NHL Preview: Philadelphia Flyers vs Pittsburgh Penguins
Flyers (11-12-1) vs Penguins (15-8-0) 7 pm., NHLN, CSN
Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The heated rivalry rages on…
What has become arguably the greatest rivalry in not only the NHL, but all of sports, the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins will open a new chapter of their Atlantic Division battle tonight in front of a sea of orange and black. Pittsburgh took the first game behind a tremendous effort in net from Marc-Andre Fleury. Game two belonged to the Flyers thanks to a breakout party for Jakub Voracek, notching his first career hat trick in the contest.
That coming out party for Voracek appears to have lingered on, as the winger has been on an absolute tear this season. He leads the Flyers in points (27) as well as assists (17). His 27 points ties him for sixth-most in the entire league. Voracek has posted at least one point in eight of his last nine games. Unfortunately, as red hot as Voracek has been, an unfriendly face in Pittsburgh has even better. Or should I say the best?
Sidney Crosby, whether you love him or hate him, is the best hockey player in the game today. Period. Now that he is healthy for an entire season (or half of one), Crosby currently leads the entire league in points (36) and his plus/minus of 11 proves that he makes positive things happen for the Pens when he’s out on the ice. Crosby is also riding a five-game point streak and has raised the play of linemate Chris Kunitz astronomically, helping him rank tied for 4th in points (28).
Oh, and did I mention that they got Evgeni Malkin back the other night? Sorry…
Malkin returned to the lineup on Monday night after missing the previous four games due to concussion. He scored an absolute beauty of a goal while also notching an assist in the team’s win. He’ll be in the lineup against the Flyers and of course, he will be a force to be reckoned with.
The Flyers, meanwhile, have some injury issues of their own, but don’t they always? During Tuesday night’s loss to the New York Rangers, brick wall defenseman Nicklas Grossmann was forced to leave early after suffering an undisclosed lower-body injury. Losing Grossmann would be awful for the Flyers. He leads the league in blocked shots (68), has been solid all season long and his physical play has been evident.
Between the Pipes
It’s Ilya Bryzgalov and you already knew this, didn’t you? He’ll make his league-leading 23rd start on Thursday night. Bryzgalov allowed five goals in the last meeting between these two clubs. Despite possibly being fatigued, Bryz has held his own, sporting a GAA of 2.68 to match a .903 save percentage.
Expect Fleury to be in the cage for the Penguins. He holds an 11-5 record along with a 2.44 GAA and a save percentage of .911.
Keys to Win
Score early and often: The Pens are the league’s second highest scoring hockey club, averaging about three and a half goals per contest. Philadelphia’s defense hasn’t been necessarily bad by any means, but it certainly hasn’t been where they’d like it to be. That being said, the Flyers may have to put a ton of pressure on Fleury from the get-go because Pittsburgh can score goals at will.
Rino 911: Flyers tough guys Zac Rinaldo has been one of the unsung heroes for this hockey club this season, agitating the opponents until they receive penalties or are thrown off of their game. Rinaldo will have to do that again tonight, but against some superstar talent. Look for him to try to get under Crosby and Malkin’s skin.
Former Flyers captain Chris Pronger addressed the media today regarding his current health situation. He stated that he doesn’t know exactly what is going to happen, while of course, mocking the reporters.
Matt Read could very well return to the lineup for this contest after being declared out for six weeks with a torn rib cage on Feb. 21. Seems almost impossible, right? We will have to wait and see.
The Penguins hold a record of 8-2-1 at the Wells Fargo Center under head coach Dan Bylsma.