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Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia Preview

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (2-1-0-4) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (3-0-0-6)

Where: Wachovia Center
Thursday, Oct. 8 at 7 p.m.
WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428, DirecTV 659 and Verizon Fios 576.
*View FSN's Broadcast Schedule here()

Season Series:
These two long-time rivals have become quite familiar with each other the past two seasons, meeting in the playoffs after each season. The Penguins defeated the Flyers in five games in the 2007-08 Eastern Conference Finals and eliminated Philadelphia in six games last season. Pittsburgh won the season series, 4-2-0, during last year's regular season.




Game Highlights
AP Recap
Eliminate the Home Crowd: Philadelphia has long been considered one of the toughest buildings in the National Hockey League for opposing teams to visit. Flyers fans enjoy harassing their opposition, none more so than the Penguins and Sidney Crosby. If the Penguins can come out, get shots on goal and match the Flyers’ physical style, Pittsburgh can quiet the rowdy home partisans.

Contain Richards:
Flyers captain Mike Richards enjoys the challenge of matching up against the Penguins and his former World Junior teammate Crosby. Richards has taken his offensive game up another level at the start of the 2009-10 season, as he is tied with Alexander Ovechkin for a NHL-high five goals on the young season. Richards is coming off a hat trick against the Capitals Tuesday night.
Philadelphia has returned to the playoffs the past two seasons after sitting them out during a 2006-07 season which saw the Flyers post the worst record in franchise history. The Penguins have eliminated the Flyers during each of their past two playoff appearances, in the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals and the 2009 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Philadelphia finished third in the Atlantic Division behind the Devils and Penguins a season ago with a record of 44-27-11.

John Stevens returns behind the bench for his third full campaign since relieving Ken Hitchcock eight games into the 2006-07 season. The 2008 Hockey News’ Coach of the Year, Stevens has posted a record of 110-98-33 behind the Flyers’ bench. He led the Philadelphia Phantoms of the American Hockey League to a 2005 Calder Cup championship.
Wanting to better control high-scoring Eastern Conference teams such as the Penguins and Washington Capitals, the Flyers went out and acquired former Norris Trophy winner Chris Pronger in an offseason trade with the Anaheim Ducks. In exchange for Pronger the Flyers sent 25-goal scorer Joffrey Lupul and young defenseman Luca Sbisa to the Ducks. Along with his nasty disposition and ability to control play at both ends, Pronger provides another minutes-eating blueliner to add to current stalwarts Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Cobourn.

The Flyers made drastic changes in net, swapping last year’s duo of Martin Biron and Antero Niittymaki for former Ottawa Senator Ray Emery and one-time Flyer Brian Boucher. Emery spent last season with Mytischi of the Kontinental Hockey League after he couldn't catch on with an NHL team. Boucher posted a 12-6-3 record as Evgeni Nabokov’s backup in San Jose.

Up front, the Flyers added a couple of solid veterans to supply depth on their bottom two lines in Blair Betts and Ian Laperriere. Laperriere is one of the NHL’s toughest players pound-for-pound, and also a good faceoff man. Betts is one of the top penalty killers in the league.

Philadelphia boasts one of the deepest and most talented offenses in the entire NHL. They had six players record 20 or more goals a season ago, led by Jeff Carter’s career-high 46. Faced with trade rumors that persisted even into late last season, Carter responded by breaking out and leading the Flyers with 84 points, four more than runner-up Mike Richards, who had 80 (30G-50A). Simon Gagne made a triumphant return in 2008-09 after missing much of the previous season with post-concussion syndrome. Gagne played in 79 games, recording 34 goals and 40 assists.

The Flyers did lose 52 goals from last season when Joffrey Lupul and Mike Knuble were lost during the offseason. Their production is expected to be replaced by young forwards Claude Giroux, who tied for the team lead in their first-round series against the Penguins with five points (2G-3A), and James Van Riemsdyk, a former No. 2-overall selection who has recorded three assists in his first three NHL games. Veteran Danny Briere, who scored the game-winning goal in overtime against Washington on Tuesday, looks to stay healthy after appearing in only 29 games last season, albeit with 25 points (11G-14A).  

Pronger headlines a defensive core that has suddenly added depth to go along with its star power. Noted for his powerful slap shot, Pronger finished 14th among all NHL defensemen last season with 48 points (11G-37A). He already has three assists in 2009-10. Kimmo Timonen has proven to be a steal since arriving from the Nashville Predators three summers ago. The quarterback of one of the league’s most lethal power plays led all Flyer defensemen with 43 points last season (3G-43A).

Massive Braydon Cobourn has developed into a minutes-eater for the Flyers, leading the team with an average ice time of 24:37 in 2008-09. Cobourn provides one-half of the Flyers’ shutdown unit with Timonen, although Pronger will get a lot of those chores this season as well. Matt Carle, acquired early last season from Tampa Bay, is off to an excellent start, leading the Flyers through three games with six points (1G-5A). 

Believing goaltending has been their weak link the past few seasons, the Flyers tabbed Ray Emery as the man to lead them to the promised land. Emery last played in the NHL two seasons ago, posting a 12-13-4 record and a 3.13 goals-against-average for the Ottawa Senators. Just one year prior, Emery won 13 playoff games for the Senators as they fell to the Anaheim Ducks in the Stanley Cup Final.

Boucher began his career with Philadelphia and made the NHL All-Rookie Teamin 1999-00. He went on to play for five teams over the next six seasons, including a stretch for the Phoenix Coyotes where he set a NHL record for longest shutout streak at 332 minutes. Boucher has developed into a top-notch reserve netminder.
Perhaps no Flyer has gotten under the skin of Penguins’ players and fans more the past few seasons than winger Scott Hartnell. He was acquired by the Flyers in the 2007 offseason along with Timonen for a first-round draft pick. Hartnell scored 54 goals during his first two seasons in Philadelphia.

Strong along the boards and plenty physical, especially after the whistle, Hartnell has now scored 20-or-more goals four straight seasons, with his 30 last year a career high. He is off to another strong start in 2009-10, scoring once and adding two assists.
"Last year, I came into camp hoping to make the team as a rookie. Things didn't work out, I just wasn't ready. I thought I was, but it wasn't time. This year, having the chance to start the season with the Flyers...yeah, it's a very big deal to me, too." 

- Flyers’ center Claude Giroux talking to Philadelphia reporters on his first full NHL season.

46: Sidney Crosby’s career point total against the Flyers, tied for most with the New York Islanders versus any one opponent. Crosby has 20 goals and 26 assists in 26 career games against Philadelphia.

Author: Jason Seidling

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