Key Observations Heading Into Game 45 Between the Flyers and Penguins

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By: Andy Hughes (@PensNation_Andy)

After a rough weekend of hockey where the Pittsburgh Penguins fell to the New York Islanders and New York Rangers, Mike Johnston’s team hopes to rebound tonight against the Philadelphia Flyers. After all, what better medicine is there for this team than a win over their hated rival? The Penguins (26-12-6) are 4-5-1 in their last ten games while the Flyers are 4-6 in that span. Although Flyers forward Jakub Voracek leads the NHL in points with 55, Philadelphia is not having a good season as a team so far. The Flyers (18-22-7) are currently in sixth place in the very tight Metropolitan division. Voracek and captain Claude Giroux have been leading the way for this team as they hope to get back on track with a win over the Penguins. A struggling Flyers team playing the Penguins? We’ve seen this fish before. Philadelphia has gotten onto some rolls in recent years after beating Pittsburgh, but the Penguins hope to avoid that tonight at Wells Fargo Center.

This will only be the second meeting of the season between these two teams as the last one was October 22, 2014 when the Flyers beat Pittsburgh 5-3 at CONSOL Energy Center. Flyers center Sean Couturier was the player of the game in that meeting as he recorded a goal and two assists. It’s crazy to think that this will only be Johnston’s second game being involved in this rivalry, but it’s the truth. He has not been pleased with his team lately and he made that pretty clear with Jason Mackey of the Tribune-Review. Johnston told Mackey via phone, “I liked the first period of the Islanders game, for sure. Not the finish and (Sunday) afternoon, I didn’t think we had it at all, in any area of our game.” The Penguins have scored 5 goals in their past 2 games. That’s not terrible, but the only players that scored in those games were Sidney Crosby (3) and David Perron (2). While it has been awesome to see Crosby get back on track with a talented winger like Perron, Pittsburgh will need more contributions offensively down the lineup to beat the Flyers. The Penguins have lost six of seven games against Metropolitan division and have a 6-8-3 overall record this season against division opponents, which has concerned some people. That’s understandable, given what has happened in the postseason the past few years, but let’s not forget that it’s January. The Penguins are really missing Patric Hornqvist and Blake Comeau. When the Penguins were playing their best hockey, those two were in the lineup. I’m not making excuses for the team, but I do think when those two get back in, they will make a difference. Hornqvist works extremely hard in front of the net and Comeau was on his way to a career year before getting injured. As long as Pittsburgh stays healthy, bumping guys like Steve Downie and Nick Spaling to the bottom-six will help the forward depth tremendously. The fourth line could use a big boost with a guy like Spaling. Marcel Goc, Zach Sill and Craig Adams have a total of three goals combined this season, which will not cut it in the postseason. If Pittsburgh wants to go far in the playoffs this year, that will not be their fourth line.

While Penguins-Flyers games are fun as they are, it will be also cool to see four of the league’s top-five scorers on the same ice tonight: Voracek, Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Giroux. Malkin and Crosby both have done well historically against Philadelphia. Malkin has totaled 30 points (13 goals and 17 assists) in 23 games at Wells Fargo Center in his career. That has helped Pittsburgh register an 11-3-1 record in their last fifteen trips to Philadelphia in the regular season. Tonight will be Perron’s first game in the rivalry and it’s happening at a great time. Since being acquired from the Edmonton Oilers, Perron has notched five goals and two assists in six games with Pittsburgh. It’s pretty clear that he has found a home quickly with the Penguins and it could lead to an eventual contract extension if he continues to play at a high level. He has added another element to the power play and has gotten Crosby a talented right-handed winger, which he loves.

In addition to losing their game against the New York Islanders on Monday afternoon, the Flyers also may have lost two defensemen in the game. Nick Schultz has already been ruled out for tonight’s game against the Penguins with an upper-body injury while Carlo Colaiacovo also has an upper-body injury. Colaiacovo is questionable for tonight’s game. Philadelphia recalled Brandon Manning and Oliver Lauridsen from Lehigh Valley for help on the blue line. While Schultz and Colaiacovo are not the team’s best defensemen, the Flyers have had a lot of injuries at that position, which can cause some major problems, especially in rivalry games. With three goaltenders on the active roster, it is unknown who will start tonight for the Flyers as Rob Zepp and Ray Emery got playing time in the game against the Islanders yesterday. Emery got the win earlier in Pittsburgh this season, but the team also has Steve Mason on the roster.

As usual with the Flyers, the Penguins need to keep their emotions in check against Philadelphia as Johnston looks for his first victory against the Flyers. It could not come at a better time as the team is looking to get out of this little funk. Thomas Greiss will get the start tonight while Marc-Andre Fleury will start tomorrow at home against Chicago. Fleury has struggled recently with the Flyers, which could have led Johnston to this decision. I would expect the Penguins play much better tonight. The team recalled forward Bobby Farnham today, which means he will likely get the opportunity to annoy the Flyers. This team needs to make a statement and it couldn’t come at a better time or against a better opponent.