Atlantic Beast-Off: White Hot Penguins at the Well Today

Atlantic Beast-Off: White Hot Penguins at the Well Today
March 18, 2012, 7:57 am
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A few important storylines converge at the Wells Fargo Center this afternoon, where the Flyers will host the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 12:30 matinee airing on NBC. These are two of the hottest teams in the league. Pittsburgh is unmistakably THE hottest, winning their last 11 games and getting their best player back in the process. 
If the season ended today, these two teams would face off in a first-round playoff battle. The Pens' surge has them within striking distance of the East-leading Rangers. If they leave Philadelphia with two points today, they'll own a share of first place pending New York's outcome against the Devils tomorrow night. 
But it's not as though the Pens have lacked motivation lately. The Flyers will have their hands full today, and they did not get healthier overnight. 

Yesterday's key stories included two more Flyers being struck down by the injury gods and the team getting off to another sluggish start in an afternoon game, both of which they'll have to overcome if they want to win today. Andreas Lilja and Max Talbot will not play, meaning three defense regulars (Mesz, Kubina, Lilja—in addition to Pronger) won't be available. 

Brandon Manning will return to fill the void on D, and Jody Shelley will take shifts with the fourth line. However, there will likely be some forwards taking additional shifts and some juggling. Manning was solid in his first cup of coffee, but Shelley is no substitute for Talbot in a game like this. The fourth line has given some valuable shifts at both ends of the ice, and Talbot's a gamer who will be missed in this showdown with his former club. 
Ilya Bryzgalov will start again today with two big points on the line. At the other end of the ice, Marc-Andre Fleury, who has been outstanding. 
The Pens' streak isn't just eating cupcakes, which they've certainly done along the way. Their last three wins were all by a 5-2 margin, coming against the Bruins, Rangers, and Devils over the past week. That's all. 
Evgeni Malkin leads the league in scoring, and Sidney Crosby has returned to a team scoring at the league's second-best pace, just slightly below the Flyers' top mark. In two games back from another concussion situation, Crosby has five points, all assists. With the rear guard picked apart by injuries, it's fairly likely Sid at least continues his point streak. When doesn't he in Philly?
On special teams, the Pittsburgh power play is 6th best, and no one is killing penalties better on the season. 
But, they're going to lose at some point between now and the end of the season. Why not today in Philly?
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