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Preview: The final battle of Pennsylvania is finally (unfortunately) upon us

Enjoy your last afternoon start of the season

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In the past, the very late season Flyers-Penguins matchups were always something to circle on the calendar. They’ve often held playoff implications or served as a preview for the first round. This year? Not so much. The Flyers are one of the worst teams in the NHL and we’ve been rooting for them to lose to maximize their draft position for at least a month while the Penguins are a 100-point team gearing up for the playoffs for the 16th year in a row. It’s, of course, still in our best interest to lose today, but why, oh why, does it have to be to Pittsburgh?

The Flyers just snapped a six-game losing streak with a win over one of the three teams in the NHL with a worse record than them this season—the Montreal Canadiens—and now sit at 24-43-11 with 59 points. At this point, the lowest the Flyers can get in the overall league standings is to drop one spot from where they are to third-worst. Meanwhile, with four games and eight points still available for the rest of the season, there’s still a chance they could jump the Chicago Blackhawks (tomorrow’s opponent) and the New Jersey Devils. With the other three remaining games on the schedule all against pretty weak opponents who the Flyers could potentially beat—Chicago, Winnipeg, and Ottawa—it feels even more pressing that they lose today in a very loseable game.

So today I will be attempting to put aside my distaste for the Pittsburgh Penguins, for the draft lottery success they’ve lucked into that has led to near-unparalleled on-ice success over the last two decades-ish, and for Evgeni Malkin’s big dumb face and hoping that a loss to this team today can help facilitate some draft lottery success of our own.

Projected Flyers lines

Scott Laughton—Kevin Hayes—Travis Konecny
James van Riemsdyk—Joel Farabee—Bobby Brink
Noah Cates—Morgan Frost—Owen Tippett
Oskar Lindblom—Nate Thompson—Zack MacEwen

Ivan Provorov—Ronnie Attard
Linus Högberg—Travis Sanheim
Keith Yandle—Egor Zamula

Felix Sandström
(Martin Jones)

Projected Penguins lines

Jake Guentzel—Sidney Crosby—Rickard Rakell
Jason Zucker—Evgeni Malkin—Bryan Rust
Danton Heinen—Jeff Carter—Kasperi Kapanen
Brock McGinn—Teddy Blueger—Evan Rodrigues

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

Louis Domingue
(Casey DeSmith)

Keep an eye on:

  • Travis Sanheim, who has been the Flyers’ best defenseman this season and has seen a jump in his ice-time in the last month of the season, including more than 25 minutes 7 times in the last 12 games. He’s averaging 25:15 minutes per game over that stretch, a step up from the 22:29 he’s averaged in games up to that point. It seems the Flyers’ coaching staff has also recognized Sanheim’s positive contributions this season and, when combining that with the inexperience of the rest of the defense corps at this point, have handed him an opportunity to prove himself in a bigger role.
  • Jake Geuntzel, who scored his 40th goal of the season on Thursday, an empty-netter that capped off a hat trick in a 4-0 win over the Boston Bruins. It’s Geuntzel’s second 40-goal season and at .55 goals per game, the best rate of his career. If he scores again this season, he’ll reach his career high.
  • Travis Konecny, who is now tied with Cam Atkinson for the team lead in points with 50. With Atkinson out of commission, Konecny’s next point will put him in sole possession of the team lead. Konecny has led the team in scoring once before, with 61 points in 66 games in 2019-20. Despite this milestone, Konecny’s 2021-22 season’s points per 60 rate is currently his lowest since his rookie season.
  • Jeff Carter, who hopefully found himself a party in Philadelphia last night and tired himself out before today’s early evening game. Carter has 27 goals and 27 assists in 87 games since he was moved to the dark side of the state in the middle of last season. Carter has 4 points in his last 5 games.
  • Turner Network Television, which is the channel where this game will be broadcast, so if you were planning on flipping back and forth between the game and re-runs of CSI: NY then you’re SOL.

Stray stats

  • The Flyers have not defeated the Penguins yet this season, with two of their three losses coming in overtime. The last time the Flyers beat the Penguins was on May 3 of last year, a 7-2 drubbing that came late enough in the season to also have no true post-season implications, but did feature goals from Claude Giroux, Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hägg, and Wade Allison.
  • Only 9 of the 19 players expected to play tonight played in the Flyers’ season-opening loss to the Vancouver Canucks, a number that includes Nate Thompson, who has missed around 60 games in between.
  • With Linus Högberg’s debut last game, the Flyers have now had nine players play in their first NHL game this season, which is the fourth-highest total of any team this year. Both the San Jose Sharks and the Arizona Coyotes have had 11 players, while the Columbus Blue Jackets have had 10. While Max Willman is the only one of these players to play more than 12 games for the Flyers so far, he’s tied with Noah Cates in points with 6.
  • The Flyers are one of only three NHL teams—with the Rangers and the Devils—to hold Jeff Carter to under .5 points per game. His .43 points per game against the team that drafted him is the lowest of any opponent, albeit in a pretty small sample size (7 points in 16 games).
  • Felix Sandström has truly been thrown into the fire in his first NHL action—in his three starts so far this season, Sandström has faced 118 shots, which puts him at 38.85 shots per 60 minutes, the fifth-highest rate in the league. He’s also faced 23 shots in around 10 minutes of Flyers power play time (you know, when they technically have a full ‘nother guy on the ice), for 29.46 shots per 60 minutes, the second-highest total in the league. Sandström has fared fairly well in those three starts to this point, though, with a .915 save percentage and .923 at even strength.