A great Saturday night in the NHL offers an in-state rivalry that should hopefully heat up the play of both team. The Philadelphia Flyers will probably not like the sight of their good pals from across the way, as the Pittsburgh Penguins waltz into Philly to try to steal another two points. But they might just instead inspire the new-look Flyers to finally get off to a good start, push them to play a solid 60 minutes of hockey tomorrow night.
The Flyers are 3-4-1, have been outscored in the first period of play by an 8-1 margin. So they will have to shore up that first period when they host the defending Stanley Cup champions who are 5-2-1.
“It’s gone too long – the slow starts to hockey games and the team not being prepared for the puck drop,” goalie Steve Mason said after Friday’s practice. Mason told media that it can’t happen “against a team like Pittsburgh that has so many ways to beat you.”
“Something has to change,” right winger Jake Voracek agreed. “They’re a team that is very dangerous, very fast, and if you’re going to have a slow start . . . it’s going to be very tough to come back.”
Flyers coach, Dave Hakstol was unhappy with his team’s performance which is turnover-plagued, evident in their 5-4 loss to Arizona on Thursday night. So he will be changing all three defensive pairings and will tinker with his line combinations to match up the best they can against the Pens.
“Everybody to a man has got to be better,” Mason said. “Our defensive-zone play has to be better, and our neutral-zone and offensive play has to be better, starting from the goaltender’s position on out.”
Flyers’ Andrew MacDonald, along with his defensive partner Shayne Gostisbehere, didn’t play very well in Thursday night’s defeat, will probably be replaced by Nick Schultz in Saturday’s lineup.
Hakstol called on Schultz, who warmed the benched for the last two games, was described to media as an “absolute competitive, prideful defender,” who will give the Flyers a good chance to defend against a high-flying Pens team. He should be anxious to get on the ice and make a difference too.
Based on the pairings in Friday’s practice, the defense should look like this for the Flyers: Gostisbehere and Schultz; Mark Streit and Ivan Provorov; and Brandon Manning and Radko Gudas.
They’ll probably go back to putting Claude Giroux to center Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds on the first line. Sean Couturier should center Travis Konecny and Voracek will be on the second unit. Matt Read will get pushed back to the third unit, and that carried Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Roman Lyubimov at practice. Boyd Gordon will center Chris VandeVelde and Dale Weise on the fourth line.
“Sometimes you want to change things up and get some fresh wind and try to create some new chemistry,” said Streit, whose team goes into Friday’s practice having allowed 3.75 goals per game, and that ranks them 27th in the league.
Last season, the Flyers didn;t fare so well against the Penguins, they were 1-3. In their only win, they defeated their visiting archrivals 3-1, to clinch a playoff spot on April 9th. But it has to be noted that in that game, Pittsburgh has rested some of their stars and key players, including superstar Sidney Crosby, so it probably why they beat the Pens so easily.
“It’s always intense games and a fun atmosphere to be a part of,” said Mason, who is expected to play Saturday. “We have to be ready for it. . . . We have to have a good start against them and take the play to them. We can’t sit back and let them dictate things. They’re too good for that.”
The Flyers have given up the first goal in the last seven games so that’s a trend they have to break. So far, in their four home games, they trailed by 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, and 2-0, respectively. And that is not a way to win games. They have to take control in the first period and hold on to a lead.
“We’ve talked a lot about being ready, and now it’s time to put it on the ice and have better starts,” Streit said.
“We play our team game at times,” said Provorov, 19, who said he became aware of the Flyers-Penguins rivalry when he moved from Russia and played in Wilkes-Barre five years ago, “but we have to start doing it for all 60.”
In the last five games, the Flyers are 4-1 against the Penguins at the Wells Fargo Center. Crosby is a threat to the Flyers since he had five points and a plus-4 rating in three games of their four games against the Flyers last season.
Gostisbehere: “I’m still trying to figure out the defensive side of my game, especially this year, when guys are aware of me.” He’ll have to figure it our fast if he wants to defends the likes of Crosby. Pens Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has started all eight Penguins games and is expected to be in net on Saturday, so far he is solid and will most likely continue to play well for them.