Flyers-Penguins: 5 things you need to know

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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.

Flyers 2017 mock draft: More than just No. 2 pick in Rounds 1-4

Flyers 2017 mock draft: More than just No. 2 pick in Rounds 1-4

Nolan or Nico.

After weeks of debate, it's the 2017 NHL draft eve. Round 1 kicks off Friday in Chicago. The Flyers have 11 picks in total, including the third-round pick from Boston via the Zac Rinaldo trade.

The Flyers have the No. 2 overall pick. They'll select whomever the Devils do not draft at No. 1. They won't decide between Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier.

Seven of the Flyers' 11 picks fall in the first four rounds. They have one in the fifth, one in the sixth and two in the seventh. Will they make all 11 picks? My bet is no.

With enough ammo, we could see general manager Ron Hextall move up in the middle rounds. This mock draft does not take trades into account. We're only mocking Rounds 1-4.

Each team has its own internal rankings that differ from Central Scouting's rankings and those of experts who study the draft. Mock drafts are good fun but largely a guessing game.

Here is our only look at how we think the NHL draft could shake out for the Flyers.

First round (second overall): Nolan Patrick, C, 6-3/198, Brandon (WHL)
Whether it's Patrick or Hischier, it's a win-win situation for the Flyers. The optics here are simple: the Flyers jumped 11 spots during the draft lottery to be in this position; it doesn't matter which one comes to Philly, either will be a significantly better option than at No. 13.

With that said, I still believe the Devils will ultimately draft Hischier, leaving Patrick for the Flyers. Patrick has three years under his belt in the Western Hockey League and may be ready to graduate to the professional ranks, but that will be settled in training camp.

Patrick checks all the boxes as a true 200-foot player who might not necessarily excel at any one aspect of the game but does everything well. Brandon GM Grant Armstrong said the Winnipeg, Manitoba, native "won't let anybody down," and his uncle, James Patrick, knew from when his nephew was 8 years old, he was destined for big things in hockey.

Second round (44th overall): Marcus Davidsson, C, 18, 6-0/191, Djurgårdens IF (SHL)
Hextall said recently if the Flyers keep all 11 picks, they'd prefer to draft seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender. With a system heavy on D-men and goalies and a forward-heavy draft, the Flyers should stick with the forward route in the second round.

Brynäs IF center Jesper Boqvist would be an exciting option here but I don't see him falling to the Flyers at No. 44. Still, the Flyers stay in Sweden with Djurgårdens center Davidsson.

Davidsson is a two-way playmaking pivot known for his speed and work ethic. He scored nine points in 45 games last season in the SHL — eighth-best among junior-aged players. He models his game after Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog. He would be more of a long-term pick than receiving immediate dividends. He still needs more seasoning.

Third round (75th overall): Josh Brook, D, 18, 6-1/191, Moose Jaw (WHL)
With four picks in the first three rounds, I wouldn't be shocked if the Flyers draft a defenseman in the third round. They should add a right-handed shot in Brook here.

Brook, who finished as the 13th-best North American defenseman by Central Scouting, plays a strong positional game with good size. He emulates Penguins blueliner Kris Letang.

He's touted as a smart defender who also has offensive upside. He doesn't project to be a piece to build around but could fit well on a third pair with second-pair potential. In 69 games last season for Moose Jaw, Brook scored eight goals and 40 points.

Third round (80th overall, from BOS): Nick Henry, RW, 18, 5-11/190, Regina (WHL)
With the Rinaldo pick, the Flyers add their first natural winger into the mix in Henry, who registered 35 goals in his rookie season with Regina last season in the WHL.

Henry likens his game to Bruins forward David Krejci. He's a good skater with a decent shot that he'll benefit to utilize more often but has solid playmaking skills to boot.

He's not a big winger but in today's game, size isn't necessarily as important as it used to be. He'll need to add more muscle, though. The skill is there as evidenced by 1.13 points-per-game clip in his first year in the WHL. He'll end up being a solid prospect.

Fourth round (106th overall): Evan Barratt, C, 18, 5-11/187, USNTDP
The Flyers have three straight picks beginning with this pick — my prediction is they won't make all three — and they will bring the Penn State commit into the fold here.

Barratt is a Philly-area kid and a product of the USNTDP. He was born in Bristol, Pennsylvania, a town in Bucks County. He's an underrated prospect with good vision and playmaking ability and a high ceiling. Has defensive flaws but that's an area he'll need to work on at PSU.

The 18-year-old scored 18 goals and 56 points in 63 games for the USNTDP U-18 team in 2016-17, where he served as an alternate captain. He added 24 points in 26 USHL games.

Fourth round (107th overall, from TB): Kirill Maksimov, RW, 18, 6-2/201, Niagara (OHL)
Maksimov shot up from 185th in the midterm rankings to 66th on Central Scouting's final North American skater rankings and comes with plenty of upside as a middle-round pick.

The Moscow, Russia, native benefitted from a midseason trade from Saginaw. He scored 15 goals and 22 points in 29 games with Niagara and just 16 points in 37 games with Saginaw.

A speedy winger who forechecks well, Maksimov's draft stock has been helped with his strong second half and may get him into the third round, but this is a safe spot for him.

Fourth round (108th overall, from NYI): Tobias Geisser, D, 6-4/200, EV Zug (Swiss-2)
With five forwards in their first six picks, the Flyers go back to the blue line here with Geisser, a big mobile left-handed shot who will be a long-term project.

Geisser spent time in both the Swiss A and B league last year. He scored 10 points in 34 games with EV Zug of the Swiss B league and had one assist for Zug in the Swiss A league.

He has a ton of tools to work with, but will definitely have to get stronger and then adjust to the North American game once he comes overseas whenever that would be.

Ron Hextall talks Flyers' draft focus, scouting reports on top prospects and more

Ron Hextall talks Flyers' draft focus, scouting reports on top prospects and more

While the NHL draft doesn't begin until Friday evening in Chicago, the Flyers' scouting department and management have been in the Windy City since Tuesday.

Talk about getting a head start for Friday's No. 2 overall selection.

"After the last meeting, you sit and we're talking about players," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said this week. "There might be certain answers we need on players and they go back and do their homework.

"You have a couple more meetings and get back with a little more information. Things will change as we get more information to gather. Things will change a little bit but not too much, but we'll be more prepared."

The Flyers are expected to select either Halifax's Nico Hischier or Brandon's Nolan Patrick — both centermen — depending upon which player the New Jersey Devils tab at No. 1.

NHL Central Scouting's final rankings had the 6-foot-3, 198-pound Patrick ranked first over Hischier, who is 6-foot, 176 pounds. Hextall cautioned that the team doesn't always go by "public opinion," nor does its rankings always mirror those of Central Scouting.

"If you look at every team's list, they're way different," he said. "If you took the 31 lists, there would be a lot of differences."

The Flyers have 11 picks in the draft. Given they are very deep in defensive prospects and goaltenders, but short on wingers, they are expected to load up on forwards (see story).

"You kind of look at it that we do have a lot of defensemen," Hextall said. "Right now, in a perfect world, sit here and say, 'If we got seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie,' [that would be ideal]. We're not going to pick a goalie if we don't see a goalie as a value pick.

"If we get to a guy we like and he's still there, then we'll take a goalie, but we're not going to chase a goalie this year. I would expect we'll pick one, but we're not going to chase one. On D? If we get two, I'm OK with that."

There is separation after Patrick and Hischier in terms of how other players in the first round relate to them.

It's fair to say that had the Flyers been picking at No. 13 — their original spot before they got lucky in the draft lottery — the field would have been wide open with a number of players of equal ability at 13, whereas, at No. 2, there's a defined two.

"It's harder to sort," Hextall said of his original draft position. "Because there's a lot of good players. There really is. We were sitting there at 13 and we were kind of zeroing in and we were pretty excited about the player we were going to get at 13.

"People talk about this draft, they say it's not a very good draft. They're wrong. It's a good draft. It might not be like the last two were, but the last two were bumpers. This is a good draft."

Here's Hextall's quick take on a few of the top players in the first round, in no particular order after Patrick and Hischier:

"We had dinner with both of them," Hextall said of the top two players in the draft. "And we met with them at the combine. So we've got certain more information on those two than some other guys. There were some other guys we had more time with, too.

"They're both two-way players. They both make plays. They can both score goals. They both compete hard. Hischier has a little bit more quickness and speed to his game. Patrick's a little bit more looks for the right play and makes the play. They're both really good players. Both should be top NHL players."

Gabriel Vilardi: 6-2, 193-pound center, who played for Windsor in the OHL (see story).

"I was in Europe during the Memorial Cup," Hextall said. "He's another good player. Smart, really skilled, big body."

Klim Kostin: 6-3, 198-pound center/left wing, who played for Dynamo Moscow in Russia.

"He's a big horse, talented guy," Hextall said. "That's another thing, the Russian thing. How much do you put into it? But he's a high-end talent."

Cale Makar: 5-10, 175-pound defenseman, who played with Brooks in the Alberta Junior League.

"Really good," Hextall said. "He skates really well. He's got a really high skill level. Moves the puck well. Right-handed shot. Played in Brooks. Played at a level that's not the major junior level, but he's a really good player."

Miro Heiskanen: 6-0, 174-pound Finnish defenseman, who played with HIFK.

"Heiskanen's a really good player," Hextall said. "Very well-rounded defenseman, moves the puck. He's a good one."

Although he is not expected to be among the top 100 players taken in the draft, Keith Primeau's son, Cayden, a 6-2¾, 181-pound goalie, who played with Lincoln in the USHL, is expected to be drafted (see story).

Primeau was ranked seventh by Central Scouting among North American goalies.

"I saw Cayden here at the prospects game," Hextall said. "He's good, he's got good size, good positioning, he moves well. Seems to read the game pretty well. He's a good prospect."