Flyers-Penguins: 5 things you need to know


Flyers-Penguins: 5 things you need to know

It should be a fun weekend for hockey in Pennsylvania.

The Flyers (33-25-7) open up a weekend home-and-home series with the Pittsburgh Penguins (44-17-4) Saturday afternoon.

Puck drop is set for 1 p.m. (CSN) at the Wells Fargo Center.

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Home-ice advantage?
This will be the third of five meetings between these bitter in-state rivals this season. The Flyers and Penguins have split their previous two matchups, each winning on the road.

In fact, the road team has been much more dominant in this series over the past couple years. The Penguins have gone 9-4-2 in the regular season at the Wells Fargo Center since 2008-09. Meanwhile, the Flyers own a 7-1-1 record since CONSOL Energy Center opened in 2010.

What gives?

“Sometimes at home, our emotions get to us a little bit and we put ourselves in tough spots,” Flyers head coach Craig Berube said Friday (see story). “You've got to control your emotions at home. It’s a big rivalry game. It gets pretty heated against those guys, and maybe at home, we let our emotions get to us.”

Saturday marks the start of a tough stretch for the Flyers, who sit in fourth place -- 19 points behind the first-place Penguins -- in the Metropolitan Division. Their next 12 games will be against opponents currently holding playoff slots in their respective conferences. It truly is clutch time for the Orange and Black.

2. The Penguin killers
If the Flyers want to have success against Pittsburgh, they’ll need their top two offensive threats to continue to lead the way.

Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek have been the team’s best forwards over the past few weeks and always seem to bring their “A” game when opposing the Pens.

Prior to being held scoreless in the Flyers’ 2-1 win over Pittsburgh on Nov. 13, Giroux had eight goals and 12 assists during a 10-game point streak vs. the Penguins -- including playoffs.

As for Voracek, the 24-year-old forward has collected eight goals and eight assists in 17 career games against Pittsburgh.

The Penguins have done a stellar job stymieing Giroux and Voracek this season, however. The duo have just an assist each in the first two meetings between the clubs.

3. The Flyer killers
We all know where this is going. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have caused a lot of headaches for the Flyers over the past few seasons.

Crosby’s 30 career regular-season goals against the Flyers are his most against any team and he’s found the back of the net in three straight in this series. Say what you want about the Penguins’ captain, but he’s always on the top of his game when he plays the Flyers.

To make matters worse, Crosby is having an MVP-worthy season. He’s well on his way to a scoring title -- he leads the NHL with 88 points -- and has been able to stay healthy, which is a major reason the Penguins sit comfortably in first place in the Metro.

And then there’s Malkin. He has 22 goals and 58 points in 41 career games against the Flyers and will likely be guarded by shutdown center Sean Couturier this weekend. Couturier has done a superb job of frustrating Malkin, who has a tendency to take penalties when taken off his game, when given the duty of shadowing the big Russian. It’s something worth keeping an eye on.

Crosby and Malkin have had some offensive success against the Flyers this season. The Penguins’ one-two punch has combined for three goals and three assists in the first two meetings in the season series.

4. Injuries
The Flyers sent goalie Cal Heeter and forward Chris VandeVelde back to the Phantoms on Thursday, indicating Ray Emery and Zac Rinaldo are ready to return to action.

Emery has been rehabbing a groin pull and could play at some point this weekend. Rinaldo sat out the Flyers’ 2-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils with an upper-body injury.

The Penguins are a banged-up bunch. James Neal was the latest Penguin to be bit by the injury bug, as the forward suffered a concussion in Pittsburgh’s 2-0 win over the Washington Capitals on Tuesday. The team announced Friday he will be sidelined indefinitely.

Also out for the Pens are goalie Tomas Vokoun (blood clot), forwards Beau Bennett (wrist), Pascal Dupuis (knee) and Chris Conner (foot) and defensemen Kris Letang (stroke) and Paul Martin (hand).

Finally, forward Chris Kuntiz is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game with a lower-body injury.

5. This and that
• The Flyers had scored multiple goals in 11 straight prior to Tuesday’s loss to New Jersey.

• The Penguins lead the NHL in both power-play percentage (25.3 percent) and penalty-kill percentage (87.1 percent) entering Friday (see story). No team has led the league in both categories over a full season since the 1984-85 New York Islanders.

• Voracek has at least one point in four consecutive games. He’s potted three goals and assisted five more in that span.

• Marc-Andre Fleury posted his fifth shutout of the season Tuesday, which tied a career high for the netminder.

• Giroux and Crosby each have 45 points since Dec. 11, 2013.

Best of NHL: Shea Weber's PPG gives Canadiens' 5th straight win

Best of NHL: Shea Weber's PPG gives Canadiens' 5th straight win

NEW YORK -- Shea Weber's power-play goal with 2:57 remaining lifted the Montreal Canadiens to their fifth straight victory, 3-2 over the New York Islanders on Wednesday night.

Paul Byron and Phillip Danault also scored to help Montreal improve to 6-0-1 and remain the only team in the NHL without a regulation loss. Al Montoya, who played for the Islanders from 2010-12, stopped 26 shots in his first start since Oct. 18 as the Canadiens beat New York for the seventh straight time.

John Tavares and Dennis Seidenberg scored for New York and Thomas Greiss had 26 saves in his second straight start and third of the season.

With the Islanders' Nick Leddy off for slashing, Weber fired a shot from the point for the tiebreaking goal. It was just the second power-play goal in 23 opportunities given up by New York's league-leading penalty-killing unit (see full recap).

Pirri, Rangers rally to topple Bruins
NEW YORK -- Brandon Pirri scored twice to help the New York Ranger beat the Boston Bruins 5-2 on Wednesday night.

Rick Nash, Kevin Hayes and Jimmy Vesey also scored for New York, and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 27 shots. The Rangers won their third straight game, overcoming a 2-0 deficit to improve to 5-2-0.

David Pastrnak and Austin Czarina scored for Boston. The Bruins have lost three straight to drop to 3-4-0.

Zane McIntyre made 26 saves in his first NHL start. He was called up prior to Boston's 5-0 home loss to Minnesota on Tuesday night to back up Malcolm Subban due to injuries to Tuukka Risk and Anton Khudobin (see full recap).

Pouliot scores twice, Oilers beat Capitals
EDMONTON, Alberta -- Benoit Pouliot scored twice, Cam Talbot made 34 saves and the Edmonton Oilers beat the Washington Capitals 4-1 on Wednesday night to stretch their winning streak to four games.

Patrick Maroon and Milan Lucic also scored for the Oilers (6-1-0). They have won four of five games at Rogers Place, their new downtown arena.

Alex Ovechkin scored for the Capitals (3-2-1). Braden Holtby made 25 saves (see full recap).

Dave Hakstol did Steve Mason a favor by challenging Sabres' 3rd goal

Dave Hakstol did Steve Mason a favor by challenging Sabres' 3rd goal

Many, though not all hockey games, have a tipping point or pivotal moment that factors into the outcome.
Sometimes it’s obvious what it was and when the moment occurred. Other times, it’s overshadowed by something else on the ice.
Ask the Flyers which moment would define their come-from-behind 4-3 shootout victory over Buffalo on Tuesday and the response will be virtually unanimous: when Dmitry Kulikov leveled Jakub Voracek with a high hit that made contact to the head in the third period.
Voracek was forced off the ice under the NHL’s concussion protocol.
That hit incensed the Flyers, who went on to score two power-play goals and tie the game, 3-3. The comeback was on.
Yet there was a less obvious but significant point that happened late in the second period, and it concerned goalie Steve Mason.
Matt Moulson had given Buffalo a 3-0 lead on Michal Neuvirth at 15:43, when Flyers coach Dave Hakstol elected to make a goalie switch.
Rather than call a simple timeout to buy Mason some warm-up time and allow his team to collect itself on the bench, Hakstol challenged the goal, claiming “goalie interference.”
Replays won’t show any direct interference on the shot itself. Neuvirth was speared several seconds before the play developed.
Hakstol knew the goal would likely not be overturned, but his strategy was to buy time for Mason and his team. By using a challenge, he knew the review process would take a lot longer than the 60-second timeout.
Either way, he was going to use his only timeout.
“You know what, I think we needed a timeout at that time, anyway,” Hakstol said coyly. “Pretty low probability of it being successful. Everything worked out well in the end.”
Mason appreciated what his coach did, too. Buying extra time for you?
“Yeah, probably,” Mason replied. “Regardless of the situation, you’re sitting on the bench, you know? You’re not really gauged as much as when you’re playing, obviously. So, you just try and ramp things up as quickly as possible.”
Mason had two saves in that shortened period, five in the third period and one in the overtime to register his second victory.
“There’s a never-quit attitude in this room,” he said. “We showed in Chicago — we were just talking about that. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to close that one out.
“But guys have a belief that you get one [moment] and it comes. [Travis Konecny] got us going with his first NHL goal, which is great. The guys really pushed to capitalize on their chances.”