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Flyers, Penguins start home-and-home in Philadelphia

Saturday, 03.15.2014 / 2:58 AM

PENGUINS (44-17-4) at FLYERS (33-25-7)

TV: NHLN-US, ROOT, CSN-PH

Last 10: Pittsburgh 6-2-2; Philadelphia 7-2-1

Season series: The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers open a weekend home-and-home set Saturday in Philadelphia that continues Sunday in Pittsburgh. The game Saturday will mark the third time the cross-state rivals have played this season. The Penguins won 4-1 in Philadelphia on Oct. 17 while the Flyers won 2-1 in Pittsburgh on Nov. 13.

Big story: Not that the Flyers and Penguins need any extra spark to their rivalry, but a home-and-home set a month before the Stanley Cup Playoffs start, with both teams battling for playoff positioning, could make for a very interesting weekend of hockey in the Keystone State.

The teams haven't played since November, but it likely won't take too long for the distaste between them returns.

"Both teams like playing each other," Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. "They are intense games. It's almost a playoff game every time. It's going to be a good test for us to see where we stand against one of the best in the East."

Team Scope:

Penguins: The injury bug continues to peck away at the Penguins; the latest player to feel the sting is forward James Neal.

The team announced Friday that Neal is out indefinitely with a concussion.

"You don't know if you're talking about 1-2 days or much longer," coach Dan Bylsma said. "You hope the symptoms subside and it's shorter than longer."

Earlier this season Neal missed five weeks with an upper-body injury, and he also served a five-game suspension for a kneeing incident; in 44 games he has 22 goals and 49 points.

"It won't be easy without him," left wing Jussi Jokinen told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "He is a great player. Everyone needs to chip in. It's been a tough year for him."

Flyers: With the Flyers barely hanging onto the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, their weekend set against the Penguins is a crucial one. That's one reason coach Craig Berube refused to reveal which goaltender he would start in either game.

With Ray Emery appearing to be fully recovered from the lower-body injury that has kept him out for the past two weeks, Berube can pick from either of his veteran goalies. So which one does the stats say he should use?

Steve Mason has a better career save percentage (.908) but has played five games against the Penguins compared with 11 for Emery (.894). Emery has a better goals-against average (2.77 to 3.17), but both goalies have career records around .500; Mason is 2-2-1 in five games while Emery is 5-4-2 in 11 games.

Interesting to note is how they've fared against Sidney Crosby, the NHL's leading scorer and noted Flyers-killer. In eight games Emery has played against Crosby he's 4-3-1 with a 2.49 GAA and .905 save percentage, and Crosby has one goal and four points. In four games against Crosby, Mason is 1-2-1 with 3.82 GAA and .892 save percentage, and has allowed three goals and eight points.

Who's hot: Forward Lee Stempniak has three points in four games since being acquired by the Penguins. He had two points in his previous six games with the Calgary Flames. … Flyers forward Jakub Voracek has points in four straight games, with three goals and five assists in that span.

Injury report: Besides Neal, the Penguins are without goaltender Tomas Vokoun (blood clot), forwards Beau Bennett (wrist), Pascal Dupuis (knee) and Chris Conner (foot), and defensemen Kris Letang (stroke) and Paul Martin (hand). Forward Chris Kunitz (lower body) is questionable. … In addition to Emery, who is expected to be available Saturday, Flyers forward Zac Rinaldo (upper body) is questionable.

Follow Adam Kimelman on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

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