GAME 53: FLYERS vs. PENGUINS
Wrapping up their season series with one another and playing the second game of a back-to-back set, Alain Vigneault's Philadelphia Flyers (23-22-7) host Mike Sullivan's Pittsburgh Penguins (34-16-3) at the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday. Game time is 7 p.m. EDT. The game will be televised on NBCSP.
The Flyers are 5-2-0 against the Penguins in head-to-head meetings this season. On Monday night, the Flyers earned a 7-2 victory
and knocked the Penguins at least temporarily out of first place in the East Division.
For an in-depth look at the Flyers-Penguins season series prior to last night's game, click here
With the exception of Alex Lyon starting in goal on Monday, the Flyers featured the same lineup they used on Saturday against the New Jersey Devils. The team has very rarely had the same 18 skaters start in back-to-back games this season. Could they make it three in a row (for the first time all season) in the return game against the Penguins? There is no morning skate today, and Vigneault will reveal the lineup at his 4:30 press conference. Brian Elliott will start in goal.
Regardless of the lineup combinations they've used, the Flyers have not won so muck as two straight games since their final two games of February (back-to-back road shutout wins against the Buffalo Sabres). They will try again tonight.
Monday's blowout win against the Penguins was a nice one-night respite from the all-too-familiar pattern of getting off to listless starts, falling into multi-goal deficits and then chasing the game. It does not, however, change the bigger picture that this year's Flyers team has been a major disappointment after last year's breakthrough season and some unresolved season-long problems predate this season and predate the current coaching staff as well as several predecessor staffs.
The way the Flyers came out in Monday's game -- hungry for the puck, outworking their opponent in the trenches, moving their feet consistently, and being the ones to dictate the game rather than trying to catch up to it -- is precisely what's been lacking since the playoffs last season. The Penguins made their pushes, especially in a power play laden third period, but the Flyers, for once, didn't wilt when the pressure was dialed up.
Where was that in March when the Flyers fell from the top points percentage in the East to south of the playoff cutoff line?
Philadelphia didn't play a perfect game in Monday. They got lucky on several near-goals for the Penguins and got some bounces their way -- but most of them were self-made good fortune. They still ended up getting outscored on special teams (2-1). Nonetheless, it was at least a high-energy (and high-scoring) game from the Flyers in a season where there's been a lot of mentally disengaged play and negative body language.
What happened in Monday's game stemmed from a combination of what the Flyers WERE doing and what the Penguins were not. It was not entirely unexpected, because this sort of scenario is far from uncommon in hockey.
The Penguins came to town in first place, still on the emotional high of beating Washington in back-to-back games (including a shutout in the most recent game). They were getting Evgeni Malkin back in the lineup, too. The opponent was a team that has collapsed over the last two months and was coming off four straight largely dreadful performances (1-3-0 but very nearly 0-4-0) against the lowly New Jersey Devils.
For all the lip service that teams in all sports near the top of the standings pay to bearing down against non-playoff opponents, it often works out in such a way where the latter outworks the former. Sometimes, the former falls into too deep of a hole from which to recover and, voila, it's an upset.
That's why, before last night's game -- and HockeyBuzz's Capt. EO will attest to this -- I predicted the Flyers and Penguins would split the two games in Philadelphia (with the better chance for the upset being in the first game). I've just seen these scenarios play out too many times (too often in the last 20 years with the Flyers as the pregame favorite who gets toppled by a previously struggling opponent) in my nearly 50 years of watching hockey.
It's now up to the Penguins to respond the right way in the return game. Their history is that they likely will do so. The Flyers will probably need a strong bounceback game out of Elliott, who has not been very good in his last few starts, and to score some opportunistic goals if they are pull out a sixth win in eight games against Pittsburgh this season.
(based on Monday's lineup)
28 Claude Giroux -14 Sean Couturier - 93 Jakub Voracek
86 Joel Farabee - 13 Kevin Hayes - 11 Travis Konecny
25 James van Riemsdyk - 21 Scott Laughton - 57 Wade Allison
23 Oskar Lindblom - 19 Nolan Patrick - 62 Nicolas Aube-Kubel
9 Ivan Provorov - 61 Justin Braun
6 Travis Sanheim - 53 Shayne Gostisbehere
8 Robert Hägg - 5 Phil Myers
34 Alex Lyon
[37 Brian Elliott]
PP1: Giroux, Couturier, Allison, Voracek, Gostisbehere
PP2: Hayes, Farabee, JVR, Konecny, Provorov
Scratches: 55 Samuel Morin (healthy), 59 Jackson Cates (healthy), 53 79 Carter Hart (MCL sprain, out for the remainder of the season).
Injured reserve: 48 Morgan Frost (shoulder surgery), 58 Tanner Laczynski (hip surgery).
COVID-19 protocol: None.
59 Jake Guentzel - 89 Sidney Crosby - 17 Bryan Rust
16 Jason Zucker - 71 Evgeni Malkin - 42 Kaperi Kapanen
19 Jared McCann - 11 Frederick Gaudreau - 77 Jeff Carter
12 Zach Aston-Reese - 53 Teddy Blueger - 7 Colton Sceviour
8 Brian Dumoulin - 58 Kris Letang
52 Mark Friedman - 4 Cody Ceci
28 Marcus Pettersson - 6 John Marino
35 Tristan Jarry
[1 Casey DeSmith]
PP1: Rust, Crosby, McCann, Guentzel, Letang
PP2: Zucker, Carter, Kapanen, Matheson, Marino
Scratches: 2 Chad Ruhwedel (healthy), 14 Mark Jankowski (healthy), 9 Evan Rodrigues (lower body, day-to-day), 18 Sam Lafferty (healthy), 5 Mike Matheson (healthy).
Injured Reserve: 13 Brandon Tanev (upper body).
COVID-19 protocol: None.