The struggling Pittsburgh Penguins (7-8-1) will look to get their 2nd win in 6-games tonight as they travel to Philadelphia to take on the Atlantic Division leading Flyers (9-6-0). The Penguins will have their work cut out for them, as the Flyers have been perfect at home this season, going 4-0-0. For the Flyers, it will be their first home game since October 20th as they are coming off from a long 8-game road trip. The Flyers won just 3 of those 8 road games after going 6-1 in their first 7-games. One of theose road wins was a 3-1 decision over the Pittsburgh Penguins this past Wednesday night.
The Flyers will be looking to rekindle the momentum that they built in Philadelphia at the beginning of the season, and remain the NHL’s only unbeaten team at home. Despite still sitting atop the Atlantic Division with 18-points, the Flyers are not satisfied with their recent performance after a 3-5-0 stretch on the road. “Ideally you want to come out of any road trip .500 or better,” said coach John Stevens. “I thought we won the games we deserved to win and lost the games we deserved to lose. We just have to come back home and get some rest and get back to work.” The Flyers have not opened a season with five consecutive home victories since the 1986-87 season, in which they won 8-straight. In 2003-04, they had 12 wins and 2 ties in their first 14 home games. In contrast, last season the Flyers did not post its fifth win at home until February 12th, and went on to win an NHL-worst 10 at home. The Flyers are coming off from a 4-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Thursday in which goaltender Martin Biron gave up 4-goals in a 8:20 span. Biron, who stopped 27 shots in a 3-1 win over the Penguins on Wednesday, will be looking to bounce back against the Penguins tonight after being pulled for the first time in Thursday’s game against the Devils. Biron is the only goaltender so far this season to deny the Penguins’ a power-play goal. It’s uncertain if left wing Simon Gagne will be back in the lineup after he sat out Thursday due to dizziness stemming from a collision with Gary Roberts on Wednesday night. Gagne, who led Philadelphia with 41 goals in 2006-07 and has eight points this season, also missed four games due to dizziness after being knocked out of a game at Florida on October 24th.
The Penguins will be looking for some balanced contributions across all of their forward lines. Most of the scoring this season has been limited to the top line with Crosby and Malkin, who have been especially effective on the power play. Half of Crosby’s 24 points have come on the man advantage, tying him for first in the NHL for power play points (with Daniel Sedin). Crosby has put up 24-points (9G, 15A) during his current career-high 15-game point streak. Malkin has 14-points (3G, 11A) in his current career-high nine-game point streak, with 6-points (1G, 5A) coming on the power play. “We can’t rely on one line,” Penguins coach Michael Therrien said. “This is a team effort and we are going to need more contributions from everyone.” The Penguins are coming off from a 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Thursday. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has been struggling for consistency all season and is looking to avoid 4 straight losses for the first time since December 2006. Fleury has dominated the Flyers with 9-straight wins, and is 10-3-0 with a 2.75 goals-against average in 14 appearances against them.
Going head-to-head, the Flyers have a slight advantage in goals for and goals against, but the Penguins have the advantage in special teams. The Flyers have scored 2.9 goals per game while allowing 2.4 goals per game. The Penguins have scored 2.8 goals per game, while allowing 2.9. On the power play, the Penguins have converted on 21.7% of their man-advantages, while the Flyers have converted on 20.0% of theirs. On the kill, the Penguins have kept out 85.5% while the Flyers have killed off 82.2% of their short-handed situations. The Penguins have managed to put more shots on goal per game than the Flyers (28.7 to 24.7), and have given up fewer shots to the opposition (30.5 to 34.3).
NHLPens.com Prediction: I think that the Flyers will be a bit road weary and distracted in playing their first home game in 9 after an extended road trip. I expect the Penguins to leap out of the gate to try and put their losing spell behind them, and the lower lines will be looking to prove to Coach Therrien and their fans that they can contribute on the scorecard as well. The key will be for the Penguins to score first (and early) to plant a seed of doubt in Martin Biron’s mind after being pulled in the Flyers’ loss to New Jersey on Thursday. If they can score first, I think the Penguins will win the game by a score of 5-3. Most likely goal scorers for the Penguins in this scenario include Sergei Gonchar, Evgeni Malkin, Gary Roberts, Maxime Talbot and….Jordan Staal. Crosby and Malkin will keep their point streaks alive and the Penguins get at least one point on the power play. However, if the Flyers score first, I think Fleury could suffer from the same “seed of doubt” and the outcome will go the other way with a 4-3 Flyers win. I truly think the outcome is dependent upon who scores first and captures the momentum.