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What to Watch For: Pens vs. Flyers

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

PENGUINS (24-8-0) vs. FLYERS (13-16-1)
WHEN: March 24, 2013 - 7:30 p.m.  |  WHERE: CONSOL Energy Center
WATCH: ROOT SPORTS, NBC Sports Network  |  LISTEN: Penguins Radio 24/7, 105.9 FM

The Penguins host Philadelphia on Sunday for their fourth and final meeting of the season with the Flyers. Because of a quirk in the schedule, the Flyers haven’t played since last Monday – a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Flyers have been forced to sit and watch as teams gain position on them in the standings, and they’ve since dropped to 14th place in the Eastern Conference with just 27 points. They're desperate and they'll be hungry to end a lengthy Penguins winning streak for a third straight season.

Penguins fans remember Max Talbot as a locker room favorite and a heart-and-soul player who stepped up at crucial times, his most memorable performance coming in Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final. He’s trying to do that right now for the struggling Flyers as they battle to make the playoffs. It was a rough first half of the season for Talbot, as he went goalless in his first 21 games. But he’s broken through with three goals in his last four games, including one shorthanded tally.

Talbot has been Philly’s best player, meaning their top guys aren’t playing like they need to be. Scott Hartnell scored 37 goals last season and has been a fixture on the top line alongside Claude Giroux, but was benched and then demoted to the fourth line on Monday after taking an inopportune penalty in the game. After a torrid stretch, Wayne Simmonds hasn’t scored in six games, Danny Briere hasn’t scored in 13 games and Brayden Schenn has just 2 goals over that same stretch. Flyers coach Peter Laviolette has been tinkering with his lines these last few days of practice trying to find combinations that work; it’ll be interesting to see what he goes with on Sunday.

On the back end, Ilya Bryzgalov is shouldering the heaviest workload of any goalie in the league as he’s started 28 of 30 games for the Flyers and is responsible for all 13 of his team’s wins. But his numbers aren’t great and he hasn’t been solid back there or stealing games for his team when they need him to, with the last game against the Penguins a perfect example of that. Overall, the Flyers defense has been leaky as it ranks 25th out of 30 NHL teams. The positive there is that they do have a healthy D corps, led by respected veteran Kimmo Timonen – who just played his 1,000th NHL game on Monday against the Lightning.

(Getty Images)

Matt Read - Claude Giroux - Jakub Voracek
Simon Gagne - Brayden Schenn - Wayne Simmonds
Scott Hartnell - Max Talbot - Danny Briere
Ruslan Fedotenko - Sean Couturier - Zac Rinaldo

Kimmo Timonen - Luke Schenn
Braydon Coburn - Nicklas Grossmann
Bruno Gervais - Andrej Meszaros

(Getty Images)

I came close to picking Talbot as my player to watch, as he’s been flying for Philly (no pun intended) as of late. But the Flyer who’s come to play every time these teams meet has been Jakub Voracek, who’s been lighting it up against the Penguins this season. He has five goals in his last two games against Pittsburgh, including three on the power play. Overall, he’s Philadelphia’s leading scorer with 13 goals and 31 points in 30 games and it looks like he’ll remain alongside Claude Giroux on the first line for Sunday’s game. Voracek is a shifty player that always seems to find open seams and the Penguins will need to be aware of where he is at all times on the ice.

With Tomas Vokoun getting the start on Friday, it’s Fleury will likely go on Sunday against nemesis Philadelphia. He enters the game with a league-leading 16 wins, having won six straight decisions and going 11-1 in his last 13 starts dating back to Feb. 13. The Flyers have a knack for ending their rival’s winning streaks. They halted Pittsburgh’s 11-game winning streak last March and ended their 12-game winning streak in 2010-11. If the Penguins want to stop that trend, they’ll need a big game from Fleury between the pipes. Because the Flyers will be hungry after sitting idle for five days, and they’ll be desperate as they sit 14th in the East. They’ll be sure to send flurries at Fleury, and he’ll need to weather the storm.

- The Penguins begin a season-long five-game homestand against the Philadelphia Flyers (7:30 p.m.; TV: ROOT SPORTS, NBC Sports Network; Radio: 105.9 the X) at CONSOL Energy Center.
- Pittsburgh enters Sunday’s game having won 11 straight games –tied with the Chicago Blackhawks for the NHL’s longest winning streak this season.
- The Penguins have won eight straight home games.
- Sunday marks the final meeting of the regular season between the Penguins and Flyers.
- The Penguins have won three of the last four regular-season meetings against the Flyers.
- Should the Penguins win or earn a point against the Flyers Sunday, they will finish with a winning record against Philadelphia for the first time since 2009-10 (4-2).
- This season the Penguins are 7-1 on Sundays.
- The Penguins have won four straight games against Atlantic Division opponents. Their last such loss was to the Flyers on Feb. 20 at CONSOL Energy Center (6-5).
- This year the Penguins have gone 9-2 without Evgeni Malkin. During the 76 games he has missed during his career, the Penguins have gone 44-26-6 (.618 pct.).
- James Neal has goals and points in four straight games against the Flyers (4G-1A-5PTS).

The Penguins have won a season-high 11-straight games entering Sunday’s contest. During the streak, they have outscored foes by a 43-25 margin. Pittsburgh is averaging 3.9 goals per game while posting a goals-against average of 2.26. Seven of the 11 wins have been one-goal wins –with two more of the victories, including Friday’s win over the Islanders – ending with the Penguins scoring empty-net goals. Pittsburgh’s goaltenders have combined to post a .920 save percentage (288 saves/313 shots).

The Penguins enter Sunday's game having allowed just eight goals over the previous seven games dating back to March 10. That’s the fewest goals allowed by any NHL team during that stretch. During this seven-game stretch, Marc-Andre Fleury and Tomas Vokoun has combined to stop 180-of-188 opposition shots for a .957 save percentage.

The Penguins’ 11-0 record in March has them in position to challenge the franchise record for most wins during a calendar month. In 2006-07, the Penguins established a team record by winning 12 games during March (12-3-2). Pittsburgh will have four more chances this month to get the one/two wins it needs to equal or better that mark.

Look for special teams to play a huge role in determining the winner of this game. This season, the Penguins have gone 5-for-13 (38.5%) on the power play; while the Flyers have gone 3-for-15 (20%). Through the first three games, one-third of the goals between these two teams (8-of-24) have come on the power play. In the last 23 meetings between the two teams there has been at least one power-play goal scored in each game. During that stretch the Penguins have scored at least once on the man-advantage in 17 of the 23 games (23-for-100; 23%). The Flyers have scored at least one power-play goal in 19 of the 23 games (23-for-113; 20.4%). Pittsburgh has scored a power-play goal in five straight games against the Flyers (7-for-22; 31.8%).

Pittsburgh’s PK unit has killed off 17 of its past 19 (89.5%) shorthanded chances over the last seven games. The Penguins have been perfect on the PK in eight of their last 12 games.

Sidney Crosby enters Sunday’s game leading the NHL in points (52) and assists (39). Crosby is averaging a league-best 1.63 points per game this season. Over his last 14 games, Crosby has tallied 27 points (6G-21A). Crosby has recorded multiple points in 16 of 32 contests. In 21 career home games against the Flyers, Crosby has tallied 37 points (14G-23A). He has points in nine of his past 10 home games against them (6G-11A-17PTS).

Brandon Sutter scored the game-winning goal against New York on Friday – his third game-winner in his last 11 games and his fourth on the season. That ties him for second on the team (with Chris Kunitz) and fourth in the NHL. Six of Sutter’s nine goals this year have come in the third period or overtime (assist: Josh Yohe). With nine goals in 32 games, Sutter has posted the second-highest goals-per-game mark (0.28 avg.) of his career (best was 0.29 in 2009-10 with Carolina).

Game notes courtesy of Penguins manager of communications Jason Seidling

Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang participated in morning skate on Sunday, but coach Dan Bylsma said they both will not play against the Flyers. Tyler Kennedy did not play against the Islanders on Friday due to illness, but he partook in morning skate on Sunday and Bylsma said afterward he "should be good" to play against Philadelphia.

Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren announced Sunday that "Danny Briere was injured in practice yesterday and is listed as day-to-day with an upper body injury." Briere will not play against Pittsburgh.

F Tyler Kennedy, illness
D Kris Letang, lower body
F Evgeni Malkin, upper body

D Marc-Andre Bourdon, concussion
F Tye McGinn, broken orbital bone
D Chris Pronger, post-concussion syndrome
F Jody Shelley, hip

Author: Michelle Crechiolo

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