(Pittsburgh, PA) – Having scored just 12 goals in their last six games after a torrid offensive start, Flyers Head Coach John Stevens shuffled his lines a bit on Tuesday as the team prepares for the first of eight meetings with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night (7:00 p.m., CN8).Danny Briere
and Mike Richards, the team’s two best offensive players so far, traded places with Richards centering Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble and Briere between Joffrey Lupul and R.J. Umberger.
Briere understands the change.
“When you’re not winning and not scoring goals you have to try and find a way to get something going,” said Briere after an afternoon practice in Pittsburgh. “The past three or four games we haven’t scored a lot of goals five-on-five.
|Joffrey Lupul and Danny Briere will be skating on the same line together when the Flyers face Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. (Getty Images) |
“We’re trying to find a spark there and some chemistry somewhere. Me and Joffrey the past few games have had some good scoring chances in the few shifts we were out there together. We’re just trying to find something that’s going to start working.”
Since sweeping a four-game homestand, the Flyers are 2-4 on their season-long eight-game road trip. The team has played well for stretches, such as the second and third periods of a 3-2 win over Washington on Friday, but struggled as well, as evidenced by the first period of the 2-0 loss to the New York Rangers on Monday in which Philadelphia surrendered 22 shots on goal.
Stevens is looking for some consistency from his club.
“It seems like our game has ebbs and flows and there’s not enough continuity in what we’re doing right now,” he said. “We thought we’d take a look at something a little different and keep searching for some chemistry and the right combinations.
“We actually liked the way it looked.”
Richards, who is second on the team in scoring with 14 points (behind Briere’s 15), played with Gagne and Knuble in Philadelphia’s final game of the regular season last year. The Flyers defeated Buffalo in that one, 4-3, with the trio combining for six points.
“They played the last game of the year together last year and had an outstanding game,” said Stevens.
Of course, that game was one of the few bright spots in last year’s campaign. Wednesday’s opponent had something to do with the misery, as the Penguins won all eight games of the season series.
Although nearly half of the Flyers roster wasn’t around then, it is still important for them to get off on the right foot against a key division rival and forget about anything that may have happened in the past.
“We’re reminded of it,” said Umberger of the 0-6-2 record against Pittsburgh. “But, it’s a rival no matter what. We’re fighting for a division here, and these games early in the season really mean a lot when it comes down to the end. We’re at the end of our road stretch here and we need a couple wins. This is a big game for us.”
Of course, any discussion about the Penguins has to include last year’s Hart Memorial Trophy winner and league scoring champion, Sidney Crosby. Crosby has had some of the best games in his young career against Philadelphia, and tallied seven goals and nine assists for 16 points against the Flyers last year.
Briere was asked if Crosby is the best player in the NHL.
“Yes. That’s not a very hard question,” he said. “He seems to get better and better every year. It’s amazing at 20 years old he was the best player in the game. It’s very impressive.”
While Crosby is a focal point, the Flyers can’t forget about the players around him.
“Hockey is still a team game. You need everybody and you need help around you,” added Briere. “They have a good start with having him in the lineup, but you don’t win by yourself.”
“It’s not just [Crosby]. They have [Evgeni] Malkin, [Jordan] Staal and [Mark] Recchi, so they have a nice supporting cast and people that can score and hurt you,” said Stevens. “Our defensive team game had better be in order.”