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Preview: Agony, thy name is Pittsburgh

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Let’s hope for a better outcome tonight, eh folks?

NHL: MAR 02 Flyers at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Flyers are set to face off with the hated Pittsburgh Penguins again tonight. Will it go better than Tuesday’s 5-2 loss? Hopefully, but who can say. What are the details on how to watch the game, what should you be looking for, and what’s the jam of the day? Find out below.

The Flyers

The Orange & Black sustained a humiliating loss to the Pens in Tuesday, mostly due to the usual suspects. The defense was a mess, and unless the Flyers acquire a new player to fix the problems in their own end soon, the issues will persist. I hear there’s a guy on the market who can alleviate some of those problems, but that’s none of my business (make the call, Chuck).

In terms of positive takeaways from a soul-rending loss, I’ll say this: the team as a whole continued to do some of the good things that they managed against Buffalo, even if they weren’t as effective at them. The Flyers produced turnovers in the neutral zone, converted them into rush attempts, and managed to do a decent job of establishing the forecheck early. The problems largely came later in the game, where the forwards looked tired and a bit behind the play. Hopefully they come back tonight looking reenergized.

In goal tonight for the Flyers will be Brian Elliott. The Moose continues to have an excellent season in limited showings, so he’ll likely give the team a boost against a Pens group still missing Sidney Crosby**. Elliott has a sparkling slash line (2.03 GAA, .931 SV%) through six starts and continues to be among the league’s best backups, masking some of Philly’s glaring defensive issues.

Brian Elliott’s goaltending profile, as of February 16th.
Image via Bryan Bastin

The Penguins

Pittsburgh is coming off a win where they largely defeated the Flyers by being opportunistic early. While the Pens dominated the game late, that momentum originated from successful penalty killing and a fantastic game from noted Flyers killer Kasperi Kapanen (four points in his last four games against Philly). The Penguins are largely reliant on the production of Guentzel, Malkin and Letang to carry this team through injuries and COVID, so they’re the trio of players to watch.

Also worth mention are goalie Casey DeSmith and defenseman John Marino. DeSmith has a poor save percentage, but he actually grades out slightly above replacement by advanced metrics, implying that Pittsburgh haven’t played their best hockey in front of him. Similarly struggling is Marino, who is coming off an unheralded breakout as a rookie where he functioned as the team’s defensive backbone. After providing sparkling shot and chance suppression alongside break-even offense, Marino has been worse across the board this year, only outpacing his rookie profile in GF/60.

John Marino has taken a step back so far this season.
Image via HockeyViz.com

The Penguins are again a beatable team in this matchup, and if the Flyers fail to defeat them without Crosby yet again it’s worth a bit of your anger. Philly has the better goalie in net, as well as better forward depth and overall talent; it’s time for them to put all of that to use.

Three Big Things

  1. The top line is the key cog for the Flyers to get going early in this game. Joel Farabee is letting it rip this year, Sean Couturier continues to obliterate his competition, and James van Riemsdyk has arguably been the second best player on the team thus far. Do they get the Orange & Black rolling, or does the production finally come from the other three lines?
  2. How does Shayne Gostisbehere rebound from his roughest performance of the year? Ghost has always been a player whose game revolves around confidence, so it was a bit worrying to see him get down on himself in the postgame interviews coming off a brutal turnover that led to a Kapanen goal. Do we get a confident Ghost that shakes it off, or does he look tentative? It’s a big test for a player who could end up being crucial to the Flyers’ playoff positioning.
  3. How does Michel Therrien adjust the powerplay, if at all? The lack of off-puck movement by the Flyers is disturbing and infuriating, especially when the stagnation occurring in the deployment of the umbrella is reminiscent of my other team (Nashville’s powerplay is a yikes). Therrien has tried plenty of personnel shakeups, and the Flyers have the horses to make this work; will he have taken the time to tweak the strategy of attacking the middle, or will we see the same-old, same-old?

Gameday Tunes

The Flyers want revenge for Tuesday’s embarrassment, so I figured I’d pick a fitting song.

Happy gameday folks, and as always, go Flyers.

**UPDATE! At around 5pm we learned that Sidney Crosby is BACK, folks. Giddy up.


ICYMI, check out our pregame podcast with Jim Rixner of Pensburgh: