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Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (28-25-6-62) at Philadelphia Flyers (31-16-9-71)

Where: Wachovia Center
When: Saturday, February 21, 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 3-1-0. Pittsburgh is 1-1-0 at Wachovia Center this season with a 6-3 loss Dec. 13 and a 4-2 win Jan. 13. The Penguins won both contests at Mellon Arena this year, once in overtime and once in a shootout.



  Pens vs. Flyers 1/13
New Deal: The Penguins pulled off an impressive 4-2 victory Jan. 13, the last time these two teams met. That was when Pittsburgh unveiled it's trap. The Penguins have a new element of surprise to hit the Flyers with this time - in the form of their new full-throttle attack. Philadelphia hasn't seen Pittsburgh playing such an aggressive style yet this year and the Flyers will have to adjust, or else they will suffer the same fate..

Answer the Call: The Penguins had key contributions from the entire lineup in their 5-4 victory over Montreal. Pittsburgh's leaders stepped up big with goals from Petr Sykora, Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar. The Penguins' leaders need to elevate their play the rest of the way to help the team earn a postseason berth.
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 shaky start to the year, losing their first six games (0-3-3). They responded with four straight wins, followed by three losses in a row. At that point, Philadelphia caught on fire, losing only once in regulation in its next 17 games (13-1-3). The Flyers are solidifying their place in the playoffs and are riding a three-game winning streak into their matchup with Pittsburgh.
The Flyers lost a lot of key contributors from last year’s playoff team, including R.J. Umberger, Vaclav Prospal, Sami Kapanen 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 of 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 loaded with young talent up front 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 Mike Knuble and Simon Gagne and Philadelphia might have five players score 30 or more goals – five currently have 20 or more. The Flyers rank fifth in the NHL with an average of 3.25 goals per game.

Carter has exploded out of his shell and developed into one of the best finishers in the National Hockey League. His 34 goals this season are third most in the entire league. He also paces the Flyers with 59 points. Carter is working between Lupul and Hartnell. Lupul has tallied 33 points (16G-17A) while Hartnell has added 42 (21G-21A).

Philadelphia signed 24-year-old Mike Richards to a 12-year contract and anointed him the Flyers captain. He’s responded to the new leadership role and is second on the team with 57 points (22G-35A). He centers the top line with Gagne and Knuble. Gagne is playing at full speed and appears to have no lingering affects from the concussion that cost him 57 games last season. He has 22 goals and 30 assists for 52 points. Knuble has chipped in with 20 goals this year, including three against the Penguins in the past two contests.

It’s been a very forgettable season for Briere, who has been sidelined throughout the year. Two abdominal surgeries and three groin tears have limited the gifted center to nine games. He hasn’t played since Dec. 2. Briere is planning on returning next Wednesday for the Flyers, although he has already had two setbacks this season when attempting to return.
The Flyers early season struggles were due to the team’s inability to keep the puck out of their own net. Three months 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 dropped to 2.84, ranking 15th.

Braydon Coburn is the 23-year-old cornerstone of the defensive corps. Coburn and Kimmo Timonen emerged as top-tier defensemen and were particularly impressive in the team’s playoff run. Timonen is having an excellent season with 30 points and a blue line-best plus-16 rating. 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. Alberts, a big body at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, adds a physical presence on the blue line.
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 an 18-11-5 record with a 2.87 goals against average and .909 save percentage. Biron struggled in the early part of the season and was letting a ton of rubber past his body. The Flyers upgraded their defensive corps and that has translated into help for the goaltenders. Biron has been stingy of late. He’s won his last three contests while posting an .949 save percentage. Niittymaki has performed admirably in his sparse starts with an 13-5-4 mark, 2.58 GAA and .916 save percentage.
Gagne was plagued with lingering concussion problems last year. He played in only 25 games and missed the entire postseason. Gagne looks like he’s finally healthy. He’s registered a point in eight of his last 12 games and is third on the team with 52 points on 22 goals and 30 assists. He’s had a lot of success against Pittsburgh with 38 points in 45 career games. He’s been one of the team’s most consistent players and is particularly dangerous killing penalties. He tallied two shorthanded goals in one game against the Penguins Nov. 13.
“You’re talking about an in-state rivalry. It’s intense. There are great fans in both arenas so I think it’s set up perfectly for a great rivalry game. It will be my first taste of it live.”
- Dan Bylsma
The Flyers have an NHL-best 15 shorthanded goals this season.

Author: Sam Kasan

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