After a blowout loss at the hands of the Washington Capitals on Thursday, and a blown 5-2 lead vs. Toronto on Friday, the Flyers look to stop the bleeding with a win tonight over Pittsburgh. They play the Penguins for the first time since their Stadium Series matchup last month, and for the final time this season. Since that comeback win from the Flyers at Lincoln Financial Field, the Penguins have gone on a bit of a roll.
Since the loss, PIttsburgh has gone 7-2-1 and sit third in the Metropolitan Division, just two points behind the Islanders for second, and four behind the leading Capitals. For the Flyers meanwhile, they’ve gone 5-3-1, but were looking a hell of a lot better before their past two losses. Now eight points out of a playoff spot behind the Columbus Blue Jackets, and nine behind first wild card Carolina Hurricanes, the Flyers’ chances have all but faded away with just 11 games left to play. However, this is the Penguins, and there are fewer greater pleasures as a Flyers fan than watching them beat up on their in-state rivals.
A win tonight would give the orange and black the season series win over Pittsburgh, something they haven’t accomplished since 2014-15 when they won all four games. That was still when no matter what the Flyers seemed to have the Penguins number, and Craig Berube was the head coach. Those two facts have no business being in the same sentence together, but they were wild times folks. In a season that seems all but lost, a season series win over Pittsburgh is a minor victory I am absolutely willing to take. The young players on this team need to know they can hang with the likes of the Penguins, it’s all about building confidence at this point.
So, what can the Flyers do to break the drought, and take the series vs. Pittsburgh?
1. Keep them on their toes
The Penguins know what the Flyers default to way too often in the offensive zone, and that is point shots or shots in general from the perimeter. This is something that absolutely cannot happen tonight with the Penguins on a roll, and the Flyers coming off of a loss that coulda shoulda woulda been a win. Falling into that kind of trap hasn’t worked before, and it’s definitely not going to work against a team who is fully aware of their tendencies. Pittsburgh isn’t a defensive juggernaut by any means, so take advantage of that.
Let’s be real, the Penguins traded for Erik Gudbranson at the deadline. Like, gave up an actual asset in Tanner Pearson for Erik Gudbranson. I mean, I know we have Robert Hagg and Andrew MacDonald on our defense so we can’t really talk, but the Pens are supposed to be better than that. They’re supposed to be the organization with all the brains and superior hockey knowledge and their defense has Jack Johnson and Erik Gudbranson on it. It just doesn’t make sense! Add onto the fact Kris Letang could miss tonight’s game as he didn’t play yesterday, and you have a possible recipe for disaster on the Penguins’ blueline.
2. Take advantage of their goaltending
It took the Flyers until the waning moments of the Stadium Series game, but they finally exposed Matt Murray in the end. Murray hasn’t been good at all this year for Pittsburgh, nor was he last season, and he’s coming off being pulled in their game last night vs. St. Louis. Given the fact he only played around 23 minutes of the game before being yanked for backup Casey DeSmith, Murray could very well start both games of the Penguins back-to-back.
If so, or even if DeSmith gets the call, the Flyers need to take advantage. Now this might sound like the pot calling the kettle black, given the Flyers just allowed seven goals to the Maple Leafs, but the point is still valid. Pittsburgh has received shoddy goaltending all season long, and are hovering around the middle of the league in goals allowed. Again, the Flyers aren’t much better, one of the worst teams in the league in goals allowed, but since Carter Hart came along they have improved considerably with the help of him and improved defense.
3. Speaking of Carter, let’s hope this game goes better than the last
As to be expected, Carter Hart did struggle in his first game back returning from his lower body injury that kept him out for a few weeks. He allowed four goals on 31 shots vs. Washington on Thursday, and although he didn’t look as bad as the numbers suggest, he definitely was showing signs of a goalie that hadn’t played in close to a month.
Hart is projected to start tonight and will make his second start vs. Pittsburgh. His first was a loss in which he allowed three goals on 27 shots, in a game where the Flyers offense couldn’t muster any kind of offense. A win isn’t necessarily required for Hart to have a good game tonight, but for his confidence, it would be nice to see the goaltender pick up the W in this one.
Flyers Projected Lineup
Giroux — Patrick — Konecny
Lindblom — Couturier — Voracek
JVR — Laughton — Raffl
Varone — Knight — Bailey
Provorov — Sanheim
Gostisbehere — Myers
Hagg — Gudas