After a generally dismal first 15 games of the season, the Flyers have suddenly come to life in their past two outings.
They had a decisive 4-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers—a talented albeit underperforming squad, not unlike the Flyers—in which Claude Giroux registered his first goal of 2013-14. Then the Flyers absolutely drubbed the Ottawa Senators 5-0, with Jakub Voracek leading the domination with two goals.
Philadelphia is riding the most momentum and confidence it has had all season, and the club is now afforded a unique chance to harness that momentum on a big stage.
This is a critical stage in the season as well, as we are nearing the quarter mark of the regular season, where things start to settle down in the standings.
If the Flyers can use this game to build even more momentum, they might be able to roar back in the Metropolitan Division race over the next couple of weeks and salvage a potentially hopeless season.
I do not want to exaggerate the importance of this game. I do believe, however, that it could be the game that is looked back on as either the turning point in a comeback or the contest that exposed the Flyers as pretenders.
The result, while very important, is not all-encompassing for a matchup of this type.
For this game, a hard-fought 4-3 loss would be a lot better than a 4-0 blowout defeat. At the same time, a sloppy, lucky 1-0 win would not mean the same as outplaying the Penguins for 60 minutes en route to a 5-2 victory.
There are five keys to this game which deserve mention.
The first is simply slowing down Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, which will largely be up to Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier.
Giroux will have a lot of defensive responsibilities in this game, and he needs to come out and set the tone early. Scoring would be nice, but logging a lot of effective minutes is most important.
The second is the Flyers defense handling the speed of the Penguins both offensively and defensively. Philadelphia's blue line has looked slow and old this season.
Philly needs to refrain from taking penalties, stay in position and be able to quickly transition from defense to offense to help support its forwards.
The third is special teams play. The Flyers come into the game with one of the league's best penalty kills, which will need to be sharp against the Penguins' skilled power-play units.
They also come into the game with the league's most inept power play, which simply must pressure the Penguins and help generate some offense.
The fourth is Ray Emery, who will be getting the start after Steve Mason shut out the Senators on Tuesday. Emery has had his ups and downs this season, but needs to be at the top of his game and step in for Mason, who has been spectacular to this point.
Finally, the Flyers just need to play good, organized hockey. Their energy should not be in question, but their discipline and passing have to be there for them to compete with Pittsburgh.
If the Flyers build on their previous two games and jump on the Penguins early, it will be the most exciting contest of the season.
If they come out flat and look unconfident, however, it will get ugly quickly.
There is no way to overstate this: Facing the Penguins is the Flyers' biggest game thus far and could end up being the turning point in their season.