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Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia Preview

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (23-10-1-47) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (15-16-1-31)

Where: Wachovia Center
Thursday, December 17, 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 and DirecTV 659.

Season Series:
Pittsburgh and Philadelphia complete a home-and-home series at the Wachovia Center with the Penguins looking to finish off the sweep after a 6-1 victory on Tuesday at Mellon Arena. Jordan Staal scored twice, Sidney Crosby registered three points (1G-2A) and Evgeni Malkin and Ruslan Fedotenko both had a goal and an assist. The Penguins are 2-0 in 2009-10 against the Flyers after also defeating them 5-4 on Oct. 8 in Philadelphia behind a goal and an assist from Malkin and Alex Goligoski.




Last Meeting: Dec. 15, 2009
  PIT 6 - PHI 1 
Game Highlights
AP Recap
The Big Three: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal have torched many of opponents in their four years together. Nobody has been victimized by this trio as often as the Flyers have. In the first two matchups the three have combined for 10 points (Crosby 1G-2A); Malkin (2G-2A); Staal (3G). It’s going to be another long night for the Flyers if they can’t find a way to neutralize at least two of the three.

Opening Goal: This could be a key to any game, but it takes on added importance against the Flyers. While the Penguins have a solid 9-8-1 record when the opposition strikes first, Philadelphia is only 3-11 when they fail to register the opening goal, including 0-2 against the Penguins. An early goal for Pittsburgh could turn the fans against the struggling Flyers and goad Philadelphia into taking penalties out of frustration.
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 10th place in the Eastern Conference with 31 points.

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 2-5 and have been outscored 26-14.
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 Wednesday night they ranked 18th (tied) in the NHL with 91 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 (26) 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.

Scott Hartnell drew the ire of the Mellon Arena faithful on Tuesday as a result of 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 scored the lone goal for Philadelphia on Tuesday night and had another called back because it was ruled his kicked the puck into the net. Carcillo has only three goals through 26 games but his 92 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 32 games and has a plus-6 rating which leads all Flyers forwards. van Riemsdyk is tied for third among all rookies with 20 points (7G-13A), but has only three points in his past 14 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 32 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 19 points (3G-16A) in 32 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 31 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 with a plus-9 rating, although he was minus-3 on Tuesday, while adding 18 points (2G-16A) at the offensive end. Ryan Parent has teamed with young Oscars Bartulis to form a third pairing that is plenty solid in their own end. Neither will be confused for Bobby Orr, but each has good skating skills to allow them to match wits with the world’s top players.
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 13 games for the Flyers posting a 4-8 record with a team-leading 2.70 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage.

Philadelphia claimed Michael Leighton off re-entry waivers from the Carolina Hurricanes to serve as Boucher’s backup. Leighton appeared in seven games with the Hurricanes and went 1-4 with a 4.29 goals-against average and an .848 save percentage. He started twice against the Penguins last season for Carolina and lost both decisions.
After a subpar season in 2008-09, Danny Briere is healthy and once again 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 25 games despite being held pointless in six of his past eight games.

In his third season with the Flyers, Briere’s best years came as a member of the Buffalo Sabres. Forming a one-two punch down the middle with Chris Drury, Briere scored a career-high 95 points (32G-63A) during the ’06-07 campaign. Although he is listed at 5-foot-10, 179 pounds, Briere has a feistiness to accompany his world-class offensive skills.
While goaltender Ray Emery will remain out of the lineup until sometime in January, three injured Flyers, Simon Gagne, Blair Betts and Darroll Powe, could return to the ice against the Penguins on Thursday night.
- 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.
- 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.
- Ole-Kristian Tollefson will be out until mid-January with a left knee sprain.
"We're not playing with enough heart right now to win."

- Captain Mike Richards talking to after losing to the Penguins, 6-1, on Tuesday night.

17.7: The Flyers lead the league in average penalty minutes per game.

Author: Jason Seidling

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