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Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia Preview

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (22-10-1-45) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (15-15-1-31)

Where: Mellon Arena
Tuesday, December 15, 7 p.m.
WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
Versus Network

Season Series: Monday marks the front half of a home-and-home confrontation between the Penguins and Flyers as one of the fiercest rivalries in the National Hockey League takes place for the first time at Mellon Arena in 2009-10. These two teams have met only once thus far, a 5-4 Penguins victory in a seesaw affair in Philadelphia on Oct. 8. Tyler Kennedy tallied the winning goal for the Penguins 8:37 into the third period. Evgeni Malkin and Alex Goligoski each had a goal and an assist.




Last Meeting: Oct. 8, 2009
  PIT 5 - PHI 4 
Game Highlights
AP Recap
Sidney Crosby: Time and time again the Flyers have tried intimidating and berating Sidney Crosby during his first five seasons and each time the Penguins captain has simply responded with his play. In 27 career games against the Flyers Crosby has 46 points (20G-26A). Almost three years to the date of this game Crosby had perhaps his finest NHL game with a career-high six points (1G-5A) against the Flyers on Dec. 13, 2006.

Initiate Contact:
The Penguins have had great success against the Flyers both in the regular season and postseason the past two seasons because they refuse to do what Philadelphia wants its opponents to do – succumb to the Flyers’ physical presence. In their 5-4 victory on Oct. 8 the Penguins outhit the Flyers, 16-14. The Flyers do not respond well when teams match their physicality. In keeping with a long-standing Flyers’ tradition the team averages the most penalty minutes in the league, with many of those minutes coming from retaliation.
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. Philadelphia’s season has spiraled downward this year. The Flyers currently reside in the basement of the Atlantic Division with 29 points heading into their Monday night contest in Boston.

Philadelphia’s slow start cost head coach John Stevens, The Hockey News’ Coach of the Year as recently as 2008, his job. In his place the Flyers have turned to veteran bench boss Peter Laviolette, who has been working as an analyst for TSN in Canada. Laviolette led the Carolina Hurricanes to a Stanley Cup championship in 2005-06 before being fired by the Hurricanes midway through last season. Prior to joining Philadelphia Lavioliette racked up 244 victories in 486 games behind the bench for the Hurricanes and New York Islanders. Since Laviolette took over on Dec. 4 the Flyers have a record of 1-4 and have been outscored 19-10 before playing in Boston on Monday.
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 Coburn. Philadelphia also added physical but injury-prone defenseman Ole-Kristian Tollefson as a free agent from the Columbus Blue Jackets.

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 toiling for Mytischi of the Kontinental Hockey League.  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.
What a difference a couple of months can make. When the 2008-09 season came to a close in April the Flyers’ 264 goals were tied with the Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks for the fourth-highest total in the league. Heading into Monday night they ranked 19th in the NHL with 87 goals.

In 2008-09 they had six players record 20 or more goals, 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). Although their numbers are down, they still remain 1-2 on the team in scoring. The captain and face of the Flyers, Richards leads the squad in both goals (13) and points (25) while providing his usual physical element. Carter is tied with Danny Briere for second on the team with 11 goals. 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. He has played in only nine contests this year because of hernia surgery, but has five points (1G-4A) in those games.

Danny Briere is healthy and producing at a high level. His 11 goals are tied for second most on the team as the speedy winger has posted 19 points in 23 games. Penguins fans cannot wait to welcome power forward Scott Hartnell back to Mellon Arena, particularly after his end-of-the-game skirmish with Kris Letang on Oct. 8. Hartnell, who has had several run-ins with Sergei Gonchar the past two seasons, ranks third on the Flyers with 21 points (9G-12A). Another agitating presence for the Flyers is former Penguins farmhand Daniel Carcillo, who is eligible to return to the lineup on Monday in Boston after serving a four-game suspension. Carcillo has only two goals through 26 games but his 87 penalty minutes rank second in the league behind Tampa Bay’s Zenon Konopka (130).

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. Giroux has 19 points (6G-13A) in 30 games and has a plus-6 rating which leads all Flyers forwards. van Riemsdyk is tied for third among all rookies with 19 points (6G-13A), but has only two points in his past 12 games.  
Pronger headlines a defensive core that has suddenly added depth to go along with its star power. Noted for his nasty disposition and powerful slap shot, Pronger finished 14th among all NHL defenseman last season with 48 points (11G-37A). Superb on both the power play and penalty kill, Pronger leads the Flyers with 20 points (4G-16A) in 30 games. Kimmo Timonen has proven to be a steal since arriving from the Nashville Predators three summers ago. Regarded as strictly an offensive presence, Timonen has proven he can excel just as well at both ends of the ice for the Flyers. His offensive numbers are strong once again with 16 points (1G-15A) in 30 games.

Massive Braydon Coburn has developed into a minutes-eater for the Flyers, leading the team with an average ice time of 24:37 in 2008-09. Coburn and Timonen have developed a great chemistry after spending much of the last three seasons together. With four goals in his first 30 contests, Coburn is on his way to surpassing his career-high of nine set two seasons ago. While many others are off to slow starts for the Flyers, Matt Carle is not one of them. Carle leads the Flyers and ranks 11th (tied) in the league through Monday with a plus-12 rating while adding 16 points (2G-14A) at the offensive end. Ryan Parent has teamed with young Oscars Bartulis (See Player Spotlight below) to form a third pairing that is plenty solid in their own end.
Believing goaltending has been their weak link the past few seasons, the Flyers tabbed the mercurial Ray Emery as the man to lead them to the promise land. Emery last played in the NHL two seasons ago, posting a losing record of 12-13-4 to go with his 3.13 goals-against average for the Ottawa Senators. His falloff came one year after winning 13 playoff games for the Senators before they fell to the Anaheim Ducks in the Stanley Cup Final.

Emery had a great beginning to his Flyers career, posting a 5-3-1 record and a .906 save percentage through the end of October but then his play began to tail off with the rest of the squad’s. Prior to suffering an abdominal injury that will keep him on the shelf for six weeks Emery had been winless in four starts while his goals-against average had risen to 2.83 and his save percentage dropped to .901.

Brian Boucher takes over the No. 1 reigns with Emery out. After making the NHL All-Rookie Team in 1999-2000, Boucher quickly flamed out for the Flyers in his first stint. 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 the longest shutout streak at 332 minutes. Boucher has developed into a top-notch reserve netminder. The 32-year-old from Woonsocket, Rhode Island has played 11 games for the Flyers posting a 3-7 record with a team-leading 2.53 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage through Monday.

The Flyers recalled 28-year-old Johan Backlund, whom the team had signed in the summer, from the minors. Backlund, who spent the previous seven seasons in the Swedish Elite League, has yet to make his NHL debut.
While the overall record and several individual players are underachieving through the first two-plus months of the season, there have been some bright spots in the City of Brotherly Love. Latvian defenseman Oscars Bartulis has burst onto the scene since his mid-November call-up to become a regular among the Flyers top-six defensemen. A third-round selection in the 2005 NHL Draft, Bartulis spent most of his life at forward before converting to the blue line when he crossed over to North America to play for Moncton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Bartulis spent the first 12 games of the season with the Flyers top minor-league affiliate in Adirondack before getting his first taste of the NHL level. It did not take long for the smooth skating, 22-year-old to make an impression on Flyers management. He received a three-year contract extension after playing just 10 games with the Flyers. A defensive-minded blueliner, Bartulis has three assists and a plus-3 rating in 16 games.
In addition to their struggling record the Flyers also have a couple significant injuries to deal with.
- No. 1 netminder Ray Emery will be sidelined until mid-January after undergoing abdominal surgery.
- Simon Gagne, the team’s second-leading goal scorer last season with 34, should be returning soon after playing in only nine games this year after hernia surgery.
- Braydon Coburn is day-to-day after injuring his ankle in Saturday night’s 4-1 loss to New Jersey.
- Center Blair Betts is slated to make his comeback from a dislocated right shoulder here in the next few weeks.
- Darroll Powe, who had been supplying the Flyers with an unexpected source of offense, is out with a shoulder problem.
"When pucks aren't going in consistently, you start to squeeze the stick a little bit."

  - Rookie James van Riemsdyk talking to about the Flyers recent scoring troubles.

0: The Flyers have been held scoreless in three of their past seven games heading into Monday night’s visit to Boston.

Author: Jason Seidling

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