The Pittsburgh Penguins are the most improved team in the league, and they owe much of that accomplishment to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Nearly 25 percent of the Penguins' wins have come over the Flyers, and Pittsburgh will try to win its seventh straight game against its instate rivals at the Wachovia Center on Thursday.
After having the fewest points in the Eastern Conference last season with 58 and finishing last in the Atlantic Division for the fourth consecutive season, the Penguins (27-17-9) are currently fifth in the East with 63.
The Penguins went just 2-5-1 against Philadelphia (13-33-7) in 2005-06, but have utterly dominated the Flyers this season, winning all six games and outscoring them 33-14. Pittsburgh has won three games by a combined 18-8 margin at the Wachovia Center, where Philadelphia has been awful.
The Flyers have lost a franchise-record 12 straight home games since beating Columbus 3-2 on Nov. 24, and are a league-worst 3-15-6 at home.
Penguins center and NHL scoring leader Sidney Crosby has seven goals and nine assists against Philadelphia this season, and his 14 goals and 30 points in just 14 career games against the Flyers are his most against any opponent.
The 19-year-old Crosby had two assists in a 4-1 victory over Nashville on Tuesday as Pittsburgh picked up at least one point for the 11th consecutive game (9-0-2).
"We're happy with the way we're playing," said Crosby, who has four goals and 17 assists in those 11 games. "We're doing a great job of competing right now."
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is 8-0-2 with a 2.24 goals-against average and two shutouts in that stretch. He made 25 saves against the Predators, who lead the Western Conference with 77 points.
"It was a big challenge for us, playing the No. 1 team in the league, and it's a good test to see where we're at," Fleury said. "To be able to beat them gives us confidence."
Fleury has already shown great poise in net against the Flyers this season, going 6-0-0 with a 2.38 GAA and one shutout.
Rookie Evgeni Malkin scored the go-ahead goal and also had an assist against Nashville, and has two goals and five assists in his last five games. Malkin has four goals and five assists in five games against Philadelphia.
The Flyers lost to the New York Islanders 2-0 on Wednesday, dropping to 2-27-2 when allowing the first goal and 2-22-0 when trailing after one period.
"We started right away with a couple of chances and played a good first period," Philadelphia captain Peter Forsberg said. "They took over in the second period. We didn't play with enough intensity.
"Everybody knows we can play better than this."
The Flyers had earned points in a season-high four straight games before Wednesday's loss, and are just 3-8-3 in this calendar year.
Antero Niittymaki made 35 saves on Wednesday, and is 2-1-2 since snapping a personal 15-game losing streak.
After going 4-0-1 with a 3.32 GAA in his first five career games against Pittsburgh last season, Niittymaki is 0-5-0 with a 5.32 GAA against the Penguins this season.