A number of opponents on Pittsburgh's schedule tend to raise an eyebrow or warrant a little extra attention year in and year out. It goes without saying (but we'll say it anyway) that Philadelphia is one of those opponents.
Tonight the Pens and Flyers will clash for the first time this season on the NHL Network at 7pm. For the first time this year Jaromir Jagr and Max Talbot will suit up to take on their former team - no matter how recent their ties to Pittsburgh may be.
Now, one can argue that the real hype of this matchup will take place when those two players return to Pittsburgh for the first time this season on Dec. 29. Perhaps that's true, seeing as how any sort of bitterness that may have carried over from this past offseason likely exists in the confines of the Steel City. But don't let that alter the fact that this is still going to be a huge game for both teams. They always are. As much as Pens fans may collectively hate the city, the team, its fans or the players (or all four), we love these matchups.
What can we expect from Jagr and Talbot?
I shared a few emails with Broad Street Hockey's Travis Hughes early last week to get his input on what those two guys are bringing to the team.
Max Talbot has been pretty ridiculous this year. When the Flyers signed him, everybody thought he'd just be a fourth line grinder type guy, and when the Flyers waived Blair Betts, it seemed to solidify him as the fourth line center. But he's been playing so well that he's actually playing more of an offensive role than the fourth line role, and he's had a lot of success recently with a lot of different linemates. Anybody from Wayne Simmonds to Jake Voracek to Matt Read to Danny Briere to Jody Shelley have played with him this season, and he's just been a very solid player in all three zones no matter who he's playing with.
That sounds about right. Talbot never takes a shift off, can step up big on the PK, drop the mitts for a teammate and even facilitate some offense. I think it's fair to say that he's pretty much a coach's dream. If a top-line guy is out, Talbot's an option. If a PK specialist is down, Talbot can fill the role. He may not be the best player on the ice, but he's more often than not the best option when the coach is looking for a go-to guy. And we know first hand that what he may lack in the skills department he makes up for with his heart. Provided he still has one after this offseason (couldn't resist).
So there are times where I catch myself just staring in amazement at the specimen that is Jaromir Jagr. The dude is just incredible, and the instant chemistry he's had with Claude Giroux has been even more impressive. He doesn't look anything like a 39 year old and even when he messes up, he still has me shaking my head in wonder. You'd never guess that he's missed three years in the NHL. Couple that on top of what he's brought in the locker room so far, showing the young guys what to do by example and all that, and it was probably the best move of the offseason for the Flyers. And there were A LOT of moves in the offseason.
Giroux and Jagr have grown into quite the one-two punch for Philly this season. So much so that BSH has gone so far as to say there are some comparisons that can be drawn between Giroux and Crosby. Some. (Honestly though, it's a good read. Highly recommended)
Not all guys possess the skill set of Crosby. We know that, Crosby's teammates know that and fans and players around the league know that. But that isn't stopping Giroux from coming into his own, and at 23 years old he's just hitting the best years of his career. In other words, I don't blame you for having your eyes on Jagr or Talbot tonight, but don't count Giroux out of the equation either.
So now I have to ask - what can we expect? I know what we can hope for: a win, Jagr and Talbot scoreless, maybe a Marc-Andre Fleury shutout...the list goes on. Will Talbot be asked to drop the mitts? Which Penguin will take the first run at the guy formerly known as "Superstar?" Where does Jagr work into the equation?
This is obviously Talbot's first trip to the rodeo when it comes to playing against his former team, but Jagr has done so on a number of occasions. In 36 career games against the Penguins, Jagr has tallied exactly 36 points - or 17 goals and 19 assists. So yeah - I think the Pens will want to keep tabs on him. As for Talbot, who knows? We watched him for years. We watched him throw his body on the line to block a shot, hush the crowd in Philly after getting his face pummeled and finding his scoring touch in the most clutch moments.
It's the game we've all been waiting for - until the next one, and the next one, and the next one come up on the calendar against Philly.
Tonight, 7 ET on NHL Network. Simply put: a must-watch.