Pittsburgh Penguins (5-4-1) @ Philadelphia Flyers (4-4-1)
When: OCT 29, 2010 | Where: Consol Energy Center
Philadelphia and Pittsburgh square off for the third time in the first three weeks of the season. Separated by two points in the standings, the teams have split their first two matchups.
Sidney Crosby had two goals and an assist in their last meeting, a 5-1 win October 16 in Philadelphia. Brent Johnson made 29 saves on 30 shots to secure the win. Marc-Andre Fleury, coming off a four-goal losing effort Wednesday in Tampa, will get his second start in a row.
PENGUINS VS FLYERS
October 7, CONSOL Energy Center
Flyers Win 3-2
Goals – Kennedy, Goligoski
Goalie – Marc-Andre Fleury
October 16, Wachovia Center
Penguins Win 5-1
Goals – Crosby (2), Kunitz, Letestu, Cooke
Goalie – Brent Johnson
Marc-Andre Fleury has been the team’s lightning rod all season, if criticism has an electrical charge. Wednesday’s loss at Tampa Bay was Fleury’s fourth loss in five starts.
The Tampa game was typical of most outings during Fleury’s streak of shaky play. He made a few incredibly athletic saves while allowing a few incredibly soft goals.
There was no help from the team in giving Tampa Bay seven chances on the man-advantage, of which they converted one. Tampa is the league’s highest-scoring team with the fourth-best power play unit.
The Penguins also hung Fleury out to dry on a number of breakaway chances, most of which he was able to kill.
Nonetheless, Fleury is in dire need of a solid, 60-minute performance.
For the second time in five starts (the other Nashville), Fleury allowed a goal on the opponent’s first shot of the game. His line has dropped to 1-4 (3.41-.861), some of the poorest numbers in the league, worse even than several backups around the league.
It isn’t easy to bench five million dollars (MAF’s annual pay for the next five seasons). But the backup has a GAA average over two goals per game fewer than the starter (Johnson’s 1.39 GAA versus Fleury’s 3.41). That makes it even harder to watch five million dollars struggle on the ice.
Pittsburgh was held 0-5 on the man-advantage Wednesday, the third consecutive game without a power play goal. That’s 0-14 during the three-game road swing. The PP unit has converted 14.8 percent of its chances.
Ironically, Pittsburgh’s best power play chance came Wednesday at Tampa. During their first man-advantage, the Penguins spent nearly the entire two-minute sequence in the offensive zone, connecting cleanly on passes, taking good shots and moving the Tampa defenders out of position.
The Pens should like their chances to get the unit going again Friday. The Pens are 8 for 32 (25 percent) in the last six games against Philadelphia. Sidney Crosby scored two power play markers against Philadelphia in the October 16 game.
On the other side of the special teams matchup, the Flyers have the league’s 11th-ranked penalty kill unit and are known to press to create shorthanded opportunities.
In keeping with the cliché, whoever wins the special teams battle will likely win the game. The Pens are 4-2-0 in games in which they’ve scored on the man-advantage, 1-2-1 when they haven’t.
Sidney Crosby leads all Penguins with 6 goals, 12 points (6G-6A) and 46 shots on goal. Kris Letang (7) leads the team in assists and plus-minus (plus-7). Crosby and Goligoski are tied, leading the team with 3 power play markers apiece. Rupp is first with 20 PIM. Cooke has 2 shorthanded goals, tied for first in the NHL.
Danny Briere leads the Flyers in goals (6), power play goals (3) and points (8). Mike Richards is first with 6 assists. Blair Betts (plus-4) leads Philadelphia in plus-minus. Scott Hartnell is first with 39 PIM in nine games. Claude Giroux has two shorthanded goals, tied with Matt Cooke and two others for most in the league.
Pittsburgh set out to get stronger on defense this offseason. Through 10 games, all indications are that Ray Shero’s plan is working out wonderfully.
The Penguins boast the NHL’s top-scoring blueline corps. Paul Martin (7), Kris Letang (9) and Alex Goligoski (7) have accounted for 23 points in ten games. In total, the Penguin’s defensemen have accounted for 29 points.
As important as they were, the signings of Martin and Michalek (who the Pens have yet to see much action from) are getting overshadowed by the early surges by Alex Goligoski and Kris Letang.
Goligoski is tied with Crosby with three power play goals. He’s got seven points (3G-4A) and is a plus-6, second-best on the team. Letang leads all Pittsburgh defensemen with 9 points (2G-7A) and a plus-7 rating. As intangibles, he has improved greatly his physical and defensive play.
Letang was even mentioned by USA Today as an early candidate for the Norris Trophy.
Philadelphia and Pittsburgh were expected to present two of the best defensive units in the Eastern Conference. So far, Philadelphia’s blueline has produced almost nothing offensively.
Philadelphia’s seven defensemen have accounted for only eight points (1G-7A). Their top four defensemen – Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn – are a combined minus-one.
For comparison, Pittsburgh is 12th overall in goals against, and their top-four defensemen (Martin, Letang, Goligoski and Orpik) are a combined plus-16.
Neither the Pens nor the Flyers have had a fast start this season. After opening the year 2-0-1, Philadelphia has dropped four of six and into fourth in the division.
Pittsburgh started slow then watched a four-game winning streak melt away in the form of Jaroslav Halak, the Tampa offensive attack and two straight losses.
Not that the losses weren’t hard fought. Tampa Bay is currently tied for first in the Eastern Conference. St. Louis is fourth in the West and third in the Central.
Philadelphia has not won on the road since spoiling the CONSOL opener October 7. Pittsburgh needs a win to get to .500 at home (2-3-0) and to avoid a three-game losing streak.
Despite some talk that Jordan Staal could play this weekend, he has been ruled out and will not play.
Meanwhile, defenseman Zbynek Michalek seems closer to returning at this point, and is a lock to return at some point during the team’s upcoming four-game road trip.
The Flyers will play without Michael Leighton (back), Ian Laperriere (concussion) and Matt Walker (hip).
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