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.

Best of NHL: Trocheck's last-second goal lifts Panthers past Blues

Best of NHL: Trocheck's last-second goal lifts Panthers past Blues

ST. LOUIS -- Vincent Trocheck scored with just under 5 seconds remaining to lift the Florida Panthers to a 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Monday night.

Jonathan Marchessault also scored and James Reimer stopped 26 shots to help the Panthers complete a 5-0 road trip -- their first perfect trip of at least that many games in franchise history.

Reimer has won five straight decisions and has not lost in regulation since Jan. 7 against Boston, going 6-0-1 since.

The Panthers moved into a tie with Boston for third place in the Atlantic Division, but have the edge because they have a game in hand on the Bruins.

Kyle Brodziak, playing for the second time after missing 10 games due to a broken foot, scored for the Blues and Jake Allen finished with 31 saves. St. Louis lost its second straight since winning six in a row (see full recap).

Coyotes use three-goal 1st period to beat Ducks
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Radim Vrbata capped Arizona's three-goal first period and the Coyotes held on for 3-2 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night.

Christian Dvorak and Jakob Chychrun also scored for Arizona, and starting goalie Mike Smith had 27 saves before leaving about 4 1/2 minutes into the third period after a collision in the net. Marek Langhamer helped kill a power play after being pressed into action for his NHL debut and stopped six of the seven shots he faced.

The Coyotes have won four of their last six.

Langhamer gave up Ryan Getzlaf's second goal of the night with 26.8 seconds to play, but thwarted two quality shots in the final seconds.

Jonathan Bernier gave up three goals on six shots in the first period for the Ducks. John Gibson came on to start the second and stopped all 14 shots he faced (see full recap).

Playing with 'swagger,' Gostisbehere flashes glimpse of rookie self vs. Canucks

Playing with 'swagger,' Gostisbehere flashes glimpse of rookie self vs. Canucks

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – The Flyers’ “Ghost” headed home Monday on a high note — for a change.

Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere recorded three assists for the first three-point night of his NHL career Sunday as the Flyers edged the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 in the final game of a three-game Western Canada road trip (see story). In one night, he matched his offensive output of his previous 10 games played. 

He was a healthy scratch for three games in the meantime. On many other occasions, he has struggled while dealing with the NHL’s proverbial sophomore jinx following a standout rookie season. 

“It’s been a while coming,” Gostisbehere said. “It’s good to get some points, but I thought it was more important to get two points for our team.”

The win moved the Flyers (28-24-7) within a point of the eighth and final playoff spot, currently held by Toronto, in the Eastern Conference. With considerable thanks to Gostisbehere, the club’s much maligned power play scored on two of three man-advantage opportunities. 

“He played great,” Wayne Simmonds said of Gostisbehere. “He had his confidence and a little bit of swagger.”

Gostisbehere’s first assist enabled the Flyers to get off to a quick start offensively as Simmonds deflected in his point shot only 1:11 into the game. On the Flyers’ second goal, Gostisbehere head-manned the puck to Sean Couturier on a rush. Jakub Voracek easily put Couturier’s big rebound into a gaping net with Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller caught out of position.

One minute and 27 seconds later, Brayden Schenn took Gostisbehere’s pass and put in a shot from the slot. Altogether, Gostisbehere’s assists enabled the Flyers to build an insurmountable 3-0 lead in the game’s first 23 minutes.

“Ghost has had his ups and downs this year, but he's a heck of a player and has unbeliveable skill,” Simmonds said. “He can be a catalyst offensively for us, that’s for sure.”

Gostisbehere now has four goals and 18 assists on the season. Until Sunday, the 23-year-old had seemed like an apparition of his former self. 

He had a less-than-ideal recovery period from offseason hip (labrum) and abdominal surgeries, due to his participation with Team North America in the World Cup. Then he suffered a facial cut in the Flyers’ season opener and took a bruise on his right hand in December.

He also struggled defensively to the point where he was scratched — for the first time in his NHL career — in November and was later benched and pulled out of the lineup again. Heading into Sunday’s game, he had a woeful minus-22 mark, but he was only on the ice for one Canucks' goal.

He helped the Flyers shut out the Canucks in the first and third periods. 

“We don’t like how they came back, but we held the lead and, like I said, we got the two points,” Gostisbehere said.

Ghost’s offensive showing evoked memories of his seemingly other-worldly 2015-16 season. In 64 games last season, he notched 17 goals, the most by an NHL rookie defenseman since Dion Phaneuf, then with Calgary, who scored 20 over a full 82-game schedule in 2005-06. Gostisbehere also enjoyed a historic 15-game point streak in 2015-16, the longest ever for a first-year rearguard, and he was a runnerup for the league’s Rookie of the Year award.

His return to form Sunday bodes well as the Flyers face two Metropolitan Division rivals this week, first Washington at home on Wednesday and then the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Saturday in an outdoor game that will pack plenty of hype and pressure. 

After those games, the Flyers face a more compressed schedule than they have lately. The Feb.12-27 portion of their calendar contains only five games. But starting Feb. 28, they will play their final 21 games of the regular season over 41 days as they push to make the playoffs.

“We definitely know we’re a playoff team, for sure,” Gostisbehere said. “It shows. It’s a big test for us (this) week, playing these really good teams.”