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Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia Preview

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (27-16-1-55) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (20-19-3-43)
Where: Mellon Arena

When:
Thursday, January 7, 7:30 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, DirecTV 659 and Verizon Fios 576.
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View FSN's Broadcast Schedule here()

Season Series:
Pittsburgh and Philadelphia faceoff for the fourth of six meetings in 2009-10. The Penguins have captured the first three, including a sweep of a home-and-home series on Dec. 15-17. Pittsburgh has outscored the Flyers 13-7 this season, led by three goals from Jordan Staal and two each from Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Bill Guerin. Marc-Andre Fleury has picked up all three wins in goal. This marks only the second meeting at Mellon Arena as the Penguins soundly defeated the Flyers, 6-1, on Dec. 15 as Sidney Crosby had a goal and two assists while Jordan Staal (2G), Evgeni Malkin (1G-1A), Ruslan Fedotenko (1G-1A) and Brooks Orpik (2A) all had multiple points.

 
PENGUINS PROJECTED LINES RELATED CONTENT
Forwards
Dupuis-Crosby-Guerin
Caputi-Malkin-Fedotenko
Cooke-Staal-Kennedy
Rupp-Adams-Godard

Defense
Letang-Orpik
Eaton-Goligoski
McKee-Skoula

Netminder
Fleury


Last Meeting: Dec. 17, 2009
  PIT 3 - PHI 2 SO
Game Highlights
AP Recap
 
KEY TO VICTORY
Repeat Tuesday’s Effort: Tuesday’s 5-2 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers saw the Penguins get back to playing their A-game. They outshot Atlanta, 37-33, outhit them, 25-23 and constantly held the puck in the offensive zone over the final two periods. When all of this is combined with the stellar goaltending the Penguins have received on a nightly basis, there are few teams in the Eastern Conference capable of matchup up against them.

Use Their Team Speed: Over the course of the past three regular seasons and playoffs the Penguins have proven they have a distinct advantage over the Flyers in team speed, particularly the Penguins forwards versus the Flyers defense. Pittsburgh needs to take advantage of this edge and continue to draw a ton of power-play chances for themselves. The Penguins are 4-14 (28.6 percent) on the man-advantage this season against Philadelphia. 
 
LOWDOWN ON THE FLYERS
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 cellar of the Atlantic Division and in 12th place in the Eastern Conference with 41 points heading into their game versus Toronto on Wednesday.

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 6-8-2, but are 4-1-1 in their last six games prior to facing the Maple Leafs.
 
NEW FACES
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. With Emery sidelined due to abdominal surgery the Flyers claimed Michael Leighton off waivers from the Carolina Hurricanes. Leighton played four games with the Flyers during the 2006-07 season.

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. With Betts recently returning from injury the Flyers have been able to unite both players with pesky Daniel Carcillo on a unit which provides Philadelphia with energy, physicality and the ability to contribute offensively on a regular basis.
 
FORWARDS
The Flyers high-octane offense barely resembled the juggernaut from last season during the first two months of the season under former head coach John Stevens, but it has shown major signs of returning under Peter Laviolette. Over their past six games heading into Wednesday night’s tilt with Toronto they had scored at least four goals on four separate occasions and were averaging 3.7 goals in that span.

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 (17) and points (34) while providing his usual physical element. Richards was one of 13 forwards selected to the Canadian Olympic squad last month. Carter is tied with Danny Briere for second on the team with 14 goals. Unlike Richards, Carter’s slow start did cost him a spot on the Canadian team. 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. Hernia surgery has limited him to only 17 games thus far this season, but in those games he has been his usual productive self with 13 points (5G-8A).

Penguins fans have grown to love tormenting Scott Hartnell and such animosity has only built 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 fifth on the Flyers with 25 points (9G-16A). He hasn’t found the back of the net in 15 games and has only two tallies in his past 20 contests. Another agitating presence for the Flyers is former Penguins farmhand Daniel Carcillo, who scored the lone goal for Philadelphia on Dec. 15. Carcillo has only three goals through 37 games but his 111 penalty minutes rank third in the NHL.

Claude Giroux, who tied for the team lead in their first-round series against the Penguins with five points (2G-3A), has been one of the more productive Flyers forwards since Laviolette took over. For the season, Giroux has 26 points (8G-18A) to rank third on the team, but since the coaching change on Dec. 5 he has five goals and five assists in 16 games. Rookie James Van Riemsdyk, a former No. 2-overall selection, sped out of the gate with three assists in his first three NHL games. Van Riemsdyk is tied for fourth among all rookies with 22 points (7G-15A), but has gone 10 straight games and 22 of 23 games without a goal, although he is coming off a two-assist performance against Ottawa on Monday.       
 
DEFENSEMEN
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 defensemen last season with 48 points (11G-37A). Superb on both the power play and penalty kill, Pronger leads the Flyers blueliners with 25 points (5G-20A) in 41 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 21 points (3G-18A) in 41 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 five goals in his first 40 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-12 rating, although he was minus-3 against the Penguins at Mellon Arena on Dec. 15, while adding 19 points (2G-17A) 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. Danny Syvret is another stay-at-home defenseman who has seen more minutes in recent games. His first NHL goal on Jan. 1 in the Winter Classic was the lone Philadelphia tally.
 
GOALTENDING
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. Before this season 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, Emery had been winless in four starts while his goals-against average had risen to 2.83 and his save percentage dropped to .901. He is expected back in the crease possibly as soon as the end of the week.

Brian Boucher took the first crack at the No. 1 job with Emery out but struggled finding the win column. Through 17 games he has posted a 4-11-1 record to go with a 2.84 goals-against average and a .896 save percentage. This is Boucher’s second stint with the Flyers. 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.

Philadelphia claimed Michael Leighton (See Player Spotlight below) off re-entry waivers from the Carolina Hurricanes when Emery was first injured. Leighton has since taken the job away from Boucher and left Philadelphia with a tough choice on who to keep in goal when Emery returns to action later this week. He started twice against the Penguins last season for Carolina and lost both decisions while allowing a combined nine goals.
 
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: MICHAEL LEIGHTON
Philadelphia claimed Michael Leighton off waivers Dec. 15 to serve as an insurance policy behind Brian Boucher while Ray Emery recovered from abdominal surgery. When Boucher struggled a bit with the No. 1 chores the Flyers turned to Leighton and he has provided them with a performance very similar to the one Ty Conklin provided the Penguins two seasons ago.

Although Leighton was pulled from his most recent start against Ottawa on Dec. 3 after allowing two goals on five shots, he posted an impressive 4-0-1 streak heading into that game. Included in his hot stretch was a blanking of the New York Rangers on Dec. 30 and a near shutout two days later against the Boston Bruins in the 2010 Bridgestone Winter Classic at Fenway Park. Leighton was finally beaten with 2:18 left to play in the third period by Mark Recchi, ending a shutout stretch of 1:54:07. He ended up making 24 saves while suffering the hard-luck loss.
 
INJURY UPDATE
The Flyers have only two injuries to report and both players could be returning this week, possibly even against the Penguins.
- No. 1 netminder Ray Emery was supposed to be sidelined another couple weeks following abdominal surgery but has instead made a quick recovery and is skating with his teammates. If he doesn’t suit up Thursday he should be back on Saturday when the Flyers host Tampa Bay.
- Defenseman Ryan Parent is day-to-day with a back strain.
 
"THEY SAID IT"
“I don’t think other teams want to play against our line. Both (Ian Laperriere and Daniel Carcillo) play physical and are willing to drop the gloves. They are guys you can move up and down the lineup. You’ve got to have guys like that on your team.”

- Blair Betts talking to the Flyers’ official team website on what makes the line of Ian Laperriere, Daniel Carcillo and himself hard to play against.

 
POINT OF INTEREST
.931: Since Michael Leighton was claimed off waivers from the Carolina Hurricanes on Dec. 15 he has posted a .931 save percentage through his first seven games with the Flyers. In seven games with the Hurricanes his save percentage was only .848. 
  
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Author: Jason Seidling

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