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Pittsburgh vs. Flyers Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (16-9-4-36) at Philadelphia Flyers (15-7-6-36)

Where: Wachovia Center
When: Saturday, December 13, at 1 p.m.
Radio: WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
TV: FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428 and DirecTV 659.
*View FSN's HD Broadcast Schedule here
Season Series: Pittsburgh leads 2-0-0. Pittsburgh is 2-0-0 at home against the Flyers this season with overtime and shootout victories. This will be the first matchup in Philadelphia this season.



  Pens vs. Flyers 11/13/08
Ride the Momentum: The Penguins played their most complete game in their 9-2 win over the New York Islanders. Pittsburgh dominated at both ends of the ice and played a nearly flawless game from start to finish. The Penguins need to have some carry over from that performance against Philadelphia. The Flyers won't give the Penguins the same amount of room to skate as the Islanders did, but Pittsburgh can still build on that pervious performance.

Shoot the Puck: The Flyers have let up a ton of goals this season. Philadelphia seems to have repaired some of the holes in its defense but it is still prone to bad games (see the five they allowed against Carolina). Martin Biron hasn't performed as well as he did last season and is susceptible to allowing the occasional bad goal. The Penguins can rattle him by sending a lot of rubber his way.
Two years ago Philadelphia had the worst record in the NHL. General Manager Paul Holmgren rebuilt the club by stockpiling young talent and dumping aging veterans. The Flyers were rebuilt from a team of muscle to a team filled with speed and skill. As a result, the Flyers rebounded last season with a 39-point improvement and an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals in head coach John Stevens first full season on the job.

Philadelphia has been a streaky team this season. They had a difficult start to the season, losing their first six games (0-3-3). They responded with four straight wins, followed by three losses in a row. The Flyers are currently riding one of the hottest streaks in the NHL. Philadelphia has lost once in regulation in its past 15 games (11-1-3). In the process, the Flyers have pulled even with Pittsburgh in the Atlantic Division standings. The Flyers are coming off of their most impressive win of the year with a 6-5 shootout victory over Carolina after trailing 5-1 in the third period.
The Flyers lost a lot of key contributors from last year’s playoff team, including R.J. Umberger, Vaclav Prospal, Sami Kapanena and Jason Smith. Holmgren didn’t make any flashy signings in the offseason, adding short-lived Steve Eminger and Ossi Vaananen at defense and center Glen Metropolit. For once, the Flyers have a GM in Holmgren who won’t just throw money at aging veterans. But Philadelphia tried to bolster its defense with a couple in-season moves. First, they added Andrew Alberts from Boston. Then the team sent Eminger, Steve Downie and a fourth-round pick to Tampa Bay for Matt Carle and a third-round pick. Philadelphia is among the many clubs in the NHL trying woo vagabond Mat Sundin for a Cup run.
Philadelphia is loaded up front with young talent with Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Joffrey Lupul, Scottie Upshall and Scott Hartnell. The Flyers have six players who scored 20 or more goals last year. Add in Danny Briere, Mike Knuble and a healthy Simon Gagne and Philadelphia might have six players score 30 or more goals. The Flyers currently rank fourth in the NHL with an average of 3.32 goals per game as of Friday.

Gagne is off to one of the best starts of his career with 15 goals and 19 assists for 34 points in 27 games. He’s playing at full speed and appears to have no lingering affects from the concussion that cost him 57 games last season. Philadelphia signed 23-year-old Mike Richards to a 12-year contract and anointed him the Flyers captain this offseason. He’s responded to the new leadership role and is second on the team with 31 points (11G-20A). Carter has emerged as one of the best finishers in the league with 20 goals this season, second most in the league.

It’s been a very forgettable season for Briere, who has been sidelined at various junctures throughout the year. A sports hernia and groin tear cost him nearly all of October and November. Now he’ll miss all of December with another groin tear - unrelated to the first - that will keep him out until at least January. He recorded five goals and four assists for nine points in nine games this season. When he’s played, he’s played well. But it’s a big loss for the Flyers.
The Flyers have been scoring goals in bunches. The problem is, they’ve been giving them up in bunches as well in the early going. A month ago, Philadelphia was surrendering 3.36 goals per game, seventh most in the NHL. The team has tried to address the issue with a few in-season trades. The moves appear to have paid off as the team’s goals against has improved to 3.00, ranking 19th.

Braydon Coburn is the 23-year-old cornerstone of the defensive corps. Coburn and Kimmo Timonen emerged as top-tier defensemen and we’re particularly impressive in the team’s playoff run. Holmgren reworked the remaining defensive corps, adding Matt Carle, Ossi Vaananen and Andrew Alberts. Carle is a young, offensively blessed defenseman. As a rookie, he posted 42 points (11G-31A) with San Jose. Carle had a disappointing sophomore campaign, registering only 15 points. The change of scenery seems to have rejuvenated the young man, although a lingering rib injury has hampered his recent play. Alberts, a big body at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, adds a physical presence on the blue line. Rookie 18-year-old Luca Sbisa has seen extensive action on the blue line after the team selected him with the 19th overall pick in June.
The Flyers upgraded defensive corps has translated to help for the goaltenders. Martin Biron had his best season in six years last season, winning 30 games with a 2.59 goals against average and .918 save percentage. Antero Niittymaki is solid, if not spectacular, and a quality backup goaltender. Biron has gotten the bulk of the playing time and has a 10-6-4 record with a 2.95 goals against average and .901 save percentage. Niittymaki has performed admirably in his sparse starts with a 5-1-2 mark, 2.70 GAA and .909 save percentage.
Jeff Carter has always been a gifted scorer. The former first-round pick netted 23 goals in his rookie season and now is emerging as one of the league’s top snipers. His 20 goals this year are the second most in the entire NHL and he’s only 10 shy of setting a new career high. Carter raised his level of consistency and has recorded at least one point in 11 of the team’s last 14 games, compiling 11 goals and six assists for 17 points in that stretch. He’s also a threat to score shorthanded. Carter looks like he’s playing at another level right now.
“When you play in an atmosphere like that, it’s motivating and you want to bring your best. That’s a vicious atmosphere. It’s an intense game. Every time you’re out there they want to hit you and fans want to see you get hit. That’s a motivating atmosphere for sure.”
- Sidney Crosby on playing in Philadelphia
Jeff Carter has 12 goals in 15 home games this season for the Flyers.

Author: Sam Kasan

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