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Flyers vs. Penguins, 12/8/2011


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From http://www.hockeybuz...nguins/45/40354

PREVIEW 7:00 AM EST

Fresh off a comeback overtime victory in Buffalo last night, the Flyers (16-7-3) return home to the Wells Fargo Center tonight for an Atlantic Division showdown with the first-place Pittsburgh Penguins (16-8-4). The game starts at 7 PM and will be broadcast locally on CSN Philly and nationally on NHL Network.

This is the first of six meetings between the cross-state archrivals this season. Last season, the Flyers won four of six games (all in regulation) while the Pens took one regulation victory and prevailed once by shootout.

Philadelphia has been the NHL's best road team this season (10-3-1) but needs to get better at home (6-4-2). Meanwhile, the Penguins have not been particularly good on the road so far. The Pens are just 8-6-2 in away games, but have gone 8-2-2 at home.

Last night in Buffalo, the Flyers fell behind, 3-0, in the first period. A Max Talbot goal in the final second of the opening period gave Philadelphia life, and the team went on to pretty much dominate the rest of the game.

Matt Read's deflection goal early in the second period brought Philly back with a goal. At 14:45 of the middle stanza, Scott Hartnell took a pass from Claude Giroux (1G, 3A) and snuck one in the short side past Ryan Miller. Three minutes later, a spectacular two-way effort by Jaromir Jagr -- making a nice backchecking play to help prevent a Buffalo goal and then, as play swung the other way, executing a nifty curl and toe drag and then rifling a tracer of a wrist shot past Miller -- put Philly ahead, 5-4.

The Flyers did a masterful job in most of the third period, hemming Buffalo in their own zone for much of the period. However, they were unable to add to their lead and a single late-game coverage breakdown on a 6-on-5 led to Drew Stafford's game-tying goal that sent the game to overtime. In the extra frame, Giroux intercepted a cross-ice pass, sped off on a breakaway and snapped a shot through the five hole to win the game.

Ilya Bryzgalov had an uneven game in goal last night. He was tremendous through most of the first period, keeping the game scoreless with Buffalo generating the majority of the pressure. Bryzgalov had no chance to prevent Ville Leino's power play goal off an 3-on-1 down low that put the Sabres ahead 1-0. He also had no real shot at stopping Zack Kassian's goal from the high slot, because rookie defenseman Marc-Andre Bourdon unwittingly provided both a screen and a deflection on the play.

However, Thomas Vanek's power play goal that made it 3-0 was a soft goal that, on many nights, would have been a backbreaker. That was one the Philadelphia goaltender absolutely could not afford to give up in that circumstance. For most of the remainder of the game, Bryzgalov was barely tested.

The Flyers' forechecking work last night was outstanding. There won't be nearly as much skating room tonight against Dan Bylsma's Penguins. However, if Philadelphia brings the same energy and focus that they showed last night, they'll eventually generate scoring chances against Marc-Andre Fleury.

In playing against Fleury, it is imperative to get traffic to the net and win battles down low. He is a very talented and athletic goalie but one who is prone to leaving rebounds in the opposite slot. The team in front of him usually does an excellent job of boxing out in front and cleaning up the rebounds.

The power play was a non-factor for Philadelphia last night, as the team received only one man advantage in the entire game despite numerous infractions in what was a pretty chippy game (both ways). In the Flyers' two previous December games, the power play was red hot. Pittsburgh is generally an excellent penalty killing team, checking into this game at 88.7 percent efficiency.

Meanwhile, the Flyers' penalty kill has had its share of problems lately. Last night, allowing two first period PPGs for the Sabres dug Philly a deep hole. Sometimes the goalie has to be a team's best penalty killer, and Bryzgalov has not been equal to the challenge often enough this season. Entering tonight, Bryz has a penalty killing save percentage of .837 (Sergei Bobrovsky's is .884, the league average for goalies is .876). Bryz currently ranks 55th among the 68 NHL goalies who have faced a PK situation this year. Needless to say, that's nowhere close to being good enough.

Danny Briere's status for tonight is unknown as of this writing. First of all, he has been under the weather this week, although he returned to practice on Tuesday. Last night, he got high sticked in the head right off an offensive zone faceoff -- something he was penalized in game and then suspended for doing to the Islanders' Frans Nielsen last season but went unpenalized last night when he was on the receiving end. He skated right off to the bench. Briere soon returned to action, he only played 9:22 for the game and not at all in overtime.

The Flyers remain without injured defensemen Chris Pronger (LTIR, arthroscopic knee surgery), Andreas Lilja (LTIR, high ankle sprain) and Erik Gustafsson (LTIR, wrist surgery). Rookie forward Brayden Schenn (upper body injury) did not make the trip to Buffalo and his status is also unclear.

Tonight's game marks the first time in three seasons that Jagr will have played against the team with whom he is most associated. There is also the subplot of Jagr having spurned the Penguins' off-season contract offer this summer to sign with the Flyers. In 36 career games against Pittsburgh as a member of the Capitals and Rangers, Jagr posted 17 goals (6 PPG) and 19 assists for 36 points.

Pittsburgh has been up-and-down of late, posting a 5-4-1 mark over its last 10 games. Of course, the big news for tonight's game is that Sidney Crosby will be held out after colliding with teammate Chris Kunitz and not feeling well. He will miss at least two games.

It is encouraging that Crosby passed an an ImPACT (neurocognitive) test, which revealed no abnormalities. However, it should also be noted that the test is not infallible. Among others, the Pens' Kris Letang have passed the test only to have symptoms persist and later be diagnosed as a concussion.

Even without Crosby, the Pens have proven to be plenty dangerous both last season and this year. Former Dallas Stars winger James Neal currently leads the team with 14 goals and 25 points, while Evgeni Malkin has 9 goals and 24 points and two-way center Jordan Staal has tallied 12 goals. Letang (3 goals, 19 points) provides a constant threat from the point but is currently out of the lineup.

However, the hallmark of Bylsma's team is its defensive discipline. The club usually makes opponents fight for every inch of space, and Fleury (2.16 GAA, .921 save percentage) is having an All-Star caliber season in goal.

PROJECTED LINEUPS (subject to change)

FLYERS

Hartnell - Giroux - Jagr

JVR - Briere - Simmonds

Read - Talbot - Voracek

Zolnierczyk - Couturier - Rinaldo

Timonen - Coburn

Carle — Mezaros/ Bourdon

Marshall/Bourdon — Meszaros

Bryzgalov

[bobrovsky]

PENGUINS

Sullivan - Malkin - Neal

Kunitz - Staal - Dupuis

Cooke - ???? - Kennedy

Vitale - Adams - Asham

Orpik - Niskanen

Martin - Picard

Despres - Bortuzzo

Fleury

[Johnson]

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Not much good came out of the Flyers’ early playoff exit in 2009. But it was during their six-game series with the Pittsburgh Penguins that Claude Giroux showed early signs of all-star potential.

The Penguins got the memo, too – and with Giroux now the sole owner of the NHL points lead (36), they know they’ve got to shut him down tonight at the Wells Fargo Center in order to keep their Atlantic Division lead.

“He’s a talented, talented guy,” Penguins forward Craig Adams said after today’s morning skate. “We saw a little bit of that [in the playoffs in ‘09] and we were a little bit like, who is this guy?

“But now, everybody knows who he is. I watched the very end of that game last night, and obviously he put it away. He looks confident, he’s got a lot of skill, so we’re going to have to do a good job against him tonight.”

Giroux registered five points during that series against the Pens, and he’s only gotten more comfortable and more successful from there.

“He had the respect of a lot of guys in our room even his rookie year, even when other people in the Western Conference probably didn’t know who he was just because they didn’t see him a lot,” Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “He’s a guy we’ve always been aware of, and he’s still pretty young, he’s only going to get better and better.

“He’s a guy we’ve always had a lot of respect for, the majority of us watched the game last night, he put on a pretty good show. He’s someone we’ve got to keep an eye on.”

Pascal Dupuis, the Penguins’ veteran winger, agreed.

“He’s another highly skilled player,” he said. “Skates well, really, really good with the puck. He’s making the right plays right now. He’s playing some good hockey, so obviously we’re trying to keep an eye on him all the time.”

Sarah Baicker
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