The early season rivalry tour continues for the Flyers tonight as they take on the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins for the first time this season. And if you’re wondering if the Orange and Black are still unhappy about getting ejected from the postseason for the second year in a row by the Pens — just look at the lineup dressed for tonight.
The Flyers have gotten off to the team’s hottest start in over a decade, going 3-0 to lead the Eastern Conference, with wins over the Washington Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils. The Penguins were equally as dominant in their first-two games, defeating the NY Rangers and NY Islanders, but were caught looking ahead last night dropping a snoozer at home to the Phoenix Coyotes, 3-0, pushing their record to 2-1.
Goaltenders Ray Emery (2.29 GAA) and Marc-Andre Fleury (2.41 GAA) are expected to start. It will be Emery’s first start against the Penguins, he has a career 4-1 record against the Steel City.
Arron Asham will replace James van Riemsdyk, who taking a precautionary game off after suffering a head injury against the Capitals on Tuesday. Asham has yet to see action this season, while van Riemsdyk has three points on the year. Asham will be on the wing alongside Claude Giroux and Darroll Powe.
“We’re being cautious, he’s feeling better but still not 100 percent,” said Stevens about JVR. “With a young kid early in the year we don’t see a need to take a chance unless he is 100 percent healthy.”
Fourth-line center Blair Betts also suffered an injury in Tuesday’s overtime win, separating his shoulder. He will miss a minimum of four weeks and will be replaced in the lineup by Riley Cote.
The Flyers are led in scoring by Mike Richards, who has five goals in three games.
Gagne – Richards – Pyorala (7 points)
Hartnell – Carter – Briere (8 points)
Asham – Giroux – Powe (2 points)
Carcillo – Laperriere – Cote (1 point)
Finally off IR after a hip injury slowed him during the preseason, tough defenseman Ole-Kristian Tollefsen will dress for the first time in three games. He will replace Danny Syvret, who will remain the team’s seventh defenseman.
“I’m excited to be back playing and we’re playing against a good team,” said Tollefsen. “They had a tough loss last night so they will probably bring their ‘A’ game.”
The contest will mark the first time the defensive tandem of Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen face the two-prong attack of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. The match ups between the four players is something to watch for.
Timonen – Coburn (5 points)
Carle – Pronger (9 points)
Parent – Tollefsen (1 point)
Emery will again be in goal for the Flyers. It is his fourth start in a row. He is 3-0 with a .922 sv pct.
Coming off a contest in which their potent offense was silenced by the mediocre defense of the Phoenix Coyotes, do not expect the Pens to do the same tonight. Even though the Penguins have struggled to put the puck in the net so far this year (six goals in three games), they always manage to do it quit effectively against the Flyers.
The Pens’ power play has been their Achille’s heel. Typically explosive, they are just 1-for-10 so far this season.
Crosby leads the team with three points and Malkin has tallied just one goal and an assist.
Fortunately for Dan Carcillo, Maxime Talbot will be out of the lineup, while tough guys Mike Rupp and Eric Godard will be on the roster.
Kunitz – Crosby – Guerin (4 points)
Dupuis – Malkin – Fedotenko (4 points)
Cooke – Staal – Kennedy (2 points)
Rupp – Adams – Godard (0 points)
Led on defense by veteran and power play specialist Sergei Gonchar, the Pens also feature young defenseman Alex Goligoski, who has proven to be a sniper from the blue line. One of the team’s overlooked strong points is their ability to shoot from the top of the zone. Gonchar, Goligoski and Letang can all bury it when given the chance.
Gonchar – Orpik (2 points)
Eaton – Letang (3 points)
Goligoski – McKee (2 points)
Fleury will start the contest in goal for the Pens. He is 2-0, with a .910 sv pct.
Keys to the Game
*Avoid Momentum Shifts and Frustrate
The Penguins have struggled to consistently score this season but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t come alive tonight. The Pens’ offense feeds off momentum and once they get going they are extremely hard to stop (see 2008-09 game six). The Flyers need to slow the game down, limit own-zone turnovers and control the pace. Along with controlling the pace, the combination of Timonen and Pronger need to keep Crosby and Malkin frustrated. When Pittsburgh plays frustrated it falls apart.
The Penguins are going to get the calls and they are going to get a lot of them, especially with the lineup the Flyers have dressed. It will be up to the Flyers’ penalty kill to dispel the struggling Pittsburgh power play throughout the contest. As it stands, Philly has the fifth best PK in the league compared to Pitts 27th ranked power play and they will need to be effective to gain the win. Without Betts, look for Richards and Carter to get more time on special teams.
*Tough Not Stupid
With Tollefsen, Cote, Carcillo, Asham, Laperriere, Pronger, Hartnell and Richards, the Flyers have easily the toughest lineup in the league and the refs will know it. The list above needs to play physical and assert dominance, but also remember that misconducts could be given out like dollar dogs tonight, so keep smart. The Pens may not be the toughest team but they are smart. Don’t let Pittsburgh goad them out of the game.