Key Observations Heading Into Game 77 Between the Penguins and Flyers

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By: Andy Hughes (@PensNation_Andy)

The Pittsburgh Penguins (42-23-11) haven’t been thrilled with the way they’ve played the Philadelphia Flyers (30-29-17) this season. They have lost both games against them so far, being outscored 8-5 in the two meetings. Fortunately, the Penguins will have two chances to beat the Flyers in the next four nights. Tonight’s game at CONSOL Energy Center will be the final time the Flyers visit the Steel City this season since they have already been eliminated from the playoffs. Penguins fans should be relieved about that since the Flyers have won the last six games between these two teams. October 17, 2013 was the last time Pittsburgh defeated Philadelphia. The Flyers have also dominated at CONSOL Energy Center, recording a 10-1-1 record since the building opened. The cross-state rivals will meet again in Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon. While their season is pretty much over, we all know the Flyers wouldn’t mind messing with the Penguins’ heads like they always do. The record doesn’t matter in these games. Philadelphia always brings their “A” game against the Penguins so Pittsburgh cannot take them lightly. In the last meeting on January 20th, the Flyers beat the Penguins 3-2 in overtime. There were plenty of antics in the game. Zac Rinaldo delivered a cheap shot on Kris Letang, which eventually earned him an eight-game suspension and Jakub Voracek randomly fought Rob Scuderi for no reason. Steve Downie also earned nine penalty minutes in the tilt.

While the Penguins need the two points tonight, they cannot play the Flyers’ mind games with the playoffs coming up soon. They are already stuck playing with five defensemen until Christian Ehrhoff and/or Letang can return to the lineup. Ehrhoff skated on his own this morning, but Letang is still being evaluated and has not exercised or skated since the injury occurred. Normally, the Penguins would recall a defenseman, but that is not possible due to how close they are to the salary cap. In addition, they do not have any forwards who can be sent down to the AHL without going through waivers. It’s certainly not an easy task playing shorthanded on the back end, but you have to give credit to Scuderi, Paul Martin, Ian Cole, Derrick Pouliot and Ben Lovejoy. They all stepped up their game in a big way in that hard fought shootout win over the San Jose Sharks. Cole seems to be getting really comfortable with the Penguins, which has been fun to watch since he didn’t get a great opportunity in St. Louis. Sooner or later, the Penguins will need that sixth body though. These guys are going to be tired if this keeps up. Another player who has been stepping up his game lately is Maxim Lapierre. In that game against the Sharks, Lapierre won 13 of 14 faceoffs, including some big ones on that long penalty kill. This is why Jim Rutherford traded for Lapierre. This is his time of the year. He always steps up his play around playoff time and you can sense a goal coming from him soon. The Penguins’ fourth line center has recorded at least two shots on goal in the last three games.

Sidney Crosby has also started to get hot again, notching seven points in his last five games. His 79 points leads all NHL players and it looks as if he’s getting hot at the right time. In my opinion, he’s looked good for a while now, but seems to be getting more points than he had a few weeks ago. He’s certainly earned the points given the amount of chances he produces. And how great has Patric Hornqvist been with Crosby? He’s been unbelievable. Hornqvist is the definition of a “playoff-type player.” He will do whatever it takes in front of the net to create space for himself and his teammates. His presence in the paint is something that Pittsburgh has lacked for years.

Despite some good offensive years from Voracek, Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds, the Flyers have struggled to put it all together this season. They are 2-4-4 in their last ten games and just haven’t looked great at all. The injury bug has gotten the best of them too, as it looks like they will be missing Simmonds, RJ Umberger, Luke Schenn, Andrew MacDonald and Mark Streit tonight. They’ve really struggled defensively this year, which caused them to make some changes at the trade deadline. They traded defenseman Braydon Coburn to the Tampa Bay Lightning for defenseman Radko Gudas in addition to Tampa Bay’s first and third round picks in the 2015 NHL Draft. The Flyers also shipped longtime defenseman Kimmo Timonen to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a 2015 second-round pick as well as a 2016 conditional draft pick. I’m sure it was tough for Philadelphia to say goodbye to those guys, but I think they did a great job with the returns they got. Timonen had not played a single game this season as a result of blood clots and the Flyers still managed to get a second-round pick for him. They also got a lot more than I expected for Coburn. Philadelphia may be out of the dance this season, but once all of these young players come up, they should be a playoff contender once again.

Yes, it is another “Rivalry Night” in Pittsburgh, but the Penguins can’t get too wrapped up in this one. Just come out of a well-played game healthy. That’s all you can ask for at this time of the year.