Since coming out of the All-Star break, the Philadelphia Flyers have failed to get anything going with two straight losses, both against the Red Wings. Despite winning two straight heading into the said break, momentum just hasn’t been on the Flyers’ side this season. Meanwhile, Sidney Crosby and the Penguins have been cruising with three straight wins.
The good news is, no matter how good or bad these two teams are, the “Battle of Pennsylvania” always throws all statistics out of the window. The Penguins currently lead the season series 2-0-0, leaving the Flyers simply looking for a point against their state enemies.
The two bitter rivals will go at it tonight in Pittsburgh, with puck drop slated for 7 PM. The Penguins are heavy, -320, moneyline favorites with the over/under set at 6.5 total goals.
Pittsburgh Penguins (30-11-8, 68 points)
The biggest storyline heading into this game is that captain Sidney Crosby is looking for his 500th career goal. Meanwhile, he has 49 career goals against the Flyers, and also has gone two straight games looking for goal #500. This is all while Crosby has had 20 points in his last 13 games.
If the stars aren’t aligning in Crosby’s favor to meet that milestone tonight, then I don’t know what stars aligning actually means.
Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust are each riding a six-game, and five-game, point streak as well. Rust leads all players in the NHL in scoring since January 1 with 28 points in 15 games. Evan Rodrigues is having a career year, with a career-high 33 points in 49 games so far this season. Goaltender Tristan Jarry just tied his career-high with his 25th win on Sunday. Everything is just clicking from top to bottom for Pittsburgh this season, igniting them to first place in the Metro as of today.
The Penguins are expected to follow the same lineup that they had Sunday afternoon against the Devils with the exception of the goaltender. Casey DeSmith was announced as the starting goalie tonight, per the Penguins’ Twitter account. DeSmith is coming off a win against Ottawa, and has gained his team a point in seven straight starts (6-0-1).
Lines combinations from Sunday’s game are per SB Nation:
Jake Guentzel – Sidney Crosby – Bryan Rust
Brock McGinn – Evgeni Malkin – Kasperi Kapanen
Danton Heinen – Jeff Carter – Evan Rodrigues
Zach Aston-Reese – Brian Boyle – Dominik Simon
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / John Marino
Mike Matheson / Chad Ruhwedel
A Philadelphia Fly-By
As my colleague Eric Reese stated in the pregame for the last game, the Flyers are still without Ryan Ellis (lower body), Sean Couturier (upper body), Kevin Hayes (lower body), Patrick Brown (MCL), and Joel Farabee (upper body).
Derick Brassard returned for a game, but found himself right back out of the lineup. Rasmus Ristolainen is also expected to be out with an upper-body injury. Gerry Mayhew suffered a bloody eye injury during their last game. This being said, Morgan Frost was recalled to fill the gaps.
The Flyers have not announced their starting goaltender as of 11:45am, but I personally wouldn’t be surprised if Martin Jones gets the nod. He’s lost five straight starts but hasn’t started in four straight games. Despite having two days off, the extra night off may do Carter Hart’s confidence some justice. For his career, Jones is 5-5-0 with a .918 save percentage and a 2.32 GAA against Pittsburgh.
If you read all of those stats, trends, and injuries, and believe the Flyers have any chance to win tonight, then I truly appreciate your optimism. Given that Crosby is looking for a major milestone, Guentzel has 35 points in 27 games against Philadelphia, and how well that first line has been playing overall, this game screams a Penguins win.
I fully expect that the entire first Penguins’ line to each have a point tonight, and for the Penguins to score pretty much at will. However, I do not think it will be as bad as the 6-2 embarrassment from back on January 6th.
Penguins will likely control the game from start to finish, but Flyers will sneak a couple past DeSmith. Scratch up a 5-3 Penguins win, with a late empty-net goal.
Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre