Flyers-Penguins: 5 things you need to know

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Flyers-Penguins: 5 things you need to know

It's the game hockey fans of Pennsylvania have been waiting for.

The Flyers (1-6-0) welcome Sidney Crosby and the Metropolitan Division-leading Pittsburgh Penguins (5-1-0) to the Wells Fargo Center for the first time this season on Thursday night.

The puck drops at 7 p.m. (CSN), so here are five things you need to know before the Flyers and Penguins renew one of the best rivalries in the NHL:

1) Dynamic duo
If there's one thing the Flyers have learned over the past few seasons when playing the Penguins, it's not to give Sid the Kid and Evgeni Malkin time to work their magic.

Crosby has eye-popping stats against the Flyers in his career. The Penguins' captain has collected 28 goals, 43 assists and a plus-seven rating in 43 regular-season games against the orange and black.

Now in his ninth NHL season, Crosby is off to an incredible start. No. 87 has an NHL-best 12 points (five goals, seven assists) and has registered at least one point in each of Pittsburgh's first six games.

If Crosby wasn't enough, the Flyers also have to keep an eye on Malkin. In 39 regular-season games against the Flyers, the Russian has scored 21 goals and assisted 34 more.

Malkin didn't score until the Penguins' fourth game of the season, but he is back at a point-per-game pace after earning two goals and three assists in his last four contests.

2) Stepping up
In just two games this season, Tye McGinn has accounted for 30 percent of the Flyers' goals. Sure, the Flyers have just 10 markers in seven games, but McGinn has done much more in his short time with the big club.

McGinn has provided the Flyers with a ton of energy since being called up from the Adirondack Phantoms. The 23-year-old has been throwing his body around, driving the net hard and, most importantly, putting the puck in the net.

With injuries to Vinny Lecavalier (lower body) and Scott Hartnell (upper body), McGinn has also sparked the Flyers' top line. Since McGinn's promotion, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek have combined for four assists.

Lecavalier shouldn't be out of the lineup much longer, but Hartnell is still a few weeks away from returning.

If McGinn continues to contribute, it's going to be hard for general manager Paul Holmgren to send the forward back down. It's also worth noting that McGinn has six goals in just 20 career NHL games.

3) Don't worry about Read
Matt Read may not have a point this season, but the 27-year-old has been one of the best forwards for the Flyers in the early going.

Read, who signed a four-year, $14.5 million contract extension this past offseason, has been thrust into a much different role since Craig Berube took over as head coach.

Now skating on a line with Sean Couturier and Max Talbot, Read is being relied on for a more defensive-minded game, mostly playing against the opposing team's top line.  

That hasn't stopped Read from generating scoring chances. He has a team-high 23 shots on goal through seven games.

If he continues to fire the puck, the goals will come. You may not see his name on the scoresheet, but that doesn't mean he isn't making an impact.

4) Powerless
The Penguins shouldn't be concerned if they go a man down on Thursday night.

The Flyers have not scored a power-play goal in 17 straight chances. On the season, the orange and black have converted just two of their 29 attempts on the man advantage.

In case you were wondering, Pittsburgh has successfully killed off 14 of its 18 penalties through six games.

5) This and that
• The Penguins have scored at least three goals in every game this season. In comparison, the Flyers have failed to score more than two goals in a single game through seven contests.

• Pittsburgh will be without Tomas Vokoun (blood clot), defenseman Kris Letang (lower body) and forwards Matt D'Agostini (lower body), James Neal (upper body) and Beau Bennett (lower body) for Tuesday's game.

• The Flyers went 1-2-1 against the Penguins last season. They were outscored 15-12 in those games.

• Pittsburgh's leading scorer against the Flyers in last season's series was ... defenseman Paul Martin (one goal, five assists). Crosby (one goal, four assists) and Chris Kunitz (three goals, one assist) were both minus-4.

• Voracek netted five goals and assisted one more in four games against the Pens last season. Giroux, who has a 10-game point streak against the Pens, added two markers and three helpers in the same number of contests. 

Flyers look to limit goals against, improve 5-on-5 play in second half

Flyers look to limit goals against, improve 5-on-5 play in second half

VOORHEES, N.J. — As bad as things have been for the Flyers — just three wins in their last 14 games — there was no massive shakeup during their mandatory five-day bye week.
 
General manager Ron Hextall didn’t make a trade, nor did he make any roster moves involving a call-up from the Phantoms.
 
Coach Dave Hakstol took one day off, then got back to watching video and live games, almost in a scout mode.
 
When the players hit the ice Friday afternoon at Skate Zone, Hakstol’s lineup was pretty much the same.
 
The only change saw Matt Read re-enter the lineup on the top line with Claude Giroux and Michael Raffl after missing two games with a skate cut.
 
The lines and defensive pairs remained the same. Goalie Michal Neuvirth will start Saturday against New Jersey at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
“For me, the biggest thing is our overall performance,” Hakstol said. “Coming out of a break, that may be a tough thing to do — to put it all together. But I think the energy will be there both mentally and physically. That’s important. The overall performance.
 
“The results are important on a different level when you start looking at the playoff picture and the race. At the end of the day, two points are going to be important, as well.”
 
The Flyers begin anew (see story) with back-to-back games against New Jersey here on Saturday and then the Islanders on Sunday in Brooklyn.
 
They will play four Eastern Conference opponents between Saturday and next Thursday before they begin the three-day All-Star break.
 
Three of these games are against Metropolitan Division opponents while the fourth is against Toronto. The Maple Leafs happen to hold the second wild-card spot that the Flyers previously had going into the bye week.
 
“Guys realize the situation we are in,” Brayden Schenn said. “We know the circumstances. The break came at a good time, mentally ... guys know what we’re coming into there with the back-to-backs.
 
“You were kind of scoreboard watching. We know where we’re at. We’re in a dogfight battle with teams for those wild-card spots. There’s a lot of hockey left. It’s no secret. Everyone pays attention where we’re at.”
 
Hakstol said after his one-day off, he went right back to work in evaluating where this team is. That the team remains intact without any kind of moves seems to send a message to the players.
 
That message is: it’s on you at this point. Don’t count on getting help from the outside. It has to come from within the current roster.
 
“Anything we’ve talked about is us as a group doing things we do well,” Hakstol said. “We’ve had a rough couple weeks where we haven’t been able to do the things we need to and want to consistently.
 
“I’m very confident in this group and this team. For us, what the players said is true. It was a real good time to have a mental and physical break. Now it’s time to get back to work.”
 
What has to improve right from the get-go is the Flyers' 5-on-5 play. Forget for a moment they have scored 75 goals and are 13th in the NHL averaging 2.76 goals a game.
 
The critical factor is 5-on-5 goals against. The Flyers have allowed 98 goals in that situation — only Colorado (100 GA) has allowed more. The Flyers' 3.13 goals-against number is 28th worst in the league.
 
Unless those numbers improve significantly, the Flyers won’t be in the playoffs.
 
“We have to stay within our system,” said defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere. “We give up too many odd-man rushes. Especially in those final games before the break. That’s a big thing.
 
“When we’re giving up that many, it’s not going to be in our favor. It’s not fair to judge our goalies in those games because we didn’t give them too much help out there.”
 
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who plays on a checking line, said the 5-on-5 goals against is a telling stat.
 
“You have it right there,” he said. “You don’t have to say much more than that. You cannot be a consistently, good team in the league if you are that low in goals against. It’s something we have to all work together at, as players.”
 
Hakstol said the Flyers enjoyed success 5-on-5 when they were winning because their team play was “consistent” game-to-game.
 
That hasn’t been the case during this 3-8-3 stretch.
 
“Our 5-on-5 game hasn’t necessarily regressed, but the consistency of it has,” Hakstol said. “That’s when you see the holes defensively. That’s when you see some of the problems you run into.
 
“We’ve got to get back to it. Back to a full 60-minutes of good 5-on-5 play. That’s up to each and every one of us, taking that responsibility and making the push to do that.”

In different spot after bye week, Flyers ready for playoff push with 'new perspective'

In different spot after bye week, Flyers ready for playoff push with 'new perspective'

VOORHEES, N.J. — When we last left the Flyers on Sunday evening, they were picking up pieces of themselves all over the ice at the Verizon Center after a 5-0 beatdown by the Washington Capitals.

They have had to stew over that defeat all through their five-day NHL mandated bye week, which ended Friday afternoon when they reported to Skate Zone for a rare 4 p.m. practice (see story).

They’ll host the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night.

“You go into the break thinking about [hockey], but the whole point of it is to refresh mentally,” said Wayne Simmonds, who got engaged. “I didn’t drive myself crazy over it. This a little stretch here before the final playoff drive.”

When Claude Giroux became engaged in late November, the Flyers won eight straight as part of their 10-game streak.

“So to replicate that, we need everyone in here to get engaged,” Simmonds said. “We've got a lot of work to do. We know that. We got off to a good start compared to the past and then we faltered.

“We know we've got to be better. We all have to be accountable to each other. We’re not starting from scratch, but we need a new perspective here. Come out of the gate and do it the right way, again.”

A lot has happened since the loss in Washington. The Flyers remain fifth in the Metropolitan Division, but the layoff has seen them plummet to ninth overall in the Eastern Conference.

None of that, however, is as important as this: the Flyers no longer hold the second wild card. Toronto has it now with the same number of points as the Flyers — 50.

Difference is, the Maple Leafs also have two games in hand on Dave Hakstol’s club. Worse, the Carolina Hurricanes are snapping at the Flyers' skates with 49 points and they have three games in hand.

All of this is entirely the Flyers' fault as they’ve gone 3-8-3 since their 10-game win streak ended.

Yet they remain in striking distance of the wild card, although they are 11 points out of third, which is an automatic playoff spot.

They are fortunate they’re not farther behind in the wild-card standings.

“For sure, over those days there ... our division did lose a little bit,” Brayden Schenn said. “It’s going to happen. But at the end of the day, if we don’t win hockey games, it’s not going to matter what the other team will do.”

After Saturday’s game against the Devils, the Flyers head to Brooklyn for a Sunday night encounter with the Islanders. Sit five days, then play a back-to-back. Ah, the joys of the NHL schedule this season.

“We know we lost all that ground we gained with the 10-game winning streak,” said Jakub Voracek, who shaved off the beard he’s had for a year and a half during the break. “We are right there in a playoff spot. Now we keep pushing.

“We have 36 games left. We go game by game. I don’t remember how many points out we were last year with the playoffs, but we’re in a better position now.”

Last year after 46 games, the Flyers had 48 points, but were seven points out of a wild-card playoff spot. They have two more points now but are in better wild-card shape.

They know they have to get themselves going quickly but the harsh reality is, they seldom play well coming out of a four or five-day break.

Most of the players went away during the break and didn’t think about hockey. They said they wanted to come back refreshed with a new attitude and clean slate. It starts Saturday.

“We have to stop overthinking things,” Voracek said. “When we were winning, we just kept going. When you are losing, you begin to overthink things.

“You’re a half step slower thinking whether you should go or not. That’s our problem. We have to refocus. Everyone is excited to be back. Get back to work. Push this team to the playoffs.”