Just how long has it been since the Flyers and Penguins skated against one another?
It was Dec. 14 -- the Penguins were in the midst of a 12-game win streak, Sidney Crosby
was at game No. 19 of his 25-game scoring streak, and Evgeni Malkin
was a healthy, fearsome presence in the Penguins' lineup.
Malkin had a pair of goals that night and Crosby had a pair of assists, but the Flyers skated away with a 3-2 victory thanks to Scott Hartnell
's third-period goal and strong goaltending from Brian Boucher
, who stopped 21 of 23 shots.
A lot has changed since then -- Crosby suffered a concussion that has sidelined him for nearly three months, Malkin is out for the season with a knee injury and the Pens have suffered a rash of injuries that has seen them use 35 different skaters, the third-most in the League.
However, one thing that remains the same is the Flyers and Penguins remain the top teams in the Atlantic Division. Philadelphia enters Thursday's game (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US) here at Wells Fargo Center five points ahead of Pittsburgh with a game in hand, as well as five more regulation/overtime wins.
Another thing that remains the same is the Flyers' approach to playing the Penguins.
"They're missing a couple key players, but … they've still been playing pretty well. They always play hard. They're good system-wise and if you're not ready to compete, you're going to lose the game. We have to go out there and compete and play a full 60 minutes."
-- Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen on playing the Penguins
"They're missing a couple key players, but … they've still been playing pretty well," defenseman Kimmo Timonen
said. "They always play hard. They're good system-wise and if you're not ready to compete, you're going to lose the game. We have to go out there and compete and play a full 60 minutes."
Timonen and his defense partner, Braydon Coburn
, likely would have seen a lot of Crosby and Malkin. Obviously they won't have to deal with that challenge, but Coburn said it doesn't change how he approaches his job.
"They always play the same system," Coburn told NHL.com. "They've got great players over there, they seem to work well together. They have good team chemistry. Their depth is excellent because they have two top players out of their lineup and doesn't really seem like they've missed too much of a beat."
Flyers center Blair Betts
agreed, choosing to look at the accomplishments the Pens have had rather than who's responsible for it.
"I think we have to look at how much success they're having despite having two of their best offensive players out of the lineup," he told NHL.com. "They're still finding ways to win games. They're right behind us in the standings. We just focus on that and that's all the motivation we should need."
Betts is one of many who are surprised that with all the hardships the Pens have faced, they remain right on the Flyers' heels.
"Probably everyone's a little surprised," Betts said. "Those are two of the best players in the League they don't have in the lineup. That just shows what kind of depth they have as a team, the character guys. They obviously have a lot of confidence.
"They're still a dangerous team. They're still managing to score goals. They're playing well defensively and it's leading to wins. It's going to be a tough game."
It's one the Flyers will be in control of, however. Coach Peter Laviolette
said he believes the determining factor Thursday will be how his team plays, not who Pittsburgh dresses or how they play.
"Of course there's a difference (without Crosby and Malkin)," he said. "You're taking out two of the top players in the world. To say there's no difference, everybody would be kidding themselves. They're a different team without those players, but they're still finding success. Our success tonight will not be based on whether they're in the lineup or not in the lineup; it'll be based upon whether or not we go out and play our game and execute our game. It's more about us and what we do that determines our success."
Bobrovsky in net --
Laviolette said he sees Thursday's game as an opportunity for Sergei Bobrovsky
to right all the things he did wrong Tuesday against Washington.
The rookie goaltender was pulled 1:22 into the second period of Tuesday's game after allowing three goals on nine shots in what ended as a 5-4 overtime loss.
"I'm sure he wants to get back in there after the last game and get an opportunity," Laviolette said. "Nobody wants to sit on a game like that. He's been great all year. He gets a chance to get back in there."
Bobrovsky made his NHL debut against the Penguins, winning in Pittsburgh on opening night. In three games against them, he's 2-1-0 with a 2.67 goals-against average and .911 save percentage.
Playing Bobrovsky against Washington and now Pittsburgh could lead some to believe this is Laviolette's way of anointing the rookie as the team's No. 1 netminder. However, the coach vehemently objected to that.
"I've answered enough No. 1 questions here," he said. "We have two great goaltenders, we've said that the entire year and that remains the case. Bob gets the start tonight; we have a lot of confidence in Boosh (Boucher). I'm sure he'll get some games as the season goes down and we'll move forward that way."
Around the ice -- Chris Pronger
practiced again, and continues to work on puck drills, including stickhandling, shooting and passing. However, he's still wearing a yellow non-contact jersey. If he suffers no further setbacks and the original 3-4 week recovery timetable remains in place, he could return as soon as April 3, when the Flyers host the Rangers, and have four regular-season games to get ready for the playoffs. … Pronger refused to speak to reporters following practice, with a team PR staff member saying Pronger, "was on vacation." … The Flyers' morning practice was an optional, but still featured the majority of the team. Among those skating were Jeff Carter
, who skipped practice Wednesday for what GM Paul Holmgren
called a "maintenance day."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK