All phases finally click for the Flyers
After an uplifting 5-0 victory over the Ottawa Senators to open their three-game road trip, the Flyers (6-10-1) will be right back at it again when they battle the Metropolitan Division-leading Pittsburgh Penguins (11-6-0) on Wednesday night.
Puck drop is set for 8 p.m. at CONSOL Energy Center and the game will be featured on NBCSN’s Rivalry Night.
With the two bitter rivals set to face off for the second time this season, here are five things you need to know:
1. Offense clicking
After scoring nine goals combined in their last two games, the Flyers have raised their goals per game average to 1.82 and are no longer the NHL’s worst offensive team. That dubious title belongs to the Buffalo Sabres (1.65).
The Flyers constantly pressured the Senators on Tuesday and when they weren’t getting shots on net, they controlled the puck. More importantly, the top line showed up all over the scoresheet.
Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Scott Hartnell combined for 13 shots, two goals and five points. The confidence shown by the Flyers’ top unit had a trickle-down effect on the entire club.
“The way we’re playing, we’re playing as a team and the way we should be playing and working hard,” Giroux said after the game (see story). “When you have Steve Mason behind you, it’s easy to play with confidence.”
The Flyers even got two goals on the man advantage. It marked the first time they recorded two power-play markers in the same game this season. They enter Wednesday ranked 26th in the league on the PP at 11.9 percent (8 for 71).
2. Saving grace
There’s no arguing who has been the Flyers’ best player this season. In fact, it would be hard to imagine what the Flyers would look like without goaltender Steve Mason.
Mason recorded his first shutout as a member of the orange and black with a 24-save performance against Ottawa. He improved his record to 5-7-1 and owns a 2.15 goals-against average and .930 save percentage on the season.
The netminder has had a resurgence since joining the Flyers late last season. He has not allowed more than three goals in any of his 20 starts and has consistently given the Flyers a chance to win.
It’s not yet known if head coach Craig Berube will start Mason in a back-to-back situation against Pittsburgh, but Mason said after Tuesday’s win he would feel fine playing.
Mason is 2-2-1 with a .909 save percentage and 3.18 goals-against average in five starts against the Pens. Backup Ray Emery hasn’t had a lot of success against Pittsburgh. He’s 4-4-2 with an .885 save percentage and 2.95 goals-against average in 10 starts.
3. Crosby and Malkin
Whenever the Flyers and Penguins square off, you’re bound to hear Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin’s name throughout the broadcast. The Penguins’ top two players have given the Flyers fits over the past few seasons.
Crosby, who is tied for the NHL lead in scoring with 23 points, has a goal in each of his last two games against the Flyers and has at least a point in four straight. The Penguins’ captain has collected 38 goals and 96 points in 61 career meetings with the Flyers, his highest totals against any club.
Malkin has also been a nightmare to handle for the Flyers. His 32 goals and 47 assists in 57 games against the orange and black are more than he’s recorded against any other team.
4. Slumping Pens
The Penguins should be motivated for this in-state clash, as they’ve gone just 5-5-0 in their last 10 games and have dropped back-to-back contests.
During that stretch, Crosby has just one goal while Malkin and Pascal Dupuis haven’t found the back of the net at all.
Pittsburgh, which has just two markers in its last two games, will be trying to avoid its second three-game losing streak of the season. On the opposite side of the ice, the Flyers will attempt to win three in a row for the first time.
5. This and that
• The last time these bitter rivals met, Crosby and Malkin each had a goal and an assist to lead the Penguins to a 4-1 win over the Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on Oct. 17. After Wednesday, the Flyers and Pens won’t play each other again until a home-and-home series set for March 15 and 16.
• Michael Raffl missed the Ottawa game because of the flu. He’s unlikely to play Wednesday. The Penguins are without forward Chuck Kobasew (lower body), defenseman Rob Scuderi (ankle and goalie Tomas Vokoun (blood clot). Forward Tanner Glass (lower body) is expected to play, and defenseman Paul Martin (lower body) is listed as doubtful.
• Voracek has five goals in his last four games against Pittsburgh. Giroux has 20 points during his current 10-game points streak vs. the Pens.
• Pittsburgh has won three straight against the Flyers and six of the last eight matchups.
• The Penguins are 11-2-0 when they score three or more goals and 0-4-0 when they fall short of that.