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' poor division record biggest factor in being out of playoff picture

Flyers' poor division record biggest factor in being out of playoff picture

PITTSBURGH -- There's a bit of tragic irony to how the Flyers' season will end over the next two-plus weeks.
 
They have seven games left on the schedule. Six of them are teams residing in the Metro Division. Tuesday's opponent, Ottawa, is the lone exception.
 
There are so many reasons why the Flyers are scrambling now, clinging to the desperate belief they can still make the playoffs -- mathematically, they're alive -- against all rational thought.
 
They're six points behind Boston for the second wild-card spot, but they still have to hurdle Carolina, Tampa Bay and the Islanders just to get to Boston.
 
Yet one major reason for the Flyers' dilemma seems pretty obvious: They've been simply awful in head-to-head play against their own division.
 
The Flyers have a winning record against both divisions in the Western Conference.
 
That's not the case, however, in the East where the Metro Division is the only division with three teams over 100 points and where the Flyers have failed miserably to challenge from within.
 
Sunday's 6-2 rout of the Penguins in Pittsburgh left the Flyers with a poor 9-13-2 record against the Metro. It's the only division they have a losing record against.
 
Last season, Dave Hakstol's group finished 14-10-6 against their own division. That was a critical factor in enabling the Flyers to make the playoffs.
 
"We know where we are in the standings and it's not going to be easy to make the playoffs," Jakub Voracek said. "We all know that. We have to work off results of the other teams and try to play relaxed and loose."
 
Against the Eastern Conference overall, the Flyers are close to .500 (21-22-4) yet realize they should be better.
 
These two records represent a very large reason why the Flyers are sitting on the outside looking in as the playoffs near.
 
Right now, at least four clubs from the Metro -- half the division -- will make the playoffs. That says a lot about why games within your section are so pivotal at season's end.
 
"The numbers don't lie," Hakstol admitted on Sunday. "It's a tough road every single night. You've got to do a good job within your division, within your conference.
 
"We've played a lot of tight, hard games. The reality is, we're a number of points out of the playoffs and those points within your division are very valuable."
 
It's something the Flyers have to greatly improve upon next season if they want to be sitting in a playoff spot a month before the season ends instead of playing catch-up when the odds are hopelessly against them.
 
Pens killers
Every team in the NHL has a couple players who have fairly impressive career numbers against other teams.
 
Voracek averages better than a point against the Penguins. His goal Sunday gave him 17 goals and 34 points in 32 career games against Pittsburgh.
 
Voracek admitted after the game he's not sure why.
 
Claude Giroux also has excellent numbers against the Pens -- his two assists in the win left the Flyers' captain with 41 points (14 goals) in 40 career games vs. Pittsburgh.
 
Shayne Gostisbehere has been around a fraction as long as either Giroux or Voracek -- eight career games vs. the Pens -- yet has two goals and nine points in those games.
 
Brayden Schenn doesn't average a point a game against the Pens, but he's close. His assist on Sunday left the winger/center with 20 points (8 goals) in 26 games.
 
The only Flyer who has solid numbers against Pittsburgh and didn't make Sunday's score sheet was Wayne Simmonds. He has 23 points in 28 games. 

Dave Hakstol: Travis Konecny on 4th line 'makes sense in a lot of respects'

Dave Hakstol: Travis Konecny on 4th line 'makes sense in a lot of respects'

PITTSBURGH -- The curious line juggling of Travis Konecny continued Sunday night.

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol again started Konecny on Pierre-Edouard Bellemare's fourth line with Chris VandeVelde, but just as he did in Columbus, Hakstol moved the rookie around.

This was Konecny's third straight game off Valtteri Filppula's unit with Jakub Voracek at the start. The obvious message to Konecny seems to be: Get yourself into a more defensive-minded role early and then let the offense come to you.

Konecny has made some defensive strides.

"It makes sense in a lot of respects," Hakstol said of the move to Bellemare's unit. "He's playing with two players with a lot of structure. He excels in that type of setting.

"If you look at [Saturday], he can bounce around the lineup with different lines and we used him that way. He didn't just play with his two linemates. He moved around a little bit. He's very effective in that role when we're able to get him out there. He gives us a good boost, a good push."

Against Columbus on Saturday, Konecny played on two units with Sean Couturier -- one featuring Jordan Weal and the other, Dale Weise. He also played a few shifts with Filppula and Wayne Simmonds.

The same thing happened Sunday in the Flyers' 6-2 rout of the Penguins (see game story). Konecny finished with an assist and plus-1 in just 8:02. He is one of the very, very few Flyers who is an even. Most are minus.

Konecny, who just turned 20, and Weal, 24, gave the Flyers a lift on Sunday. Weal had a goal and an assist in 13:06.

"No matter who it is contributing, everyone is excited for everybody," Konecny said. "A lot of guys put up some numbers tonight and contributed. It was a good team effort. That's what we want to see."
 
The Flyers were so relaxed it makes you wonder if the pressure of trying to make the playoffs is gone because their odds are so stacked against them.
 
"We’re at that point where you just need to win and just show up," Konecny said. "There's nerves in the back of your mind. We're pretty loose and trying to enjoy it as much as we can going through a stressful time.
 
"We've handled it well. We played a good team, we knew they would push but we pushed harder."
 
Konecny said he's not fazed by the different line combinations he's a part of, often in the same period.
 
"It's not too bad," he said. "I kind of expected it going into a game. I know when I am playing with Belly and Vandy that throughout the game, there's going to be times like penalty kills come up and he'll fill me in with another line.
 
"At the start of the third [tonight], I filled in another line. I know it's going to come. I just expect it. I've played with pretty much everybody on the team. I'm comfortable out there."
 
Loose pucks
The six goals on the road against Pittsburgh last happened on Feb. 20, 2013, when the Flyers won, 6-5. ... Sunday was the Flyers' largest margin of victory in Pittsburgh since March 31, 2003, when they beat the Penguins, 6-1, at Mellon Arena. ... Weal picked up the second two-point game of his career -- both of which have taken place this month. ... Weise has three goals in his last seven games. ... Claude Giroux had two assists, and now has two goals and eight assists for 10 points in 13 games this month.