It is clear that the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers do not like each other, but it was made even more evident last season in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal playoff matchup between the I-76 rivals. The six game series, which was won 4-2 by the Flyers, were some of the most exhilarating matchups of the entire playoffs, and further showed the teams’ genuine hatred for one another. Now the teams will meet for the second time this season and the first time in Pittsburgh, and it is sure to be an exciting match up.
Despite the Flyers 7-0 rout of the struggling New York Islanders on Monday, they have not been playing very well this year, sitting fourth in the Atlantic Division. Their 7-9-1 record is indicative of their inconsistent play all season, and they started off the season on a three-game losing streak, won two games, lost three, won two, and the pattern continued in a win-loss pattern that has kept them below the .500 mark. This is largely due to a lack of productivity in offense and goaltending. The Flyer are sixteenth best in the league with 2.6 goals per game and 18th best in goals against per game with 2.8.
Scott Hartnell getting injured in the beginning of the season caused the Flyers to lose a leader both on offense and defense. Hartnell was able to set a physical tone as well as jumpstart the offense every time on the ice. Without him, the Flyers seem like they are missing something and no one can replace a player like Hartnell, which is a large reason for their struggles thus far. Another struggle this year for the Flyers is the goaltending of Ilya Bryzgalov. A 7-7-1 record, Bryzgalov has been inconsistent this season, much like the Flyers team. It seems that when he is playing well the team has a better chance of winning and when he is not, every aspect of the Flyers’ game suffers.
On the other side, the Penguins have been one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, and the entire NHL. Their 11-5-0 record has them atop the Atlantic Division that is in large part to their high powered offense. With 3.2 goals per game (fifth best in the league), and a 27.4 percent success right on the power play (second best in the league), players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz and James Neal are powering the Penguins to staggering offensive results. Although the goalie tandem of Marc-Andre Fleury and Tomas Vokoun is not the best in the league, the Penguins high powered offense is able to keep them in many high scoring games when they are not at their best. On the few nights when there is exceptional goaltending from one of these two, the Penguins cannot be stopped.
The Flyers and Penguins met in the first game of the season and the Penguins won 3-1. Although there were only 16 penalty minutes allotted between the two teams, there were a total of 77 hits showing how physical the two teams get when pitted against each other. I expect the game to be very physical and possibly have a fight or two, but in the end the Penguins are the overall better team and will defeat the Flyers 4-2.