We've already bitterly admitted overall ownership at the hands of the Penguins in recent years. The Flyers owned them for decades, but for this stretch, we've on the losing end.
A win today won't undo that, it won't clinch the Flyers a playoffs spot (the Pens can clinch, however), nor will it really instill any lasting confidence—at least not on its own. The best we can hope for is a win that will remind the Flyers of the team they were expected to be this season. That, and beating the Pens is always a great thing no matter what the circumstances. If I remember correctly, that is.It's probably safe to say that the Flyers are at the lowest point of their season right now. Four straight losses against teams that aren't among the league's elite, including Thursday's lose-from-ahead debacle against the Wild. They finally looked good to start a game, going up 2-0. Then they took their foot off the gas offensively, lapsed defensively, and got pathetic goaltending at the worst possible time.
Play like that today and they may leave the building with a 7-1 loss and somehow even less confidence than they took to Pittsburgh, even if the Penguins aren't at their best either.
The Pens are likely to be without Evgeni Malkin, a major break in favor of the Flyers, and Sergei Gonchar could be out too. They've also lost three straight heading into today's action, and six of their last eight. There's no doubt Pittsburgh will make the playoffs, and be a true contender when they do. But at least for the moment, heading into a huge game for the Flyers, the Pens are struggling somewhat. They did battle hard in their last one though, a 4-3 loss to the best team in the league. The Capitals may have reaffirmed their dominance, but it took a shootout to dispatch the Penguins.
While two rivals on losing streaks will faceoff today, one is still playing at a higher level than the other.
Perhaps this isn't the ideal opponent or setting to toss Johan Backlund out there for his NHL debut, but does anyone really want to see Brian Boucher face the Pens today?
Backlund isn't your ordinary NHL rookie. The Swedish import is 28 years old, and he won't be wide-eyed when he sees #87 skating during warmups, having played for his country nationally and for years in the Elite league. I won't bother throwing his stats with the Phantoms at you. They mean nothing today, and they're not particularly stunning in one direction or the other anyway, although the team has been impressed enough with him. Left with no real choice in the matter, we're looking at Backlund's start as a positive for the Flyers, who need any change they can get right now.
We've already seen them initially step up their game in front of the likes of a cast-aside in Ray Emery, as well another in Michael Leighton this season. Leighton played well in his own right, but his successes were about as surprising to me as Brad Lidge's 2008 run was. With those guys though, we had some book on them. I got nothing on Backlund, and I don't have a clue what to expect.
Paul Holmgren wants to see him play, and so do I, for two reasons—curiosity and desperation. Whether we'll know much about him after today remains to be seen. Pittsburgh can light any goalie up, and in order to give Backlund a fair grade, we'd have to see the guys in front of him play at least a pretty good game for 60 minutes. Their lapses lately have certainly exposed the inadequacies of Boucher.
So in yet another gamethread, we'll say the same thing again, because the Flyers haven't bucked the trend yet: If they can't take the ice ready for 60 or more minutes of battle-oriented hockey today, they simply can't do it at all. Their backs have been against the wall for weeks, yet the results haven't improved. They need to play physical hockey, if nothing else, and they need to find a way to get better shots on goal.
Crosby will likely get his points—he always does against our guys. Say what you will about The Kid. The guy is highly visible when it matters most, as much as it pains a hater to say that. The Flyers need to answer that with some step-up of their own. From the sounds of it, even they don't know if they can.
We'll see today at 1 PM.
Photos By Dave Sandford, Len Redkoles for Getty Images.