Philadelphia Flyers

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 camp notes, quotes and tidbits: Roster chatter, Nolan Patrick's status, more

Flyers camp notes, quotes and tidbits: Roster chatter, Nolan Patrick's status, more

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers play a preseason back-to-back set when they visit the Rangers on Monday, then host them Tuesday.

With such a schedule setup, head coach Dave Hakstol already has two lineups in mind as the Flyers continue their evaluation for the opening night roster. The training camp roster is technically at 29, but with three players injured (Cole Bardreau, Colin McDonald, Anthony Stolarz), it's actually at 26 and must be down to 23 by the Oct. 4 season opener.

The obvious roster hopefuls are forwards Nolan Patrick, Oskar Lindblom, Scott Laughton, Taylor Leier and Mike Vecchione, and defensemen Robert Hagg, Sam Morin and Travis Sanheim.

"Everybody that's here is still in the mix," Hakstol said after practice Sunday at Flyers Skate Zone. "I said it a couple days ago, this is when the competition gets pretty high."

If Sunday's practice combinations are any indication of what Monday's lineup will look like at Madison Square Garden, Travis Konecny, Vecchione, Leier and Lindblom will be extras. They were the four-man rotational line Sunday.

Hakstol said there could be some differences from the groupings Sunday when it comes to Monday's game. However, he does hope to play each bubble player at least one of the two games. So whoever sits Monday is more than likely to play Tuesday.

Eyes on Patrick
Patrick is feeling better and better.

After assisting Shayne Gostisbehere's overtime winner in Wednesday's 3-2 preseason split-squad win against the Islanders, Patrick played 16:50 Thursday in the 2-1 OT loss to the Bruins at TD Garden. The No. 2 overall pick saw some power-play time, had a few shots on goal and a pair of takeaways.

"Last game was the most comfortable I've felt," Patrick said Sunday.

He's now played in three preseason games, as well as the rookie game.

Patrick centered Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds on the second unit at practice, a spot which suits his strengths playing between two finishers with a good blend of ways to score.

Look for that line to stick Monday.

"We've only had one game together, but I think Simmer's obviously a top player in the league, he was an All-Star last year, he can put the puck in the net and make plays," Patrick said. "So he's big down low to create space. Jordan's great offensively, he's got a lot of speed, so I just try to play smart and find them when they're open and make plays."

Sound with studs
Hagg has put together a strong camp and preseason.

The 22-year-old defenseman is well-groomed and prides himself on play in his own end. Playing alongside Gostisbehere doesn't hurt, either. It allows Gostisbehere to focus a bit more on producing offensively because Hagg understands his defensive role.

The last two days, Hagg has been paired with Ivan Provorov.

With those two, he isn't complaining and seems to relish being the complementary piece.

"They're pretty good guys to play with," Hagg said.

"I don't mind it. Let them do their job and I'm taking care of the defense, kind of what I did last year, as well. Start getting used to it and I don't have any problems with it.

"I think my best game is in the D-zone, shutting down guys, 1-on-1 battles. And then sure, I can follow up in the game and find some pucks here and there. But my main focus is to be good in the D-zone, take care of that and the rest will take care of itself."

Roster two cents
Vecchione has played only two preseason games thus far and he was among the four-man line at practice. He should play at least one of these games on the back-to-back, but at this point, he looks like he'll start the season at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley. There just isn't a spot for the rookie forward right now and he won't be on the roster to be an extra man.

Laughton seems to be a safe bet to make the Flyers' roster. He's been playing in the exact role the Flyers are hoping for him and he proved growth to general manager Ron Hextall last season with the Phantoms.

Leier has done everything you'd ask for from a guy fighting for a spot. However, the numbers game likely pegs him at Lehigh Valley to start 2017-18.

Nonetheless, Hakstol has been impressed by the 23-year-old winger, who had a two-goal game Wednesday in the 3-2 split-squad win at the PPL Center.

"It's about playing his role, what his role is," Hakstol said. "Taylor's a responsible two-way forward. When he's been with us, he's played in that third, fourth-line wing type of role, he's killed penalties — that's his chair. He's done a good job of that so far in camp and that's why he's got himself solidly in the mix."

Can't get enough
Weal is always getting in extra work.

Ever since coming to the Flyers in the January 2016 Vinny Lecavalier trade, he is often the first player on the ice before practice even starts. On Sunday, he was the last one off of it with Konecny. Together, the two took in some bonus ice time.

The 25-year-old Weal just loves the rink and it's gotten him from lots of healthy scratches in 2015-16 to what should be a prominent role in 2017-18.

Quotables
"I think they're going to try to stick to it a little bit more. I don't mind it. It's like impossible to cheat now in faceoffs. But some guys, it's kind of a skill to be able to cheat in faceoffs. I don't know, I think they're going to stick to it, and if they do, it's good. Guys are going to be not trying to cheat because you want to stay in the faceoff dot. We'll see what happens."

- Claude Giroux on refs being stricter in the faceoff circle during preseason

"I had quite a few chances that game. Just being able to jump up in the rush at the right times. You're seeing a lot more in the NHL these days that a lot of the offense is being pushed from D-men getting up in the play and joining the rush and creating chances. That's something I've had as a part in my game all the way through my career. I'm just trying to bring that to this level."

- Travis Sanheim on his goal against the Bruins Thursday

Practice lines and pairings

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek (more on this here).
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Jori Lehtera-Valtteri Filppula-Dale Weise
Michael Raffl-Scott Laughton-Matt Read
Mike Vecchione-Taylor Leier-Oskar Lindblom-Travis Konecny

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Shayne Gostisbehere
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas
Sam Morin-Andrew MacDonald

Current roster breakdown

Forwards (18)
Cole Bardreau (injured)
Sean Couturier
Valtteri Filppula
Claude Giroux
Travis Konecny
Scott Laughton
Jori Lehtera
Taylor Leier
Oskar Lindblom
Colin McDonald (injured)
Nolan Patrick
Michael Raffl
Matt Read
Wayne Simmonds
Mike Vecchione
Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal
Dale Weise

Defensemen (8)
Shayne Gostisbehere
Radko Gudas
Robert Hagg
Andrew MacDonald
Brandon Manning
Sam Morin
Ivan Provorov
Travis Sanheim

Goalies (3)
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth
Anthony Stolarz (injured)

Claude Giroux's left wing tryout takes to Madison Square Garden

Claude Giroux's left wing tryout takes to Madison Square Garden

VOORHEES, N.J. — Claude Giroux said he doesn't know what to expect.

The one thing we can expect is the left wing experiment to hit the Madison Square Garden ice.

Throughout training camp practices, the Flyers have dabbled with their top-line center shifting to the wing. They're now ready to try it in game action, head coach Dave Hakstol said Sunday, when the Flyers visit the Rangers Monday night for the fifth exhibition contest.

Giroux hasn't thought much of the move but he's been more than open to allowing the coaches to give it a test run.

"Hopefully get the puck a little bit more," Giroux said after practice. "We'll see.

"If it happens tomorrow and it goes well, it's obviously an option that we're going to look at this year."

In 2016-17, Giroux scored a career-low 14 goals for a full season. His 58 points marked a fourth straight drop-off. Despite playing all 82 games, he did not look or sound healthy for much of the season. At 29 years old, playing the wing could relieve some of the physical demands of playing center, both offensively and defensively. It could also free up Giroux for greater looks and alleviate the pressure to make plays, while instead creating and finishing from a separate perspective.

"Entering the zone, he's got so many different options," Hakstol said. "He's a guy that can make plays on his backhand entering the zone, he can open up the top of the offensive zone by taking — if there's soft ice available inside of the line, he can delay and make plays back through the middle. He's got so many options there that he's able to create because of his skill set. And defensively, coming off that left side, it's a good spot for him — coming out of our zone and through the neutral zone."

If all goes well Monday, how much would that change moving forward?

"Everything that we have in place has a purpose to it," Hakstol said, "and I'll leave it at that."

Giroux has played winger before in the past — and produced — so this switch is not new or a substantial adjustment. To him, it's all about simplifying.

"Game is still the same," Giroux said. "There's not much different to center and winger. Obviously breakouts, you're on the boards, but offensively, you're kind of all over the place, so it doesn't really matter."

During practice, Sean Couturier centered Giroux and Jakub Voracek on the first unit. That's the expected line for Monday night, although Hakstol said Sunday's practice combinations could differ from the ones they'll utilize in the game (more on the lines here).

With Giroux on the wing, an aspect to watch is the faceoff circle. How the position change factors into the number of draws Giroux takes is uncertain.

"I think that depends on the coach," Giroux said. "I think I'll obviously take faceoffs on the power play and then a couple on the PK. And on my strong side 5-on-5, I'm sure I'll be taking a couple. With the new rule, a lot of centermen get kicked out, so it's good to have me and Coots on one line."

As for everything else in regards to the wing, Giroux will know more once he has the answers to the questions.

"I can't really judge on it until I actually have a game under my belt," Giroux said.

The game evaluation begins at the Garden.