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Five things to watch as Penguins host Flyers

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

Welcome to the rivalry, Mike Johnston. Are you ready for your first taste of Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers hockey?

"I'm excited," Johnston, Pittsburgh's first-year coach, told the Penguins website Tuesday in advance of the NBCSN Wednesday Night Rivalry game against the Flyers at Consol Energy Center (8 p.m. ET).

Johnston has coached in some bitter rivalries before. For example, in the Western Hockey League, where he was coach and general manager of the Portland Winterhawks for the previous six seasons, games against the Seattle Thunderbirds were circled on the schedule.

Johnston's history in the NHL includes stops as an assistant coach with the Vancouver Canucks (1999-06) and Los Angeles Kings (2006-08). He said Flyers-Penguins is one that jumps off the schedule page at him.

"When you look at an 82-game schedule some games just blend into the other games and some games jump right out at you," Johnston said. "Heading into the season and looking at games last year when Philly and Pittsburgh played, the intensity and emotion, both in the building and on the ice, I think it adds to the game."

TALE OF THE TAPE: FLYERS-PENGUINS
1-3-2 (7th, Metropolitan) 2014-15 Record 3-1-0 (5th, Metropolitan)
1822-1257-457-106 All-Time Record 1597-1567-383-93
146-85-30-8 Head-to-Head Regular-Season Record 93-140-30-6
4-0-0 Streak vs. Opponent 0-3-1
4-0-1 @ Pittsburgh Home/Road Streak vs. Opponent 0-2-1 vs. Flyers
2 Stanley Cup Championships 3
9 Hockey Hall of Fame Members 10
Bob Clarke Most Famous Alumnus Mario Lemieux
4 Hart Trophy Winners 7
37 Postseason Appearances 29
Mark Recchi (1992-95; 1999-2004) Best Player in Common Mark Recchi (1989-92; 2005-07)

The Flyers were 3-0 against the Penguins in Pittsburgh last season. They won four out of the five games in the season series. The game Wednesday is the first of five between the rivals this season.

Here are five things to watch in this week's Wednesday Night Rivalry game, the Pennsylvania edition:

1. Pittsburgh's speed -- If it was a secret, which it wasn't, it's out now. The Penguins are going to win under Johnston by using their speed and skill. They are going to win with cleaner zone entries based off of their speed and skill. They are going to win with shorter, crisper and quicker passes. They're going to let the puck complement their speed game, not ruin it.

How the Flyers react to that will be telling. How the Flyers react will determine if they are playing on their heels or their toes. The Penguins will try to put them on their heels early by using their speed against the slower Philadelphia defense.

It has a good chance of working considering the Flyers will be coming into Pittsburgh fresh off a 4-0 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center on Tuesday. The Penguins are healthy and fresh considering they haven't played since Saturday.

2. Flyers discipline -- Philadelphia was the least-penalized team in the Eastern Conference until discipline became a problem Tuesday. The worst part is the Flyers' four minor penalties, all leading to Chicago power plays, were unnecessary and avoidable.

Michael Raffl committed two minors in the offensive zone, kneeing on Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson and roughing on forward Daniel Carcillo. Zac Rinaldo had a roughing penalty on Carcillo. Blair Jones was called for charging Ben Smith.

The penalties seemed to be made more out of frustration than anything else. They were ill-timed too; Raffl's kneeing on Hjalmarsson came 17 seconds after Bryan Bickell gave Chicago a 2-0 lead, and his roughing came in the final three minutes of the second period.

Patrick Kane scored his first power-play goal 15 seconds into Raffl's first minor. Kane scored his second power-play goal with Jones in the box in the third period.

The Flyers have to be more careful about maintaining their discipline against the Penguins, who are 8-for-17 on the power play this season.

3. Penguins looking to build on PK success, special teams in general -- Pittsburgh's penalty kill started out woefully bad, but it has gotten better with each game.

The Penguins gave up three power-play goals in a 6-4 win against the Anaheim Ducks in their season opener. They followed that up by yielding two power play goals in a 5-2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Their PK abandoned them against the Dallas Stars; Tyler Seguin scored a power-play goal with a one-timer off a cross-circle pass with three seconds remaining to give Dallas a 3-2 come-from-behind win.

However, Pittsburgh beat the Islanders 3-1 last Saturday in large part because of its strong PK. The Penguins were 7-for-7. They killed off a 5-on-3 for 1:26 in the second period.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh's power play has been spectacular with eight goals. The Penguins have at least one power-play goal in each of their four games, including at least two in three of them.

However, the Penguins were 9-for-15 on the penalty kill and 1-for-21 on the power play against the Flyers last season.

4. Philadelphia on a back to back, lineup changes -- The Flyers are 0-1 in the second half of a back-to-back this season, losing 6-4 to the New Jersey Devils on Oct. 9 after a 2-1 season-opening loss to the Boston Bruins on Oct. 8.

Under Berube last season they were 9-3-1 in the second half of back-to-backs, including 6-3-0 on the road. They won two of those games against the Penguins in Pittsburgh.

It's likely that Ray Emery gets the start Wednesday after Steve Mason started Tuesday. Emery has allowed four goals on 43 shots in two appearances (one start) this season. He was 2-0 with a .933 save percentage in two appearances (one start) against Pittsburgh last season.

Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn could play for the first time since sustaining a foot injury in the season opener at Boston. He was close to playing Tuesday and even skated in warmups, but did not play. If he plays Wednesday it's possible Berube dresses seven defensemen.

5. Pittsburgh still seeking production from depth players -- If there is a criticism of the Penguins through four games it's the fact that they aren't getting any production from their bottom-six group of forwards and their second and third defense pairs.

Pittsburgh has gotten 15 goals and 27 assists for 42 points from players on its first and second lines and its top defense pair (Kris Letang and Olli Maatta); it has gotten one goal and two assists from the rest of the lineup.

Scoring depth was an issue for the Penguins last season too. It was a big reason why general manager Jim Rutherford traded James Neal to the Nashville Predators to get Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling during the 2014 NHL Draft. It was a two-for-one trade that brought back a top-six forward (Hornqvist) and a bottom-six forward (Spaling).

Hornqvist has four goals and eight points. Spaling has zero points, the same number as Downie, Goc, Sill and Adams.

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