It’s hard to believe since they are cross-state and division rivals, but the Philadelphia Flyers haven’t played against the Pittsburgh Penguins since December 14th, as Adam Kimelman from NHL.com points out. In that time, the makeup of that Penguins has changed considerably, with both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin going down with serious injuries.
Yet while the team isn’t quite as dynamic from an offensive standpoint, the Penguins have remained competitive through solid defense and an impressive all-around work ethic. They trail the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference-leading Flyers by five points and Philadelphia has one game in hand, so tonight’s game is still pretty important even though Philly has a healthy lead. The gap might be too large for them to close in such a small time, but it’s far from impossible to imagine if they win tonight.
While Pittsburgh doesn’t overwhelm you with star power anymore, the Flyers are aware that they still must prepare for a challenge. Kimelman writes that the team is giving the Penguins plenty of respect as they prepare for the game.
“They’re missing a couple key players, but … they’ve still been playing pretty well,” defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. “They always play hard. They’re good system-wise and if you’re not ready to compete, you’re going to lose the game. We have to go out there and compete and play a full 60 minutes.”
Timonen and his defense partner, Braydon Coburn, likely would have seen a lot of Crosby and Malkin. Obviously they won’t have to deal with that challenge, but Coburn said it doesn’t change how he approaches his job.
“They always play the same system,” Coburn told NHL.com. “They’ve got great players over there, they seem to work well together. They have good team chemistry. Their depth is excellent because they have two top players out of their lineup and doesn’t really seem like they’ve missed too much of a beat.”
It’s difficult to gauge what kind of ceiling this Penguins team has if Crosby cannot return (or even if he does, really). Games like these might be a solid measuring stick, though. The Flyers could just about guarantee a division title tonight if they take a win, so both teams have plenty to play for. We’ll keep you updated about this and other big games tonight at PHT.