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Flyers vs Penguins Preview: Rivalry

Everyone loves a Pennsylvania rivalry.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

It’s one of the most fun battles in all of the NHL. The matchups between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers always have something in store for those that watch. It’s time to stoke the fire in 2021-22.

The Penguins

The start for the Penguins certainly hasn’t been the one that they anticipated. They hold a 3-3-2 record for eight points and are currently on a three-game losing streak. No disrespect to Danton Heinen, but he should not be your team’s leading scorer.

It has been a rough go to start the season for the roster, though, so people can’t entirely blame the record on them. It’s not as if the roster was completely healthy. After recently re-entering the lineup and playing one game, Sidney Crosby was placed on the Covid-19 injured reserve. Thankfully, his symptoms are mild, and he should reach full health again.

Chicago Blackhawks v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

Brian Dumoulin also tested positive for Covid-19, so he entered protocol as well. He has fortunately been asymptomatic as well. Both Crosby and Dumoulin joined Chad Ruhwedel and Marcus Pettersson on the protocol list. Other injuries include Evgeni Malkin, who isn’t expected to be back until around December. Bryan Rust and Kris Letang joined practice full-time on Wednesday, and we may see them in the lineup for the game. It’s a lot of roster management for head coach Mike Sullivan, but he has handled it thus far.

Now, let’s get to my favorite part: the numbers. The Penguins at 5v5 are sixth in expected goals for percentage (xGF%) among all teams at 54.88 percent. Their goals for percentage (GF%) is tenth in the NHL as well. Most of their analytics are tremendous and place in the top 10, and if you just looked at them, one would think that they were one of the top teams in the league. Instead, they’re battling their demons and fighting to get out of the doldrums of the standings.

Penguins Standouts

With injuries and protocol list placements comes new opportunities for young players to show what they’re made of. One of the players that I stumbled upon when watching film and looking at analytics was Mark Friedman. Drafted 86th overall by the Flyers in 2014, he was placed on waivers by the team in February of 2021. The Penguins eventually claimed him. He’s played a total of 22 NHL games, including six in 2021-22. He has totaled two goals and four assists for six points in that span. He hasn’t gotten as much playing time as I’m sure he’d like to because of injuries, among other reasons, but this season he’s making the most out of it.

Per Evolving-Hockey’s goals above replacement (GAR) stat, he’s second on the team and tied for 31st in the NHL with players like Adam Fox of the New York Rangers. His expected goals above replacement (xGAR) is a bit worse—tied for 72nd in the NHL, but it’s still impressive considering the limited amount of experience he has had up to this point. The most remarkable thing to me is his expected goals for percentage (xGF%) at 5v5. Among players that have played at least 70 minutes, he is first in the NHL at 73.61 percent. His RAPM chart seals the deal in terms of analytics.

Mark Friedman RAPM (6 games)

He has been one of the league’s better players through the start of the season. The sample size is small, and regression is imminent. However, Friedman has put up some tremendous numbers, which a team with tons of stars out for various reasons needed.

The Flyers

The Flyers are coming off of a big shutout win against the Arizona Coyotes to start the month of November off on the right foot. It looked very bleak at the beginning of the game, but the orange and black got better as time progressed. The first power play unit sustained some changes, and they dominated with the puck. Nicolas Aube-Kubel also slotted in as the 12th forward in the lineup, and he looked solid with Nate Thompson and Zack MacEwen on his line.

The biggest story of the night was Carter Hart’s shutout win. After getting left out to dry in the last game of the western Canada road trip against the Calgary Flames, he needed some support. He got it after some prodding.

Arizona Coyotes v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

The Flyers have a record of 5-2-1, but their numbers at 5v5 aren’t as high as many would think. In terms of xGF%, they’re 29th in the NHL at 45.92 percent. Their GF% is fifth in the NHL at 63.29 percent. They’re getting bounces, and the play has to pick up, especially on the defensive end, if they want to sustain that amount of scoring. For now, it’s working, but there could be regression coming soon. Hart can’t sustain a beating every night for the entire season.

Projected Lineup

Claude Giroux - Sean Couturier - Travis Konecny

Joel Farabee - Derick Brassard - Cam Atkinson

Oskar Lindblom - Scott Laughton - James van Riemsdyk

Nicolas Aube-Kubel - Nate Thompson - Zack MacEwen

Ivan Provorov - Justin Braun

Travis Sanheim - Rasmus Ristolainen

Keith Yandle - Nick Seeler

Carter Hart

Martin Jones

One Thing to Watch

A player that was very noticeable against the Coyotes was Oskar Lindblom. Head Coach Alain Vigneault is very confident that he will be rewarded soon, and he absolutely deserves it. Despite only having one point in eight games, one could argue that he deserves more than that.

Lindblom has the third-highest xGF% on the team at 54.34 percent, and he also owns the highest expected goals for per 60 (xGF/60) at 3.03. The problem lies with his goals for per 60, which is almost cut in half from his expected. He’s getting the chances and contributing high-danger shots, but they aren’t going in the net. He should be able to break out soon, and with favorable matchups against a depleted Penguins team, we could see him hit some twine tonight, if not very soon.

That’s all from me. Enjoy the game, everyone!