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Flyers vs Leafs preview: Truculence and pugnacity and toughness, oh my

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The Flyers like to take penalties and fight. The Leafs like to take penalties and fight. You know how this story ends. The Flyers go for four straight wins in their game tonight against Toronto.

This is the elaborate mating ritual of the Canadians. Nature is amazing, isn't it?
This is the elaborate mating ritual of the Canadians. Nature is amazing, isn't it?
Bruce Bennett

The Philadelphia Flyers and the Toronto Maple Leafs both have reputations for being aggressive and physical, and really, that's putting things delicately.

The Flyers, a perennial leader in penalties, currently lead the league with 980 (!) total penalty minutes. After a significant gap, because really, how can you compete with nearly a thousand penalty minutes, the Leafs come in with 808. The Flyers have 283 minors and 40 majors, while the Leafs have 249 minors and 36 majors. When you're looking at average penalty minutes per game, the margin is small: the Flyers leading with 15.6, the Leafs not far behind with 12.6. Suffice it to say this game will be exciting.

Equally exciting is the fact that the Flyers are coming into Saturday night's game on a three game win streak in easily the most important and probably the most difficult stretch of the season. In those three divisional contests, the Flyers picked up all six points and surrendered only one. They've positioned themselves above the New York Rangers in the standings, tied for points with tonight's contest in hand.

It will be the second meeting between the Flyers and the Leafs this season. In their first meeting, the season opener, the Leafs handed the Flyers their first loss, which inevitably lead to another and then another. It was not fun.

Over five months have passed since that first loss. Through all the adversity, self-inflicted and not, the Flyers emerged on the other side significantly changed. Eight games into the season, fans were suggesting a total rebuild and were seriously questioning whether or not Claude Giroux deserved the captaincy. Not many people are talking about Giroux's leadership these days. Armed with a comeback mentality and an underdog spirit, the Flyers can either win big or lose big -- there's not much grey area. Thankfully, the big losses are less frequent, and they always manage to light a fire under the team.

Unlike the Flyers, the Leafs began the season incredibly well, with a promising 7-3-0 in their first ten games. Their play eventually evened out and throughout November, they began to hover around third place in the Atlantic division. In December they dropped to as low as fifth and from there, they mirror the Flyers: it's been a struggle for the team to get into playoff position and stay there. As of March 8th, though, the Maple Leafs sit in third place in their division, fourth in the East.

Looking towards actual gameplay...the Leafs top line is, uh, real good. Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel, and James van Riemsdyk are amazing. Bozak is definitely the quietest member of the line, but he's having a career year despite an injury that kept him sidelined for a big portion of the season. Kessel, true American hero, is currently second in points behind only Sidney Crosby. He's also second in goals behind only Alex Ovechkin. Pretty good. As for JVR? Sigh. He's been doing well, too. You know that feeling when your ex leaves you and is doing well and you're fifty percent happy for them but also fifty percent sad that they're doing well without you? Those are my JVR feelings. It'll be interesting to see how Couturier's line matches up against Kessel's, though.

Reports were circling on Friday afternoon that, because captain Dion Phaneuf did not practice, he might not play in Saturday night's game. However, Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said that he expected Phaneuf in the lineup. The Flyers definitely would have caught a break there, but oh well.

The Leafs will start Jonathan Bernier, who played spectacularly well in the Leafs overtime win over the Rangers on Wednesday, March 5th. It was a major step for him, as he let in nine goals in his previous two starts. I still can't believe he's playing over a guy whose nickname is Optimus Reim, but I guess nicknames aren't everything.

The Flyers goaltending situation is cause for concern, as Kurt pointed out on Friday afternoon. Ray Emery did not make the trip to Toronto, still plagued by a groin tweak, so Cal Heeter will serve as backup yet again. Mason's got three days of rest, so one would assume he goes.

For two teams that are forced to rely heavily on their special teams, the Flyers might be getting the edge in this one. The Leafs are 0-for-17 on the power play in their last eight games and they've allowed four shorthanded goals in the past four games. Might as well make it five in their last five, right?

I predict hard hits and strong forecheck and lots of punching. Hot take, I know. Let's just hope the Flyers hit them where it hurts...the standings and also the face! Go Flyers.