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Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia Preview

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (31-20-1-63) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (26-21-3-55)
Where: Wachovia Center

Sunday, January 24, 12:30 p.m.
WXDX Radio, FM 105.9

Season Series:
Pittsburgh and Philadelphia meet for the sixth time this season and for the final time in Philadelphia. They will meet one final time in Pittsburgh on Mar. 27. The Penguins have captured three of the first four meetings, including a sweep of a home-and-home series on Dec. 15-17. Sidney Crosby has once again led the way this season against the Flyers by picking up four goals in the first four games, including two at Mellon Arena on Jan. 7 in the most recent game played between these two. Other multiple-goal scorers for the Penguins against the Flyers include Jordan Staal (3), Evgeni Malkin (2) and Bill Guerin (2). Marc-Andre Fleury has picked up all three wins in goal. Kris Letang and Crosby each scored in the shootout as the Penguins defeated the Flyers, 3-2, on Dec. 17 in Philadelphia.



Last Meeting: Jan. 7, 2010
  PHI 7 - PIT 4 
Game Highlights
AP Recap

Special Teams: If the Penguins are going to sweep the Philadelphia portion of this season series they are going to need a big night from their special teams. Tossing out Mike Richards’ empty net goal, the difference in the Flyers’ 7-4 win on Jan. 7 was the Philadelphia power play going 2-for-2 while the Penguins went 0-for-3. The Penguins need to reverse those statistics this time around.

Cover the Points:
Philadelphia was able to generate plenty of offense from their blue line against Pittsburgh on Jan. 7. Matt Carle and Chris Pronger both scored off of open looks from the point while the Philadelphia defensive core in general contributed seven points (2G-5A) as a unit.
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 enters this game having just moved from the basement of the Atlantic Division back into the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff field, one point better than the ninth-place New York Islanders through Saturday’s early games.

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 had 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 12-10-2.
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 spent 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.
Philadelphia struggled to find the back of the net for much of the first two months of the season under John Stevens, but the switch to Peter Laviolette has spurred an offensive revival. They have scored four or more goals in nine of their past 14 games, including five or more goals five times.

Last season big center Jeff Carter had a career year, leading the Flyers with 84 points, four more than runner-up Mike Richards, who had 80 (30G-50A). They rank 1-2 on the Flyers scoring chart again this season. The captain and face of the Flyers, Richards leads the squad with 20 goals through Saturday and sits second behind Carter with 41 points while providing shutdown defense and adding a physical element. Richards was one of 13 forwards selected to the Canadian Olympic squad last month. Carter, who has picked up nine points (5G-4A) over his past eight games heading into Saturday’s game against Carolina, leads the team with 42 points, with his 19 goals second only to Richards. Unlike Richards, Carter’s slow start did cost him a spot on the Canadian team. Simon Gagne, who might be the most valuable member of the Flyers, 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 25 games thus far this season, but in those games he has picked up 19 points (6G-13A) through Saturday. In his first 16 games since his return, Gagne has picked up 14 points (5G-8A).

Danny Briere continues to have a resurgent season in 2009-10. The speedy winger ranks third on the team through Saturday with 33 points (17G-16A) in 42 games. Penguins fans have grown to love tormenting Scott Hartnell and such animosity has only built after his skirmish with Kris Letang on Oct. 8. Hartnell has been in a major slump since Thanksgiving with only two goals in his past 21 games and three in 25. Hartnell ranks seventh on the team with 27 points (11G-16A) in 48 games. Another agitating presence for the Flyers is former Penguins farmhand Daniel Carcillo, who scored the lone goal for Philadelphia on Dec. 15 and had another called back because it was ruled he kicked the puck into the net. Carcillo has picked up 11 points (5G-6A) in 45 games and his 130 minutes in penalties rank fourth in the NHL heading into Saturday.

Claude Giroux, who tied for the team lead in their first-round series against the Penguins with five points (2G-3A), had been among the most productive Flyers with five goals and five assists in his first 13 games under Laviolette. It has been a struggle for Giroux since then, as he has picked up only three points (2G-1A) over his last 10 games through Saturday. For the season he has 29 points (10G-19A) in 49 games. Rookie James van Riemsdyk (See Player Spotlight below), who went through a dry spell which saw him score just once in 23 games between Nov. 20 and Jan. 3, has notched 10 points in his past nine games to jump into third place on the rookie scoring list with 30 points (12G-18A) in 46 games.
Pronger headlines a defensive corps 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 with 35 points (7G-28A) and a plus-18 rating in 49 games. In his past nine games, Pronger has picked up 11 points (2G-9A) and posted a plus-7 rating. 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 26 points (4G-22A) in 49 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. Coburn’s numbers are off a bit thus far as he has picked up only 14 points (5G-9A) and has a minus-9 rating in 48 games. Never known as a great defensive player, Matt Carle has been proficient in all three zones in his first full season with Philadelphia. His plus-16 rating is second best on the team. Carle has spent much of the season partnered with Pronger, allowing him to pick up 24 points (3G-21A) at the offensive end. He ranks second on the team behind Pronger with an average of 23:19 minutes of ice time per contest.

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. Both Parent and Syvret are expected to miss the game against the Penguins.
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. He missed six weeks following abdominal surgery but has posted a 2-1 record since returning to the crease on Jan. 17. Emery stopped 24 shots in blanking the New York Rangers, 2-0, on Thursday night. For the season he has a 13-9-1 record, 2.81 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage to go along with two shutouts.

Brian Boucher had the first crack at replacing Emery, but he struggled and was replaced by Michael Leighton. Through 17 games Boucher 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 Leighton off re-entry waivers from the Carolina Hurricanes when Emery was first injured. Leighton promptly stole the main workload off Boucher and has earned himself a potential split between the pipes even with Emery back. In 12 games with the Flyers, Leighton has an 8-1-1 record, 2.39 goals-against average, .921 save percentage and one shutout.
Philadelphia’s next-to-last finish in the 2006-07 regular season earned them quite the consolation prize in the form of the No. 2-overall selection in that summer’s NHL Entry Draft – James van Riemsdyk. After spending one season at the University of New Hampshire where he picked up 34 points (11G-23A) in 31 games, van Riemsdyk has proven to be ready for NHL duty at just 20 years of age.

As of Saturday van Riemsdyk ranks third among all rookies with 30 points (12G-18A) in 46 games. Two of those 12 goals came against the Penguins in a 7-4 victory at Mellon Arena on Jan. 7. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound winger has picked up points in seven of his past nine contests (5G-5A) after netting only two points (1G-1A) in 21 games prior to his recent hot streak.
Philadelphia’s injury report includes a couple defensemen currently on injured reserve.
- Ryan Parent is out indefinitely with a back strain.
- Danny Syvret will be out the next few weeks with a separated left shoulder.
"Right after Christmas he came back with his legs. That little break to go home and have a home-cooked meal with mom and dad helped him out quite a bit. That first game back he was flying, and he hasn't stopped since then."

- Ian Laperriere talking to on the play of rookie James van Riemsdyk over the past few weeks.

52-44: While the Philadelphia Flyers are a strong team in the first period, the third period is their weakest, as they have been outscored, 52-44, in the final period over the course of the season.
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Author: Jason Seidling

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