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Gameday: Battle of PA, Part IV

Pittsburgh Penguins (20-19-4, 44 pts) at Philadelphia Flyers (23-10-9, 55 pts)
Wachovia Center - 7 PM EST - Philadelphia, PA
TV: CSN Philly HD, FSN Pittsburgh HD
Radio: 610 WIP, XM 206
Check Here for Internet Streams
Behind Enemy Lines: PensBurgh, The Pens Blog


What To Watch For: It's no secret that Pittsburgh has been struggling of late while the Flyers have been red hot, especially at home. And while this game will be at the Wachovia Center, the Flyers know they can't take Pittsburgh lightly. In fact, if I were the Penguins, I would be using the fact that it's a game against your archrival as a way to get out of the slump they're in. You never know if a big win against the Flyers could propel them out of futility and back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

The Flyers went through a stretch last season where they were near the top of the standings before losing ten straight. A shootout win in Buffalo ended that skid, and from that point the Flyers entire season turned around.

Let's not make tonight a turning point in the Penguins' season.

Instead, with a win in regulation tonight, the Flyers can push Pittsburgh down to the .500 mark, while raising this current home winning streak to nine games and evening the season series with the cross-state rivals.

The Flyers will turn to the NHL's leading scorer Jeff Carter tonight, who has three goals and two assists in three games against the Penguins this season. All season long, the Flyers defense, especially Braydon Coburn and Kimmo Timonen, has done an excellent job keeping Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin off the scoresheet. If the Flyers are to win tonight, it's simple... limit the damage done by those two, because the rest of the Pittsburgh attack is more than manageable.

Scouting the Enemy: Crosby is on a three game point streak, but over his last 20 games, he's scored only four goals, perhaps the coldest he's been in his career. Malkin also only has six goals during that same stretch, and there's no doubt that the recent lack of production from these two is a cause of the Pens' recent struggles. When your best players don't play like your best players, you don't win hockey games in the NHL.

Still, Malkin and Crosby (moreso Malkin) have been the best players on the team, and Malkin still leads the NHL in points. Pittsburgh is far from an impotent team, but they are not playing well either.

Part of it has to do with the absence of Sergei Gonchar on the blueline, but an even bigger part is in net. As James Mirtle at From the Rink notes:

Pittsburgh's team save percentage has fallen from .916 (fourth in the NHL) to .898 (tied for 24th). Next to Dallas, that is worst year-to-year drop in the league. (Meanwhile, the departed Ty Conklin and his .918 are on the verge of taking over the No. 1 role with the Red Wings.)

For more on the Penguins recent fall into the cellar, read Mirtle's whole post here.

Between the Pipes: Antero Niittymaki is starting to feel better and will be back in a Flyers jersey tonight, but he will not see the ice as the nod goes to Martin Biron. Scott Munroe has been sent back to the Phantoms.

For Pittsburgh we should see Marc-Andre Fleury, but I can't find anything definite on that.

Injury Report: Ossi Vaananen didn't play Saturday with a mysterious lower body injury but he'll go tonight. Claude Giroux got rocked by Corey Perry back on the 2nd in Anaheim and is prepping to return. He's questionable tonight. Perry scored last night in his return from a 4-game suspension for the hit.

Danny Briere will play with the Phantoms tomorrow night and Friday night before returning to the Flyers. Good.

Ruslan Fedotenko broke his hand on Colby Armstrong's face last week and will miss 4-5 weeks.

Questions to Answer

1. Does Jeff Carter keep up his torrid pace?

2. Pittsburgh needs to take the rabid Philly crowd out of the game quickly, because if the Flyers strike quick and early it could be a long night for the Pens. Do they silence the faithful early?

3. Martin Biron is quietly playing excellent in net, and do I dare to say he looks like he did down the stretch and in the playoffs last night. Can he keep it up?

4. Do the Flyers keep Malkin and Crosby off the board?

Other Notes

  • The Flyers have yet to lose a game in regulation in 2009, while the Penguins are a poor 1-5-0.

  • Pittsburgh has allowed eight shorthanded goals -- 27th in the NHL in that department. The Flyers have allowed zero, while scoring 13.

  • At home, the Flyers PP is straight dirty, converting at 85.1%. The Pens are 26th in the NHL on road PK, 77%.

  • Andrew Alberts has a two game point streak.