"Kunitz and Guerin are big additions, but I think Gonchar is the one responsible for the way they are playing right now. They played with a lot of confidence when they had him in the lineup last year. As soon as he came back, they started to go back to their old ways. He's leading the charge on the power play. He's the guy to focus on. You have to watch Crosby and Malkin, but we have to look at Gonchar they way we do with Mike Green in Washington, same game plan."
-- Martin Biron
It will be no easy task the Philadelphia Flyers
undertake Sunday when they visit the Pittsburgh Penguins
in an important Atlantic Division matchup (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC). The Penguins entered the weekend 11-1-3 under interim coach Dan Bylsma
, jumping from 10th place in the Eastern Conference to tie the Flyers for fourth place with 84 points.
"Every game is so important, and especially a team that's tied with you in the standings," Flyers left wing Scott Hartnell
said. "Ever since they made that coaching change, they have one loss. It's going to be a battle and it's going to be hard-fought. Every game against them, it seems like there's a lot of hitting and a lot of goals and it should make good TV."
The Penguins have the NHL's leading scorer in Evgeni Malkin
, whose five-point night Tuesday made him the first player this season to reach the 100-point plateau (32 goals, 72 assists). His teammate, captain Sidney Crosby
, is second with 92 points. Pittsburgh also has been buoyed by the recent addition of three players. Top defenseman Sergei Gonchar
has 5 goals and 5 assists in 14 games since missing most of the season following preseason shoulder surgery.
The Penguins acquired left wing Chris Kunitz
and right wing Bill Guerin
around the trade deadline and they have been a powerful pair of additions to Crosby's line. Kunitz had 6 goals in his first 10 games, while Guerin has 2 goals and 7 assists in seven games. They've awakened a moribund power play that is 5-for-15 in two games leading into Friday's game against the Kings, after going 5-for-36 in the previous eight games.
On the other hand, the Penguins had killed 41 of 47 penalties in their last 10 games.
"It gives them a lot more depth," Hartnell said of the recent moves. "Kunitz is a real energy guy for them and he's had a heck of a record since he's been with them. It's going to be fun. We need these points just as much as they do, so we're going to have a huge effort."
"Kunitz and Guerin are big additions, but I think Gonchar is the one responsible for the way they are playing right now," Flyers goalie Martin Biron
said. "They played with a lot of confidence when they had him in the lineup last year. As soon as he came back, they started to go back to their old ways. He's leading the charge on the power play. He's the guy to focus on. You have to watch Crosby and Malkin, but we have to look at Gonchar they way we do with Mike Green
in Washington, same game plan."
The Flyers say they have extra motivation because they lost the 2008 Eastern Conference Final in five games to Pittsburgh.
"The Penguins were the best team in the Eastern Conference last year," Flyers coach John Stevens
said. "We had some injuries, but they beat us. Now they're playing very well and we have to find ways to beat them. That's our challenge."
"They're a strong team and the two cities are proud cities, too," Flyers right wing Joffrey Lupul
said. "I think that's what makes it so much fun. Obviously there's a dislike between the two teams, especially from us because they took us out of the playoffs last year. That leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, for sure, so every time we play these guys, we get up for the game -- and I think they do, too."
Lupul echoed his coach about the injuries in the final series.
"You never like to use that as an excuse," Lupul said. "We got outplayed. It could have been a bit different series, especially with (defensemen Kimmo) Timonen and (Braydon) Coburn in, but that's part of hockey. We could meet this year and they could be without Malkin or somebody. Another guy has to step up. We had guys step up, but those guys were sorely missed."
"Obviously, your goal is made tougher when guys get hurt and tougher still when your top guys get hurt," Biron said. "We had (Simon) Gagne out all year last year, so at the trade deadline we got Vinny Prospal
to play in Simon's place with Danny Briere
and they did well together. This year, Danny's been hurt all year and you can see him slowly getting better, but it's taking time. Not only do you miss these guys when they're not in the lineup, you start thinking they'll be the best player they can be when they return and that's not the case. It's takes time. It might take four, five, six games, or it might be a couple of weeks more than that."
"With what happened last year during the regular season and the playoffs, playing against Pittsburgh is always special," Briere said. "It's one of those games where you need no extra motivation to get fired up for a game like that. It should be fun."
Biron said the Penguins' ability to play Crosby and Malkin together or have them center two lines makes it difficult to defend them.
"They have different styles and they can play together," Biron said. "You don't know what to expect when they play together because they can make unbelievable plays. They like to hang onto the puck, they like quick give-and-go's, they can get open quickly for clean shots. When you split them up, then they just make other players around them so much better.
"That's the big challenge. When you see them come out on the ice together, that's one big line that's really tough to defend. Then they separate them and these other players complement Crosby and Malkin offensively. They added Kunitz and Guerin and it's a very threatening lineup."
While every team needs emotional players that can generate excitement and offense, they also need calm players, veterans who have seen it all before. Timonen plays that role for the Flyers, in addition to lots of minutes and plenty of playmaking. He took the "another day at the office" approach to describe how he prepares for Crosby and Malkin.
"Crosby is really quick, good on his skates and well balanced," Timonen said. "It's not just him, it's his team -- a lot of speed and a lot of skill. What we have to do is go into a defensive mindset and hopefully they'll turn the puck over more than we do.
"Crosby and Malkin, those two guys are the top players in the League, and when you put them together, it's even more dangerous. It's no different, though, than it is with any skilled player. You have to take away space and time and that's what we'll try to do Sunday.
"We all know what kind of players they are and what they can do if we turn the puck over. We have to play a smart hockey game against such skilled players."
Briere laughed when he was told that not many people would expect him to outscore Malkin and Crosby on Sunday, even though he's led his teams in scoring twice and been second three times in the six previous seasons.
"That's always the goal," Briere said. "You go in to help your team win. We need to move up in the standings. The Penguins are right on our tail. I don't care how we do it, we just have to get it done."
Stevens was chided that his team didn't fire off any inflammatory quotes the Penguins could post in their locker room and NBC could use to promote the game. What happened to that old Flyers fiery, boisterous ways? Is this an example of the team discipline that Stevens has instilled?
"I can only hope," Stevens said. "This is a big game."