Philadelphia Flyers (15-15-1-31pts)
GF 90: GA 88
Divisional Record 4-2-0: Conference Record: 13-10-0
PP % 21.8: PK % 78.8
By James Conley
The Pittsburgh Penguins face the Philadelphia Flyers tonight, opening up a home-and-home series that ends Thursday night in Philadelphia. It will be the first matchup of the two clubs since Pittsburgh’s 5-4 win in Philadelphia over two months ago.
Since that game, the two teams have gone their separate ways. Pittsburgh (45 pts) is tied for first in the Atlantic and second in the East, while the Flyers (31 pts) find themselves locked up with the Islanders and Rangers for third in the division.
The Pens (7-2-1 last 10) will be playing one of their few games this season with a healthy lineup, as well as a new-look power play featuring Matt Cooke on the top unit. The Flyers (3-7 last 10) are struggling to turn things around under new Coach Peter Laviolette.
Special teams are always a focal point against the Flyers, who attack on the penalty kill and thrive on the momentum created by short-handed goals. They are sixth in the league on the power play (22.0 pct). More importantly will be how the Pens’ 29th ranked power play fares against the Flyers’ aggressive kill, which has a knack of scoring short-handed against the Pens.
How Laviolette (2-4) prepares his team for his first matchup against division rival Pittsburgh will be something to watch. So too will be the intensity of the Flyers. Division games typically prove tough in spite of records, though the effort of the Flyers has been criticized this year.
Starved for points and sitting outside the playoff bubble, team captain Mike Richards and other young players have come under scrutiny for perceived lack of presence in the locker room. How the team fares at the end of a 3-game stint against the Boston Bruins and Penguins will speak to how the team responds to the coaching change.
Tonight’s game figures to follow the script of the Pens-Flyers rivalry. In their only meeting this season, the teams combined for 66 penalty minutes, 30 hits, two 10-minutes major penalties and a dental incident.
October’s matchup was overshadowed by Scott Hartnell’s alleged biting incident, which left Kris Letang with a bloodied finger as the result of a seemingly tame post-whistle scrum. Pittsburgh players and coaches were diplomatic when speaking of the incident after the game.
“My answer is going to be ask [Hartnell],” Letang said after the October 8 game. “He knows what he did. Go ask Hartnell.”
League officials asked Hartnell about it as well, though no punishment further than a minor penalty was issued.
Hartnell is one Flyers player Pens fans love to hate. Look for fans at the Mellon to tell Hartnell how they feel about the incident throughout the night.
DePaoli on the Flyers
The hiring of Peter Loviolette has not led to immediate results or provided much of a spark for the Philadelphia Flyers. However, learning to play Peter Laviolette’s type of high energy system is going to take some time for the Flyers.
Laviolette stresses an up-tempo style of offensive hockey that relies on an aggressive fore-check in the offensive zone and aggressiveness in the neutral zone.
One major complaint from Laviolette since taking over on December 4th is that the Flyers are out of shape. In this type of system, players are relied on to move their feet at all times. Getting the Flyers in better conditioning is a difficult task with very few practices during this stretch of the season.
Meanwhile, after a 1-4 start under Laviollete, the Flyers built some momentum Monday night going on the road in Boston and getting a much needed two points.
The Flyers trailed 1-0 going into the third period but scored three unanswered goals en route to a 3-1 victory.
“I thought we played a really strong third period,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “I was really glad to see us respond the way we did in the third period. Terrific period, from start to finish. I thought we skated, and shot and looked for offense and didn’t sit back. It’s what we needed.”
This could be a momentum week for the Flyers with two games against Pittsburgh and a weekend game against the New York Rangers.
Goaltending remains a concern Philadelphia
Goaltending remains a major issue for the Flyers. Ray Emery will be sidelined until at least late Janaury and questions remain whether Emery is a No. 1 goaltender in this league.
Goaltender Brian Boucher had a strong game Monday night against Boston but he’s not the type of goaltender that can carry the Flyers over the next 6-8 weeks.
The Flyers have expressed early interest in Dallas Stars goaltender Marty Turco but the Stars asking price is young forwards Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk.
Pronger’s play slipping?
Defenseman Chris Pronger is averaging just over 26 minutes of ice time per game and has a plus/minus rating of plus 10 on the season.
Pronger has been a workhorse on the backend for the Flyers but the consensus among scouts is that Pronger’s play has slipped of late after a very strong start to the season.
Pittsburgh is the prime reason Philadelphia acquired Pronger to give them a legitimate No. 1 shutdown defenseman to matchup against Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.