As we've said before, the Pittsburgh Penguins really need that All-Star Break. They've been badly beaten up in the injury department, and that's translated to the ice too lately and could all use the mental reset that the season's only long weekend provides. The Pens have struggled against division foes, and they've lately had a lot of issues with their biggest rival, the Philadelphia Flyers. Luckily for Pittsburgh, the '75ers are in an even worse place. And not just in the standings.
Yesterday, two Flyers defensemen got hurt in their 7-4 loss to the Islanders, so Philly had to recall two players named Brandon Manning and Oliver Lauridsen, which is the first time I've ever heard of either player. The Flyers are also resorting to playing Ray Emery (.886 save % in 18 games) and a 33-year old first time NHL'er Rob Zepp (.889% in 6 games) which is quite possibly the worst goalie tandem in the NHL right now, behind a not very good blueline.
All this is adding up to the perfect opportunity for the Penguins to exercise some demons, real and perceived. If the Pens can't win tonight in these circumstances, it won't bode well for the mindset of the fans, that's certain. Should they take care of business, a lot will change. The Pens are down 5 points (with 2 games in hand) behind those Islanders, with Pittsburgh playing both of those two games tonight and tomorrow. Win them both, and they're just a point off the pace. Lose one or both and the hole to climb out of grows all the more.
Players to watch:
Everything as advertised since coming over in a trade earlier in the month, Perron gets his first taste of the Pens/75'ers rivalry. Perron's box-car stats - 5 goals and 2 assists in 6 games are impressive and most often talked about, as is the fact his 29 shots on goal display the fact he's fitting in. Another good piece? 19 hits, which if he played at that pace all season, would give him 139, or best on the team. Perron isn't a big or punishing hitter, but his physicality and willingness to mix it up in the tough areas should make him a great fit for the most intense game the Pens play on the road.
If ever the Penguins had a recent player cut out for the Flyers rivalry, it would be Farnham, just recalled today. Hopefully he gets the chance to play and he can put an imprint on the game. I bet the Flyers fans will just love him.
One of the few Flyers defensemen that aren't hurt, Streit has goals in the last 2 games and 20 points in his last 23 games, dating back to December 3rd, and with points in 17 of those games. For a team that's been in struggle mode, Streit has been one of the few (only?) steady and productive members of the Philly defense. He's good on the power play, a smooth puck mover and will have to be a focus for the Pens to keep under wraps.
I'm assuming Emery will play tonight. He's got a very interesting career record against the Pens. A pretty good record (7-4-2) and decent goals against (2.87) but a pretty subpar save percentage (.891%). Why? Pittsburgh needs to shoot the puck on him. Put it on goal. The Flyers just gave up 41 shots on goal (and 61 total attempts) just yesterday, their defense might be lesser and they might be a little tired. Further, it's Philly's last game before the break and they look like they might have checked out already. Pepper pucks at Emery and the chances of winning goes way up.