Flyers-Penguins: 5 things you need to know

flyers-penguins-slideshow.png

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. 

NHL Notes: Rangers ink Mika Zibanejad to 5-year extension

usa-mika-zibanejad-rangers.jpg
USA Today Images

NHL Notes: Rangers ink Mika Zibanejad to 5-year extension

NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers have signed center Mika Zibanejad to a $26.75 million, five-year deal.

Zibanejad will count $5.35 million against the salary cap through 2021-22 as the Rangers count on him to take on a bigger role following the trade of Derek Stepan. General manager Jeff Gorton announced the contract Tuesday morning, before the team and Zibanejad were set to go to arbitration.

The 24-year-old Swede had 14 goals and 23 assists for 37 points in 56 games last season, his first with New York. The Rangers acquired Zibanejad from the Ottawa Senators for Derick Brassard a year ago.

Zibanejad has 188 points in 337 NHL games with the Senators and Rangers since Ottawa drafted him sixth overall in 2011 (see full story).

Team Canada names Sean Burke GM for 2018 Olympics
Sean Burke will be the general manager and Willie Desjardins the head coach for Canada at the first Olympics without NHL players since 1994.

Hockey Canada named its management and coaching staffs for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics on Tuesday. St. Louis Blues assistant general manager Martin Brodeur will work under Burke on the management side, while Desjardins will be assisted by Dave King, Scott Walker and Craig Woodcroft.

Canada has been grooming Burke for this responsibility for some time as he served as assistant GM for the 2017 world championships, GM for the 2016 Spengler Cup and Deutschland Cup and director of player development for the 2016 worlds. Desjardins coached Canada's 2010 world junior team and assisted in 2009.

USA Hockey has not yet named its GM or coach (see full story).

Sabres re-sign goalie Lehner to 1-year deal
BUFFALO, N.Y.  -- The Buffalo Sabres have re-signed goaltender Robin Lehner to a $4 million, one-year contract.

The team announced the deal Tuesday. Lehner was a restricted free agent.

The 26-year-old Swede showed he could stay healthy last season, setting career highs with 59 games played, 23 wins and two shutouts. He ranked third in the NHL with 1,758 saves and finished with a .920 save percentage and 2.68 goals-against average.

Bothered by injuries and concussion problems, Lehner had never before played more than 36 games in his NHL career. The Sabres took a chance on Lehner when they traded a first-round pick to the Ottawa Senators for him at the 2015 draft.

Lehner will again be a restricted free agent next summer when this contract expires.

Devils re-sign 3 restricted free agents
NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils have re-signed restricted free agent defenseman Mirco Mueller, forward Joseph Blandisi and goaltender Scott Wedgewood.

Mueller got a two-year deal worth an average of $850,000 a season, Blandisi a two-year, two-way deal worth an average of $680,000 in the NHL, and Wedgewood a one-year, two-way deal worth $650,000 in the NHL. General manager Ray Shero announced the contracts Tuesday.

Re-signing Mueller for two years was the most significant move after New Jersey acquired the 22-year-old from San Jose before the Vegas expansion draft. The Swiss defender has just six points in 54 NHL games with the Sharks, but still is considered a good prospect after being a first-round pick in 2013.

Mueller will make $775,000 next season and $925,000 in 2018-19.

There's a new game in town: The Philadelphia Rebels

philadelphia-rebels-carson-briere.jpg
John Boruk/CSNPhilly.com

There's a new game in town: The Philadelphia Rebels

The opportunity to watch a Briere play again in Philadelphia will be an exciting reality for hockey fans this season.

No, Danny Briere isn’t coming out of retirement as the former Flyers forward has committed to handling the day-to-day operations of the organization’s newest ECHL team.  

However, Briere will be keeping close tabs on his younger son, Carson, who’s currently on the Philadelphia Rebels' 30-man roster and is setting his sights on making the team’s final cuts during training camp.

“It’s great,” Briere said Monday. “Growing up here for most of my life, I love Philly. It’s fun getting to play in the same city that [my dad] did. Whenever I think of him playing, I always think of that playoff run [in 2010] for the Flyers.”

After spending the past two seasons at IceWorks in Aston, Pennsylvania, the NAHL’s (North American Hockey League) Rebels are moving their operation to the Penn Ice Rink at the Class of 1923 Arena, where they made the formal announcement on Monday. It will be the organization’s third different home rink in the past four seasons after relocating from the Rio Grande Valley in 2015.

“It was a no-brainer,” team owner Marko Dundovich said. “When the opportunity presented itself, it was very easy. I think it will give the boys a better opportunity to play, get them seen and I think it’s going to continue to grow here, and our business and organization will do much better here.”

The Rebels and junior hockey simply didn’t attract a broad appeal in the Philadelphia suburbs like ownership had hoped, and as a result, attendance lagged as the team typically averaged around 125 fans a game.

“It was the first time we tried Junior A hockey here,” Dundovich said. “If we had a 300-, 400- or 500-person fan base, we would have been OK in Aston, but I think it was tough to sell a junior hockey ticket in Aston. It’s a difficult sell in a small town.”   

Conversely, hockey fans in Philadelphia haven’t had much of an alternative to the Flyers since the Phantoms left the city in 2009 for Glens Falls, New York. Rebels forward Aaron Maguyon, who stays with former Flyers captain Keith Primeau throughout the season, feels the team cannot only fill the 2,500-seat ice rink, but the players will greatly benefit from the college vibe.  

“I think it prepares us for the future and playing college hockey, for sure, so in that way, it’s like a sneak peek for what’s to come," Maguyon said. "I think it helps pull guys closer together. We have restaurants we can go to or just activities we can do in the city."

According to the league website, the NAHL set a new single-season NCAA record with 280-plus commitments, and the Rebels had 12 commit to Divison I programs. Head coach Joe Coombs has built a tier-II junior hockey powerhouse over the past two years. Last season, the Rebels finished with the NAHL’s best regular-season record, advancing to the championship game of the Robertson Cup in Duluth, Minnesota, where they came up short in a 2-0 loss to the Lone Star Brahmas. 

“This is business,” Coombs said. “Let’s bring the game to the people. Over the last two years, we struggled with our attendance. I didn’t even know this place was here — UPenn hockey rink — and we couldn’t think of a better venue right here in University City to try and market our brand of hockey and bring our game to the people.”  

And who knows? You might just see a few former Flyers in the seats, as well.