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: Penguins beat Panthers in Sidney Crosby's debut

Best of NHL: Penguins beat Panthers in Sidney Crosby's debut

PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby scored in his season debut as the Pittsburgh Penguins rallied to beat the Florida Panthers 3-2 on Tuesday night.

Crosby, who scored on a power play, missed the team's first six games with a concussion. Carl Hagelin and Eric Fehr also scored for the Penguins, who extended a seven-game unbeaten streak against the Panthers.

Marc-Andre Fleury, who has started the first seven games of the season for Pittsburgh, stopped 20 shots. Matt Murray, who backstopped the Penguins to a Stanley Cup in June, served as the backup to Fleury after missing the first six games with a broken hand.

Reilly Smith scored a power-play goal and Mark Pysyk also scored for the Panthers, who have lost 11 of 12 against the Penguins in Pittsburgh.

James Reimer made 19 saves in his second start of the season (see full recap).

Kings top Blue Jackets in overtime
LOS ANGELES -- Alec Martinez scored 1:14 into overtime, and the Los Angeles Kings rallied to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2 Tuesday night for their third straight victory.

Drew Doughty scored the tying goal with 5:57 left in regulation for the Kings, who won their third straight overtime game after an 0-3-0 start to the season. Captain Anze Kopitar also scored, and third-string goalie Peter Budaj stopped 19 shots in his third consecutive win.

Cam Atkinson scored a tiebreaking power-play goal late in the second period, and Sergei Bobrovsky made 27 saves for Columbus. Brandon Saad also scored for the Jackets, who had won two straight after an 0-2-0 start.

Martinez ended it by putting a rebound into an open net for the defenseman's second goal of the season (see full recap).

Lightning strike for seven goals in win
TORONTO -- Steven Stamkos matched a career-high with four points -- two goals and two assists -- and the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 7-3 on Tuesday night.

Frederik Andersen gave up seven goals on only 24 shots, the third time in five starts he has allowed at least five goals and fourth time he's allowed four or more. The 27-year-old has an .851 save percentage so far this season.

Alex Killorn, Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov and Jonathan Drouin added goals for Tampa Bay, while Ben Bishop made 40 saves.

William Nylander, James van Riemsdyk and Auston Matthews scored for the Maple Leafs, who outshot the Lightning 43-24 (see full recap).

Flyers pull off huge comeback over Sabres in shootout

Flyers pull off huge comeback over Sabres in shootout


All it took to provide a jolt of energy to a band of weary skaters was a rookie scoring his first goal and a veteran getting laid out on the ice.
Travis Konecny’s first NHL marker (see video) and then Dmitry Kulikov’s ill-advised charging hit to Jakub Voracek released the beast inside of the Flyers on Tuesday night as they climbed from a three-goal canyon to a 4-3 shootout win over the Buffalo Sabres at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay).
“It was amazing,” Voracek said. “They didn’t get frustrated and go after Kulikov. They got focused and tried to tie the game up. We’ve been down so many times this season and come back. That’s the big character of this group.”
They were behind 3-0 in the third. Fans had already left the building when Konecny scored the first of a Flyers season-high three power-play goals at 4:30.
A few minutes later, Kulikov went high on Voracek, leaving him wobbly. Under the NHL concussion protocol, the Czech winger left the ice for a few minutes. He returned in the final two minutes of regulation.
By then, Mark Streit had set up one goal for Brayden Schenn — his first — and scored himself on a scramble in front of goalie Anders Nilsson to make it 3-3.
The drama only increased during a dominant overtime session for the Flyers, followed by a shootout in which goalie Steve Mason aggressively challenged and stifled two Sabres shooters before Claude Giroux and Voracek nailed it shut with goals (see highlights).
“You try different things and we did shootout practice a week ago and I did very well so, you try what works,” said Mason, who made eight saves in relief of starter Michal Neuvirth and earned the win.
“They both tried going five-hole and it was good to get the saves with some goal support in the shootout.”
Goal support has always been the Flyers' shootout nemesis.
Now if Dave Haktol’s squad looked fatigued, well, it had reason, given this six-games-in-nine-days torture trial (three in five days) and a late arrival on Tuesday morning from Montreal.
Neuvirth wasn’t very sharp — three goals against on 17 shots — and has been pulled twice in three starts. Somehow he’s also gotten two no-decisions to remain unbeaten with a save percentage well under .900.
Mason came in, made a couple of stops, then watched the comeback begin. In some ways, it was reminiscent of last week in Chicago when the Flyers came back with four goals, only this time, they won.
“We wanted to go out and play hard for each other in the third period,” Hakstol said. “Tough situation down 3-0 in your building, back-to-back night, not a whole lot going right.
“Not able to really get a whole lot of things going … get that first one, anything can happen.”
And it did, starting with Konecny’s goal.
“I felt excited — everyone was excited we got a goal on the board,” the 19-year-old winger said. “But what got us motivated to go was when we saw that hit on Jake. It’s not what you want to see, one of your best players go down like that … that got us motivated to go.”
The Flyers scored twice more in 1:05 to stun the Sabres, who had not played in five days.
“He’s a tough guy,” Giroux said. “He was more mad he had to go off the ice for protocol. He’s a warrior. Don’t tell him I said that.”
Giroux didn’t use tiredness as an excuse for the first two periods.
“We played some bad hockey,” he said. “We know we’re a better team than this. Our work ethic got us back in this game. Emotions and fans behind us, it was a fun third period.”
Fun even though he still doesn’t have a goal — outside of the shootout, which doesn’t count. Hakstol gave him a pep talk.
“He knows I am not happy with my play right now,” Giroux said. “I have to find a way to play better.
“We need everyone in this locker room if you want to be successful. If individually you play some good hockey, if everyone does that, as a team you will be good.”
Incidentally, Hakstol changed up his top line. Schenn, who was hot during preseason, was in a rut since coming back from his suspension. Schenn dropped down to the third line and Matt Read — the team’s leading goal scorer with five — took his spot on Giroux’s unit.
“It’s not easy,” Schenn said. “You get ready for the season, you play preseason and then you sit two weeks. Especially the World Cup guys are fresh, guys are playing well, then you take your two-week break, but it keeps coming.
“I feel it getting better game by game. It’s nice to get on the board tonight and hopefully that builds confidence.”
These comebacks should provide that confidence for his teammates, as well.