Latest Penguins Buzz

Insider Only Game 1 Preview: Breaking down Penguins – Flyers

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers are set to open the CONSOL Energy Center and the 2010-11 NHL season Thursday night in Pittsburgh. The nationally televised game (Versus) will showcase the new arena, pregame ceremonies accompanying its regular-season christening and the first of six clashes in one of the game’s most belligerent rivalries.


Pittsburgh Penguins: 5-1 | Philadelphia Flyers: 5-3


The Penguins finished last season 47-28-7, good for 101 points, second place in the Atlantic Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference. The Flyers ended at 41-35-6, finishing third in the Atlantic, seventh in the East.
The Pens were eliminated in the second round of last year’s playoffs by the Montreal Canadiens in seven games. The Flyers lost in the Stanley Cup finals to the Chicago Blackhawks in six. Philadelphia entered the postseason with a shootout win over the New York Rangers on the regular season’s final day.
Head-to-head, the Pens took it to Philadelphia, posting a 5-1 record (1-4-1 for Philadelphia) and outscoring the Flyers 24-17 in those six matches. It was the first time in three years the teams did not meet in the postseason.

2009-2010 FINAL STATS

Pittsburgh finished last season fifth overall in goals per game (3) and eleventh in penalty kill percentage (84.1 percent), but had problems defensively at 2.9 goals allowed per game (20th overall). The power play struggled mightily, finishing 20th overall (17.2 percent)
For most of the season, the mark hovered around 14-15 percent. Fifteen spots separate last year’s goals per game and power play rankings.
Philadelphia finished last season much stronger than the Penguins, statistically speaking. They ranked eighth in goals per game (2.8) and fifteenth in goals against (2.7 per game).
Special teams are likely what carried them into the postseason, finishing third (21.5 percent) and eleventh (83 percent) in power play and penalty kill success, respectively. Still, the Flyers sat thirteen standings points behind the Penguins after 82 games.


An inevitability in the salary-cap era. Gone from the Penguins are forwards Bill Guerin, Ruslan Fedotenko and Alexei Ponikarovsky and defensemen Sergei Gonchar, Mark Eaton, Jay McKee and Jordan Leopold.
To fill the voids, General Manager Ray Shero brought on established defensemen Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek for five years apiece and acquired forwards Mike Comrie and Arron Asham in late-summer signings.
The Penguins will also count on their minor league affiliates to fill out the remaining roster spots. Injuries and vacancies mean players like Ben Lovejoy, Mark Letestu and Eric Tangradi will start the season with the big club.
The Flyers parted ways with forwards Simon Gagne and Arron Asham during the offseason, bringing on tough guy forward Jody Shelley and perennial scoring enigma Nikolay Zherdev.
Flyers GM Paul Holmgren stuck to his defensive guns, adding defensemen Sean O’Donnell, Andrej Meszaros and Matt Walker to a blueline already featuring the likes of Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen and Matt Carle. Doing so may have come again at the expense of goaltending, as the Flyers will rely on Sergei Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton as their goaltending tandem.


No secret that these are two of the most offensively potent teams in the NHL. The Penguins field last season’s co-scoring leader in Sidney Crosby (51 goals) as well as a healthy and hungry Evgeni Malkin, coming off a (by his standards) letdown season of 77 points in 67 games played.
The Penguins aren’t replete in scoring wingers, but may not need to be. They field a team of forwards mostly unchanged from last year (Comrie, Letestu and Asham for Ponikarovsky, Guerin and Fedotenko) that still finished fifth overall in goals per game.
The Flyers are more complete throughout the top three lines, if lacking the superstar presence of a Malkin or Crosby type. Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Danny Briere fill out some of the top roster spots and all figure to push for at least 30 goals.
Zherdev is inconsistent but has 30-goal potential, and the Flyers will also look to get more reliable scoring from Scott Hartnell (17 playoff points after a forgettable regular season) and emerging youngsters Ville Leino and James van Riemsdyk.


It’s no stretch to say the best defenses in the NHL reside in the Atlantic Conference. Between the Penguins, Flyers and New Jersey Devils, the Atlantic is home to names on the order of Chris Pronger, Brooks Orpik, Anton Volchenkov, Andrej Meszaros, Paul Martin, Henrik Tallinder and Zbynek Michalek, among others.
The Penguins bolstered their defensive corps with the much-celebrated signings of Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek. Both are legitimate top-pairing defensemen. Michalek gives the Penguins a second shutdown defenseman (Orpik the other), and Martin brings his considerable hockey IQ across the turnpike from New Jersey.
With the additions of Martin and Michalek, hockey experts around the league believe the Penguins are a much improved team and so does head coach Dan Bylsma.
“I think we have improved a couple ways, Bylsma said this week. I think we’ve improved with our defense and our ability to defend, and the mindset that’s something we’re going to be doing, protecting leads and winning one goal games.”
“But I also think our mindset is better right now for how we’re going to be approaching the season and the chip on our shoulder a little bit from not getting the result and not meeting expectations maybe we had for ourselves last year, Bylsma said. “That’s going to be an improvement for our team.”
The Penguins are expecting big things from Martin whose adjusting to a new system for the first time in seven plus years.
“Yeah it’s been good so far, ” Martin said. “It’s {Penguins system} a liitle different than what I’m use to, so right now you adjust to it where you’re hopefully not thinking about it too much and it comes natural. It’s starting to be like that… been good so far.”
Although defenseman Kris Letang is questionable for tonight’s game, Martin is excited about playing with the Penguins young defenseman in what the Penguins believe will give them two No.1 pairings.
“I think it will be exiciting for us to play together, Martin told Inside Pittsburgh Sports. “I’m looking forward to it, he’s a good player, he makes a lot happen and is good defensively. As soon as we get that chemistry to know where we’re going to be at for certain areas of the rink, we’ll do well together.”
One under-rated part of Martin’s game is his offensive ability. He has not recorded more than 30+ assists since the 2005-2006 season but playing in Dan Bylsma’s system look for his assist numbers to increase this season.
“Maybe… yeah possibly with the system and the way we play, ” Martin said. “Depends on power play and all kinds of that stuff. Just have to make sure to do my job defensively and go from there.”
While expectations are high for Michalek and Martin, the Penguins are also expecting big things from their two young defensemen.

Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski are expected to take further steps in their NHL development this year and are the wildcards of the group. The offensive potential is there for both players but can they produce consistently to replace Sergei Gonchar’s production?
Letang is entering the first year of a four year – $14 million deal.
Meanwhile, Derek Engelland and Ben Lovejoy, for now, fill the sixth and seventh defensive posts. Engelland provides toughness type of game that the Penguins lack and Lovejoy plays an all around type of game.
Lovejoy and Engelland appear to be short-term options as the Penguins are also blessed with immense depth in the farm system in Brian Strait, Robert Bortuzzo and emerging top prospect Simon Despres who pushed for playing time in the NHL this season.
The Flyers, likewise, are built heavy on the blue line. Joining a defensive team already boasting Pronger, Timonen, Carle and Braydon Coburn, the Flyers acquired Meszaros, Walker and the veteran O’Donnell. Only Oskars Bartulis, the Flyers’ eighth defensemen, is a product of their farm system.
Collectively, Holmgren and the Flyers have invested 25.5 million dollars, or 43 percent of their salary cap-limited budget, in their eight defensemen (just under 3.2 million per defensemen.)


The Pens and Flyers both seem to be investing in defense as a measure of improving their goaltending.
Unlike the Flyers, the Penguins have a bona fide starter in Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury is coming off a season he would probably like to forget (2.65 / .905). Though his 37 wins (37-26-1 overall) were the second most of his career (40 in 2006-07), Fleury’s play was mostly inconsistent, allowing some soft and untimely goals.
The most noticeable difference between Fleury’s game in last year’s unceremonious playoff exit and 2009’s Stanley Cup triumph was the defense in front of him. Pens’ brass figured the losses of Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi to be greater than first thought, and took steps to address the issue with signings this offseason and a renewed defensive focus in training camp.
An improved defense is only one part. Fleury must pick up his own play, at least in terms of consistency. The Penguins did not register their first shutout until the 71st game of last season against the Boston Bruins, who finished the season at the bottom of the league in goals scored. Head Coach Dan Bylsma has stated repeatedly that the team will practice and play with a renewed attention to defense.
Philadelphia has to hope its defense can cover any shortcomings in goal. Rookie goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is the opening night starter with Brian Boucher as the backup.
Michael Leighton, more a co-starter than backup, is on the shelf for about a month.
Some in Philadelphia seem to think Bobrovsky may be the potential long-term answer that the Flyers have lacked for more than a decade but he has a tough first test tonight against Pittsburgh.
Last year, Boucher registered a regular-season record of 9-18-3 (2.76 / .899). Leighton finished last season 16-5-2 (2.48 / .920) with the Flyers after being acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Ray Emery experiment failed early last season, and Philadelphia does not have a franchise goalie in its stable. That was good enough for a trip to the Cup Finals in 200-10. The Flyers’ upgraded defense will have to be equally good or better to replicate that type of postseason run.


The Penguins’ second line was arguably their best through training camp and the preseason. The combination of Evgeni Malkin, Mike Comrie and Eric Tangradi most resembled the 2008 line of Sykora-Malkin-Malone that was such a threat.
The line combined for thirteen points in six preseason games. The top line seems cemented with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis on Crosby’s wings. Staal’s eventual return will probably shake up the second line, but for the time being the Malkin-Comrie-Tangradi unit looks to be a surprising strength heading into the season.
The pressure will be on Tangradi to perform early as all indications are the team intends to send him back to Wilkes Barre once their lineup gets healthy.
The Flyers also field a deadly second line. Scott Hartnell, Daniel Briere and Ville Leino exploded in last year’s playoffs. They totaled 68 points in 23 playoff games.
The postseason was the staging ground for that line experiment and it worked beautifully for the Flyers. After their first full training camp under head coach Peter Laviolette, the line ought to become a mainstay this season.

Tonight’s Projected Lineups

Tangradi – Comrie – Malkin
Rupp-Talbot – Adams
*Marc Andre Fleury will start in goal
Notes: Eric Godard and Kris Letang will be game time decisions. Arron Asham is out with a shoulder injury.


Van Riemsdyk-Giroux-Zherdev
Walker – O’Donnell/Bartulis
*Sergei Bobrovsky will start in goal


Jordan Staal (foot surgery) Placed on Non-Injury List
Arron Asham (shoulder soreness) Placed on IR
Chris Pronger (knee) will not play
*Will DePaoli and James Conley contributed to this report*

About The Author

Comments Disabled

Comments have been disabled for this post.