By James Conley
Pittsburgh Penguins (23-10-1) @ Philadelphia Flyers (15-16-1)
The Philadelphia Flyers face a game Thursday that has the potential to turn their season around. The way things have gone, beating the rival Penguins at home may be the last thing that can spark this team.
Tuesday’s game at the Mellon fit the bill for this rivalry. The first period boasted three fights in less than sixteen seconds. Rather than intimidate the Penguins, the fights seemed to get the team going, to the tune of 6 goals. The Penguins have a big checking line in Michael Rupp, Craig Adams and Eric Godard. Dan Bylsma expects an even more physical game Thursday, again sitting Max Talbot in favor of Godard.
This is going to be an emotional game, and the first goal may be the most important one. The Flyers are 12-4-1 when scoring first this season, and 3-12 when they don’t. Any team mired in a 3-11 stretch is going to develop a fragile psyche. The Penguins have shown the ability to win when scored on first with a 9-8-1 record in those games, bettered only by New Jersey in that category. Landing the first goal may turn an agitated home crowd against their struggling team and set the tone for the night.
Sidney Crosby continued his career-long tirade on Philadelphia’s defense Tuesday, gaining another three points (1G, 2A). He has more career points against the Flyers (49 points in 28 games) than against any team in the NHL. Chris Pronger (-2 Tuesday) will have to have a better outing to keep Crosby off the score sheet.
Jordan Staal and Bill Guerin will both play tonight. The two forwards suffered injuries on the same 3rd period power play during Tuesday’s game. Having them in the lineup will be a big help. Guerin scored once and Staal twice in Tuesday’s game. Staal has been increasingly impressive of late, maintaining possession on the forecheck, breaking into the offensive zone and putting the puck into the net.
The Penguins won the special teams battle Tuesday with a power play goal and two shorthanded markers, and that matchup will almost certainly determine tonight’s winner as well. The whistles always seem to show up for Pens-Flyers matchups, and that goes for both teams. The Penguins will want to improve on a 1-4 power play performance Tuesday and capitalize on a team’s mistakes for once.
The Penguins landed 5 even-strength goals on Tuesday, and appeared to spend the entire 3rd period on a 5-5 power play. The Flyers have shown no ability to skate with the Penguins, at least not for 60 minutes. More emphasis on a strong start for both teams, though the Flyers will need to come out of the gates ablaze to take advantage of home ice and compete.
Malkin is getting into penalty trouble this year (40 PIM in 27 GP) and had two minors called Tuesday. His first gave the Flyers their only goal and the second came at a time when the Flyers were gaining momentum and appeared to be skating with the Penguins, though Staal’s shorthanded goal ended that swing. This is a game in which the Pens won’t be able to afford giving away momentum like that.
This is going to be a momentum game. Tuesday’s game showed that Philadelphia can’t instill fear in the Penguins. The crowd at Wachovia is always a hassle, and is going to be extra motivated tonight. This game has the ability to change the fortunes of Philly’s season, and if not that, at least breaking the slump they find themselves in now. Tonight’s game will come down to who gets the first goal and who wins the special teams matchup.
Kunitz – Crosby – Guerin
Dupuis – Malkin – Fedotenko
Cooke – Staal – Kennedy
Rupp – Adams – Godard
Orpik – Gonchar
McKee – Goligoski
Eaton – Letang
*Marc Andre Fleury will start in goal