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Gameday Preview: Flyers vs. Penguins

by Bill Meltzer @BillMeltzer / philadelphiaflyers.com

In the lone exhibition game either team will play before the start of the postseason, the Philadelphia Flyers (41-21-7 in the regular season) will take on the archrival Pittsburgh Penguins (40-23-6) at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Tuesday. Game time is 4:00 p.m. ET. The game will be televised locally on NBCSP+ and nationally on NBCSN.

The National Hockey League is permitting teams -- for the exhibition game only -- to dress 20 skaters (13 forwards and seven defensemen) rather than the typical 18 skaters (12 forwards, six defensemen). 

After the exhibition game, the Flyers will play a three-game round-robin against the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning to determine the Nos. 1-4 seeds in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. The Flyers' default spot is the fourth-seed; they can only move up,not down. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, will play the Montreal Canadiens in a best-of-five qualification round. The winner will move on to the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

Here are five storylines to track heading into the exhibition.

1. SHARED DUTIES IN NET

Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault indicated after Monday's practice that Carter Hart would play the first two periods in goal against the Penguins. Brian Elliott will play in the third period.

"I think it's nice we have those four games here including our exhibition. Kind of get back into game mode and just feel things out. It's going to be a different environment for everybody. Something we are not use to. We're all in the same boat. It's going to be different to start. We put ourselves in a good position, so we're lucky to have those four games here to see what it's going to be like. As opposed to some teams that get one exhibition game and then have to fight for their lives to get into the postseason. I think we put ourselves in a spot to get these four games. It'll be nice to ease our way back into things," Hart said.

2. A LOOK AT ZAMULA

Vigneault noted that defense prospect Egor Zamula will be among the seven defensemen who dress for the Flyers in the exhibition game against Pittsburgh. So, too, will Shayne Gostisbehere and Mark Friedman, who played together as a pairing throughout training camp. Among the three starting pairs in the second half of the regular season (Ivan Provorov with Matt Niskanen, Travis Sanheim with Phil Myers, and Robert Hägg with Justin Braun), Vigneault will hold out two players until the start of the round robin. Although the coach did not specify which two defensemen will be scratched along with Andy Welinski, it is possible that he opts for 34-year-old Matt Niskanen and 33-year-old Justin Braun; the two oldest and most playoff-experienced members of the defense corps.

3. Forward Corps Could Resemble Saturday's Practice

Vigneault plans to start the same group of 13 forwards who appeared in the Group A practice on Saturday in Voorhees. At Monday's practice, the same line combinations were in place as Saturday, with wingers Joel Farabee, Michael Raffl and Nicolas Aube-Kubel splitting reps on Nate Thompson's line. The combinations were as follows:

Giroux - Couturier - Voracek
Laughton - Hayes - Konecny
van Riemsdyk - Grant - Pitlick
Farabee/Raffl - Thompson - Aube-Kubel/Raffl

"I envision this being a normal exhibition game in the sense spread out almost equal ice time 5-on-5 and depending on the specialty teams that you have. Certain guys get to play power play. Certain guys get to play penalty killing. It's a first game in a long time. We'll try and spread the minutes out," Vigneault said.

4. Power Play Continuity 

The Flyers held two power-play oriented practice days, and one day focused on the penalty kill near the end of camp. The two power play units for the exhibition should be similar to what was featured in the second half the regular season, as well as most of the players featured during training camp:

1ST UNIT: Giroux,Couturier, Konecny, Prorovov, Voracek
2ND UNIT: van Riemsdyk, Hayes, Farabee/Aube-Kubel, Gostisbehere/Sanheim, Niskanen.

Assistant coach Michel Therrien is in charge of the team's power play. After an inconsistent first half of the season on the power play, things came together in the second half. Here was the month-by-month breakdown.

OCT: PP 23.8 (10-for-42)
NOV: PP 16.7 (9-for-54)
DEC: PP 20.0 (8-for-40)
JAN: PP 19.4 (6-for-31)
FEB: PP 24.4 (10-for-41)
MAR:PP 22.2 (4-for-18)
OVERALL: PP 20.8 (47-for-226, 14th)

"We started to feel comfortable about the way we wanted to play. When you go through a season, you get some up and down, especially with the special teams. We got two different set-ups that we like and I think it puts the other team more on their heels," Therrien said.

"We tried G on his strong side. He's been used to playing on his forehand side but we wanted to go through that process about getting used to playing on the right side, too. We want to have different looks and it takes time to work on different looks. It takes time for the players to feel comfortable with different looks. There's no doubt at the end the players feel a lot comfortable about the way we want to approach our power play."

5. Behind Enemy Lines

If the Flyers were to enter the Stanley Cup playoffs as the No. 4 seed and Pittsburgh were to beat Montreal in their qualification round series, the Flyers would play the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

The Penguins, as with the Flyers, are likely to split Tuesday's goaltending chores. Look for Tristan Jarry and Matt Murray to split time in net. 

Sidney Crosby was a full participant in the Penguins' practice on Monday. After practice, Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan said the session went well. He declined to answer if Crosby would play in Tuesday's exhibition, saying it would be a game-day decision.

 On a teamwide basis, Sullivan said the objective of the exhibition game is to work on execution and attention-to-detail areas because a best-of-five series awaits on the other side.

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