This following is the Associated Press game preview for tonight’s game. I am on the road and am unable to provide my own blog preview for this game. I will provide my own game recap tonight.
(A.P.) The Philadelphia Flyers faced the Pittsburgh Penguins eight times last season and lost them all en route to the worst season in franchise history.
To further show they have put that dreadful year behind them, the Flyers look to end their drought against the Penguins as these intrastate rivals open their season series Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.
Philadelphia’s 56 points last season were not only the fewest in franchise history, but the fewest by any team since Atlanta recorded 54 in 2001-02. This season’s Flyers (8-5-0), though, have been bolstered by the offseason addition of free agent center Daniel Briere and already have matched their win total through 31 games in 2006-07.
That awful start included five losses to Pittsburgh, which went on to sweep the season series for the first time. The Penguins scored at least three goals in every meeting, and scored at least five in five of those matchups.
Even though Philadelphia is no longer in the Atlantic Division basement, Briere recognizes his team has a long way to go, as evidenced by a 2-0 loss to the New York Rangers on Monday night.
“It’s frustrating,” said Briere, who leads the Flyers with 15 points. “We’re trying to contain early in the game instead of being the team that should put the pressure. We wait until the second or third period to start doing that. It’s cost us a few games.”
Wednesday’s game will be the seventh in a season-high eight-game road trip for Philadelphia. The Flyers are 2-4 on the trip, getting outscored 19-12.
Goaltender Martin Biron is fifth in the league with a .942 save percentage, but faced a season-high 45 shots during the loss to the Rangers.
“It puts a lot of pressure on Marty back there to hold the fort,” Briere said. “It’s definitely unacceptable.”
Pittsburgh (7-6-1) has had an up-and-down start, one season after making a league-record 47-point jump in the standings. The Penguins finished their four-game road swing 2-2 after a 5-0 win over New Jersey on Monday night, but blew 2-0 leads on the trip against Colorado and the New York Islanders.
“We really didn’t talk about it,” Penguins goaltender Dany Sabourin said of the team’s early leads. “We played like it was 0-0 all the time. That’s why we had success.”
When Sabourin has been in net, the Penguins have typically been successful. The fourth-year netminder saw limited action last season backing up Vezina Trophy finalist Roberto Luongo in Vancouver, but has gone 3-1-0 with Pittsburgh since signing as a free agent. His shutout at New Jersey was the first of his career.
“I’m pretty happy to get the shutout, but it was a big night for the team,” Sabourin said. “They played well in front of me all night.”
Pittsburgh’s offense, which scored the third-most goals in the league last season, has been a top-heavy unit so far. The Penguins are among the Eastern Conference’s highest-scoring teams with 42 goals, but half of them have come from three players – Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Petr Sykora.
While the entire Penguins team enjoyed seeing the Flyers last season, Crosby, in particular, thrived. The Hart Trophy winner feasted on Philadelphia, recording seven goals and nine assists, and he has 30 points in 16 career games against the Flyers.
Twelve of Crosby’s 22 points this season have come via the power play, helping the Penguins convert nearly 25 percent of their opportunities with a man advantage.
Pittsburgh is facing the second of nine straight division opponents, and does not play a team outside the Atlantic until Nov. 22.