to the comments once uttered by legendary Flyers coach Fred Shero: “Bad things happen when a D drifts to his partner’s side.”

Philadelphia Flyers head coach John Tortorella and assistant Brad Shaw have done a good job with Ristolainen, getting him to understand where he should be positioned when making a big hit. It’s been working for the Flyers, and Ristolainen has looked more confident on the ice.

In the corners, the player they call “Risto” has been winning a good chunk of battles, and his exits have been clean.  His turnovers are down, too.

“He’s been strong (for us),” Tortorella said: “I think he’s a guy that guys pull for. He’s put up some numbers early in his career but right now I’m just concerned where he is defensively.”

Ristolainen has played solid hockey over the past few weeks. So have the Flyers, who have won eight of their last 11 heading into Saturday’s game in Detroit.

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