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.
“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.
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.