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Preview: Flyers look to bounce back in Pittsburgh

Philly’s increasingly depleted lineup takes the ice against the first-place Penguins

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Flyers will face their cross-state rivals tonight in Pittsburgh, their third match-up of the season.

The post-All Star Game week for the Flyers has felt like an acknowledgment, however tacit, that their playoff hunt is over: they’ve bounced top prospects Morgan Frost and Cam York back and forth between Philly and Lehigh Valley; they added a new piece to the upper level management in some guy named Daniel Brière; they shut down Sean Couturier for the season and hinted at the possibility of doing the same for Kevin Hayes and Ryan Ellis; Adrian Dater is salivating at the prospect of undervaluing Claude Giroux; and it feels like there are more people on Flyers Twitter watching James Harden shoot uncontested practice threes than watching Flyers games.

They’re now third from last in the league by points and fifth from last in points percentage with a 15-24-8 record. In addition to the aforementioned Couturier, Hayes, and Ellis, the Flyers are also without Joel Farabee, Derick Brassard, Gerald Mayhew, and Rasmus Ristolainen. You know things are bad when it’s news that Gerald Mayhew is out of the lineup. Weeks removed from the end of a franchise-worst winless streak, the Flyers have kicked off yet another with their road loss to Detroit on Saturday and are now facing down the Metropolitan’s top team, our old friends the Pittsburgh Penguins. Don’t they always seem to show up at the worst times?

The Penguins, for their part, just keep chugging along. Despite the age curve and injuries, they seem to find a way to keep succeeding in ways that will keep them out of Kansas City for at least another decade. Jake Guentzel is in the top 10 in goals scored. At 35 years old, Kris Letang is scoring at a per game pace that he hasn’t since he was 25. Tristan Jarry is leading the league in wins. And they keep getting meaningful contributions from guys no one’s ever heard of with names like Danton and Zohorna and Chad.

On top of all that, they’ve got Evgeni Malkin, who missed the first 30ish games of the season, back in the lineup and Sidney Crosby sitting at 499 career goals and 49 career goals against the Flyers. All the ingredients of the recipe for a Flyers’ loss to their hated PA counterparts have been laid out nicely on the counter; how they are assembled remains to be seen because it can be done in so many different ways—a blowout where Carter Hart gets pulled because some guy fresh off a shift at Sheetz scored his first career hat trick or a heartbreaking overtime game that turns Crosby’s 500th career goal into a walk-off. Tune in to find out! Go hockey!

Flyers projected lines:

Oskar Lindblom—Claude Giroux—Cam Atkinson
James van Riemsdyk—Scott Laughton—Travis Konecny
Max Willman—Morgan Frost—Patrick Brown
Isaac Ratcliffe—Connor Bunnaman—Zack MacEwen

Ivan Provorov—Justin Braun
Travis Sanheim—Nick Seeler
Keith Yandle—Kevin Connauton

Carter Hart
(Martin Jones)

Penguins projected lines:

Jake Guentzel—Sidney Crosby—Bryan Rust
Brock McGinn—Evgeni Malkin—Kasperi Kapanen
Danton Heinen—Jeff Carter—Evan Rodrigues
Zach Aston-Reese—Brian Boyle—Dominik Simon

Brian Dumoulin—Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson—John Marino
Mike Matheson—Chad Ruhwedel

Tristan Jarry
(Casey DeSmith)

Keep an eye on:

  • Travis Sanheim, who has spent 586 of his 848 minutes of ice time this year alongside Rasmus Ristolainen, which is nearly 70% of his minutes. It’s the most shared ice time of any two Flyers this season and with Ristolainen out on Saturday and now again tonight, it’s our first extended look at Sanheim without him since the very beginning of the year.
  • Jake Guentzel, who is Pittsburgh’s leading point scorer this year, with 50 points in 43 games. He’s hot, too, with 10 points in his current 6-game scoring streak. He scored twice the last time these two teams met.
  • Scott Laughton, who has points in five straight now, having managed to score the streak-busting overtime winner against the Los Angeles Kings and one apiece in the Detroit home-and-home. Laughton now has 21 in 44 games and is on pace to outscore his career high of 32 points in 2018-19.
  • Jeff Carter, who is centering the Penguins third line now that Malkin is back in the lineup. In Malkin’s first 8 games back, Carter scored 8 points against third line competition, but only has a goal in his last 7. Carter only has 6 points in 15 games against the Flyers since he was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2011.
  • The out-of-town scoreboards, which, if the Flyers are going to race to the bottom, are going to become more and more interesting to Flyers fans. Tonight’s slate of games includes three teams the Flyers (38 points) are in that race with: Ottawa (38 points) against St. Louis, New Jersey (39 points) against Tampa Bay, and Buffalo (38 points) against the New York Islanders.

Stray stats:

  • The Flyers are 162-98-30-12 (W-L-T-OTL) all-time against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but 60-62-22-8 when playing in Pittsburgh. They lost an overtime game in Pittsburgh earlier this year and an ugly 6-2 game that featured two multi-goal performances from Penguins and a shorthanded goal by Brian Boyle.
  • Noted former Flyers Jaromír Jágr was born on this day 50 years ago in 1972. Jágr left the NHL in 2017-2018 at age 44 and has been playing in Czechia for Rytíři Kladno, the team that he also owns and serves as president of. He’s got 19 points in 35 games for the Knights this season. Happy birthday to a former Flyer great who may or may not have also played for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
  • Sidney Crosby scored his 300th goal in Pittsburgh against the visiting Flyers almost seven years ago, but it was his team’s lone goal, as the Flyers and Steve Mason defeated the Penguins 4-1. If he does eventually score another goal in his career, Crosby will become the 46th player with 500 goals and the first to do it since Patrick Marleau’s 500th in 2017.
  • Both Flyers-Red Wings games were 2 hours and 26 minutes long, coming in on the shorter side of Flyers games this season. If they’re going to keep the game outcomes consistent, it’d be great if we could also start getting these game times down, as well. I mean, it’s one thing to watch the Flyers lose, but to do it over the course of three hours can be rough.
  • Letang’s .96 points per game at this point would be the second-best of his career, behind only the 1.09 he averaged in the 35 games he played during the NHL’s lockout shortened 2012-13 season. If he keeps it up, it’s possible that he’ll outscore his career high in total points of 67 in 2015-16.
  • Keith Yandle and Kris Letang are 38th and 40th, respectively, all-time in points by a defenseman. Letang actually began the year behind Yandle, but his 43 this season has catapulted him past Yandle, Shea Weber, and eight other defenders, and based on Yandle’s point production this season it doesn’t look like they’ll be trading positions again.