Preview: Ugh, the Penguins

It's the last intrastate rivalry match of the 2022-23 season, as the Philadelphia Flyers visit the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Preview: Ugh, the Penguins

The Flyers have one last rivalry match against the Pens this year, at PPG Arena. This will be game two of a back-to-back for both teams: the Flyers coming off a loss against the Sabres, and the Penguins a loss against the Bruins. Pittsburgh doesn't have to travel, but you can bet they'll likely be exhausted after facing the best team in the league.

For the first time in what feels like forever, the Penguins are in danger of missing the playoffs; the last time that happened was the 2005-06 season, right after they drafted Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. (It feels like we don't talk enough about how close Pittsburgh was to having both Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin--can you imagine??) Crosby and Malkin have been doing Crosby and Malkin things all season, putting up big points and generally carrying an otherwise weak Penguins roster through the season–a weak roster due to none other than one Ronald Hextall. Perhaps you've heard of him?

Anyway, the Penguins are sitting at 84 points in 76 games played, and are officially out of the second wildcard position. The Florida Panther's 7-0 blowout win over the Columbus Blue Jackets last night gave them 85 points and playoff positioning, though Pittsburgh does have one game in hand over Florida. If the Pens get back into that wildcard slot, yesterday's match against the Bruins was a preview of their first round matchup. If things get really wild, and both Pittsburgh and Florida implode, the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres could make a push. Given all of those teams' records in their last ten games, however, it seems like nobody wants the second wild card, because they know Boston's waiting in the first round.

The Flyers, meanwhile, saw their point streak snapped in a 6-3 regulation loss to the Buffalo Sabres last night, and were officially eliminated from the playoffs. Travis Konecny returned to the lineup, and contributed a goal in his first game back from injury. He looked like the TK we all know and love, shooting pucks and getting under the other team's skin, so at least that'll be a fun way to close out the season. The Flyers sit as the seventh worst team in the NHL right now, and their chances of moving up the draft board have diminished significantly with their recent point streak; they're four points ahead of the Coyotes. Still, hockey is a weird sport, and the Flyers could finish the year on a losing streak to regain a little bit of draft positioning.

One thing to keep an eye on tonight is coach John Tortorella. He has spent the past two games in the press box with Interim General Manager Danny Briere, and let assistant coach Brad Shaw handle bench duties. Will Torts continue watching from above, or return to his place behind the bench?

Puck drop is at 6 p.m. from PPG Arena.

Players to Watch

Morgan Frost

Frost has been on a tear recently, with two 2-goal games in his last three. His play has improved, too, but Torts still isn't sold on whether he'll be an integral piece when the Flyers are competitive again. If he can become a consistent 50+ point producer as a 3C? He's a solid add. Anything else, and it might be time to move on.

Travis Konecny

Not only has TK been the best offensive producer for the Flyers this season, he's also been the most fun player on the team period--his production and energy was sorely missed for the weeks he was injured. He sits at 28 goals on the season, and it'd be great to see him crack 30 for the first time in his career.

Sam Ersson

It stands to reason that Ersson gets the start tonight, as Sandstrom started yesterday (and didn't look great, either)--unless Carter Hart is magically ready to play, of course. Ersson has been pretty, pretty good in his starts this season, minus one blowout loss to the New Jersey Devils in February; Torts was determined to give Hart that night off and it unfortunately meant leaving Ersson in to deal with New Jersey's offensive onslaught. It was the last game he played in the NHL before returning to Lehigh Valley to help with a playoff push, but Hart's injury has necessitated the emergency recall to the big club. The organization thinks highly of Ersson, as does Torts, and it'd be great to get him a few more NHL games as the season wraps up.

Sidney Crosby

As ever, Sid the Kid continues to produce like one of the best in the league, and is the main reason the Penguins have even been competitive. He sits at 86 points right now, the most on the team, and is dragging the rest of the roster kicking and screaming towards the post season. Head coach Bruce Cassidy has been playing his top six forwards around 20 minutes a night most of the season, in an attempt to send a message to GM Ron Hextall that the bottom six are not good enough to keep the team competitive. Hextall, of course, did nothing to fix this, except ship out Kasperi Kapanen and bring in Mikael Granlund. Crosby is 34 and has two years left on his contract, and instead of capitalizing on the twilight years of him, Malkin, and Letang, Hextall has opted to sit on his hands and let the team flounder.

How's it feel, Pens fans? Now you know what we went through.

Projected Lineups

Philadelphia Flyers

Joel Farabee--Morgan Frost--Owen Tippett
Scott Laughton--Noah Cates--Travis Konecny
JvR--Kevin Hayes--Brendan Lemieux
Nic Deslauriers--Tanner Laczynski--Kieffer Bellows

Ivan Provorov--Cam York
Travis Sanheim--Justin Braun
Nick Seeler--Tony DeAngelo

Sam Ersson
(Felix Sandstrom)

Pittsburgh Penguins

Jake Guentzel--Sidney Crosby--Bryan Rust
Jason Zucker--Evgeni Malkin--Rickard Rakell
Danton Heinen--Ryan Poehling--Mikael Granlund
Drew O'Connor--Jeff Carter--Josh Archibald

Brian Dumoulin--Kris Letang
P.O. Joseph--Jeff Petry
Mark Friedman--Chad Ruhwedel

Casey DeSmith
(Tristan Jarry)

Gameday Tunes

Perhaps this one's a bit too on the nose for a hockey game--a heated rivalry one, no less--but we love a banger. The Kite String Tangle's been a bit hit-or-miss over the years, but when a song called "Fist Fight" gets released at the end of the hockey season, you're obligated to blast it.