Who: Philadelphia Flyers (15-24-8, 38 points, last place Metropolitan Division) Pittsburgh Penguins (30-11-8, 68 points, 1st place Metropolitan Division)
When: 7:00 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh (ATTSN-PT) locally in the Western PA viewing area, NBC Sports Philadelphia out there, ESPN+
Opponent Track: Philadelphia has played twice since the All-Star break. Both times were against the Detroit Red Wings, and both times the Flyers were big fat losers; they dropped a 6-3 home game last Wednesday and a 4-2 road contest on Saturday.
Pens Path Ahead: The schedule picks up in terms of difficulty after tonight. The Pens head north to Toronto for a game on Thursday night, then will meet Carolina for the first time all season next Sunday. Pittsburgh will see New Jersey and the New York Rangers next week as well, as the divisional games really set in as we get deeper into the stretch run of the season.
Hidden Stat: In the last month (Jan. 15-yesterday), no NHL player has more points than Sidney Crosby, with 20 points (8G-12A) in 13 games (h/t Pens PR).
Hidden Stat Part II: In his last 19 games against the Flyers, Crosby has 33 points (13G+20A), which includes points in 17 of those 19 games.
Trivia Question: Sidney Crosby’s 117 points against Philadelphia rank third all-time for most points ever scored by one player against the Flyers. Who are the very familiar names that are ahead of him as the highest scorers ever against Philadelphia?
Season Series: This is the third PIT/PHI game out of four on the season, and the Pens are already 2-0-0 on the year (the Flyers are 0-1-1 from their perspective). Pittsburgh took a big 6-2 win on January 6th in the last matchup in a game where Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel recorded two goals a piece. In the first Pens/Flyers game back on November 4th, the Pens also won 3-2 in OT, courtesy a Kris Letang extra time goal. After tonight, the two rivals will meet up one more time on April 24th in Philadelphia.
SBN Counterpart Blog: Our pals at Broad Street Hockey are suffering through another campaign of being a Flyer fan with their trademark wit and humor.
—The Flyers just kinda are what they are at this point. Sean Couturier is done for the season with back surgery.
—With trade rumors swirling, Giroux could be the biggest name at trade deadline time on the move. Colorado seems the logical and leading destination, which is probably just as well for the Pens. Division rivalry aside, the Rangers would be a perfect landing spot in a vacuum in terms of need and role.
Monday Practice Lines
Oskar Lindblom - Claude Giroux - Cam Atkinson
James van Riemsdyk - Scott Laughton - Travis Konecny
Patrick Brown - Morgan Frost - Max Willman
Isaac Ratcliffe - Connor Bunnaman - Zack MacEwen
Ivan Provorov / Justin Braun
Travis Sanheim / Nick Seeler
Keith Yandle / Kevin Connauton
Goalies: Carter Hart (Martin Jones)
Scratches: Derrick Brassard, Gerald Mayhew, Rasmus Ristolainen (injured)
COVID Protocol: none
IR: Kevin Hayes, Joel Farabee, Nate Thompson, Sam Morin, Ryan Ellis, Sean Couturier
—Hayes skated a bit in practice, but isn’t close to returning. The team said they will look around March 1st to see if it’s time to shut him down or bring him back into the lineup again this season. Ristolainen also took some of the practice, perhaps he could play today?
—The injuries really derailed this season. Ellis’ acquisition was meant and should have been a big deal, he’s only played four games. Other top players (Farabee, Hayes, Couturier) have been big absences that the team couldn’t withstand.
Where did it all go wrong?
For years, the Flyers have been accumulating young talent and attempting to build up into a contender. Famously, the other side of the state has crowed time and again (as far back as 2016, as BSH would no doubt like to forget) that the Pens’ time is about to end and the Flyers were on the cusp of ascending. However, it still has not happened yet.
And while many Pens’ fans have had a lot of fund bringing up the initial tweet, it’s the second one (“And some might say ‘What rebuild?!’ No rock-bottom, PHI only looking to get better with prospects coming into play in next couple of years”) that is actually the sadder one for them, granted with the benefit of hindsight. In the almost seven springs since then, Philadelphia has qualified for the playoffs just three times, they will miss it this year, and only have one playoff series win (2020 in the bubble over Montreal) to their credit. Arguably, they’re at rock bottom right now at last place in the division, but have continued to find new lows.
Further on that thought, I don’t bring these 2017 tweets that surfaced lately to dunk on Charlie (great writer who has generally good takes) so much to provide more proof that in hockey the word “prospect” does not mean “sure thing” and young players are often hyped before arrival to impossible heights.
If within 2-3 years, you can't build an above average middle-six out of Patrick, Konecny, Lindblom, Frost, Rubtsov, Vorobyev, Allison, Laczynski, Ratcliffe & Martel, then you really messed up the whole developing talent thing. And Carter Hart couldn't be doing better.— Charlie O'Connor (@charlieo_conn) December 3, 2017
Of all the players mentioned in the bottom tweet, Travis Konecny is a legit, difference-making NHL player and the rest of the skaters named...are basically replacement level or low impact players, if they’re in the NHL at all right now. A lot of those names now (Lacyznski? Vorobyev? Is that Rick ‘The Model’ Martel?) are beyond after-thoughts at the NHL level.
Is it important to bring in a lot of young talent in the organizational pipeline? Absolutely! But “counting chickens before they hatch” in hockey is the toughest thing not to do. Former first round talent like a Morgan Frost or a German Rubtsov might show all the signs in the world of being a future NHL impact player and then never really arrive, or be much less than the dreams that were created. That mid-round pick might turn out to be something, but probably isn’t going to do so.
And, honestly, this isn’t foreign to the Penguins from about 20 years ago — when Kris Beech, Milan Kraft, Michal Sivek, Konstantin Koltsov, Tomas Surovy, Shane Endicott, Ryan Malone and Ross Lupaschuk were surely on the verge of all blossoming into big time NHL players and help Pittsburgh to a new generation of success in Pittsburgh. (An X Generation, if you will). Of course, it didn’t work out like that, either, when the Pens finally were rebuilt almost none of those pieces remained or developed into much of substance at the NHL level.
Building a solid and sustainable NHL team is very, very challenging. The Flyers are still trying to figure it out. So enjoy this 16th straight trip to the post-season and the Crosby/Malkin era while it lasts. The other side of holding out hope for days that might never come isn’t quite as fun.
And now for the Pens..
Sunday Game Lines
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
Goalies: Tristan Jarry (Casey DeSmith)
Scratches: Mark Friedman, Radim Zohorna
COVID Protocol: none
IR: Drew O’Connor (practicing in non-contact jersey), Jason Zucker (week-to-week, core surgery), Louis Domingue, Teddy Blueger (week-to-week, broken jaw)
—The Pens had an informal Super Bowl party at Sidney Crosby’s house on Sunday and didn’t practice yesterday. They’ll have a morning skate today and get ready for this game, with no major lineup changes expected coming off another win on Sunday.
Milestone and streak watch
- Sidney Crosby is still looking for goal No. 500 in his career. He’s got 49 career goals against the Flyers, so that would make for a nice and tidy 500th/50th combo, wouldn’t it?
- With his two assists last game, Crosby has tied Bruins legend Johnny Bucyk (1,369) for 26th place all-time in career NHL points. Next up on Sid’s list: 25th place Mike Modano (1,374).
- Jake Guentzel is riding a six-game point streak (3G+7A).
- Bryan Rust enters the game with goals (and points) in five straight games (7G+2A).
- Tristan Jarry tied his single-season high with his 25th win on Sunday and needs one more win to set a new personal record. Jarry is currently tied for first this season for wins in the NHL (sharing the top spot with both Andrei Vasilievskiy and Frederik Andersen).
- Chad Ruhwedel is set to play in his 200th game as a member of the Penguins tonight, making him the 114th player in franchise history to eclipse the 200-game mark (h/t Pens PR).
Trivia answer: As spoiled in the graphic above for eagle-eyed readers, Crosby has 117 career points against the Flyers. He’s quickly closing in on being the most prolific scorer that Philadelphia has ever played against. The only players with more points than Sid? They both have Penguin ties with Jaromir Jagr (120) in second place, and Mario Lemieux (124) as the current leader in this category.