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Can Umberger shake off slump after Columbus tribute?

Umberger has been unable to find his role with his new team, the Flyers.Getty Images

The Columbus Blue Jackets paid tribute to RJ Umberger, who is one of the best players in the young franchise’s history, in his first visit back to the city after being dealt to the Flyers this summer early in the first period of Tuesday’s game.

During a break in the action, there was a “welcome back” graphic shown on the video screen followed by a shot of Umberger sitting on the Flyers’ bench.

The fans, who remembered his four straight seasons of 20 goals or more, greeted him positively.

When Umberger returns to his current home on Thursday to face the New Jersey Devils, he won’t exactly receive a warm reception from the fans.

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The organization and its supporters have been frustrated with the lack of production from Umberger, who played his first three seasons in Philadelphia before getting traded to Columbus after the 2008 season.

The winger, known for his grit and hard-nosed style of play, has disappointed so far with just two goals and two assists, going minus-10 in 27 games. Most nights have been like Tuesday, when he had no shots or points in 15 minutes of ice time.

Known as a slow starter and streaky player, Umberger ended a 17-game pointless streak last week in Anaheim and some have questioned how he’s avoided becoming one of coach Craig Berube’s healthy scatches this season.

To say his second go-around in Philly has not gotten off to a rosy start is an understatement.

Although his performance appeared to improve over the recently-completed five-game road trip, Umberger is falling well short of expectations. When adding Umberger in exchange for former all-star and fan favorite Scott Hartnell, the Flyers figured they were getting a faster and more disciplined two-way player that would provide payroll relief on the back end of the deal.

More than two months into the season, all they have gotten is a player who is off to the worst start in his 10-year career and still trying to carve out his role on the roster.

He has played most of the season on the Flyers’ shutdown line alongside Sean Couturier and Matt Read, which doesn’t exactly lend itself to high offensive production. Given his history, he still should have more goals and points at this point of the season. His strong defensive game has also landed him as a reliable penalty killer, while also seeing time on the power play.

"For me it was trying to figure out my role on this team and how I could help out,” Umberger told reporters. “Now I think I've got it."

The Flyers hope he can find his niche – and resemble the player Blue Jackets fans remember so fondly.

 
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