The struggling Philadelphia Flyers travel to Pittsburgh tonight to take on the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins. This brutal rivalry always brings out the best play (and, often, worst discipline) in both teams.
Philadelphia is looking to right the ship after a poor start, while the Pens would love nothing more than to extend their three-game winning streak and bury the Flyers further down the standings.
Let's take a look at four factors that will loom large in tonight's contest.
James Neal leads the NHL with seven power play goals
The unstoppable force meets the immovable object.
The Penguins’ power play is the best in the Eastern Conference, converting on 27.4% of opportunities with the man advantage.
The Flyers, on the other hand, haven’t allowed a power-play goal in their last six games (21 times shorthanded).
The Penguins have scored 51 goals this year, 17 of which have come on the power play. That is a full one-third of Pittsburgh's total offense.
It isn’t groundbreaking analysis to suggest that whichever squad wins the special teams battle will likely win the game, but the Penguins rely on their power-play prowess quite a bit. The Flyers have struggled staying out of the box this year, averaging 16.3 PIM per game.
Discipline will be key for Philadelphia this evening.
As an added bonus, if Philadelphia can stay out of the box, there is a good chance they will keep Evgeni Malkin quiet.
Last year’s NHL MVP is off to an interesting start. With 3 goals and 15 assists, Malkin is 12th in the league in scoring with 18 points.
Not bad, but not Hart-Trophy caliber. What is kind of stunning about this (well, other than the fact that a 50-goal scorer only has three goals in 16 games) is that Malkin has only scored once at even strength.
It isn’t likely that Malkin’s even-strength futility will continue; he is just too talented to continue to struggle. And he has been playing fairly well and getting chances (50 shots on goal in 16 games), but he just hasn’t been able to get pucks in the net.
Malkin has 20 goals and 33 assists in 37 career games against the Flyers. Don’t be surprised to see last year’s Geno come to life tonight
The Flyers are off to a stunningly poor start. At 7-9-1 (15 pts.) they are 10th in the East and fourth in the Atlantic Division.
But they have a pulse.
After a 2-5 January that saw the Flyers score just 14 goals (seven of which came in a beatdown of the Florida Panthers on January 26th), Philadelphia is showing signs of life in February.
The Flyers are 5-4-1 this month and have scored 31 goals in those ten games, including laying a seven-burger on the Islanders on President’s Day.
The Flyers may have taken a little longer to find their legs after the abbreviated training camp. Perhaps it has simply taken “the best player in the world,” Claude Giroux, a little more time to figure things out this season without last year’s linemates Jaromir Jagr (a victim of free agency) and Scott Hartnell (a victim of injury).
One thing is for certain: The Flyers appear to be slowly putting things together, and they won’t be intimidated tonight.
The home of the Penguins, Consol Energy Center, technically might be owned by the Sports and Exhibition Authority of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, but don’t tell the Flyers that.
As far as they’re concerned, they own the House That Mario Built.
The Flyers are 7-2 all-time in the Penguins’ shiny new barn. This year, the Penguins are 3-3 on their home ice. Some have speculated that it is the docile home fans—a far cry from the rowdy and disorderly crowds of the Pens’ former home, Mellon Arena—that have kept the Penguins from enjoying a true home-ice advantage.
Possibly. Or maybe the Penguins simply need to play better in their own home. One surefire way to get the home crowd involved is to score early and score often, especially against the Flyers.
The Penguins and their fans need to make Consol Energy Center an uncomfortable place for opposing teams to play. There is no time like the present to take that first step.
Puck drops at 7:30 p.m. ET tonight.